Friday, 2 August 2019

The Enterprise summer reading list

The Beginning

Your Wealth is a custom Enterprise briefing for people just like you: Executives, entrepreneurs and builders who know that time isn’t money, but that time and money are feedstock for the one thing that matters most in life: Your family, however you define it.

Once a month, in partnership with our friends at CIB Wealth, we’ll bring you a hand-picked selection of ideas, tips and inspirational stories that will help you make the most of your time, enhance our wealth, and build a better life with the people you love.

As always, we love hearing from readers. Send us story ideas, hints, tips or interview suggestions to editorial@enterprise.press.

Your Life

When was the last time you read a good book? In our increasingly busy and time-poor lives, reading as a leisure activity often falls by the wayside. Many of us now eschew the kind of deep and absorbing reading that was once a mainstay of long summer holidays or pre-Netflix evenings. A steady stream of information online has led to skim reading becoming the new normal. With 687.2 mn printed books sold in the US in 2017 alone, there has never been such choice and availability of reading material out there. So for this issue of Your Wealth, we bring you a selection of reviews and recommendations of some of our favorite books, along with thoughts on how to get the most out of the reading experience.

The life of book lovers in Egypt: Egypt has produced its fair share of great literature, whether it’s the product of literary giants writing in Arabic, such as Naguib Mahfouz or Taha Hussein, or the more recent, deeply evocative novels of Lucette Lagnado and Ahdaf Soueif, written in English. But who and what else is out there? Wander off the beaten track (of Egyptian writing available in English) and there’s a treasure trove of writers for a larger audience to discover, including the unbelievably prolific Khairy Shalabi, former graphic novelist Muhammad Aladdin, and Bahaa Taher, whose voice has been described by the Times Literary Supplement as “sombre, wise and lyrical.” We recommend complementing this with a physical exploration of Cairo’s literary heritage, going on some of the walking tours that take place Downtown or hunting for some of these little-known bookshops that are bound to stock a more eclectic selection of books than you’ll find in Diwan.

How to read more: a guide. It’s all very well for us to espouse the benefits of reading, but for anyone with a busy schedule (i.e. all of us), good intentions only count for so much. We recommend employing a few of the highly practical tips listed here to turn ideas into action. Tips include reading two books at a time to accommodate your own changing moods and energy levels, reading when you have small amounts of time (even if it’s only in 15 minute chunks), using apps to train yourself to read more quickly, and planning out which books you want to read in a given period (the recommended 50 in a year might be a little ambitious, but you get the point).

There are also, of course, audiobooks — which we love — although we take the point that they are not a precise substitute for actually reading a book. But with global revenue from audiobook downloads up 32% in 1Q 2018 y-o-y, they must be doing something right.

If all this sounds a bit too calculated, you can always explore some of the initiatives aiming to encourage a love of reading — from events held to mark World Book Day, to Cairo’s annual book fair, and a whole host of smaller grassroots schemes in countries ranging from Egypt to Morocco to Iraq. As one Lebanese author puts it, “You have to be creative to make sure reading is loved.”

And now, without further ado, we bring you the Enterprise summer reading list

Fiction

Slaughterhouse-Five: a surprising poster child for peace. Back in 1968, who would have thought that a novel featuring fourth-dimensional aliens would turn out to be one of the century’s most affecting anti-war novels? Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is a hard book to describe. Laced with jet-black humor and heightened self-awareness, the narrative structure jumps backwards and forwards in time as we follow the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, as he is deployed to Europe during the Second World War. Based on Vonnegut’s own experiences of the Battle of the Bulge and the bombing of Dresden, Slaughterhouse-Five — even while taking the occasional detour to planet Tralfamadore — manages to portray a deeply authentic human response to war. Some will be turned off by Vonnegut’s postmodern approach to storytelling, but Slaughterhouse-Five nonetheless deserves to be mentioned among the great war novels.

The Catcher in the Rye — worth picking up just to remember your goth phase in high school: By turn blunt, sarcastic, and almost painfully moving, the distinctive voice of protagonist Holden Caulfield has gripped successive generations since The Catcher in the Rye was first published in 1951. Although achieving universal consensus on the book’s meaning seems impossible, its themes of alienation and loneliness consistently strike a chord with young people the world over, with a 2009 BBC review describing it as "the defining work on what it is like to be a teenager." It is also highly atmospheric, painting such a vivid picture of 1950s New York that the city itself could almost be viewed as a character in the book. This is a classic, and it’s a classic for a reason.

