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Entrepreneurs attracted to ideas outside normal boundaries

Rajesh Chandy is an expert on entrepreneurship, which may be why his suggested reading list varies greatly from what you might think

By Rajesh Chandy 10 May 2013

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A smörgåsbord of essential reading, classic thinking, distilled wisdom and trends to watch.


India Calling

Anand Giridharadas


The author was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to parents who emigrated from India and now live outside Washington, DC. He is a columnist for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune and is their first Bombay-based correspondent in modern times. India Calling is Giridharadas’ first book, a work of narrative non-fiction about his exploration of the changes in the country his parents knew. Its economic boom and resulting cultural upheaval are transforming the country, and Indians whose role in life was previously determined by caste and gender are now trying to make their own place in society. (288 pages, Times Books, 2011)


Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China

James Fallows


Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine and former editor of US News & World Report, moved to China with his wife in 2006. He reports on the dramatic changes in the country as it develops into a major player in the world economy, provides insight into what makes China different from other Asian nations (as well as the ways it is surprisingly like the West), and offers his insights into a country so huge and complex that it is difficult to define. (288 pages, Vintage Books USA, 2008)


Mr China

Tim Clissold


In the early 1980s and 90s, as China opened to foreign investment, many Western companies dreamed of its huge potential. Clissold was one of the first to arrive in the country with money to invest. His two years of study of Mandarin were inadequate preparation, however, for doing business in a country in which many rules are unwritten and unspoken. The author shares his many failures in an entertaining way, and his memoir is a handbook on how not to do business in a foreign country. (352 pages, Constable, 2010 edition)


The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

Hooman Majd


The grandson of a former ayatollah, Majd was born in Tehran but lived abroad from infancy with his diplomatic family. He was educated in England and the US and now travels frequently between the US and Iran. As a result, his book gives us an outsider’s view of a complex society while retaining an insider’s empathy. Told mainly through anecdote, his stories illustrate the subtleties of modern Iranian culture with eloquence and clarity. (288 pages, Penguin, 2009)


The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma

Thant Myint-U


In this illuminating work, Thant interweaves the history and culture of Burma with a memoir of his life. He examines the country’s legacy of conflict, invasion and imperialism as well as some of the history of past dynasties; and he writes extensively about his grandfather, who overcame his humble origins to become secretary-general of the United Nations. He profiles 20th-century Burmese leaders, discusses the isolation of the country from the global community and offers an analysis of its situation under the current repressive government. (400 pages, Faber and Faber, 2008)


The Americans: The Democratic Experience

Daniel J Boorstin


This final volume in a trilogy about Americans is filled with the events and people who built the country we know today. Boorstin tells stories about citizens of a country without a common ideology or religion, but whose common effort and experience developed a unique national character. His engaging prose brings to life names that are household words in the US, such as Sears and Roebuck or Dunn and Bradstreet. This anecdotal work won the Pulitzer Prize when first published in 1973. It’s every bit as powerful today. (736 pages, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000 edition)


1421: The Year China Discovered the World

Gavin Menzies


Amateur historian and former submarine commander in Britain’s Royal Navy, Menzies uses his knowledge of the sea to propose a reconsideration of history. His book focuses on historic expeditions undertaken in the 1400s by Zheng He, a famed eunuch admiral, whose records were destroyed by a government that broke off contact with the outside world. Menzies believes that, in addition to discovering the Americas before Columbus, the Chinese circumnavigated the globe, perfected cartography and calculated longitude before the Europeans. This thought-provoking work is sure to incite debate — and has. (650 pages, Bantam, 2003 edition)


The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy

AnnaLee Saxenian


In her first book, Regional Advantage, Saxenian described how Silicon Valley became the centre of information technology. In this work, she describes how engineers who came to Silicon Valley from China, India, Israel and Taiwan (the ‘Argonauts’ of the title) have turned entrepreneurial and started technology companies in their home countries, succeeding where traditional development ventures failed. She sees this as ‘brain circulation’ rather than a ‘brain drain’; it allows countries around the world to share in the revolution of information technology while also deepening the managerial, professional and technical abilities of Silicon Valley. (432 pages, Harvard University Press, 2007)


Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day

Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven


This is no theoretical work about how the poor live; the authors took a year to live in some of the most impoverished areas of the world (Bangladesh, India, South Africa), studying over 200 families and how they manage financial matters. You’ll be surprised: the poor may not have all the tools you have to manage finance or credit lines from major banking firms, but they do attend to big matters such as saving for the future. If only our biggest banks understood how responsible and disciplined the poor can be — and how inspirational. (312 pages, Princeton University Press, 2010)


Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium

Ronald Findlay and Kevin H O’Rourke


Even though the authors needed some 600 pages to do it, they provide here a compact history of how the global economy evolved between 1000–2000. What is most intriguing, however, is their belief (very well supported) that trade, a key component of any national economy, can only be fully understood against the backdrop of politics, wars and major social events. If you think the Industrial Revolution happened simply because of the invention of the steam engine and an array of machinery, the authors will show you how the UK Navy and its control of the seas also played a part, along with other variables. You won’t see our present (or future) economy the same way after reading this book. (624 pages, Princeton University Press, 2009)

A smörgåsbord of essential reading, classic thinking, distilled wisdom and trends to watch.

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