For many, the holiday season is for reconnecting with family and friends, taking vacations, and savoring tastes and sounds from creamy macaroni and cheese to crackling fires.
For faculty at Emory University, the sounds of winter also include the flutter of pages as scholars pick up and peruse a good book-or write one-in pursuit of exploration and relaxation.
From works considering the intersection of culture and business to history tomes and novels, professors in a variety of disciplines are taking advantage of summer's long days and warm nights to delve into books both new and old. Though ostensibly at leisure, these professors are also recharging their mental batteries and expanding their knowledge base in preparation for the academic year ahead.
Tom Smith, for example, is re-reading a book on the economic forces that lead to financial crisis, has started a second on the mechanics of the brain, and has been engrossed by a series of novels.
I am re-reading The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008by Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, says Smith, an assistant finance professor at Goizueta. Krugman's insight into how the current economy mirrors other economic systems is a must-read for anyone interested in our current crisis.
Krugman's book sketches parallels between the economic crises suffered by Japan and the U.S., concluding that the U.S. may actually need a dose of inflation to escape the economic doldrums, says Smith.
It also demonstrates how Japan tried to spend its way out its recession, but was foiled by the country's high rate of savings-a condition that's usually a sign of a healthy economy, Smith adds.
Smith says he covers issues like these in the MBA classes he teaches, so I'm revisiting this book as a way to gain a greater understanding of the principles.
Smith also recently picked up Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, an autobiographical work by the Harvard neuroanatomist who suffered a massive stroke and had to work her mind back into a functioning state.
I have always been fascinated by the brain, says Smith, explaining his interest in Taylor's story. As a professor, I'm basically in the business of exchanging information with others, and I find it fascinating to see how Taylor located and processed information that enabled her to self-diagnose and to ultimately treat her condition.
Smith's third pick is not a single book, but a series of children's novels by a variety of authors entitled The 39 Clues.
I'm reading the series with my 8-year-old child, and we're taking turns reading chapters to each other, Smith says. The series is about a group of globetrotting orphans in search of a family treasure. The books draw on history, geography, art, music, and science in a pretty clever way.
It's light reading that's good fun and stimulates a child's love of learning, adds Smith. And now my son wants to visit Mozart's home in Salzburg-how cool is that!
For those looking for more adult fiction, Carla Freeman, a chaired professor of anthropology and women's studies at Emory recommends The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and The White Tiger, winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize and the acclaimed debut novel by Indian financial journalist and author Aravind Adiga.
Freeman describes the two novels as powerful accounts of class, masculinity, and the search for meaning in life. In Oscar Wao (a Spanglish pronunciation of Oscar Wilde and the hero's nickname), author Junot Díaz employs a fluid mix of genres as he traverses the life of his ghetto nerd protagonist, a Dominican-American from New Jersey with a cursed family. Throughout the novel, the author intersperses details of the Dominican Republic's tortured history of despotic rule under Rafael Trujillo, creating a novel that is at once deeply personal and socially astute.
Adiga's The White Tiger takes place in modern-day India, catapulting its protagonist, Balram Halwai, from his family home in the Darkness-a place of grinding hardship and brutality at the heart of rural India-to urban Delhi, where, in an act of social entrepreneurship, he murders his employer and steals a sack of cash that finances a taxi business catering to technology workers. Halwai details the transformative effects of his entrepreneurial spirit in a series of letters to the Chinese premier, recounting stories and characters emblematic of the social, financial, and political frictions of a surging economy.
Doug Bowman's idea of a good winter read is cozying up with Database Marketing: Analyzing and Managing Customersby Robert C. Blattberg, Byung-Do Kim, and Scott A. Neslin.
About 15 years ago Blattberg and Neslin teamed up to write what is still probably the best book on sales promotion, says Bowman, a professor of marketing at Goizueta. Now they have teamed up again, adding Kim, to write what will probably stand as the best reference for database marketing approaches to customer management.
The book is comprehensive, he adds, but its length means you can pick it up and choose what to read and get a great deal of detail. The case study examples in particular are very good.
For advice on more artful and effective sales and communication, Deborah Valentine recommends Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. Valentine, a senior lecturer in management communication and director of the Goizueta Business Writing Center, says that rather than inflict slow death by a thousand bullet points at work and in the classroom, the author shows how simplicity, color, and design are key not only to keeping audiences attentive and engaged, but to invigorating careers. Valentine believes Presentation Zen will soon become required reading for every business presenter.
