With a new hardback from the bestselling author of Prisoners of Geography and a management audiobook that promises to help you talk your way out of a corner at work, here's what you should be reading and listening to this month:
Geopolitics: Divided: Why We're Living in an Age of Walls by Tim Marshall (3 stars)
Tim Marshall’s latest offering might as well be called Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Geopolitics But Were Too Afraid To Ask or perhaps Borders For Dummies.
That’s not to say that the author best known for his hit Prisoners of Geography has written anything short of his usual standard. Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls is accomplished, well-researched, and pacey.
In its essence, this is a useful introduction to the context behind major global events which regularly make the news. But in an attempt to make it topical, the theme of “walls”, both literal and metaphorical, has been slapped on the front.
While President Trump’s repeated promises to build a “big, beautiful wall” may be a resonant image in public discourse at the moment, the idea that divisions such as these are unique to our era is quickly dispelled in the first few pages. Marshall notes that humans have always separated themselves from the outsider, and goes on to prove this with examples from all over the world. He even concedes towards the end that there will always be a place for walls as a temporary solution.
Marshall is quick to get through his material, polishing off subjects as massive as Chinese history up to the present day and the entire Israel Palestine crisis in a single chapter. The only drawback of this is that he does not give himself enough time to add much of his own commentary. As a prolific writer on international diplomacy, his opinions are crisp and thought-provoking when he lets them through. More of this would be welcome throughout the whole but it is instead squashed in at the end, when he proposes his own plan for redistribution of wealth around the globe. By this point, he has stopped adhering strictly to the theme of walls, using it instead as a starting point to discuss geopolitics, economics, and sociology.
This may not be the book to read for anyone with a deep interest and existing knowledge of global affairs. But for anyone who wants to look beyond the headlines and explore the context of some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, it is a fascinating and fast read.
Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls | Tim Marshall | Elliott Thompson | £16.99
Audiobook/Management: Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work by Michael Dodd (4 stars)
At one time or another, we’ve all felt put on the spot at work. Sometimes we manage to style it out, but at other times we freeze, ramble, or blurt something out without thinking. To help avoid future gaffes, in Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work the Australian business journalist and foreign correspondent-turned communication coach Michael Dodd has created what amounts to a crash course in personal PR.
While some of the advice Dodd offers can be boiled down to thinking ahead about what you want someone to take away from your responses, he also details specific “golden formulae” that can be used to structure answers to what he calls “blowtorch on the belly”-style questions that could come up in situations ranging from job interviews and negotiations to responding to corporate disasters.
The net is thrown intentionally wide, making it useful for people at the beginning of their career, though it mostly reads like a manual for executives who need a bit of coaching but won’t splash out for a multi-day corporate seminar. It’s somewhat disconcerting at times to be reminded just how much public speaking is meticulously planned, reinforced by his examples of the good (Richard Branson responding to a Virgin Trains crash) and the bad (ex-BP chief exec Tony Hayward saying “I would like my life back” while talking about the then-recent Deepwater Horizon spill).
But Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work ultimately steers towards being practical rather than sinister, and serves as a reminder that everyone deserves to be able to express themselves properly, even when under pressure.
Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work | Michael Dodd | Capstone? Audible | Available on Audible for £18.79