The Secret History — twists and turns that will engross you: Youthful promise gives way to something more sinister in Donna Tartt’s dark and brilliant first novel, The Secret History. Narrator Richard feels like an outsider when he arrives at an elite Ivy League-style university, quickly becoming entranced by a small group of privileged students who take private Greek classes and emit an air of glamor and mystery. Gradually, he enters into an intoxicating new life, where all that seems to matter is the pursuit of knowledge and beauty. But a heavy secret, revealed right at the beginning of the novel, weighs on both the characters and the reader. Suspenseful and gripping, the book is a thought-provoking exploration of obsession, human nature, and the lines we draw to govern social behavior. It is unputdownable.

Americanah — on identity, self-knowledge, politicization and true love: Ifemelu and Obinze meet and fall in love in military-ruled Nigeria. Both are young and ambitious; both have plans to depart for the west. Their experiences overseas force them to grapple with issues they had never had to consider before: what it means to be part of a minority, whether individual needs should be subordinated to group needs in the fight for status and respect, the politicization of self-expression, whether love can endure despite lies, distance, and brutally harsh truths. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an exceptionally gifted writer, who deftly — and with wry humor — observes the contradictions, hypocrisy and frailty that often peppers human interaction. You come to know her characters intimately, and you miss them when the book ends.

His Dark Materials — powerful imagery, but read it for the gripping story: Phillip Pullman’s epic fantasy trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) might be marketed towards young adults, but they are loved by readers of all ages. The reader is immediately drawn into a carefully-crafted, vibrant world of parallel universes, armored bears, witches, and mysterious, charged, elementary particles. We follow friends Lyra and Will as they move between worlds — some very much like our own, others very different to it — in a bid to escape a host of malevolent characters belonging to the powerful and unyielding Magisterium, a rigid organization driven to rid the world of original sin. A partial reworking of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the narrative arc encompasses complex ideas related to physics, philosophy, theology and morality, but though the books raise powerful questions, they are also just brilliant stories.

Never Let Me Go a coming of age story, but not as you know it: Kathy, Tommy and Ruth all grow up together at a British boarding school. Though they are treated with kindness, with a lot of care taken over their health in particular, a vague sense of melancholy permeates their environment. Is it because they, like all the children at the boarding school, have no families of their own? Are they just facing the complexities of adolescence, with all its yearning and petty jealousies? As the three go out into the world as young adults, their friendships are both underpinned and threatened by frustrations and emotions they don’t know how to give expression to. But a hazy future looms ever closer, and the claustrophobic intensity of their relationship will be broken when each goes their separate way. At the same time, the specter of an unavoidable horror hangs over every desire they have to lead independent lives. Writer Kazuo Ishiguro, a master of the subtle interplay between environment and memory, evokes the regret of chances not taken, even as he gradually reveals the full extent of the heart-rending choices awaiting his protagonists.

Non-fiction

Nezar Alsayyad brings historical Cairo to life in Cairo: Histories of a City: Anyone can enjoy a fairy tale novel, but arguably you’ll enjoy it more if the events depicted were real and the places only a taxi drive away. Cairo: Histories of a City offers you precisely this. Don’t imagine for a second that this book, written by famous Egyptian architect and urban historian Nezar Alsayyad, is another (dull) recitation of the city’s history. Alsayyad masterfully brings together the political, urban and social history of the city, explaining the connections between them in such a way as to spin a fairy tale from our real history. Tracing our city of 1000 minarets from the time of the Pharaohs, to look at the influence of the Arabs, the Fatimids and the Mamluks, right up to the modern era of gated compounds in the desert, the book brings our city’s many historical locations, and their stories, to life.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: Welsh journalist Jon Ronson has spent much of his career exploring controversial issues related to social behavior, science or politics. His 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed looks at the recent resurgence of public shaming through the internet — Twitter in particular. In fascinating interviews with Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer, and a host of other people who have received a tirade of online abuse not necessarily proportionate to their initial infraction, he humanizes the widely derided. He also looks at why we are so quick to jump on the shaming bandwagon — both as individuals governed by psychological impulses, and as members of a herd, driven by the-internet-as-sociological-phenomenon.

Ronson is a charming and very funny writer, who is by turns disarmingly sincere and compassionate towards his subjects and somewhat disingenuous, concealing his thoughts and motivations when it is expedient. As this excellent review puts it, “Comedy is his disguise and also his weapon. He is a moralist.” And while the reader may trust that she is being invited to turn a critical eye more on the shamers than the shamed, there is also a sense of being warned against the hubris we could all fall prey to, as anonymous observers. As Ronson writes, “The powerful, crazy, cruel people I usually write about tend to be in far-off places…The powerful, crazy, cruel people were now us.” And you can never be completely sure you won’t one day end up on the wrong side of them.

