Genius Panelists Discuss Books Worth Reading

blue 01This week’s question: What’s a great book you’ve recently read and why do you recommend it?  

Deneece G. Huftalin, president, Salt Lake Community College. Being Wrong:  Adventures In the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. This is a great book about the virtues of being wrong and a testament to how making mistakes actually strengthens us.  It’s a very interesting read and will have you reflecting on your own need to be right and how you may want to conjure up a little love for the maddening mistakes you’ve made in your life…

Randy Shumway, CEO, Cicero Group. Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission. A poignant, inspiring book filled with multiple illustrations of courage and sacrifice in the Philippines during World War II, including:

  • General King risking his reputation and career in hopes of saving the lives of 75,000 troops.
  • Soldiers along the Bataan Death March and within the POW camps willing to sacrifice their lives to help fellow prisoners.
  • Claire Phillips (“High Pockets”), an American woman who started a gentlemen’s club in Manila in order to spy on the Japanese officers; ultimately saving thousands of lives.
  • Rangers and Filipino guerilla soldiers courageously embarking on a difficult and highly risky rescue mission of the most sick and injured remaining survivors of the Bataan Death March.

The strength of character, sacrifice, independence and courage constantly demonstrated through this true story was genuinely inspiring! 

Paul Edwards, editor and publisher, Deseret News. Last night I finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. The contemporary relevance of an adolescent girl’s observations of her life in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam is both astonishing and frightening. As nationalism and authoritarianism seem to gain traction as popular responses to complex global issues, I’ve said to colleagues that it feels as though we are living in the 1930s.

How I wish that those who find any allure in the promises offered by those seeking to close borders or scapegoat entire classes of people – and perhaps more importantly, that those who disagree but find it easier to stay quiet about such issues – would remind themselves of the dystopia that results when people abandon the ideals of a free society. Anne Frank’s diary provides that bracing reminder. It is a testament to the living hell that is unleashed when a religion or ethnicity is singled out for retribution, when property rights are disregarded and when free exchange is destroyed.

It is also a testament of the tremendous good that can be accomplished by a few individuals who possess the courage and strength of character to resist, as best they can, such dark motives. Earlier this year my teenage daughter played Anne in a dramatic production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” I am grateful that Anne’s very own words of light, hope and defiance are now embedded in the soul of my daughter as her generation confronts our gathering darkness.

Andrew Gruber, executive director, Wasatch Front Regional Council. The Passage of Power, book four in Joseph Caro’s magnum opus on Lyndon Johnson, covers the period from before the 1960 presidential campaign, through JFK’s presidency, and the searing time after President Kennedy was assassinated and LBJ was thrust into the office for which he had always yearned. LBJ then masterfully advanced and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. When questioned about the political wisdom of promoting civil rights, Johnson famously and colorfully declared, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?” The book is rich in detail, but is a gripping page-turner, covering one of our country’s most consequential periods. It demonstrates the power of conviction, relationship building, and dogged perseverance even in the face of political challenge. (Book Three, Master of the Senate, describing Johnson’s ascendance to Senate Majority Leader, was equally compelling and won the Pulitzer Prize.)

Mark Bouchard, senior managing director, Southwest Region, CBRE Utah. The start-up of YOU by Reid Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha. A great read, not very long, with the core message about challenging yourself to think differently. The book explores a myriad of professional challenges as a sphere with the “core” being your own life. I embraced the message of seeing opportunities where others see challenges. For anyone questioning where they are in life or career the book is a blueprint for self-reliance and transformation.

Alan Matheson, executive director, Utah Department of Environmental Quality. I recently read and enjoyed The Road to Character by David Brooks.  In this book, Brooks distinguishes between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”.  The former are skills that contribute to external success, that drive us to build, create and discover.  To nurture these skills, one must cultivate one’s strengths.  The “eulogy virtues” are at the core, our inner values and self discipline.  To develop these virtues, one must confront one’s weaknesses.

Drawing lessons from the lives of many inspiring thinkers and leaders, Brooks effectively makes the case for consciously developing our personal character and not just our external reputation.  He wisely suggests that we need to stand against the cultural winds that make it harder to be truly good, and develop “the ripening virtues you see in people who have lived a little and have learned from joy and pain.”  I found real inspiration and hope in reading examples of people who have “achieved inner integration.”  

Rich McKeown, CEO, Leavitt Partners, and former governor’s chief of staff. Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  A great story of champion rowers who rose from humble backgrounds to win the 1936 Olympic gold in front of Adolph Hitler.  The individual stories of how this group came together, worked together and won together is powerful.  Even more compelling though is the lesson of how organizing unique individual talents into a harmonious and collaborative team can far exceed the capacity of any one individual. It served for me as a metaphor for how we can solve complex problems through the building of alliances and the process of collaboration.   

