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Books of the Year

What HSE staff have read and recommend

The New Year celebration brings us eight days of vacation, when we can finally get enough sleep, walk around festive Moscow and discover a new author or book. HSE staff members told HSE Life what books have impressed them most in 2019.

Yulia Grinkevich
Director for Internationalisation

 ‘The Ode Less Travelled. Unlocking The Poet Within’ by Stephen Fry

 ‘I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry ' – that’s the opening line of this book, and one I highly appreciate. This is Stephen Fry's practical guide to writing poetry. It is a wonderful discovery that the ability to express your thoughts and feelings clearly and concisely can be a genuine pleasure, a hobby with a wonderful therapeutic effect.

Unlike music, gardening, drawing or any other hobbies, it is always with us from the moment we start talking and writing. It’s exercise for the mind and joy for the heart, but only if you have mastered the basics and rules of this art. Fry writes wittily and clearly about rhythm, metre and poetic forms with wonderful examples and twenty poetic practices.  It’s a model of stunningly elegant command of the native language and, I suspect, a nightmare for the translator. I can heartily recommend this book!

Anna Bezukladnikova
Head of Legal Review and Education Support Unit

'George Lucas: A Life’ by Brian Jay Jones

Even if you are not a fan of the famous space saga ‘Star Wars’, you are sure to recognise this name. I am fan, and therefore for me the biography of this person, experimenter, creator, a man who rejects routine, and an outstanding master of his craft, has become a guide to two worlds: the world of fiction and cinema and the world of his genius.

The book starts with a description of failure: in the Tunisian desert, where the very first film was shot, everything went wrong from the very beginning. Rain and mud, unbearable heat and broken robotics, fatigue and frustration - there were many reasons to give up. What motivated the madman behind the camera in those unfortunate days? Who or what supported him and did not let him quit halfway? Just for the answers to these questions, this book is worth reading.

You can also find a lot of fascinating facts about how the episodes, characters and the whole Star Wars universe were created. At the same time, along with the birth of a masterpiece, a great screenwriter and a talented director was also born.

 ‘I tried,’ says George Lucas, smiling back at the reporter who asked the director a bold question about what would be the first line of his obituary. I recommend that you try to get acquainted with this book. And then watch all the episodes of ‘Star wars’ saga, but from a different angle.

Liudmila Mezentseva
PR specialist at HSE Press Service

‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst’ by Robert  Sapolsky 

Meeting an ironic scientist with a great sense of humor is always a great success. There are two words that I try to avoid, unless it’s absolutely necessary, ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘unique’. But both words describe Robert Sapolsky's book very well. In this book you’ll meet a researcher who knows almost everything about human neurobiology, endocrinology, genetics and epigenetics (you’ll also learn what this means), and primatology.

Professor Sapolsky not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of these areas, but he clearly enjoys the opportunity to demonstrate this – sometimes it even seems that he flaunts it. It feels like he takes you on a journey: from the moment you raise your hand to vote for a charming dictator, hit a rival, or give flowers on a date to the moment that happened a second, a minute, and even millions of years before to determine the factors that led you to this particular action.

In the list of popular science books about human nature I would put this book in first place for the consistency of presentation. First we look at the event from the distance of a centimeter (neurobiology), and then we move away to a metre, look through the eyes of endocrinologist: what’s up with the hormones? Then we'll look at the situation from the point of view of geneticist, psychologist, sociologist – and the list goes on. No wonder the book is huge. And, for my taste, this is its undoubted advantage. If you read it while in the metro, you can impress strangers or at least train your arm muscles.

If you are interested in human behavior, you can take the course ‘Human Behavioral Biology’ by Professor Sapolsky, which he delivered at Stanford in 2010.

Elena Molodykh
HR Director

 ‘In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It’ by Thomas Kolditz

Among many books about leadership, this book is particularly special. The author is an extraordinary person who has tremendous personal charisma. He was a speaker at Yale when I was studying there, and among the faculty he had a very lively and unusual approach to leadership, motivation, and people management.

He does not say that it is important to motivate people, listen to them, support them, give feedback, etc. These common truths have long been known to everyone. Instead, he gives examples from his past, what he did to build a team, how he nurtured loyalty, how he was a role model to others. His experience is based on the time he served in combat action, and, despite the completely different circumstances, it turned out to be very useful to him in business.


December 26, 2019