Living life, Reading life

Books I've Read in May

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism – Ha-Joon Chang.

What the cover says: In this revelatory book, Ha-Joon Chang destroys the biggest myths of our times and shows us the truth about how the world really works, including: there’s not such thing as a free market; the washing machine has changed lives more than the internet; people in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than in wealthy ones; and making risk people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.  We don’t have to accept things as they are.  Ha-Joon Chang is here to show us there’s a better way.

Why I picked it up:  Blame the Rebel Book Club crowd – this month was all about unconventional views on economics.  So not necessarily something I would have read otherwise but that’s what I love about Book Club.

What I say: I really enjoyed getting a different perspective on free-market economics and this definitely challenged my views on conventional economic theory (held thanks to that economics degree years ago).  I liked the fact you don’t need to be an economist to understand Chang’s arguments, although it did feel a bit overly simplified in places; he makes some BIG assertions that aren’t always backed up.

Drive – Daniel H. Pink

What the cover says:  A book that will change how you think and transform how you live.  Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people – at work, at school, at home.  It is wrong.  As Daniel H. Pink explains in his paradigm-shattering book Drive, the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today’s world is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and the world.  Along the way, he takes us to companies that are enlisting new approaches to motivation, and introduces us to the scientists and entrepreneurs who are pointing a bold way forward.

Why I picked it up:  I think this came up in my Amazon Recommends so can probably be traced to back to all of the Rebel Book Club ordering!

What I say:  I really enjoyed this.  The writing is quick-paced and to the point.  Pink describes a society moving past ‘Motivation 2.0’, based on rationality and money-motivators.  Instead, he highlights three key aspects to motivate people, in a book that very much ascribes to the relatively new field of behavioural economics.  These three elements of autonomy, mastery and purpose are key, he argues, to foster ‘Type I’ behaviour, that is less concerned with external rewards and more with the inherent satisfaction the activity brings.  I found it really interesting to thing about what motivates me and how my work and life matches those needs; it also had me thinking a lot about how I motivate my team and set a culture at work that fosters Type I behaviour.  Pink also, brilliantly, has some really practical tips at the end as well as a chapter summary and glossary which all make it so easy to put some of these ideas into practice.

Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine

What the cover says:  Are men from Mars and women really from Venus?  Gender inequalities are increasingly defended by citing hard-wired differences between the male and female brain.  That’s why, we’re told, there are so few women in science, so few men in the laundry room – different brains are just suited to different things.  Not so, argues cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine.  Whether you’ve found yourself frustrated by the gender straightjacket that still contains us, or failed to notice it, Fine’s sparkling yet vehement attack on ‘neurosexism’ will be essential reading.

Why I picked it up: I have been trying to finish this book for months and, to be honest, I really can’t remember how I heard about this but it is right up my street.  I’m fascinated by how brains and minds work and I’m also so interested in how sexism is perpetrated so this was a perfect combination.

What I say:  The fact it has taken me so long to finish this is not an indication that it’s not a good read but it is a bit on the heavy side.  Fine does a great job of explaining some quite complicated neuroscience but you do need to take your time to really absorb what she’s saying.  In a nutshell, a lot of the ‘science’ quoted in the popular press and propagated by a few well-known neuroscientists makes huge leaps of logic to bold conclusions based on small studies and a new science that we still don’t really understand.  I think it’s so dangerous to describe differences in behaviour as hard-wired and immutable.  Firstly, based on what I have read, I believe brains are constantly developing and evolving based on our genes and experiences.  Second, Fine refers to a number of studies that suggest these stereotypes are horrendously self-reinforcing.  Women who are asked to tick a box marked ‘female’ before a maths test do worse than women who don’t; there is a similar effect with African-American men.  If history tells us anything, it says that gender roles change over time and across societies.  Saying that women have less inclination and ability in STEM subjects is not just wrong but fundamentally damaging for individuals and society.

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