14 Books We Love
By Christian Madsbjerg
By Roberto Bolaño
This tome by the Chilean poet and novelist is both lyrical and mind-numbingly
brutal. It brings you calmly through a slog of cruelties, but rewards the reader with
dreamy landscapes, captivatingly flawed characters, and stunning, solitary
moments. The characters’ perverse adventures ramble on but pull together in a way
that leaves you confused, and changed.
By Thomas Mann
Mann creates a history of the unification of Germany, using regional dialects as well
as French to comment on class, culture, and empire-building. His story of four
generations of a merchant family is a sociological commentary on the middle class
that seems to critique Weber’s “Protestant ethic” with equal parts comedy and
pessimism (the subtitle of the novel is “Decline of a Family”). It’s also a deeply
personal portrait of a family that explores childhood, nostalgia, and sexuality, as
well as philosophical questions inspired by Mann’s own interest in Schopenhauer.
Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy
By Joseph A. Schumpeter
In Schumpeter’s landmark 1942 book he predicts that capitalism will collapse from
within, because its success will undermine the values of the intellectuals who
believe in it. In it he coined the term “creative destruction,” an economic concept
based on the idea that new ideas and products destroy old ones—a helpful
framework for understanding how innovation works.
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
By David Foster Wallace
Wallace’s witty and often-hilarious essays probe the nuances of everything from
porn to a lobster festival in Maine. He immerses himself in the facts and details of
everyday interactions, examining our hypocrisies and failings, our oddball needs
and rapacious pursuit of entertainment — even the subtleties of diction. (“At root,
vulgar just means popular on a mass scale…It is humility with a comb-over.”)
By Richard Sennett
In a world that has become obsessed with quantifying skills and measuring people
by their contribution to the bottom line it is both liberating and thought provoking
to read Sennett’s book on what constitutes good work. Sennett gives a detailed
account of what craftsmanship is and why it matters. He then deconstructs the work
of great cooks, architects, doctors, violin builders, and even urban planners, in order
to distill the essence of what good craftsmanship is. Good work, Sennett argues, is
not about the money or personal gain. It is about the work itself. Doing your job
well, he underscores, is probably the most significant factor in maintaining high
ethical standards, a sense of beauty, and a good quality of life. Read this book and
then get back to work.
Fear and Trembling
By Søren Kierkegaard
For Kierkegaard true faith is deeply irrational and painful — the “fear and trembling”
of the title. A leap of faith, according to the Danish philosopher, is revealed in the
way a person under 70,000 fathoms of water still believes he can reach land, and
does, despite the impossibility of that belief. He uses the story of Abraham’s sacrifice
of Isaac in Genesis 22 to probe the relationship between ethics and religion,
questioning what it means to have your faith tested, as well as the nature of our
belief in and commitment to God.
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics
By Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe
Ernesto Laclau has had a major influence on the way we think. His version of
Lacanian and Foucauldian discourse analysis is by far the most pragmatic for us to
use in our project work. The book is really an exposition of the authors’ ideas on
how we construct meaning and how language is used in power struggles. The third
chapter of the book is where this claim is most fully developed and it is the section
most worth reading—if you’re able to get through that chapter in less than three
hours we will serve you champagne.
By Italo Calvino
Calvino’s moody tales are framed as a conversation between the emperor Kublai
Khan and the explorer Marco Polo. As Polo recounts his travels through Khan’s
territories, he breaks down the geography and physical limits of 55 cities, leaving
the reader with a rare sense of new dimensions.
The Life of the Mind
By Hannah Arendt
The Life of the Mind is Arendt’s best book. She explores how the human mind works
and what role thinking plays in our lives—especially in the sphere of politics. She
develops three main categories (Behavior, Action, and Thinking) of how the mind
works. Thinking, an activity that few people ever engage in, often happens outside
of history and is a way of trying to fundamentally understand what is going on in the
world outside of daily life. The book is not easy to read and is slightly Germanic in tone,
but nonetheless it provides some of the best hours anyone can spend with a book.
The Hidden Persuaders
By Vance Packard
Packard takes us on a comprehensive and entertaining jaunt through the incipient
stages of advertising culture and its scandalous repercussions. He shows how
advertising prevailed. He demystifies consumer trends—compact cars, cigarettes,
healthy foods—and explains how motivational research and other psychological
manipulations are used to get us to follow them.
By Susan Sontag
Sontag’s 1977 collection of essays explores the history of photography in America.
She probes ideas on photography as self-realization and which challenges the way we
view the world around us. In analyzing the medium as an art form Sontag addresses
how we receive images and translate them in our lives.
By William Gibson
This thriller by the science-fiction writer William Gibson explores our compulsion to
find or create patterns in data. It tracks the adventures of a consultant who has
developed an aversion to symbols and who goes undercover to find the person who
has been distributing the cryptic and artsy film clips that have been gaining a cult
following online. (Corporate hacks are interested in the wildly successful
distribution process and intrigued by the commercial aspect of art.) What interests
us is how the story closely resembles the lives we as consultants lead: global,
intense, messy. Like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Pattern Recognition describes
how far the sciences of human activity have come and their ethical implications. It’s
also a really great story that you can read in one go.
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
By Erving Goffman
Goffman’s sociological piece from 1959 analyzes why we humans are constantly
trying to calculate our behaviors and our presentation of “self.” With his razor-sharp
observations of everyday life, Goffman shows how social role-play shapes and
constrains the way we act in the social arena. It is a compelling and insightful read
that decodes how we manage the impressions we give off.
The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History
By Don Oberdorfer
The book, which chronicles the divided paths of the two Koreas twenty years after
the Korean War, offers a keen analysis of the struggle for South Koreans to move
from military dictatorship to a liberalized democracy. The Two Koreas chronicles the
race between two sibling nations to prevail over one another and sheds light on the
psychology of urgency that drove progress and development in South Korea after
the war and continues to shape its culture today.