Matt Sibul, chief planning officer, Utah Transit Authority. So given the fact that my 15-year-old daughter has already read more books than I have in my lifetime, I’m probably not the authority on book recommendations.  But I did come across an engrossing read while on spring break with aforementioned teenager and her sister at one of my favorite bookstores, City Lights in San Francisco last March.

It’s a non-fiction work called Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall.  Marshall, who is an accomplished British foreign correspondent, takes the reader through a series of 10 discussions that explain how and why the U.S. became a world power, and why Russia will always struggle to do so.  I’m an engineer and an aficionado of all things maps, and this book does an incredible job of visually explaining how barriers such as marginally navigable waterways and artificially established borders have and will continue to hinder societies around the globe.  Geopolitics has never been so much fun or engaging.  A must-read, especially as we head towards this national election and foreign policy becomes such a discerning factor.

Mike Mower, deputy chief of staff, Governor’s Office. As a confirmed cartophile (lover of maps), one of my favorite books ever is How the States Got Their Shapes.  If you’ve ever wondered why Oklahoma and Idaho have panhandles, why Missouri has a toe on its southern border, or why Utah got the notch taken out it its northeastern border instead of Wyoming, then this is the book for you.  Written by Mark Stein and published in 2008, it has been out a few years but it is still worth a read and is still quite timely – since no state borders have changed since it was published.  Now if I visit with friends who want to know why Michigan has an upper peninsula or why Maryland gets so narrow in its middle, I know the answer.  

Steve Handy, state legislator and former marketing manager for the Deseret News. Several good reads this summer but one I’m especially enthralled with is Nathanial Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution.

Think you know your Revolutionary War history? Think again! Philbrick, the author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea, meticulously takes you through the numerous early battles including the winter at Valley Forge to Arnold’s treason in 1780.

Not that I really needed to, but finally I understand who the various British generals were and their personalities, the two Howe brothers, Burgoyne, Cornwallis and several others. I had no idea there were so many American generals either.

Never before have I understood George Washington’s apprenticeship as a tactician, politician, and general. His Excellency was the man of the hour but he wasn’t a very good general at first and about lost the thing. Divine intervention?

It’s been fun to meet young Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, both in their early 20s. I’d always thought they were a little older.

While not a page turner or a beach read, Valiant Ambition, is a serious study of the emergence of our country and my appreciation for what a miracle it was has only deepened. I highly recommend it.

W. Val Oveson, former lieutenant governor, state auditor and National Taxpayer Advocate. I highly recommend Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner.  In The Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb (which I also recommend) the forecasting profession is soundly criticized and taken to task and for good reasons. If you take Taleb to heart you would never trust another talking head predicting world events on a news program or your investment advisory with a Monte Carlo stock simulation. Tetlock in Superforcasting restores some respectability to forecasting and provides a way to evaluate the good ones from the bad ones.  This is a must-read for anyone interested in economics, business and politics. He provides a great deal of insight into the results of predicting future events. Our society spends a great deal of time, money and effort to predict the future and see around corners. Tetlock helps us understand what to do with all that information. It’s a great read.

Boyd Matheson, president, The Sutherland Institute, and former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee. The Power of Truth was published in 1902, in England, by Episcopalian author William George Jordan.  It has an interesting Utah connection in that Heber J. Grant came across this tiny book and was so impressed by it that he purchased 4,000 copies and began giving them away. Two excerpts give a sense of the power of the book. 

From the first chapter titled The Power of Truth:  Truth can stand alone, for it needs no chaperone or escort. Lies are cowardly, fearsome things that must travel in battalions. They are like a lot of drunken men, one vainly seeking to support another.

The last chapter, which is worthy of a daily read, is titled, The Way of the Reformer:  … it is the fight that is made when all seems lost that really counts and wrests victory from the hand of seeming defeat.

And when it is all over and the victory is yours, and the smoke clears away and the smell of the powder is dissipated, and you bury the friendships that died because they could not stand the strain, and you nurse back the wounded and faint hearted who loyally stood by you, even when doubting, then the hard years of fighting will seem but a dream. You will stand brave, heartened, strengthened by the struggle, recreated to a new, better and stronger life by a noble battle, nobly waged, in a noble cause. And the price will then seem to you—nothing.

Worth spending an evening to read and a lifetime learning to live the principles it contains.