My Top 6 – The Best Books I Read in 2017

I love reading. Even more, than I love Netflix. Probably even more than I love travelling – what would it be without a few books in my suitcase or backpack?

I read all the time, regardless of how much I am overwhelmed by my job and family. Reading gives me a peace of mind, a balance and, what’s most important – enriches me with almost every book I come across.

I think there are many bookworms on LinkedIn who have a high pile of books waiting to be read on the side of their bed or on their desks. Or in their kitchen. Or in their car. Or anywhere and everywhere. Well, I thought – why not to make these piles higher? Have a look at the top of my pile, maybe you’ll find something interesting to you.

My Top 6 of books does not mean books published in 2017. I read (or keep reading) them in 2017 and they made my year good, but the majority of them were launched earlier. The best books do not grow old anyway, do they?

Here they are, in a random order:

“The Naked Diplomat. Understanding Power and Politics in the Digital Age” by Tom Fletcher (William Collins 2017)

My diplomatic profession is at the crossroads. In the times of multiple global problems, where the digital revolution is crucial but is also just one of many challenges, we desperately seek answers to questions we come across every day. Are we still needed? What are our duties? Who are we responsible before? Where are the ethics and the principles? Does anyone still care about ambassadors or councillors?

Ambassador Tom Fletcher tries to navigate us in this labyrinth of questions, doubts and dilemmas. He uses the digital revolution as a point of departure to fundamental (but at the same full of this unique British sense of humour) deliberations on how we should find our place in the complex, multi-layer arena of foreign relations, no matter where we serve.

This is not a guide through the tools of digital diplomacy. This is an ethics/principles guide for us all – both professional and citizen diplomats – in this complex world, where the major distinction is between those who want to coexist and those who do not see that possible. Between open-mindedness and narrow horizons. This is what I like most about this book – its emphasis on principles and values. Tools, tips and hints on how to perform are there, too and they are helpful. But being sober about true challenges we face is so much more important.

“The Future of #Diplomacy” by Philip Seib (Polity Press 2016)

I can concur with almost every argument of the author, especially when Philip Seib writes that public diplomacy is the future of diplomacy. Hands down. Full stop.

Diplomacy copy-pasted from the old Ferrero Rocher commercial is long gone. Now, if any actor/country/government wants to perform efficiently and effectively in the field of diplomacy and foreign affairs, their actions have to take into account the public dimension, which means: 1) dialogue with and engagement of citizens/audiences, 2) the digital arena.

The authenticity and the content of this dialogue are key. One cannot conduct diplomacy with just one-way-street communications, whether it is Twitter or an MFA website, or traditional speeches. If audiences are not convinced that their voice is heard and their opinions matter, no diplomatic efforts will prove unsuccessful and no politicians or diplomat will deliver.

And since the majority of the global audience is already (or will soon be) connected to the internet, the majority of actions will move there, in every dimension: from the cooperation with diasporas, through consular affairs, up to traditional negotiations (the impact of the digital world on the Iran deal talks deserves a separate book). Audiences want to be heard and expect genuine content. This is what diplomats should provide them with. Again – no matter where we serve.

“How Population Change Will Transform Our World” by Sarah Harper (Oxford University Press 2016)

I found this book in a second-hand bookshop in Washington, DC. From the very first chapter I was astonished by what a fantastic summary of what had been, has been, is and (probably) will be happening in the field of demographics across the world. I especially praised a fantastic set of data and analysis.

For instance, before reading it, I was not aware that “it took Sweden 100 years for the TFR [total fertility rate] to fall from 4.2 to 3.8 (1800 to 1900), while Bangladesh made the transition from 4.1 to 3.4 in less than 20 years from 1990-5 to 1995-2000”. I was not aware that developing countries face a challenge of a falling fertility rate, neither could I imagine how they deal with it.

The age structures across the world will be changing – and will change the world we know dramatically. Through new family patterns, through women empowerment, through migration, through changes on the global labour market, through (un)sustainable educational patterns for young generations and through (un)sustainable policies towards ageing and healthcare. Stuffed with data and statistics, this book opens eyes widely and makes jaws drop for long.

“Maps” by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński (Big Picture Press, 2015, in Poland: Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry, Warsaw 2015)

Ever since me and my brother were children, the world atlas was our favourite book. We could spend hours on analysing maps, searching for mountains, rivers and capitals, dreaming of going one day to China (not yet), the US (checked!), India (checked!) or South Africa (not yet). Or to many other places. Nowadays travelling is much easier and world atlases are even more entertaining.

“Maps” are perfect for children and have already become one of my son’s favourite books (and ours – his parents – too). Whenever he wants to get to know where King Julien (a lemur from the “Madagascar” cartoon), Masha and the Bear (characters from a fantastic Russian cartoon) or panda bears live, we can show him perfect pictures in this illustrated atlas of the world. We can show him drawings of his favourite pizza on the map of Italy and we can explain the most popular names in various countries (it is all shown on the maps!).

Adults also learn a lot from this illustrated world atlas. I am pretty sure that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spend their evenings on telling stories based on “Maps” to their children – they received it as a gift during the July visit in Poland.

“Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage Digital, 2014, in Poland: Dom Wydawniczy PWN, Warsaw 2014)

Some months ago I came across an article on Business Insider saying that there is a book valued highly by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and many other moguls titled “Sapiens”. I was finishing reading one book and decided – OK, let’s try this one. So many bright minds cannot be wrong. And, of course, they did not.

I think this was one of the fastest-read books in my “reading career”. I fell deeply into it and could not stop reading. It was so thought-provoking and well-written and making one start doubting in, like, everything one thought they knew about us. Would you think that the agricultural revolution could be a mistake? Would you think that homo sapiens have been devastating the global fauna and flora from the very beginning of their existence? Would you think that there is a clear answer on why have men for long prevailed in almost every culture? Would you think that all the religions have so much in common? Would you believe that the Gilgamesh Project is destined to succeed? Or not?

One may either hate or love this book. I am in the love camp and highly recommend reading it to anyone who wants to add some sceptical and cynical spiciness to their book life. And to anyone who wants to challenge themselves with a new perspective on the history of our wonderful, humble kind.

“A Capitol Idea. Think Tanks and US Foreign Policy” by Donald E. Abelson (MQUP 2006).

This is an old boy, but I found it in one of Warsaw libraries only this year. I am very much fond of the issue of think-tanks, I cooperate with them on a daily basis from the very first day of my professional career. I study them and write about them. Therefore, I could not omit this book, one of the fundamental readings in the field.

There is no other place where think-tanks matter as much as in the United States. They influence not only the expertise and decisions on public policies, but they have their impact also on presidential (and lower level campaigns). From the early 20th century when first true think-tanks were established by Mr Brookings and Mr Carnegie and others, they have their say in American politics (in both domestic and foreign domains). For many years already, almost every serious candidate cooperates with think-tanks and they do not stop after their election. They keep cooperating also when they leave the office – and sometimes establish their own institutions of this kind.

This book is not an atlas of American think-tanks. This is a book that addresses especially the influence of think-tanks over politics and politicians. It tackles the problem of the financial (in)dependence of think-tanks, especially in the sphere of “bad guys” or transnational corporations trying to finance research and the way think-tanks operate. It addresses the ethics and principles of think-tankers, as well as the way public policy really depends on their expertise. Many dilemmas and questions answered!

#books #bookworm #readingisamust

#globaltrends #globalchallenges

#publicdiplomacy #diplomacy #demography #civilisation #maps #thinktanks #history #humankind #digitalage


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