In a very special blog post today, I am handing over to my dear father-in-law. Currently in isolation in Tenerife, he has so far been my most diligent student by a very long way (my five year old has already rebelled and taken over the ‘school’ at home) and has been sending me daily answers to the ‘Big Fat Isolation Quiz’ I sent out to my parents and parents-in-law.
So, without further ado, here are his answers to Question 3: Reading List: List 10 books that are important to you, fiction or non-fiction, and why I should read them.
Paul: “I have cheated here in two ways. First, the books that I am recommending are not necessarily the best by each author; and I have not read one of the books on the list! Read on to discover why…
1.Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre (1974)
John Le Carre, like Graham Greene, is an author to be savoured. He has a very distinctive style, in that he rarely ‘introduces’ characters, they just appear. This can be initially disconcerting as you wrestle with ‘Who, where, why, WTF…?’ . However, afficionados/as (now that I am learning Spanish!) just let it all wash over them. JLC will see you through!
Tinker Tailor is not his best book, but you must start here. To understand JLC’s cold war spy masterpieces, they are ideally read chronologically as the characters evolve and develop.
Unfortunately, you will probably not have seen Alec Guinness play George Smiley, the ‘hero’ of the stories. as the brilliant serialisation of a later novel, Smiley’s People, was broadcast in 1982. However, once you have a picture of him, nobody could be more George Smiley.
If you decide to embark, watch this clip to see the definitive Smiley:
But of course, the cold war ended and JLC moved on, arguably becoming a better writer and storyteller. If you don’t fancy Cold War thrillers, go for one of the later books such as The Night Manager or The Constant Gardener.
2. Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre (2016)
Operation Mincemeat is a true story from the Second World War. It reads like a thriller and, indeed, it is a thrilling story. If you want to lose yourself in a tale of incredible ingenuity which was of massive importance to war in Southern Europe, this is a must. And Macintyre has a whole range of other books detailing some of the more astonishing, and until recently, unpublished aspects of Britain’s secret war.
3. Damaged Goods: The Inside Story of Philip Green by Oliver Shah (2018)
Oliver Shah clearly lays out what an odious and amoral character Green really is. No business knowledge is required. You will never shop at Top Shop again!
4. The End of The Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
A beautiful and evocative book, written by one of the greats of the 20th Century. I am sure that you have read many Greene’s, but if you haven’t, start now. So many diverse stories, wonderfully told. And it was a great film, too!
5. A History of 20th Century Britain by Andrew Marr (2011)
Extremely well-researched and written, this book by Andrew Marr leads you step-by-step through the century to where we are now. I found it fascinating as I lived through half of it! If, however, you are simply curious, read it now. I have encountered no better modern history of Britain.
6. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start up by John Carreyou (2018)
This is the story of Theranos, the blood-testing start up that attracted massive investment, and the support of some of America’s most powerful people, based on lies and hubris. Whilst there are many very good business books, this one stands out for me because of its sheer scale and the (undoubted) psychopathy of the start up’s founder.
7. The Bat by Jo Nesbo (1997)
This is the book that I haven’t read. It is the first book in the Harry Hole series. I started with Book Two and missed an opportunity! Harry is an alcoholic detective working in Oslo (read it with Google Maps open beside you). The books should be read in order if possible. Once you’ve met Harry, it’s difficult not to want to follow him, his personal story and his tales of dark deeds under Norwegian skies.
8. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall (2015)
Why are world politics and economics as they are? You will never look at a map, or consider countries, in quite the same way after reading this geographical insight into world history.
9. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (2008)
I worked for much of my career in (what was then called) Direct Marketing (DM), i.e. direct communications to consumers in the attempt to persuade them to buy goods or services by (what was then called) mail order.
DM was built upon the statistically robust testing of different aspects of direct communication (i.e. the offer, the price, the medium, the copy/design), such that the skilled practitioner began to understand the foibles of human nature. Of course, it helped if you worked for a large company as more money allowed for more testing, which brought greater learning, faster.
Offering consumers choice is a good thing, right? Wrong! The more choice you give someone, the less likely they are to make a buying decision.
Did you know that if you offer three variants of a product with escalating commitment periods (say 3 months, six months or a year), or increasing features, (Base Product, Product + and Product ++), the vast majority will choose the second option?
There used to be books written about DM by some very clever people with years of experience, as it was very different to ‘traditional’ marketing and advertising. John Wanamaker, the founder of Macy’s, famously said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Direct marketers knew what worked and what didn’t because they had developed their techniques to measure it.
For various reasons that are beyond my remit here (happy to explain at some other time), these skills were lost – not just in the UK but around the world. (I sound a bit Nicholas Parsons on Just a Minute there!). However, some clever academics (of which Ariely is one) decided to mathematically test human buying behaviour using experiments to replicate the live buying decision. They wanted to understand (not simply measure) the differences between what people say they will do and what they actually do. The science of Behavioural Economics was born.
If you want an entertaining and very readable insight into this ‘new science’, Ariely’s book is one of the best.
10. The Second World War by Antony Beevor (2012)
Quite simply, a tour de force written by one of Britain’s foremost historians. If you’ve ever wondered about the chronology of the War and how all the pieces fit together, this is the book for you. Masterfully researched and brilliantly written.”
A massive thank you to Paul for letting me share this. I really would suggest giving this a go and getting your friends and family to send you their Top Ten Reads – you can learn a lot about someone from their favourite books (and it might even save you writing a blog post or two…!)