To read is to fly: It is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience, and the fruits of many inquiries.— A.C. Grayling, Philosopher and Author
“Get off the dance floor and lead from the balcony” was the highly regarded advice of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard professors and authors of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, back in 2009. It still resonates, probably even more so today, when CEOs are being stretched to manage performance and create change at the same time—all while facing unprecedented levels of complexity in decision-making and being expected to weigh in on divisive societal and global challenges. So, yes, heading to the balcony to gain perspective and evaluate direction has become essential. And what better way to refuel the tank for those forthcoming demands than through the reflection and reading the summer months can offer. To that end, we spoke with colleagues and leaders, family and friends, to curate a creative reading list that promises inspiration and insights.
Our suggestions are organized into three categories. We have steered away from more typical business books for the time being (those are readily assessable in well-circulating lists). Most of these selections are recent releases, but a few are older books we felt were especially appropriate for this moment in time.
Personal Growth and Emotional Intelligence
First and foremost, self-awareness and self-expression are key to effectively leading others well. Aristotle had it right: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
The Creative Act: A Way of Being (2023) Rick Rubin Famed music producer Rick Rubin has written a new book on the creative process. Creativity, he believes, is not a calling for the special few: “It is a fundamental aspect of being human.” This book helps to uncover this universality by better exposing the path toward creative discovery and refinement.
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation (2010) Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. In the foreword, the father of Emotional Intelligence, Dan Goleman, writes, “Our ability to know our minds as well as sense the inner world of others may be the singular human talent….This book has compelling and practical answers.”
Your Body Is Your Brain (2018) Amanda Blake We’ve become over reliant on cognitive capabilities to solve leadership issues. This book discusses the nature of intuition and practice of sensing, which are so greatly needed for leaders in a complex world.
Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity (2023) Peter Attia, M.D., with Bill Gifford This new title has been called a groundbreaking manifesto on the topic of living better and longer. The key, they argue, is not ignoring your emotional health.
The Art of Quiet Influence: Timeless Wisdom for Leading with Authority (2019) Jocelyn Davis The book’s introductory quote is from Gandhi: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Indeed, the author goes on to argue how the best leaders do not lead from “command authority” but from thoughtful persuasion, and she provides telling examples and instructive details as to how that is mastered.
Where better to find sources of strength and inspiration than in the rich, detailed lives and experiences—the many failings as well as triumphs—of those who have led memorably before.
King: A Life (2023) Jonathan Eig A new biography of one of our greatest leaders (and speakers), by a masterful biographer. Almost certain to become an award winner.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (2014) Daniel James Brown An older one, but a legendary adventure story and a terrific testament to the power of hard work and teamwork.
The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy (2022) Anand Giridharadas A firsthand account of everyday citizens, activists, politicians, and educators who have worked and are working to bridge divides, invite change, and fight for democracy.
The Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life (2019) Doug Bock Clark This gripping account of the Lamalerans has been praised for reading like a novel. It is filled with masterful storytelling of the history of the tribe, their beliefs, and their livelihood—equal parts adventure and anthropology. This is a study in humanity and endurance.
American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis (2022) Adam Hochschild A new look by a noted historian about the four years between the entry into World War I and the Roaring Twenties, when America faced war, a deadly pandemic, and frequent violence over race, immigration, and workers’ rights. It brings to life impassioned leaders who strove to fix the fracturing nation and whose work guides us today in parallel struggles.
The Pulse of the Times
Few question how complicated these times feel. So many factors have reared their heads—some more expected than others—to create swirls of events and reactions that are truly hard to make sense of. These books try, through one vantage point or another, and offer greater understanding, and often hope, in the process.
What We Owe the Future (2022) William MacAskill An Oxford University philosopher makes the case for “longtermism”—that positively influencing the long-term future is the key moral priority of our time.
Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology (2022) Chris Miller Microchips have been called “the new oil.” So it isn’t surprising that a war for dominance in chip-building initiatives is raging and new powers are emerging, threatening to unseat traditional ones.
The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times (2001) Karl Polanyi Historians have long called attention to the “fin de siècle” phenomenon—that to gain real insight into the times in which you are living, you must really understand the century before. Polanyi provided just this for our turn into this century by delving into the “great transformation” of the Industrial Revolution. The considerations here are profound for our ever-manifesting present shifts and challenges.
Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of our Nation (2022) Linda Villarosa Short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize, this is a tour de force on the impact of racism and inequality on individual and group health, national responsibility, and democratic values at large.
Power and Progress: Our 1000-Year Struggle Over Technology & Prosperity (2023) Daran Acemoglu and Simon Johnson For a millennium, human progress has centered around choices involving technology. Repeatedly, those advancements have incited fears of displacement and upheaval. This book looks back to look ahead at how this relationship can be better understood—and reconciled—for our rapidly progressing times.
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We hope some of these will pique your interest for a well-earned “you” moment to feed your curiosity and your soul. Happy reading from Egon Zehnder.