A spirited discussion about books at lunchtime inspired me to put together a short list of ones I would recommend from this year.
At the top is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, founder and chairman of Nike. Knight doesn’t make any great claims about being an awesome business strategist or thinker, but simply recounts how he got stuff done and dealt with the inevitable problems that he encountered in building the company into a global powerhouse. His down-to-earth attitude and natural unvarnished style are highly refreshing and inspiring. He shows that anything possible if you have the courage to just do it.
The Path is a slim volume that provides a breezy and at times thought-provoking overview of the teachings of the major ancient Chinese philosophers, including Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Mozi, and Xunzi, as well as featuring some intriguing snippets from a couple of lesser known gems, The Inner Training and The Wuxing. The main message of the book is that the secret to leading a good life is to always keep yourself open to new possibilities by cultivating your emotions and instincts so that you respond effectively to whatever particular situation you find yourself in.
If your interest in Chinese philosophy is stimulated by The Path, you should then move on to Trying Not To Try and Effortless Action by the Canadian academic Edward Slingerland. The latter volume, in particular, provides a much more comprehensive and sophisticated analysis of the teachings of the great ancient Chinese philosophical heavyweights, and explores key concepts such as spontaneity and wuwei (effortless action) in a lucid and engaging manner.
The author has also posted some excellent videos on YouTube that provide a succinct and entertaining introduction to the core teachings of Confucius and Laozi. This one below does a particularly good job of explaining the mysteries of the rites and putting them into a modern-day context.
As an honorable mention, I would also add When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. In this book, the author provides a thorough account of China’s history as what he defines as a civilization-state and explores the potential geopolitical implications of the country’s rise as a global superpower. If you want to understand how China views its relationship with Taiwan and the other nations in South East Asia that have traditionally been within its orbit, this is as good a place as any to start.