This year, I enjoyed reading One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, Peter McMillan’s translation of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. These waka poems [a genre of classical Japanese verse] evoke imagery and emotion in the span of a few lines. An example: “How the night deepens as lovers part, a white ribbon of frost is stretched along the bridge of Magpie Wings”.
Leaders are meant to create visions but they give boring, bureaucratic messages. If you look at a poem like this, it is inspiring and teaches you about communication and vision building.
A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment by Philipp Blom is a book that I found philosophically exciting. It describes the late 18th century Parisian salon of Baron Holbach, attended by Diderot, Rousseau and Hume, among other radicals who wanted to build a world based on desire, reason and empathy. These people said that pleasure seeking is important, and they emphasised reason and science. Our broader society and company culture could have been more effective if founded on these three pillars. In business, novels like these help you take a position in thought that helps you manage people.
A third book that I liked is by Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault. It is the story of a mechanical engineer directing the relocation of the ancient Abu Simbel temple on the Nile in 1964. Egypt had to change the course of the Nile to build a dam. A huge lake would be formed which would submerge the temple. So they cut it block by block and relocated it to a higher point. The novel explores complex themes such as place and memory, love and grief, and relocation.
(As told to Shaista Bharwani)
Sanjaya Sharma is CEO, Tata Interactive Systems.
Ex-Libris features business leaders on the books that inspire them
(This story appears in the 29 July, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)