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Book Recommendations

A room without books is like a body without soul

– Cicero

There is something special that can be said about books. It is remarkable that so much can be conveyed (and felt) through a medium so rudimentary. Presented here is a list of recommended books I have found worthwhile investing my time in and I am sure you will too.

 

Leadership

Power, Influence, and Persuasion

By Harvard Business Review

Do you have trouble convincing others or leading teams effectively? When I first entered a management role, I did too. This is a book that was recommended by an older colleague. Going through this book’s content is bound to grant you an ‘aha’ moment; many of the ideas present in it are not new but few of us ever consider employing them. For any professional in the corporate world, this is a must-read.

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The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow

By Mark Miller

A good book isn’t just one that gives you the right information but does so in a very accessible way. In his book, Mark Miller has done an outstanding job in laying out the core tenets of good leadership through the powerful application of story-telling. The writing is engaging easy, to follow and even uplifting to one’s mood. A lot is said in what is a short evening read; real practical advice and insights on what it takes to lead others.

Sure, the author doesn’t offer anything new or ground-breaking and thus, isn’t going to be of much value to say, a CEO of a multinational or a seasoned politician. However, for a person just entering into management or someone looking to lead their teams more effectively, the $12 dollars you spend on this book are most definitely worth it.

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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert Cialdini

Reading this book, I was initially skeptical but after having gone through its content, I cannot recommend it enough. Cialdini is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. In his book, he manages to provide a wealth of psychological insights to readers without making it sound boring. All the findings in his book are backed by a vast literature of empirical studies. Numerous people, from car salesmen to entrepreneurs to top politicians have read his work and there is no reason why you shouldn’t too.

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Communication

Write Better, Speak Better

By Reader’s Digest Association

First published in the 70s, the book has helped countless professionals and ‘would-be’ professionals improve their verbal and written communication skills. It doesn’t provise the use of any pseudo-scientific hacks nor exploits a riveting storyline to sell what otherwise would be a mediocre reference source. It’s a hefty 730-page volume filled with countless in-depth pieces of advice to, well, write better, and speak better!

An underappreciated gem, if you struggle with formulating your thoughts into words and desire to be more convincing in your communications, consider giving this book a go.

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The Element of Style

By William Struck Jr. & E.B White

The fact that this book was written almost a century ago and still remains an authoritative source on the subject is a testament to the brilliance of its authors. Concisely in the book, the author lay out the fundamentals of writing clear, correct English.

Now in its fourth edition, since its publishing, more than 12 million+ copies have been sold. It was named by Time Magazine as among the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. It is an absolute must-have book for anyone aspiring to write content of any sort.

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Society

Development as Freedom

By Amartya Sen

Written by the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom is an essential read for a fuller understanding of what constitutes true development. Often economists and policymakers conflate development with sheer economic growth. Amartya argues that economic prosperity is just one among the many aspects that make up human development. Development is defined as “Freedom” – the ability of an individual to realize his potential. Thus, freedom extends beyond the notion of pure economics, extending to welfare, political rights and empowerment through education and real access to opportunities and social mobility. He argues that each aspect of freedom positively reinforces each other and concentrating on one aspect at the determinant of the others hinders long term prosperity within a country. His work was instrumental in the development of the HDI (Human Development Index), which most researchers, economists and policymakers now use instead of simply GDP per capita to determine a country’s developmental progress.

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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

By Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson 

Why did the West grow rich? Why is the global South still poor? What is hindering innovation in poor countries? Economist Daron Acemoglu and Political Scientist James A. Robinson answer these questions by highlighting the role institutions play in determining the political and economic success or failure among states. Their argument centers on the inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness of state institutions, countries where ordinary people have greater political and economic opportunities also experience greater innovation and hence greater long-term growth while countries where the majority politically and economically excluded lag behind and decline. However, it fails to give due weight to the role human capital and geopolitics plays in creating and sustaining inclusive institutions. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it as a reading for those engaged in policy-making and development management.

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Capitalist Development and Democracy

By Dietrich Rueschemeyer

We take it for granted that democracy, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is an established political system in the majority of countries today. History reminds us that it was a privilege violently fought for, not given. Rueschemeyer work is a masterpiece of comparative historical sociology, dispelling the myth that economic development and democracy directly go hand to hand. Notably, it highlights the role of shifting class alliances and conflict in shaping the trajectory of a nation-state toward either democracy as happened in Britain and the U.S or authoritarianism as happened in Fascist Italy and Germany.

