If you want to tuck yourself away in a manger to read a good book this holiday season, here are some recommendations from business and tech leaders.
There are anything from 500,000 to 1m books published every year, and that figure gets closer to 4m if you include self-published books. How is a person to handle all that choice?
Whether you’re looking for a last-minute gift idea for that entrepreneur or techie in your life or great fiction to dive into over the Christmas break, we have a recommendation for you.
The holly and the (AI)vy
Artificial intelligence has been the headline-grabbing topic of 2023 so why not round off the year with a deep dive into some thought-provoking takes on this burgeoning tech.
A book that Dell Technologies’ Paul Brook “cannot recommend enough” is The Coming Wave: Technology, Power and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma by Mustafa Suleyman with Michael Bhaskar.
Suleyman is a co-founder of Google’s DeepMind and Inflection AI. Here he argues that humanity is “approaching a critical threshold in the history of our species” because of the meteoric rise of AI technologies, and provides his advice for controlling and harnessing this tech to our advantage.
Brook also recommended AI & Data Literacy: Empowering Citizens of Data Science by Dell’s customer advocate for data management innovation Bill Schmarzo.
Brook described Schmarzo as “a pioneering educator and author in the field of big data”.
This book aims to ease people’s concerns and simplify conversations about AI.
“AI is only a tool, but unlike any other tool we have seen, this tool can continuously learn and adapt with minimal human intervention. And that’s what scares people,” Schmarzo said.
“Let’s empower everyone with the knowledge to ensure that AI is working for the benefit of humankind.”
Alternatively, for a sideways look at the topic, Avtrain’s Julie Garland recommends Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Klara and the Sun. Klara, a humanoid artificial friend, narrates a bleak story of a dystopian future where children are genetically engineered and the questions of what it is to love and to be human are enmeshed with our existential fears about AI.
Three wise business leaders
Clayton M Christensen’s classic treatise, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, has been recommended to SiliconRepublic.com by many business leaders over the years.
Described by Harvard Business School as “a book no manager or entrepreneur should be without”, The Innovator’s Dilemma explores the many reasons why companies fail to capitalise on disruptive innovations.
OSSM Cloud Solutions’ Ray Ryan said the book “highlights the importance of promoting innovation to customers”.
“A successful business can do everything right but still fail if it does not know when to abandon conventional business practices.”
Ciaran McGuinness from NTT Data said it’s the best business book he’s read. “Despite this book being published in the late 90s, it still stands up today, and it touches on a key business problem that I still see everywhere I go … I’ll let you read it to see if you agree!”
On the naughty list
“I have to admit that I love a good disaster business book,” confessed Colin Hetherington of Zoo Digital. “I find I learn more from those than the other more optimistic business guides.”
If, like Hetherington, you are interested in the dark side of business, you might like his recommendation Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac.
Documenting the rise and fall of Uber’s brash and ambitious co-founder Travis Kalanick, Super Pumped was described by journalist John Carreyrou as “a parable about power … Aside from being a delicious read, Mike Isaac’s account is also teeming with new revelations that will shock and outrage you”.
Another contender in the ‘brash leaders’ category is Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, recommended by Salesforce Ireland’s Carolan Lennon. This bestseller perfectly captures 1980s Wall Street cut-throat culture in the tale of RJR Nabisco’s high-living president Ross Johnson and the high-octane power struggle to take over the company. Lennon described it as “an incredible book”.
The magic of make believe
For those looking for a total break from the world of work, here are some fiction recommendations to transport you from conference calls to Greek myths, from email threads to OAP detectives and from business deals to offers you can’t refuse.
For Ergo’s Gary Corley, “Nothing really beats getting stuck into a new book as a way of just switching off from the world and immersing yourself in another.
“I recently joined a book club in my local library, which has been a really good way for me to get back into reading on a regular basis.”
Corley recommended The Godfather, Mario Puzo’s 1969 bestseller that inspired the genre-defining gangster films from Francis Ford Coppola. “A recommendation you should not refuse!” said Corley. Fans of the films have found this book enjoyable, though it may be one of those rare examples of a film that’s better than the book.
PharmaLex Ireland’s Jane Lyons is keeping things in the family by recommending Breaking Point by her sister-in-law Edel Coffey. This thrilling drama follows high-powered Susannah who appears to have everything going for her until she’s put on trial for negligence. Marian Keyes describes the novel as “a gripping, compulsive page-turner about what we expect from women, especially mothers”.
For easy reading, Lyons also recommended Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club series. The latest novel, The Last Devil to Die, maintains the sweet and funny charm of the earlier murder mysteries but dials up the sentimentality so be prepared for a few tears as you follow Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim and Ron on another Zimmer-framed adventure.
For something a shade darker, Jason Nurse from CybSafe recommended George Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. As prescient in these times of AI and mass surveillance as it ever was, Orwell’s influential novel has the power to unsettle contemporary readers.
Earlier this year, Sandra Newman published Julia, a companion novel which develops the character of Winston’s lover from the original.
Newman, who was invited to write this story by the Orwell estate, gives agency to the Julia character, providing us a sideways glance at Orwell’s very masculine totalitarian landscape and offering a ray of hope in the otherwise bleak world of Oceania.
“I love reading fiction, especially fiction based in a historical setting,” said Thorbjorg Helga Vigfusdottir of Kara Connect. She recommended The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller. This imaginative retelling of the Trojan War won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2012.
According to The Independent UK, “Miller has combined scholarship with imagination to turn the most familiar war epic into a fresh, emotionally riveting and sexy page-turner.
“Patroclus follows Achilles into battle, but it is their magnificent and very modern love story that makes this an epic.”
Joy to the world
As much as it is a celebration, the turning of the year is also a time for reflection. Here are two memoirs which can offer guidance and perspective for those mid-winter ruminations.
“I’m always drawn to sports-related books,” said Netwatch’s Colin Hayes. “Seeing how high-achieving people pursue and reach their goals is always inspiring.”
Hayes recommended Obsessed by Richard Dunwoody. “It reveals a brutally honest and somewhat shocking insight into the world of a top-class national hunt jockey and his obsession to become champion,” said Hayes.
“It showed that while having ambitious goals and the drive to get them is worthy, you can’t lose sight of everything else around you in order to get there.”
Finally, Project Scientist’s Patrice S Johnson recommends I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
According to Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. In this first of her memoirs, Angelou tells the often-agonising story of her early life. Having suffered abuse and racism from a young age, Angelou’s is a hard-won wisdom, propelled by a unique talent. James Baldwin described the book as “a Biblical study of life in the midst of death”.
For Johnson, Angelou’s work speaks to “purpose, triumph and possibility”.
“I believe in perseverance and having courage to pursue a vision with relentless determination.”
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