Butler-Bowdon, whom I have written about often, was born to write these concise books, which succinctly distill the right amount of wisdom from key works in various disciplines. But it goes beyond that. He is a curator extraordinaire, and unerringly determines the appropriate books to cover, which is far from an easy task. 50 Business Classics balances between older and newer titles, and between first-person narratives, conceptual books, and biographical material. For instance, he reaches as far back as late 19th century titles by Andrew Carnegie and P.T. Barnum, though most of the books are of more recent vintage, including Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment, winner of the FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2015. There are several books from 2016, including Duncan Clark ‘s Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, and Seema Singh’s Mythbreaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech. Although I was previously unfamiliar with this book, Mazumdar-Shaw wrote an article, “Leading with a Social Conscience,” for the Summer 2013 issue of Leader to Leader, the journal I edit. (Tom was also featured in our Winter 2018 issue, for the article/interview “Reading Economics for Lessons on Prosperity.”)
A major theme in the new book is first-person innovation/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurial thinking, represented by the likes of Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity, Conrad Hilton’s Be My Guest, Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, Terry Leahy’s Management in Ten Words, Howard Schultz’s Pour Your Heart Into It and Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. On the biographical end, there are such titles as Ron Chernow’s Titan: The Life and Times of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, Alice Schroeder’s The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, and Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk. And as an admirer of Penguin Books, I was also pleased to see a book I was unfamiliar with, Stuart Kells’ 2015 Penguin and the Lane Brothers.
There are many works in the conceptual category, including Jim Collins’ Great By Choice, Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood’s Simplify, Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise (originator of Theory X/Theory Y), Geoffrey A. Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, and Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking.
50 Business Classics also covers books that have become part of the zeitgeist in today’s business and organizational world, including Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton’s negotiation classic Getting to Yes, and Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. Chances are, within the past week or so, you’ve heard or read variations of such phrases as ‘disruptive innovation,’ ‘getting/get to yes,’ and ‘start with/find my-our why.’
Part of the brilliance of the 50 Classics Series is that it lends itself to updated editions (as have already happened with several of the titles) and the concept can be taken into many directions and topics, if Tom chooses to do so. Given that he acknowledges that he reads slowly and carefully (beyond how much time it must take to choose his titles), time could be the limiting factor for future topics . As he writes in his chapter on Drucker’s The Effective Executive, “You can always obtain more capital or find the right people, but you can’t “get” time from anywhere.”
Part of the genius of this book is broadening the content beyond the people we normally associate with Economics as a discipline and field of study (Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter and so on), to those from other disciplines who have had impact on the field, such as Michael Lewis, Eric Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee, Jane Jacobs and John C. Bogle. The centrality of people, as well as institutions and disciplines, shines throughout, especially in the entries on such titles as Gary Becker’s Human Capital and Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons. And I was pleased to see the inclusion of Peter Drucker’s 1985 classic Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The format here echoes that of his earlier books (such as on Success, Psychology, Self-Help, Spirituality and others), and it remains ultra-informative: books are described in six or seven pages, with a lead-off quote, an “In a Nutshell” explanation, similar titles, and brief biographical material on the authors. The material is lucidly explained, placed in context and shown why it is important and worth reading.
There are a number of recent influential books, such as Thomas Piketty ‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century; Richard Thaler’s Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, Robert J. Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid and Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Tom ends with brief descriptions of “50 More Economics Classics,” such as Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation and David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years.
50 Economics Classics has been getting great reaction, including:
Book review in the LSE Review of Books (Tom is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.)
A post from Diane Coyle, whose 2014 book GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History is one of the included titles Book review in E&T/Engineering and Technology Book review in AccountingWeb
Reading the descriptions in 50 Economics Classics is a reminder that a basic understanding and staying on top of this subject provides important insights into what is happening in the world today, and just as crucially, where it might go tomorrow. We can then decide what our role might be to improve life for ourselves and others, uncertainty and all.
In my previous post, I wrote about the release of the new book 50 Philosophy Classics, by Tom Butler-Bowdon. The publisher, Nicholas Brealey, has re-released all titles in Tom’s 50 Classics series as “The Literature of Possibility.” Taken together, they represent a highly valuable library of inspirational thought throughout the ages, aimed not at the specialist but for curious readers who are hungry for deep knowledge with applicability for daily life.