Rueschemeyer’s work is relevant today in that it can help explain why democracies have failed to consolidate in most of the Middle-east and Africa and why for a liberal democracy to flourish, conflict of class interests must be kept minimal.

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End of History and the Last Man

By Francis Fukuyama

Critics claim that Fukuyama’s work is too optimistic and rightfully so. The central premise of his work was that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, history had ‘ended’ in that there was no longer a competing alternative to liberal democracy. Of course, in hindsight, this has been held to be not true, with the failure of the Arab Spring, the rise of populism, the increase in voter apathy, and governments worldwide becoming ever unaccountable.

However, I would still recommend his work for the argument he used to support his otherwise flawed conclusion, drawing on the philosophy of Hegel and Nietzsche to expand on the nature of human beings, illustrating us to be as more than just beings of reason and want, highlighting the role of thymos (desire for recognition). These concepts can help us gain better insights into other social phenomena such as nationalism, authoritarianism and aspects of social inclusion and exclusion that goes beyond rational economic interest. And it Is because of this why I see it still as a worthwhile read.

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The Elusive Quest for Growth:  Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics

By William Easterly

Easterly’s work is a critically acclaimed and widely cited piece of economic literature that I highly would recommend to anyone in the field of development economics. In a subject as ideologically contentious as development, the book brings much needed common sense to the spotlight. The central premise of the book is that past initiative aimed at combating poverty have failed because they neglected the role of local institutions and the type of incentives they generated.

For development to happen, there must be an incentive on the part of the incumbent government to bring reforms. Often, given that the power of the economic and political elite relies on the underdevelopment and exclusion of the majority in the poorest countries, they have no incentives to improve upon the situation. Political and economic exclusion in turn reduces the incentives among the poor to seek education as they see little returns from investing in it.

However, being an economist and not a political scientist, Easterly fails to account for conflicts that can result from attempting to enact seemingly good rational reforms. His ideas, therefore, should not be taken as gospel but as suggestions. The book is easy to read and at times, amusing but also provides much-needed insights on the role of institutions and incentives when it comes to economic development.

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The Culture of Contentment

By John Kenneth Galbraith

Celebrated economist John K. Galbraith provides a powerful critique of the current discourse in Western society where a culture of immediate gratification among the fortunate and politically dominant community has given rise to complacency and hindered long-term progress by obstructing social mobility among the less privileged. Galbraith work is a short but important reading as it serves as a much-needed undercurrent to the dominant discourse of Neoliberalism and an important reminder that the current trend isn’t about equality of opportunity, facilitating market competition but of trying to maintain a status quo.

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The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism

By John Breuilly

Nationalism has been one of the most powerful political forces that have shaped the modern world. For many, it is hard to imagine a world without the nation-state and it is in the context of the nation-state that our global institutions, identity and destinies have been shaped. Yet, until very recently in history, much of the world was in a state without the nation-state.

The Oxford Handbook comprises thirty-six essays written by leading scholars of the subject with the aim of providing a deeper understanding of the reader on Nationalism, including its history, relation to other ideologies such as liberalism, fascism and Marxism and the context in which the movement played out before and after the emergence of the nation-state. Contemporary challenges to Nationalism are also looked into. Nationalism and nation are highly contentious terms, being more grounded in sentimental values rather than in any rational definition. Many of the biggest contemporary issues, ethnic conflict, immigration, trade war, North-South confrontation all have nationalistic undertones and students of IR will benefit immensely from reading this handbook.

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Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media

By Noam Chomsky

Hobbes famously stated that it was an entity’s monopoly on violence that gave it the right to rule. However, while violence can account for someone’s rise to power, it alone isn’t sufficient to consolidate it. Violence can placate a populace but only for a short while before they rise again in defiance.

Throughout actual history, rulers have not relied on violence but on the concept of legitimacy (justification for the right to rule) to maintain their hold on power. In Medieval times, it was the concept of Divine Rights and Linage that defined legitimacy. Imperialism was always justified on the basis of perceived characteristics of superiority. And, in current times, the ‘Will of the People’ forms the basis of governance.

However, this model does not mean that the government always takes action based on the populace’s best interest. People can be made to believe (and thus give consent to) otherwise. In this widely acclaimed work, Noam Chomsky along with co-author Edward S. Herman dissect the current model of American Mass Media to analyze how it allows for the state to ‘manufacture consent’ from citizens by means of information distortion, self-censorship and exploiting internalized assumptions.

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