Reading List/On the Record: January-February 2004


Reading List

We asked participants in the Coach K and Fuqua School of Business Conference on Leadership:

What is your favorite book about leadership?

John A. Allison IV M.B.A. '74, chair and CEO of BB&T Corporation, says his choice is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. "It provides a powerful justification for a rational value system and, through the characters in the novel, demonstrates the consequences of values on the quality of an individual's life."

Among Pratt School of Engineering Dean Kristina M. Johnson's favorites is Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box (Arbinger Institute)--all about strategy. "The main point is that we as leaders and team members need to make sure we don't put individuals in a box. That means that we shouldn't prejudge their actions or intent based on past experiences, because that can lead to artificial boundaries on what they can achieve in the future."

Former Duke basketball star Jay Bilas '86, J.D. '92, now an ESPN commentator who doubles as a lawyer, says he enjoyed reading about, of all things, rocket science. In Norman R. Augustine's Augustine's Laws, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin discusses the lessons he learned as a boss in corporate America. "His insights are tremendous," Bilas says, "and it reminded me that leadership isn't rocket science, it is hard work, preparedness, relationships, and common sense...even when rocket science is the industry."

"Useful" is how John W. Rogers Jr., chair and CEO of Ariel Capital Management, Inc., characterizes Robert A. Caro's The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1). "Johnson was someone who could get things done," Rogers says. "This book highlights Johnson's ability to work with and persuade other people to address and resolve tough issues."

On the Record

A few weeks before he gave a reading at Duke, South African writer J.M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. What does it mean that some of the best and most interesting writing in English is being produced in the former British colonies?

We're seeing a globalization of English literature or, at the very least, a rapid acceleration in this process of globalization of the English language and English literature. The British Empire was instrumental in establishing English as a global language. Even though that empire has largely disappeared, one of its most important legacies is a linguistic and literary one.

Salman Rushdie, Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, and Chinua Achebe were educated in schools established or modeled along the lines of the British educational system. The literature they read when they were in school often had little to do with what we might think of as the original or indigenous literatures and languages of their countries. All were immersed in the British literary tradition.

Four of those six have won the Nobel Prize. For better or worse, they've been influenced by English literature. But that didn't happen by accident--it happened through the expansion of the British Empire over the centuries. America, though more distantly than some of these other countries, was itself a part of the British Empire. American literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries deals with some of the issues you'd find in, say, Nigerian literature today.

One advantage that writers who live in countries formerly part of the British Empire may have is their "easy" access to serious political subject matter. Many of these writers have written about the legacy of imperialism. In their works, they have often responded to difficult, even traumatic political problems that are partly a legacy of colonialism and imperialism. I'm not suggesting that the British Empire was directly or solely responsible for apartheid in South Africa, but many of the social, cultural, and political problems in South Africa that Coetzee has written about were rooted in British imperial history.

In places like Ireland, India, South Africa, and the Caribbean, many of the gravest problems that these countries and regions have faced are rooted in a violent and often deeply tragic imperial history. I don't think it's any accident that Toni Morrison has dealt extensively in her novels and essays with slavery, an institution profoundly entangled with the history of the British Empire.

The kind of serious subject matter that those writers have dealt with, for better or worse, is not as readily or as immediately available to writers from Western Europe or North America. Of course, what is "good" for literature, that is, what makes for a gripping subject for literary treatment, very often does not make for a happy or just society.

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