I mentioned that books by contemporary thinkers such as Daniel Kahneman and Nassim Nicholas Taleb shared space in the new book with the more familiar historical names (Aristotle, Plato, Confucius and so on). One of the strongest contributions of 50 Philosophy Classics is the inclusion of, besides Kahneman and Taleb, other modern-age writers that we more readily associate with other disciplines, including Iris Murdoch (a philosopher but better known as a novelist) and Marshall McLuhan (better known as a media/cultural observer).
Many readers will also appreciate the inclusion of the highly popular Harvard government professor Michael Sandel and his 2009 book Justice, as well as the oft-referenced Thomas Kuhn (“paradigm shift”), and his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In addition, there is the physicist David Bohm (who has been written about elegantly by Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski and others) and his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order.
Butler-Bowdon shows that philosophy is a big tent that can encompass ideas and inquiries that hold significant meaning and maps to understanding for some, and the opposite effect on others. “The purpose of this book,” he writes, “is not to tell you who is “right,” but to lay out some of the ideas and theories of note to help you make up your own mind.”
I’ve written about Butler-Bowdon a number of times, both in this blog and earlier in USA TODAY, most recently when I blogged about his 2012 book, Never Too Late to Be Great. I find his writing to be endlessly inspirational, useful and practical; and I reread sections in short bursts on nearly a daily basis. His ability to get the gist of a book and clearly and concisely communicate it is truly formidable.
50 Philosophy Classics follows the winning format of the earlier Classics books; concise (usually around six pages) chapters on each selected book giving the main points, context, some quotations and a basic bio of each author. The introduction clearly explains his rationale for the new book, and along with a brief glossary, there is also a list of 50 additional classics. Basing his writing on particular books, rather than having to write a chapter each explaining the entire work of, for instance, Plato or Aristotle, makes this more manageable and compact.
Given its place in the series, it is fitting that the book aims to demonstrate how these classics of philosophy can help guide us to leading a smarter, more fulfilling life. I’ll delve more into some of the specifics in my next post, but it’s worth noting the wide time range covered, from the 5th century BC Analects of Confucius, to contemporary authors, including some that may not always be identified as philosophers, such as Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan). I’ll return to 50 Philosophy Classics in my next post, but in the meantime, it’s worth quoting Butler-Bowdon’s description that “philosophy is high-level thinking to establish what is true or real, given the limits of human thought and senses, and the implication of this for how we act.”
A new, semi-regular feature begins on my blog today: “300 Words With…” I’ll be interviewing people I admire, especially those who exemplify the spirit of living in more than one world. Their responses will be (in the range of) 300 words. The first person is Tom Butler-Bowdon, who has written the excellent 50 Classics series of books; on self-help, success, psychology, spirituality and prosperity. In the past, I wrote about and interviewed him for USA TODAY.
1. In what ways (day-to-day and otherwise) has your life changed in the years since your first book was published?
It was important because I could start to see myself as a proper writer, and work towards writing full time, which didn’t happen until a couple of years after. I thought my book would ‘set me up’ in terms of a career, but in fact it was just the first step. I had to write four more books before people really began to see me as an authority in the personal development area. Every day I do what I love, whereas before, although my career as a political and policy adviser was exciting, it was never fully ‘me’. Now, there is really no limit to what is possible if I keep at it.
2. You excel at synthesizing large amounts of information succinctly, and in a reader-friendly way. Any tips on how people can accomplish this in their own work?
Because I have had to read, absorb and write about so many books with my 50 Classics series, people always assume I am a speed reader. Actually, I don’t do this and in fact read every word carefully of the first few chapters. I believe that if you give a book this sort of respect, you will truly ‘get’ it. Once you have the essence, you can write about it comparatively easily. Trying to summarize from the first page in a machine-like way is difficult and a drudge, whereas the act of synthesis is basically exercising your natural insight and judgment.
