Faculty Column: Books to Read

Courtesy: www.thunderbird.edu
Courtesy: www.thunderbird.edu
Courtesy: www.thunderbird.edu

By Professor Andrew Inkpen

Students often ask me if I can recommend any good new books.  I always find that a difficult question.  Someone wrote recently that there are more than 70,000 books in the strategy field, which is my main area.  Some of these books are seminal works and required reading for students of strategy.  But, there are not 70,000 original ideas in strategy so there has to be a lot of recycled ideas. By the time most new books are published the ideas are old and, unfortunately, not very original.  So, what would I recommend that Thunderbird students read?  We hope that all members of the Thunderbird community are students of the world. To learn more about the world read history, anthropology, science – it will probably be more interesting and useful than the latest business book that promises to help you crack the code on the “secret language of strategy” or help you find “your inner strategist.”

For example, to better understand what is happening in Syria and Iraq you could read Margaret MacMillan’s “Paris 1919 (and read any other books by her – she is an outstanding writer). As MacMillan explains, the fall of the Ottoman Empire gave the French and the British a new lease on imperial ambitions.  In the 1919 meetings that took place in Paris after the end of WW I it was decided that the Syrian coast, much of today’s Lebanon, would go to the French.  Britain would take control of what is today much of Iraq.  Palestine would get an international administration.  The remaining areas, which include much of Syria, Jordan, and northern Iraq, would have local Arab chiefs under the supervision of the French in the north and the British in the south.  Almost 100 years later it is not hard to see that what we call the nations of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria are nothing of the sort.  They are the creations of idealistic French and British bureaucrats.  It is amazing that they have been able to muddle along for so long.

To understand the modus operandi of Vladimir Putin and cronies read “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe” by Anne Applebaum.  What is happening in Ukraine with Russian propaganda about ultra-nationalists, neo-fascists, and extremists is remarkably similar to the brilliant propaganda machines created by what Applebaum calls “Homo Sovieticus.”  The Soviet Union may be long gone but the methods described by Applebaum are still alive and well in dictatorships around the world.  The Soviets invented them and they live on in Cuba, North Koreans, Zimbabwe and many other nations.

Many Thunderbirds want to be expatriates and have cross cultural experiences.  One of the best books about crossing cultures is “White Mughals” by William Dalrymple. The author describes how the Portuguese and British traders, soldiers, and treasure seekers integrated with Indian culture. In the 17th century the Portuguese in India, according to Dalrymple,”did not leave one culture to inhabit another, so much as live in both at the same time, accommodating in their outlook and lifestyles rival ways of living in and looking at the world” (a good description of what we hope Thunderbird students become).  Many of the British expatriate employees of the East India Company also straddled multiple cultures, at least for a time.  Dalrymple says that through the 17th and 18th centuries, one in three British men adopted Indian clothes, living styles, and religion (i.e. White Mughals). For example, Sir David Octerloney “liked to be called Nasir-us-Daula (Defender of the State) and to live the life of a Mughal gentleman; every evening all thirteen of his consorts used to process around Delhi behind their husband, each on the back of her own elephant.” The crossing of the British and Indian cultures all but stopped when the British completed their colonization of India and British society frowned on such mixing of the races.

So, keep reading and keep learning.

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