Book Reviews

The Jericho Chambers Book Club

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The Reading List for Summer.

Culture Shock
Will McInnes @willmcinnes

Rather grandly sub-titled ‘a Handbook for 21st Century Business’ – and despite the over-use of exclamation marks and at times rather flimsy case studies – there is no denying the energy and enthusiasm that weaves through this narrative plea for a more open and radical approach to business. Many themes and ideas may be familiar to some readers (happiness over blind growth; participation over hierarchy; the call for Conscious Leadership) but McInnes has drawn them into a compelling, fast-flowing and easy-reading 250 pages that ask us to help him change business for the better. Here is a missionary, not a mercenary – someone who clearly ‘gets’ social business and the Gen Y agenda and is determined to make a difference. While McInnes’ ‘Purpose of Siginificance’ may seem a little tortured, his notion of ‘leadership circles’ is strikingly fresh as is his evident excitement around ‘real leadership’ and failure. May his infectious beliefs take root and grow. – RP

Why Love Matters
Sue Gerhardt

Ostensibly a scientific account of how babies’ brains develop which in reality sheds light on everyone you have ever met. Much in the way that my mother, a teacher, would say of parents’ evening: ‘so that it explains it’. Her recommendations make for gorgeous happy babies and wilful/determined toddlers. When confronted with this at a speaking event she shrugged and said ‘What did you want for your children?’. – CA

Economic for Everyone
Jim Stanford

Stanford’s book is subtitled A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism and it does what it says on the can. It’s based on the idea that economics is too important to be left to economists. It demystifies and unpacks economics so that anyone can start to rebuild it in their mind in a more sensible way than we seem to have managed. Stanford also depoliticizes capitalism and allows us to consider its updating or replacement with something better – “capitalism represents just one (short, recent) phase in the evolution of economic activity. That long process of evolution is not going to suddenly stop. We haven’t arrived at some economic nirvana of a perfect system which can’t possibly be improved.” Naomi Klein (author of two of my other all time must-reads No Logo and Shock Doctrine) has said of this book “Stanford is that rare breed: the teacher who changed your life. He has written a book – both pragmatic and idealistic – with the power to change the world.” Read this book and start thinking. – JP

Race of a Lifetime
Mark Halperin & John Heilemann

A meticulously researched account of the 2008 US election campaign. I can’t better the Amazon sell which describes it as “the gripping inside story of… the collapsing House of Clinton… the erratic John McCain and the bewildering Sarah Palin”. If you are fascinated by the personal interactions that change the world, it is a real treat. – CA

Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate
Terry Eagleton

I’m re-reading this (don’t you just love that “re-reading”?) because Eagleton’s polemic rewards being returned to again and again (not unlike scripture actually). Eagleton, as I understand, is not only a Marxist literary critic, he is an atheist too, but is angered by the paucity of discourse from the New Atheists, conglomerating the late Christopher Hitchens (this was published before he died) with Prof Richard Dawkins to give us the generic “Ditchkins”. In defending my faith from an atheistic perspective, incidentally, he is in a fine tradition honoured by our own Robert Phillips. The sheer exuberance of Eagleton’s arguments against the banality of New Atheism is a joy to behold – take, for instance, his deconstruction of the argument for science delivering all the rationalism we require. This, he says simply, is a category error on a par with saying that we don’t need Chekhov because we have a toaster. If you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, the first chapter entitled The Scum of the Earth is worth the price on its own. – GP

Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere
Paul Mason @paulmasonnews

I have long argued that there is a ‘Tahrir Square moment’ waiting to happen for a business or a brand and, likewise, Mason moves the concept of ‘activism’ well beyond the cliches and confines of the Arab Spring. He reflects on the expanding power of the individual and the role of technology in shaping future change and, as with Mason’s Newsnight reports, his underlying anger is ever-present. Mason rightly challenges prevailing political power structures and calls for new alternatives for social justice. His analysis of the ‘horizonalists’ and the inevitable busting of traditional authority complexes is particularly compelling. “We are”, he argues, “in the middle of a revolution caused by the near-collapse of free market capitalism combined with an upswing in technical innovation, a surge in desire for individual freedom and a change in human consciousness about what freedom means”. He is, of course, correct. – RP