3. What non-work/non-writing activities do you find particularly meaningful in your life?
I enjoy cycling, running, swimming, spending time in nature and with my daughter. Beyond these things that have the power to refresh, what gives me real insight and peace is spiritual practice. This includes meditation (I usually attend a Buddhist group each week), and purposively giving up my day to God. That may sound wacky to a non-believer, but giving control to a Higher Power gives you great clarity and direction. You are like a pen in the hand of the real writer. I also read a range of spiritual literature; everything from Christian theology, such as Rick Warren, to New Thought writers including Catherine Ponder, to Eastern traditions and the Kabbalah. I feel it doesn’t matter where you get your inspiration as long as you get it on a daily basis.
Peter Drucker’s work on innovation continues to withstand the test of time. Many people have written about various aspects of it, especially regarding his classic 1985 book Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Drucker himself wrote about innovation long before that, in such books as The Practice of Management (1954), Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959), Managing for Results (1964), and Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1974).
Here are 14 resources by and about Drucker on innovation. Each shows that he was ahead of his time on this crucial topic, and that his sophisticated, nuanced ideas on innovation are unlikely to lose their relevance any time soon:
May 5 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx. Last year, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Marx’s Capital/Das Kapital, I wrote about Marx’s extensive history with the British Library and speculated about how he would fit in with today’s Gig Economy, including where he would physically work and research (home/library/Starbucks/coworking; or perhaps a combination of all).
We can extend that line of thought to how a 21st century Marx would approach his own intellectual property, and what would go into the creation of its output. In an article in the March 10/11 issue of the Financial Times, Rupert Younger and Frank Partnoy ask a compelling question: “What Would Marx Write Today?” The article describes their highly ambitious edit/rewrite of Marx and Friedrich Engels’ 1848 The Communist Manifesto, as The Activist Manifesto. The website for the book allows you to compare the original text to the new one.
In Section II, ‘Have-Nots and Activists,’ Younger-Partnoy’s point 7 is: “Provide security and protect private property, including intellectual property.” In the FT article, Younger-Partnoy write that “…we think a modern Marx and Engels would be less philosophically minded and more focused on dramatic changes in technology. They would probably have disparaged inequalities arising from modern technologies, just as they bemoaned the effects of 19th-century manufacturing, commerce and navigation. We also think they would have been open to the protection of intellectual property rights and would have favoured more equal distribution of high-speed connectivity.”
This would have direct applicability to Marx (and Engels, for that matter) as a knowledge worker in 21st century London, or elsewhere. His intellectual property is presumably highly valuable, and if he were actively writing today, someone would have to control/share in those rights, worldwide and in many languages. He’d also have to decide how to promote himself, his ideas, and his creative output. He would be under pressure to have a platform: website, blog, books, op-eds and other articles, podcasts, videos, TV appearances, webinars and public speaking.
I’ve previously written that Tom Butler-Bowdon, in his recent 50 Economic Classics, wrote about Marx’s Capital. In Tom’s 2015 book 50 Politics Classics, he covers The Communist Manifesto. Marx plays a major role in Paul Mason’s book of the same year, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. If you’d like a brief primer on how Marx worked each day, consult Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Currey quotes Marx in 1859 as follows: “I must pursue my goal through thick and thin and I must not allow bourgeois society to turn me into a money-making machine.” Yet through sheer accumulation of publications in more than 150 years since then, that fate has unfolded. A 21st century Marx would have to figure out the meaning, importance, and applicability of the role of intellectual property in how that money-making machine works.
September 14 marked the 150th anniversary of the original, German-language publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, later published in English-language editions (in multiple volumes) as Capital. What I find particularly interesting is that it was largely written in the reading room of the British Library (at the time located at the British Museum). Marx’s long history of using the library for reading, research and writing is detailed in the recent British Library European studies blog post by Izzy Gibbin, “150 Years of Capital.“
In addition, next year is the bicentenary of Marx’s birth, so there is sure to be more activity around the man, his work and his legacy. But interest in Marx remains high, anniversary or not. For instance, there is a new film from director Raoul Peck, The Young Karl Marx, which covers the time period 20 years before Capital, and well before Marx settled in London, where he lived until he end of his life. Late last year, Louis Menand wrote an extensive piece for The New Yorker, “Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today.”
