Book Club

Summer Reading List

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As we make plans for the first Jericho Book Club event in September, Members share their summer reading recommendations:

Robert Phillips:

Branson: Behind the Mask, by Tom Bowers (published January 2014).

An updated biography that Richard Branson himself describes as a “vile piece of work”. An expose of the complex financial dealings of a man who is neither as wealthy nor as generous as he portrays himself – and of someone who uses publicity as both shield and bluster.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, by Viv Albertine (first published May 2014).

An inspiring if somewhat raw read from a survivor – of punk, of cancer and of early IVF. Celebrated as lead singer of The Slits, Albertine’s work is a refreshing piece of art and social history – moving from the gross to the choking. It opens with a chapter on masturbation – not always for the faint hearted.

Three Lives: a Biography of Stefan Zwieg by Oliver Matuschek (first published October 2006).

Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday ranks among my Top Ten Books of All Time. Matuscheck’s scholarly biography seeks to fill in some of the missing pieces but is not a touch on his subject’s literary genius.

A Walk-On Part, by Chris Mullin (first published August 2011).

Another chunk of the immensely readable Mullin diaries – a first-hand tale of New Labour in the run-up to power. Everyone went home to their families at weekends, he writes, while Gordon spent his time figuring out how to get on the news. When he managed this (one out of every two weekends), he suddenly realised he actually had nothing to say.

George Pitcher:

New Grub Street, by George Gissing (Published 1891).

The struggles of journalists and writers to make a living in Victorian London, as universal education, popular journalism and mass communication began to make their mark. Sounds familiar.

Catherine Stewart:

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tart (first published 2013)

Lots of dissolute druggy and drunken youth in New York and Vegas. A story of love, loss and obsession.

 Christine Armstrong: 

Anarchists in the Boardroom, by Liam Barrington-Bush (Published September 2013)

Extract: “I realised…. the assholes were a product of the organisational ‘asshole-making machine’, of which I felt I came dangerously close to becoming a product of myself, not long before walking out of its doors for the last time….I realised that these organisations had become so calcified, so stuck in their ways, that any change – if only to get things moving again – was better than no change, even if it didn’t answer all the questions we wanted to”.

Martin Lambie-Nairn:

Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, by Paul Vallely, (first published January 2013)

The remarkable journey of Pope Francis: “after a time of exile he re-emerged having turned from a conservative authoritarian into a humble friend of the poor – and became Bishop of the Slums, making enemies among Argentina’s political classes in the process.”

Allan Biggar:

Give and Take by Adam Grant (first published January 2013)

Everybody knows that hard work, luck and talent each play a role in our working lives. In his landmark book, Adam Grant illuminates the importance of the fourth critical factor that the best way to get to the top is to focus on bringing others with you.

Alaric Mostyn:

A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn’t Everything and How We Do Better, by Margaret Heffernan (February 2014)

This is Heffernan’s new book, in the wake of her excellent and well-praised ‘Wilful Blindness’ (about why it is the problems that lead to most organisational disasters  – like the banking crash, or Deepwater Horizon – are known to many people, but no-one does anything).

In this book, she looks at competition, and why it produces so many things that we don’t want, or indeed the opposite of what was intended. Transparency in CEO pay has led to competition that has simply driven up top pay levels by extra-ordinary amounts. Increased competition in academic science has led to a ten-fold increase in published paper being retracted because of errors. Competition breeds size for size sake (RBS buys NatWest, Charter One, ABNAmro) that leads to less competition. Increased competition in Hollywood leads to more and more clone films or remakes – and fewer new ideas. Microsoft had so little successful innovation for years as everyone competed with each other internally, driven by a classic forced-ranking performance scheme, instead of competing externally in the market.

This book is a very smart blend of disciplines and examples and concludes by arguing in favour of co-operation, and the end of hierarchical command and control – but against the idea of a single formula for success. As Heffernan concludes: “For a collaborative mindset to take hold, we need multiple systems – different sizes, shapes, ambitions and goals. They share three salient characteristics. Extremes of power and distance are avoided. Trust is valued more highly than secrets, because giving them away is what makes them proliferate. Success is measured across two, three, four generations.”

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