Although not “business books,” these six titles (all recommended by CXO Media staff) take on issues important to business readers—conscience, corruption, leadership, organizational politics, power and the nature of success—and are offered as an opportunity to diversify your summer reading list.
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
Scout Finch narrates this unflinchingly candid story of growing up during the Depression in the deep South. She whiles away the summers playing games with her older brother and their friend, plotting with them ways to make a reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley (the bogeyman-designate of the town’s children), “come out.” Then her attorney father takes on the defense of a black man charged with raping a white woman. When the fallout from the trial intersects with the ongoing saga of Boo Radley, Scout and the reader learn a lesson about the dehumanizing effects of prejudice (of all kinds) as well as the need to stand up for justice—even at great personal risk.
Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Thomas Hoving
An aging, elitist organization hires a brash, thirtysomething hotshot to turn things around. During the next 10 years, he makes the moribund institution over into a bottom-line- and growth-oriented business enterprise with an expanded customer base. Then his board shows him the door. In this tell-all memoir, he reveals what it took to accomplish the transformation, and it’s not a pretty picture. The infighting and backbiting he describes will probably be all too familiar to readers, even though the organization that this amusing and erudite book exposes isn’t a corporation at all, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Killer Angels
By Michael Shaara
In the green pastures of rural Pennsylvania near Gettysburg, 50,000 soldiers were killed in a bloody three-day encounter that has since achieved mythic status in American history. Among the many vignettes of leadership in this absorbing chronicle, one of the most inspiring is the story of Col. Joshua Chamberlain—an academic with no military training whose innate courage and strategic abilities were tested and proven in action, as his 20th Maine infantry regiment held the Union’s left flank at a tipping point of the battle.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
By Robert A. Caro
A public works czar for more than 40 years, he created New York’s parks and beaches, public housing, highways and bridges. Was this master builder a Roosevelt, a Rockefeller, a La Guardia, a Lindsay? No. The single most powerful person ever to hold sway in New York (both city and state) was a private citizen, Robert Moses. Through the sheer force of his personality and will—and without ever being elected—he commanded the workings of every municipal institution, public and private. This cautionary tale reveals how, as Moses accumulated power, power eventually became an end in itself. For better or worse, present-day New York City is in many ways a monument to this one man’s unchecked megalomania.
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
By Stephen Ambrose
The Lewis and Clark Expedition was sent by President Jefferson to explore the mostly unknown territory the United States had purchased from France in an 1802 treaty that overnight doubled the young country’s land area. Undaunted Courage is the chronicle of that adventure, but it’s also the sadder story of expedition leader Meriwether Lewis, who, haunted by what he saw as the expedition’s failure to accomplish many of its original objectives, died (possibly by his own hand) three years after returning to the East. With the perspective of 200 years, modern readers will see that Lewis’s return home safely with all but one of his Corps of Discovery was in itself a victory over the odds and a triumph of personal leadership, but “success” is often more accurately assessed over the long term.
All the King’s Men
By Robert Penn Warren
Governor Willie Stark (who is loosely modeled on Depression-era Louisiana governor Huey Long) began his political career as a reform-minded backcountry lawyer but acquired a taste for power and abandoned his original ideals. His aide and hatchet man, Jack Burden—whose sole job is to dig up dirt on anyone who stands in the way of the governor’s ambitions—narrates this complex and beautifully imagined morality tale of a leader whose corruption is his undoing.