Robin’s Reading List

I have a friend who often asks me when we get together “what are you reading right now?” I love this question and always have something (or many somethings) on the go.

I’m constantly starting, finishing and sometimes discarding books. If I’m a third of the way into the book and still struggling with it – it’s highly probable that I’ll put it aside, never to finish.  But if I’ve enjoyed a book – I want to share it with everyone.

Here is a dozen books that have left an impression on me for one reason or another…

The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates

I picked this up after watching David Letterman’s interview Melinda Gates on his Netflix show. Melinda Gates describes her journey learning deeply about the issues related to poverty and then choosing her focus as a philanthropist. Gates discovered that the single most important factor that lifts families from extreme poverty is family planning and that the most impoverished women in the world are generally denied the opportunity to plan their families. When women can plan their pregnancies and space the births of their children, the health of the mother, the child, other children and ultimately the economic well being of the family is improved. I’m still reading this wonderful book … but the facts alone, will blow your mind.

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

I consume a lot of books through Audible and found this one particularly delightful as Trevor Noah also narrates his book and brings  life to the remarkable cast of characters in this story.  Growing up as a ‘coloured’ boy to white and black parents in apartheid South Africa, Trevor Noah was literally illegal. His father couldn’t acknowledge him in public and the book explores this and many other aspects of his life. Noah’s gift is his capacity to see the world from many perspectives being of no one persecutive, given his upbringing. The book is funny, enlightening, educational and above all – insightful.

The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker

I loved this book for the heightened perspective it brings to facilitated events. Priya Parker elevates her events to a ‘gathering’ and then describes the qualities and characteristics of excellent gatherings. She shares her research, her experiences and her wonderful stories. The book is a must read for any facilitator and accessible to anyone who spends time in the world of event planning. I found many ideas in this book to bring into my own practice.

Lean Out, Marissa Orr

I really enjoyed this book. Marissa Orr writes this book as a rebuttal to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.  I read Lean In a number of years ago and it left me wanting. The key message seemed to be … be more like men, and marry the right man. Which was … unsatisfying.  Marissa Orr theorizes that the work place is designed by men for men and that asking women to be more like men is counter productive and ignores the genuine value and behaviours (different from men) that women bring to the workplace. After years of focusing on closing gender gaps in the work place, we are no closer to parity. Orr lays out a series of hypothesis, supports her position with research and suggests better approaches – for women, for the workplace.  I think this is a really useful perspective and there are some wonderful suggestions in here.  I found myself saying out loud, often … yes! and I agree!  A must read for the millennial women who are on a path to be profoundly impactful anyway!

Fascism, Madeleine Albright

I’m a bit of a political science / current events junkie. I find world politics intriguing and so when I came across this book (read by Albright, on Audible) it was utterly absorbing. As an influential woman on the world stage and a woman of the world, Albright describes the conditions that led to the emergence of fascism in the 20th century and issues a caution for the 21st century. She makes a connection between the drivers of fascism of the 20th century and populism in the 21st century.  It was hard not to be impressed with the depth of experience in this book and a bit sobering to realize that it’s not a huge leap from where we are now to a fascist state.

Right Here, Right Now, Stephen Harper

Like I said – a bit of a political science junkie. I listened to this book on Audible and it is read by Stephen Harper – so it’s interesting to find yourself listening to your former Prime Minister for hours on end, while driving around town. And after awhile, perhaps a bit too much.  Having said that – like Albright, Harper describes the conditions that have led to populism in North America and puts it in the context of how liberalism and conservatism are leaving behind large swaths of the population. Harper urges conservatives to expand their view of conservatism to ensure people are not left behind and proposes that economic and social well being are not mutually exclusive. A worthwhile read for students of politics.

Teardown, Dave Meslin

And continuing my interest in politics…. Dave Meslin is a Canadian, lives in the Toronto area (I think), and has spent his life as a political organizer and activist. He puts forward the idea that the rules, processes and procedures of democracy are 150 years old in Canada and in need of a refresh to be inclusive, enabling and relevant to Canadians in the 21st century. Meslin considers the democratic process from the grass roots, community level through to the federal level.  He explores ways to take the tedium out of civics classes at school, considers approaches municipal governments might take to be ‘client centric’, identifies ways political parties have become exclusionary and centrally controlled and importantly, proposes ways to increase political engagement at the grass roots level.  This is a really interesting read if you spend anytime thinking about Canadian politics.

The World as it Is, Ben Rhodes

Ben Rhodes was President Obama’s communications manager from his early days running for the Senate through to duration of his presidency. He describes the experience of working with Obama through the many campaigns, elections, crises, challenges, wins and losses and offers insight into Obama’s rationale and decision making. While I never felt that Obama’s foreign policy was particularly strong or effective, I now understand why his administration made decisions that it made. In the end – I found myself admiring the character and values of both Obama, as person, leader, and President and his trusty communications side kick, Ben Rhodes.

Insight, Tasha Eurich

I think I discovered this book through Farnam Street and ordered it (I read a hard copy!) because it was so relevant to the work that I do.  Tasha Eurich explores self awareness and suggests that we are not nearly as self aware as we think we are.  She goes on to offer suggestions and practices that help us see ourselves more clearly in order to help us be more successful at work and in life. I liked the set of exercises in the book and the robust examples from her own coaching experiences. I really liked her discussion on what versus why questions, which inspired my own blog. Anyone in a leadership role would benefit from a spin through this book.

Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein

This is a long time favourite book of mine – again, because it is so relevant to the work that I do. Schein says we are in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world and that we can not hope to understand and work with people from different occupational, professional, and national cultures if we do not know how to ask questions. We must, therefore, build relationships that are based on mutual respect and recognize that others know things that we may need to know in order to get a job done.  As a result, humble inquiry, the fine art of drawing someone out, is needed!  I share this nugget every time I teach a facilitation skills class and often when I work with cross functional groups in a corporate setting.  For me – this book hits many marks and I’ve read it more than once!

Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

Lest you think I only read non-fiction, here’s a fun novel that I just finished. Elinor Oliphant is a quirky person, prone to directness, hiding from her own trauma. Through an unlikely friendship with another slightly unconventional character, Elinor discovers herself and her past. The novel is an easy read, will make you smile periodically and in the end you’ll be rooting for this oddball to come out on top.

A Train in Winter: An extraordinary story of women, friendship and survival in world war two.  Caroline Moorehead.

This is a powerful story. I thought it was fiction when I bought it and then realized it was a careful work of history. Caroline Moorehead documents the story of women of the french resistance in WWII who ended up in German concentration camps. Of the 228 women to be arrested, 47 survive. The story explores how these women build and maintained community in the harshest of conditions to survive the unsurvivable. Every woman is accounted for in this remarkable story.  In a word – WOW!

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel, Amor Towles

A colleague recommended this to me and I really enjoyed it. It’s the story of a Russian count, after the first world war, coming back to Moscow without status and land. He is sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol hotel in Moscow. The Count lives a rich life and observes the unfolding of the first half of the 20th century. The book is whimsical, funny and utterly engaging.

And here are some links to other ‘what to read lists’ that I often pull from.