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Highlights from the Bookshelf

by Langdon on October 7, 2012

Books, great books certainly, are deeply personal.  We spend many hours absorbing the thoughts and ideas of an author, and we get to know them in a unique and intimate way.  There’s nothing like finding a great work, as what could be better than delving into 500 pages of deeply reasoned and well written exploration on a topic of interest?!  A few books worth noting have made their way across our reading table recently, and I thought I might use this post to share a few words about some of them with you.


Why Nations Fail:  The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

In this fascinating account of human history, the authors provide a fascinating hypothesis that fully lives up to the promise of its title.  Their intention is to explain the factors that shape the political, economic, and social successes and failures among nations, and their persuasive argument suggests that key factors such as the breadth of participation in economic life, the openeness of a culture or nation to new influences and change, and the stability and basic fairness of social and political systems and structures are critical factors that determine the long term stability, survival, and success of nation-states.  The book draws on examples from three thousand years of history, and also offers a forward look at some of the key socio-political challenges of our times, including the vital relationship between China and its trading partners throughout the world.


The Uses of Enchantment:  The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
by Bruno Bettelheim

Storytelling is an essential skill for successful innovators, and this is possibly the best book I have ever read about one of the most important story telling genres, the fairy tale.  It is also a profoundly interesting look at the growth and development of children into healthy adults, and the role that imagination, story telling, and role models play in the self-formulation of the child’s personality.  There is not a page of my edition unmarked.

Why, you might ask, is storytelling so important for innovators?  My answer is that many of the best ideas that constitute the seeds of innovation emerge as use case scenarios, stories, essentially, that depict a future world that is different from and better than the current world.  Hence, story creating and storytelling are essential arts in the innovator’s toolkit.


The Signal and the Noise:  Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t
by Nate Silver

One of the most important and challenging tasks facing all innovators is the process of modeling the external environment.  In a world of exponential and hence accelerating change, many of us now grasp that tomorrow is very likely going to be different than today.  But how will it be different?  What will change, and what will remain the same?  This thoughtful and detailed discussion of forecasting is probably going to be considered essential reading for strategists and innovators.  Silver tackles some quite challenging concepts with grace and very good writing, and in so doing helps us to think more effectively and productively about the future.


Making Movies
by Sidney Lumet

Over a period of more than half a century, Sidney Lumet directed some of the most acclaimed movies that became icons of modern life.  Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Network, and Serpico were among his greatest works, and he complements them with this fascinating look at the process of translating a story into the visual and auditory experience of the cinema.  Lumet’s insights range across the profound insights and decisions that contribute to a moving experience for the film goer, to the mundane facets of harnessing the energy of hundreds of people in the complex logistical dance that leads to compelling drama and comedy.  What’s it like to work with great actors?  What distinguishes great ones from lesser talents? How is the music chosen or composed for a film, and how is the lighting planned and arranged?  How does it work in a studio versus on location?  Writing, editing, costumes, set design, it’s all covered, using Lumet’s own experiences as a director and the stories of many of his movies as the examples.  If film is of interest, then this book will be too.


Grand Pursuit:  The Story of Economic Genius
by Sylvia Nasar

Tracing the history of economic thought, practice, and development through three centuries, from Dickens and the early days of the Industrial Revolution through the development of Marxist thought, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and into the modern era, Nasar provides a vivid view not only of the economic thoughts and theories, but also of the practitioners, theorists, and personalities of the major players as their stories intersect through the decades.  Marx, Engels, Keynes, Schumpeter, Hayek, Friedman, Samuelson and others are vividly portrayed, their ideas and theories cogently described.


International Cooperation for the Development of Space
Langdon Morris and Ken Cox, Editors

I would perhaps be remiss if I did not mention the latest book in the Aerospace Technology Working Group series, of which I am co-editor.  The authors are genuine experts in the field of aerospace, among them university presidents and professors, rocket scientists and engineers, award-winning artists, and of course astronauts.  In this fourth book in the series, the authors examine the factors that have contributed to the successful multi-nation space endeavors of the recent past, and discuss in detail the essential nature of such cooperation for the future.  The book includes detailed discussions of the space programs of many nations and regions, including China, Japan, Australia, the USA, Europe, Africa, and Russia, and also looks at cross-cutting themes such as the law, training for space travel in virtual reality, national policy and decision making, global celebrations of achievements in space, and the role of a space university.


The innovator reads across a wide variety of themes and topics, in this case highlighting history, economics, science, technology, the arts, psychology, statistics, and futurism. Alas, so many books, and so little time…  I would be very interested to know what books you find of particular interest, so please drop me an email with titles that you have found moving, compelling, and insightful! Michael Manis

Happy reading!


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