It’s worth reflecting if a present-day Marx would also camp out and research/write/work in the British Library, or, taking advantage of modern technology, if he would spread his time over a variety of settings. He was a tenuously-employed freelance writer for the New York Tribune and elsewhere (Penguin has also published Dispatches from the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx), and as such, would be familiar with today’s Gig Economy. It’s easy to think of a current-day Marx working from libraries, his home and perhaps Starbucks or a similar commercial venue. Or maybe even paying for coworking space at WeWork or elsewhere.
As I noted in a recent post, Capital is one of the featured works in 50 Economics Classics, by Tom Butler-Bowdon. In placing Capital in context and in assessing its continued relevance, Butler-Bowdon writes that “Marx wished to provide a damning case against laissez-faire economics, and even if you are an ardent capitalist it is hard to walk away from the book without thinking about the perennial question of labor versus capital, and whether things have even changed much since Marx’s day.”
Even after last year’s activities surrounding the marking of 100 years since her birth, we are continuing to live in what might be called A Jane Jacobs Moment. A documentary about her activism, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, was released in April. One of the film’s producers is Robert Hammond, a co-founder of Friends of the High Line. I wrote about the work of Hammond and Joshua David, the visionaries behind the creation of the High Line, in my 2013 book Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way.
The Vogue article brings things full circle for that publication. In her early 20s, Jacobs (when she was still Jane Butzner) freelanced there, along with Harper’s Bazaar and elsewhere. I’m particularly interested in Jacobs and her work because, like me, she was born and raised in Scranton, Pa., and even graduated from the same high school, Scranton Central, (albeit many years before). I wrote about this briefly in 2011, in my post “The Richard Florida/Peter Drucker/Jane Jacobs Connection.” Jacobs’ biographer Kanigel spoke at the Lackawanna County Library System’s Lecture Series last year at the Scranton Cultural Center.
The books, articles and film about Jacobs are unlikely to be the last. To exert influence and truly change the world for the better, as she did, we can all learn from such Jacobs attributes as taking a persuasive and persistent stand for what we believe in; communicating clearly and often; and living in congruence with our deepest ideals, values and aspirations.
There are some interesting back stories in these pieces. For instance, Bernadette Murphy, a former book critic for the Los Angeles Times, is the author of the terrifically-titled Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life; as well as Zen and the Art of Knitting. Patterson is a doctor and author of The Water in Between, about his own arduous journey as a sailing novice, in the North Pacific Ocean.
Although he wrote only two books, we can gain further insight into Pirsig’s thinking elsewhere. For instance, this is from his back-cover endorsement for Tracy Kidder’s 1981 award-winning The Soul of a New Machine: “a superb book, one that computer engineering has deserved for a long time. I wonder if anyone but another computer hardware writer will ever see all the skill that went into it. All the incredible complexity and chaos and exploitation and loneliness and strange, half-mad beauty of this field are honestly and correctly drawn here. I didn’t think a book like this could be done.”
And in 2007, Pirsig wrote the foreword to a little-noticed book by philosophy professor Donald R. Moor, Coffee With Plato. Pirsig concludes with this: “Today when we study Plato what we are most likely to see are his differences from our modern way of thinking, and it is normal to think that he is wrong and we are right. But one can benefit greatly by following his advice to keep an open mind. Try to see what forces caused him to reason the way he did. And perhaps speculate on what people will think of our own beliefs and customs 2,400 years from now.”
Peter #Drucker, 1987: "This is the first thing I have learned, during these fifty years of working with, and studyi… https://t.co/fzSOgzCI63
@bizzwriter thanks for sharing 'What's Happening in #Leader to Leader,' Peter!
@ashujoshi007 thanks for sharing my Drucker ‘society of organizations’ quote!
@EndBackPainTday thanks for sharing my Drucker ‘new to have a chance...’ quote!
@Reaptimistic You’re welcome, Jamie; and agreed re questions!
@Johnnl You’re welcome, John; and much appreciated!
Peter #Drucker, 1999: “For the first time in human history, individuals can expect to outlive organizations. This c… https://t.co/98Ita5k8ch
@Johnnl thanks for sharing my Drucker ‘society of organizations’ quote, John!