Top 3 Book Recommendations – Making sense of Life in the Present Times

Introduction

The following 3 books give a greater perspective in making sense of our chaotic and rapidly shifting society.

While all of the opinions here contains vast generalizations, it is sometimes better to step back and look at the generals for the larger picture instead of being overwhelmed by the specifics, and it’s important to know the rules before knowing the exceptions.


Generations at Work –  by Ron Zenke, Claire Raines, Bob Filipczak

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/116631.Generations_at_Work

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This book explains four generations in the US – The Greatest Generation, The Boomers, The Gen-X and the Millennials, what their value systems are, what their strengths and weak-spots are, and how to communicate effectively to them.

The Greatest Generation are those who fought wars and then returned home to industrial work. They are tenacious and loyal, but always have to be given specific instructions, and also give very specific instructions to others. They generally hate swearing, and love handling repetitive tasks in very large volumes.

The Boomers are those who grew up in post-war prosperity and developed the country’s infrastructure. They strongly value positive inspiration, personal stories of achievement and networking to further their reach up. They don’t respond well to realism or asking to do grunt work, and are instead great for mentoring youth, marketing products and evangelizing causes.

Red Buddhist Temple alongside modern skyscraper in Tokyo
Old vs New – Tokyo

The Gen-X grew post-boom when the silicon valley came up. Gen-X love silence, and to be given long-term instructions and be left alone. They are strongly self-reliant and deliver on time, but are extremely wary of changing contracts scopes or other forms of asks which could be interpreted as exploitation.

Millennials strongly value higher social purpose, and giving back to the community. Millennials generally prefer to work in groups and finding value in how their work affects other people, other groups, the company as a whole and the larger community.


Quiet – by Susan Cain

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8520610-quiet

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‘Quiet’ by Susan Brown is a paradigm-changing book that introduces the concept of introversion and normalizes it by pointing out that all people lie on a spectrum between introversion and extroversion. Being an introvert should not carry social stigma, and introverts should not be stigmatized as shy, socially inept, self-centered, lonely or lacking confidence.

In fact, in a world piled up to the sky with “How to get rid of your introversion” books, this one changes the rules of the game by saying “Your introversion is your strength”. It talks about how both introversion and extroversion have positives and negatives, and thus, introverts must stop mimicking extroversion and instead tap into our unique strengths.

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Introversion – Prudence, Introspection, Accountability [Pic – Tea Garden]

We live in an extrovert-ideal culture. This means our society highly values

  • a display of enthusiasm and energy
  • active engagement, networking and social validation
  • spontaneity and thrill-seeking

These qualities, while generally positive, are mistaken for competence, character and leadership, leading to disastrous results. Our political and business leaders whom we selected for being extroverts alone, led to financial crashes due to their overconfidence, adventurous decisions and seeking of peer-validation and networking over doing the right thing, or having the clarity to see what the right thing is.

Those of us who are introverts, or friends and family of introverts should value positive traits of introversion and what it has to bring to the table for us as individuals and the society. These strengths are –

  • Prudence and Tact – Introverts have higher sensitivity towards potential risks, and can easily predict future dangers and make more responsible decisions with fallback plans.
  • Solitude and Focus – Introverts are better at long hours of work alone without searching for distractions either through social validation or thrill-seeking. Many scientific researchers and literary and artistic geniuses are introverts, because such works require playing the long game.
  • Accountability and Reliability – Introverts tend to be more straight-forward in their assessment of situations as well as commitment towards work and responsibility. This means they are less likely to overcommit out of enthusiasm and later back out when the honeymoon phase is over. Introverts will always keep their word.

21 lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38820046-21-lessons-for-the-21st-century

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Harari has written two previous books – one about origin and evolution of humanity, and the other, a prediction about where humanity will be in the distant future. Obviously, this begs the question – where are we now? And why do we feel lost?

While there are many books addressing the confusion of the present times, this book provides a unique high-level perspective drawn from international politics, anthropology, human psychology, economics and ethics to contextualize our present confusion and despair – which seems to have no clear enemy or threat, and yet is felt as a profound chasm of emptiness and deep-rooted primordial anxiety.

The content of the book is organized logically from cause to effect, and from evidence to deduction and the style of the narration is compassionate, nuanced and gentle.

Original Hiroshima Flame burning inside the dove surrounded by colorful paper cranes
Original Hiroshima Flame burning inside the dove surrounded by colorful paper cranes

Unlike obvious threats in the last century – Nuclear Annihilation, Nazism, Communist Dictatorships, Colonialism and Hyper-capitalist exploitation – the threats of our times are more invisible and without a face, and yet, far bigger.

Throughout recent history, humanity had the strength to endure hardships, because they had a “Story” to latch on to – an ideation of life which they were fighting for, and wanted for their children. As religiosity declined, the “Story” of a theocratic society was rejected. After the Holocaust, theories of Eugenics and Ethno-Centric societies were rejected. The failure of many Communist Dictatorships also led to rejection of that Story.

The only story we had left over was the modern liberal Democracy with free-market economics. Having one single story is amazing – there is no confusion – the One Clear Path is here. And this model was adapted by many emerging post-colonial countries across the entire world.

But today, the middle-class is disappearing. There is a looming threat of automation and climate-change. Free-Market can be hacked to create giant monopolies which can erase competition. People’s opinions and votes in a Democracy can be hacked by algorithms spreading sensationalized news.  Free-Speech Social media can be hacked to brainwash people to mass-murder for God or for the Superior Race.

In other words, while Democracy was an ideal, its promises are not holding up. The last “Story”, “Ideal” or “Perfect Society” we had is falling apart in our lifetimes. But it is not the falling apart which is bothering – it’s that now, we will be left with Zero stories, ie, no alternatives.

This book, after revealing the problem, walks through different possible solutions and ends on the note of the most likely candidate solution and encourages us to have faith in its direction.


Conclusion

It’s important to understand that generalized statements need to be treated as broad direction markers, and not the unquestionable truth. Each of us human beings are unique individuals with unique stories, no matter what our age, personality, economic class or politics are.

Labels are useful in as much they help us make sense of ourselves and our communities. While sometimes labels can be limiting, at other times, labels can give us vocabulary to express ourselves in ways where we can be heard and valued.

If you have any book that has changed your perspective about life and society, let me know in the comments.


Note – all front cover images are from GoodReads and respective links have been provided.

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