Wilful Blindness
Margaret Heffernan

A book that connects lots of things you already know to be true to make a case explaining the biggest societal failures from the Holocaust, to the scandals of the Catholic Church to Enron. Margaret Heffernan talks about how organisations inhibit people from raising concerns and openly stating what everyone knows. It makes me review all the times I have not said what I have seen and resolve to do better. – CA

Prosperity without growth
Tim Jackson @ProfTimJackson

If you read one book which neatly summarises the twin lenses of sustainable development – how to provide for good lives within the limits of one planet – then Professor Jackson’s book should be it. When he authored it for the Government he was ‘encouraged’ to drop the “without growth” in the title but he bravely told it how it is. Jackson shows how we’ve reached the limits of our one and only planet and that we now urgently need to find new ways to satisfy human needs. As well as reading the book I’d “encourage” people to view his TED lecture on the book and the point at which, in summarizing our consumerist lifestyles which are so harmful to planet and wellbeing, he gets a standing ovation for “we now lead lives in which we spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t even care about.” Jackson leads the reader well beyond limits to growth, and into the fascinating world’s of wellbeing and alternative economics. – JP

Of Markets and Men: Reshaping finance for a new season
James Featherby

Featherby spent 30 years as a senior corporate finance lawyer in the City, before he realised that he was working with a broken model. I spoke to him recently for a piece I was writing for the New Statesman and he sent me this book. He argues that the way that we do our finance reflects our collective philosophy and that the current crisis represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relay its foundations. The book clearly identifies the ways in which our thinking needs to change and sets out four radical structural initiatives needed to help us become more relational, more holistic, more neighbourly, more adventurous, more purposeful, more humble and more principled in our business and finance. His is a ray of light in a dark City in which most are still mouthing the old nostrums about a “return to growth”. – GP

Ill Fares The Land
Tony Judt

Possibly one of the finest treatises on politics, the one book I wish that I had written. Polemical and passionate in equal measure – and despite Judt’s untimely death – this is in many ways the book for our times: the perfect re-artuclation of social democracy and the need for a better way of being; a re-definition of common good; a cry for fairness; and a clear argument for the necessary end of placing selfish, material well-being over a higher, moral order for society as a whole. Judt’s call for a return to the radicalism of social democracy wonderfully connects the intellectual past with a progressive future in a way that so many of today’s political pragmatists all too readily deny.”Much of what is amiss in our world can best be captured in the language of classical political thought”, he writes. “We are intuitively familiar with issues of injustice, unfairness, inequality and immorality – we have just forgotten how to talk about them. Social democracy once articulated such concerns, until it, too, lost its way”. – RP

Envisioning Real Utopias
Erik Olin Wright

Once Tim Jackson has whetted your appetite for alternative economics, and Jim Stanford has opened your mind to the incomplete project that is our current form of capitalism, Professor Olin Wright will take you on a deep dive into updating economics. What Wright shows is that all of our current versions of economics are in fact complex hybrids of capitalism and more socialized socio-economics. This insight, and Wright’s practical suggestions for updating economics, help move debate beyond the dead dialectics of state versus private, left versus right and socialism versus neo-liberalism. I’m not saying Wright’s prescriptions are the final answer but the book is packed with exceptionally incisive and refreshing insights which will help the reader start to construct their own vision of new economics fit for the challenges of our times. – JP

Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America
Clive Stafford Smith

Clive is a mate and I’m reading this only because we held a fundraiser at my club the other day for Reprieve, the penal justice charity he leads, and this book was in the party bag. He uses the case of one prisoner on Death Row – British subject Kris Maharaj, convicted in 1986 (yes, 27 years ago) – to illustrate the absurdity, cruelty and banality of a legislature that struggles to justify capital punishment. Clive describes his organisation’s job as “getting between the hated and the people doing the hating”. Good job if you can get it. – GP

Robert is currently reading “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” by Michael Sandel.

Christine is currently reading “The Escape Manifesto. Quit your corporate job. Do something different.” by Escape The City

Jules is currently reading “False Dawn – the delusions of global capitalism.” by John Gray

George is currently reading “Globalising Hatred: The New Anti-Semitism” by Denis MacShane.

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