My 2020 Reading List

My 2020 reading list comprises of sixteen books which are insightful and pretty remarkable, and they include:

“How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves from the Board to the Boardroom” by Garry Kasparov.

This is an intriguing text on the striking similarities between life and chess. One striking lesson from the book:

Aggressiveness is as much of an asset in politics, business, and other walks of life as it is in chess.

Garry Kasparov

“The Company of the Future: Meeting the Management Challenges of the Communications Revolution” by Frances Cairncross.

Amid the ever-changing technological landscape, organisations are bound to either respond effectively to the disruption, or risk decaying and collapsing. Cairncross offers ten rules for survival: manage knowledge; make decisions; focus on customers; manage talent; manage collaboration; build the right structure; manage communications; set standards; foster openness; and develop leadership.

“Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy” by Noam Chomsky with David Barsamian.

This is an unhinged conversation on the triumph of global anarchy manifested through imperialism, interventions, colonial legacy, nefarious private capital and corporatism. It is an elaborate discussion on global geopolitics – a candid view of the activities of the “masters of the universe.”

“A Leap Into the Future: A Vision for Kenya’s Socio-Political and Economic Transformation” by Anyang’ Nyong’o.

Undoubtedly, this book is an illuminating account and blueprint for transforming Kenya’s political economy. Such transformation, according to Nyong’o, rests on the quality of political leadership, and he illustrates this by stating that:

What Lee Kwan Yew meant to convey to us was that leadership matters in development, particularly leaders with clear ideas and vision about the future of their nation, those who can fix their eyes on some distant star that guides their action towards clear developmental goals…

Anyang’ Nyong’o

“Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life” by Robert Reich.

I can’t think of any other book that outlines the history of the rise of neoliberalism in America and across the world quite magnificently like Reich’s “Supercapitalism”. To him, the rise, and rise of corporate power poses a danger to democracy. There’s no doubt that political campaigns across the world have been taken over by wealthy merchants with citizens banished to the fringes of the socio-political systems.

“The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell.

To illustrate how little things can make a big difference, Gladwell explores the nature of epidemics by looking at what he primes as the three agents of change – the Law of the Few; the Stickiness Factor; and the Power of Context.

According to Gladwell, the tipping point (or change) is realized when: a handful of rarely gifted people are heavily involved (the Law of the Few); a contagious message is made memorable and irresistible (the Stickiness Factor); and the right environment or situation for change is created (the Power of Context).

“The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World” by Jonathan Powell.

Niccolo Machiavelli is a classic instructor of the game of power. “The New Machiavelli” is a candid illustration of Machiavelli’s lessons about power. It is an essential text on the intricacies and intrigues of political power. Brilliant!

“Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy in Kenya: Choices to Be Made” by Anyang’ Nyong’o.

Nyong’o admonishes the presidential system in Kenya and fervently advocates for institutionalization of the parliamentary system of democracy. He offers ten reasons, among them: a troubled post-independence history as a result of the presidential system; presidential politics hardly builds political parties; better nurturing of national development policies; effective administration of devolution; and better inclusivity of disenfranchised groups among others.

“Tom Mboya” The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget” by David Goldsworthy.

This is one of the most definitive political biographies, particularly about Kenya’s most brilliant politician. It is an engrossing documentation of a man who certainly came before his time, and did all he can to acquire power – such a strong-willed character.

“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” by Shoshana Zuboff.

According to Shoshana Zuboff, surveillance capitalism refers to “A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales.”

We love technology, but hardly think of the dangers that it poses to humanity. This book is one of the finest texts on the intricacies of the political economy of capitalism in the face of rapid technological development.

“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Freakish. Comical. Hilarious.

“Think Like A Freak” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

A sequel to “Freakonomics”, and definitely a breath-taking and intriguing text!

“On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder.

This is a refreshing account on confronting political tyranny and enhancing societal progress. Simple, yet relevant.

“Mastery” by Robert Greene

The rigor and almost-philosophical intensity with which Greene writes the book is engrossing. The book is a dynamo – deeply reflective, thoroughly informative, and richly instructive.

“My Life in Red and White” by Arsene Wenger.

The French economist and football coach/manager offers insights on what it takes to be at the top for long – a great deal of obsession, strong sense of conviction, discipline, being demanding, setting high standards, and physical fitness. I wrote a review of the book (click here to read) and outlined some of the most crucial lessons offered by the former Arsenal F.C manager including:

…The common denominator for any success is a combination of attitude, talent and external luck. People at the top are also capable of objectively analysing their own performance and are hard on themselves. A good balance between intelligence and constant motivation and a good dose of humility…

Arsene Wenger

“Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations” by Jeffrey Pfeffer.

This is one of the most intimate books I have read on leadership and management. All crucial lessons on Politics and Power 101 are captured in the text. Pfeffer’s in-depth writing about the centrality of power in organizations is bewitching!

Happy New Year 2021.

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist and contributing writer of The African Executive Magazine.

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