Your top 5

We interrupt your summer reading list to bring you the top 5 pieces of business and economic news in Egypt in July:

Know Your Customer processes: offering security through building mutual trust. When it comes to managing your hard-earned money, the importance of trust can hardly be overstated. Customers need to know their bank has strong security systems in place, and organizations need clear, verifiable data to protect all their clients from fraud or corruption.

That’s why CIB has a clear KYC framework in place. Following standard international practice for banking institutions, credit companies, and insurance agencies, we ask for detailed information so we can verify our clients’ identities. This helps us to protect both individuals and companies from the risk of financial crime.

Having current records helps us protect you: We ask that our Wealth clients keep their personal records at the bank up to date, by supplying us with the following:

  • A valid National ID (for Egyptian nationals) or valid passport (for foreigners)
  • An HR letter (in the event your employment status has changed)
  • A utility bill (in the event your permanent address has changed)
  • A recent Commercial Register (for companies)

For CIB, the security and safety of your savings and personal information is our highest priority. To update your information at any time, simply download the form, supply all relevant data, sign at the bottom of all pages, and either submit it to one of our branches or send it by mail to your branch or to P.O. Box 2340 Al Ataba.

For more information: visit the CIB website.

The econ corner

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, by Richard Rumelt: In his book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters, award-winning business professor Richard Rumelt highlights the widespread use of unnecessary “fluff” and grandiose goal-setting behavior in business strategy. He starts off with examples of bad strategies that substitute vague vision statements for a coherent, well thought-out plan. Rumelt argues that the essence of a winning strategy — or “kernel” as he calls it — is how well it plays into the following three key elements:

  • An ongoing obstacle race: A strategist should always be looking towards upcoming challenges (obstacles) and providing the correct diagnosis of their size and nature.
  • Adopting the appropriate overall approach, or guiding policy, to deal with the challenge (or challenges) on the horizon.
  • Deploying a learned set of actions to implement the guiding policy.

All that glitters is not gold and business strategy is no exception. Vague, well-meaning statements of intent actually do more to obfuscate an issue than to clarify it, which makes forming a coherent strategy difficult. Rumelt highlights this point in a clear and articulate manner, making a practical distinction between strategies that “fail to acknowledge the key obstacles,” and those that bring challenges and ways to overcome themas a focal point of strategic and business success. You can read more here.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely: Traditional economics may posit that rationality governs human behavior, and that a person presented with correct information can choose what is best for himself, based on logic. However, in real life, our behavior often doesn’t match this, argues behavioral economist Dan Ariely, who sets out to demonstrate how so often it is irrationality that serves as the constant in how humans function. Many of our core decisions are shaped by impulses that are quite the opposite of what we believe them to be, including how we choose what we buy, how much we are willing to pay for something, whether we make decisions based primarily on logic or emotion, and why we procrastinate. "My goal, by the end of this book, is to help you fundamentally rethink what makes you and the people around you tick…Once you see how systematic certain mistakes are — how we repeat them again and again — I think you will begin to learn how to avoid some of them." writes Ariely. The book is psychology meets economics, a must-read for students, professionals, and the intellectually curious among us.

Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism, by Ian Bremmer: For the past 40 years, globalization has promised to break down international barriers and bring shared prosperity to the developed and developing worlds alike. The so-called end of history held Western-style liberalism triumphant and heralded a new era of international cooperation. Fast forward to 2019 and the consensus seems to be rapidly unwinding. Rising populism in Europe and America, increasing geopolitical tension, and a new love of walls — both literal and figurative — threatens to usher in a new period of ‘deglobalization’. Political scientist (and head of risk consultancy at the Eurasia Group) Ian Bremmer’s latest book tries to answer the question: why is globalism failing?

Why should you read it? As the scale of the global challenges facing us becomes increasingly evident, the much-maligned “Davos Elite” seems to be doubling down on Business as Usual. It is refreshing then to read a sincere critique of the problems created by globalization from an unapologetic globalist. Although it does tend to retread the same ground, and some of the analysis could be more thorough, Us vs Them avoids the usual talking points in favor of a deeper discussion on the fundamental issues driving the backlash against globalization.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2018 Enterprise Ventures LLC.