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The must-read books this summer

4 August 2015

The article at a glance

Summer: a chance to unwind, recharge and take stock. And maybe to catch up on the reading that you’ve been trying to …

Category: Insight

Summer: a chance to unwind, recharge and take stock. And maybe to catch up on the reading that you’ve been trying to squeeze in for the past few months. If you’d like to get your nose into a book, here are some recommendations for the latest must-reads.

The must-read books this summer

Noreena Hertz, academic, economist and best-selling author, is a Fellow in International Business and Management at CJBS:

I worked in Russia for six years, and so I’d really recommend Red Notice: How I Became Putin’s No.1 Enemy by Bill Browder. It gives great insight into the dark side of doing business in Russia. Browder was running the most successful investment fund in Russia when he took on the corruption and oligarchs and the government, and his lawyer was murdered. The book is the story of how this super-successful investment fund manager became a human rights activist through this process – it’s non-fiction, but a really gripping tale.

In terms of fiction, staying with the Russian theme, I’ve just read a fantastic thriller set in Siberia – Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson. Essentially it’s the story of an attempt to get in and get out of the same place. It was originally written in 1994 but it’s been rediscovered and is now considered one of the best thrillers ever written. You feel like you live the protagonist’s journey. It’s absolutely gripping.

And as I’m on the board of Warner Music Group, I’m also looking forward to reading How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt. Having been involved in the industry for just over a year, it’s fascinating to see the trajectory that brought it to its current point. The music industry is the canary in the mine for so many other industries – it’s one of the original disrupted industries.

And then there’s The Circle by Dave Eggars, the story of a woman who is hired to work for the world’s most powerful internet company, The Circle. It’s wonderful – the story of a future that feels like it’s not at all far away. It’s like a The Brave New World for our times.

Andrew Hill, associate and management editor, Financial Times:

I’m not usually a fan of books written by serving or even retired executives as they tend to be rather self-serving. But one book that I’ve been recommending is Creativity, Inc by Pixar president Ed Catmull, the story of how Pixar went from being a group of enthusiasts to a company big enough to be bought by Disney. Catmull isn’t afraid of saying where things went wrong and where he failed to get the message across, or annoy his staff rather than motivate them. From a business point of view, there’s a lot of good stuff in there about working with creatives, and how much autonomy you allow creative people when you still have deadlines to meet – essential in an age when so many business think of themselves as creative, or have to work with creative people.

Everybody cites the disruption of the music industry as the model for everything from print media to movies and beyond so, like Noreena, I’m keen to read Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free. It sounds like a great tale of what happened to the music industry and its characters as it went into freefall in an era of piracy and peer-to-peer sharing. I’m hoping it will be business lessons told in an entertaining way, which is always a good combination – though I don’t know how popular it will be with the music industry itself.

And when it comes to beach reading, I’m looking forward to a book written by a colleague, John Gapper. The Ghost Shift is a thriller set in modern China, dealing with what it’s like to live amidst this fast-growing economy, with a dash of corporate espionage and political wheeler-dealing. I’m not sure how many business lessons it will have, but as the FT’s associate editor and chief business commentator, I’m sure John will have drawn on his experiences.

Donald Drakeman, entrepreneur, executive, and educator who co-founded several leading biotech companies. He is a CJBS Fellow in Health Management:

Exactly forty years ago, here in Cambridge, a breakthrough in fashioning laboratory versions of the antibodies that serve as the eyes and ears of our immune system transformed the treatment of cancer and other serious diseases. It also led to the impressive growth of the entrepreneurial biotechnology industry: more than two dozen new medicines – including six of the ten best selling drugs today – can be linked to the discovery, with annual sales of nearly $70bn.

The Lock and Key of Medicine: Monoclonal Antibodies and the Transformation of Healthcare by Lara V Marks tells that story. It’s an excellent read by an award-winning author who introduces us to the scientists and entrepreneurs who created a revolution in both business and medicine at the same time. This isn’t a classic “how to” business book, it’s a window into the discovery of an industry.

Stories like this remind us of the immense value that can be created through a strong commitment to supporting basic life sciences research. But what about the seemingly impractical humanities? As a humanities scholar turned entrepreneur, I’ve been amazed at how often the humanities are relevant to the so-called “real world”. In fact, questions deep within the humanities will have at least as much influence on the future of the pharmaceutical industry as anything going on in the lab. For more along these lines, my Why We Need the Humanities: Life Science, Law and the Common Good will be available this autumn.

Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather:

I find that with most business books all you need to read is the first chapter and skim the rest – the first chapter puts forward the premise and then the rest is all examples. But I’m really looking forward to reading the new book by David Aaker, Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles that Drive Success. I’ve worked with David before, and he’s so smart about branding. This one is very practical and even the chapter headings are all things I believe in: Maintaining relevance, Getting beyond functional benefits, Consistency wins, Internal branding as a key ingredient – I talk about these things all the time.

In terms of classics, the greatest book on leadership I ever read was Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is all about how Lincoln formed his cabinet and led this disparate group of people to a single group leading the country. There are plenty of lessons there.

For those looking for the best book on advertising, I heartily recommend David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising. It is quite didactic, but he bases every conclusion, every principle, on real-life experience with real-life brands and companies. And those principles remain true to this day, even though his examples are from a while ago. There’s a lot of very simple lessons there, such as not depending on people to read body copy and having a compelling idea and headline.

And, at last, I am finally going to get around to reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which I have never had a chance to read properly but has made so much difference to my business. It’s been sitting on my desk for a year!