Leaders are readers of books and have a high degree of curiosity. A board chairman recently asked what book I would recommend his management read. We both agreed we did not find any recent business books as interesting as a novel that could be relevant to today’s workforce. While I would list many books I had read in 2017, limiting my choices to five books to recommend forces me to reveal the best of the best every six months.

For people who want to be inspired at work, I feel the best book of the year is called Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. The title comes from Martin Luther King who said, 

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

It is a story of a nurse who has excelled at her job for twenty years in the Labor and Delivery Room. Her superiors banned her from touching the newborn baby of a white supremacist who requested no African-Americans around his wife or baby. Something happens to the baby and she is sued. A public defender, Kennedy, decides to fight for her case. Kennedy is the main protagonist, but there is a surprise ending. Everyone I know who has read it, realizes no one knows what another person goes through in his or her personal life to make them who they are. 

Several of my friends recommend that I read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This book is one of my favorite novels and I didn’t want the story to end because the author writes so well. He transports the reader to Russia 1922 through 1954 by describing the changes in Count Alexander Rostov’s life and the country. As a 30-year-old, he is an aristocrat sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel. He makes friends and shows how to adapt to change. A willowy woman, Anna, drops off her daughter Sophie who grows up in the hotel, becomes a piano virtuoso and ultimately, escapes to the U.S. The Count is part of the Triumvirate who run the hotel, in spite of the hotel Manager nicknamed “The Bishop” who tries to shrink and stymie the life of the Count.

While reading philosophy can often be tedious, to manage our own lives and lead others, we need to find a book that helps us understand how different people express and perceive “the good life”. I enjoyed reading Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers. He writes about seven philosophers and what ideas to practice. For example, Plato liked to distance himself from people and Socrates wanted people with whom he could talk about the problem. Seneca focused on one person and his or her inner space. Gutenberg created the press allowing books to create inwardness and allow people to choose when to connect. Shakespeare used paper to spread his concepts. Ben Franklin like positive rituals such as keeping certain hours. I won’t reveal all the secrets. Read the book!

I discovered A Writing Woman’s Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun as I read other authors who kept referring to this classic book. Heilbrun explains how men and women often would write women’s stories as the culture expected women to behave. The acceptable quest story conformed to social expectations or else women were mad, unusual or likely a bit off. Women need “to reframe their lives as quest plots—narratives framed around ambition and achievement, which is how men’s lives are organized.” Forbidden anger killed women’s voices until some authors like Virginia Woolf changed how to write stories. Too often, identity was grounded through relation to the chosen other. Today, women’s stories, not their lives, serve as inspirations.

Finally, the fifth book I recommend reading is a classic, only 280 pages, published in 1961. The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck seems as relevant in 2018 as when he wrote the novel after the Eisenhower era and the game show scandals revealing greed that enraptured the country. He writes about a contemporary Hawley family living in Baytown, Long Island. Steinbeck conveys the themes of evil and ambitions. Hawley’s ancestors had lost their wealth, and the current day Hawley works as a grocery store clerk. He dreams of someday owning the store. Instead, he uses the $1000 to send his former friend--the town drunk—to rehab. The one action changes the destiny of the Hawley family. The entire story takes place between Good Friday and the July 4th holiday weekend.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel, How they communicate by Peter Wohlleben

When Women Win: EMILY’s List and the Rise of women in America Politics by Ellen Malcolm

Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike by Phil Knight

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym by Hazel Hold

News of the World: A novel by Paulette Jiles

taft by Ann Patchett

Updated on January 4th 2018