But the best book that Valentine says has come across this year is Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, by Don Tapscott, a New York Times bestselling author. Based on a $4 million private research study, the book describes how the generation presently age 11 to 30 processes information differently, says Valentine. The author, she adds, recommends how to teach, manage, and govern the 'Net Generation.' Valentine and several colleagues discussed how they can use Tapscott's research and advice in the classroom during the Association for Business Communication Convention in November.
Like several faculty members, Gregory Waymire, a chaired professor of accounting at Goizueta, is enjoying books that span a variety of genres and subject matters this summer.
Waymire's longstanding interest in language has led him first to Language & Species, by Derek Bickerton.
This book, written in the early 1990s, attempts to develop the hypothesis that the languages we speak today evolved from a primitive 'protolanguage' used by human ancestors, says Waymire.
Waymire is also rereading 1984, by George Orwell. I read this book about 30 years ago, recalls Waymire, but I became interested in it again because of the widespread manipulation of language in the modern political discourse.
For fun, Waymire is kicking back with Arnie: A Golfer's Life, by Arnold Palmer with D. Jenkins. I picked it up because I want to get back into golf, he says. It's a love that goes back to my teenage years.
For his part, Goizueta colleague Steve Walton says he has especially enjoyed The Halo Effect: ... and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers, by Phil Rosenzweig.
The book does a great job of going to the heart of a handful of mistakes I see in businesses all the time, says Walton, an associate professor in the practice of information systems and operations management.
One such mistake discussed in the book is the frequent confusion of cause and effect when it comes to a company's success or failure, says Walton, who is also associate dean of the W. Cliff Oxford Executive MBA Programs.
Controversially, Rosenzweig uses [his own bestselling books] Good to Great and In Search of Excellence as examples of best-selling business books that fall into several of these business delusions, points out Walton. It's a fun read.
The economy and business are hot book topics among faculty this year. Richard Metters, for example, has just finished Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell's book demonstrates how national culture often affects the way business is done, says Metters, an associate professor of information systems and operations management at Goizueta. It shows how cultural influences can have a positive or negative impact on business operations.
In the case of European refugees who came to the U.S. in the 1930s, the book argues that while many of these refugees' children faced poverty and discrimination, the example set by their hardworking parents spurred them to excel in school and on the job.
But the book also details a contrasting case, where cultural influences hampered the performance of major corporation, in this case a Korean airline.
A Korean air company's pilot-error accident rate was 16 times higher than the pro-rata share of U.S. airliners, explains Metters. Using data from downed Korean passenger jetliners' black boxes, Gladwell puts the blame on Korea's culture of respect. Basically, if navigators and co-pilots saw the senior pilot doing something wrong, they would not speak out for fear of causing the senior to 'lose face,' despite the danger it meant for the aircraft and everyone aboard it.
Metters notes that cross-cultural understanding is vital today, especially given the prevalence of outsourcing.
In some cultures, subordinate workers feel they can't question a boss, even if they're not comfortable with the task, he continues. So a U.S. company may think it's got a contract with a foreign outsourcer to follow a certain process, but no matter how many times the sub-contractor says 'yes,' the job may not be done the right way. Unless the U.S. firm understands the root cause of the problem, the misunderstanding may continue to occur.
Metters says he hears these kinds of complaints all the time from Executive MBA students who work with multinational or other companies that engage in extensive outsourcing.
In the U.S., we're likely to point out shortcomings to a boss, Metters notes. In the Netherlands, the culture encourages workers to just say it's a 'dumb idea' and to voice their criticisms. In countries like India and China, though, your workers are likely to say 'yes' to the idea, but then will simply not do it. So it's not a question of whether a response is good or bad, but rather knowing that a 'yes' is not always a true 'yes, and knowing how to recognize this and to respond to it.
For those readers interested in learning more about China's role in the global economy or about Chinese history, Professor Ray Hill has two books to recommend: glob·ali·za'·tion: n. the irrational fear that someone in China will take your job, by Bruce C. Greenwald and Judd Kahn, andThe Man Who Loved China: The Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, by Simon Winchester.
I just finished The Man Who Loved China, says Hill, an assistant professor in the practice of finance at Goizueta. It's a fascinating story about Joseph Needham, a British academic who was posted to China by the British government in the early 1940s and went on to make the country his life's work.
As Hill explains, Needham compiled an encyclopedia of the enormous scientific achievements of China. His work deepens the puzzle of why the country that gave us gunpowder and other advances suddenly failed to continue developing its science and industry.
Needham's catalog of Chinese innovations helps readers understand why China long thought of itself as first among other nations, and also traces China's remarkable history of technological development, according to Hill.
The book is a particularly timely read, as China challenges the U.S. for economic supremacy, Hill notes.
Greenwald and Kahn's book on globalization is likewise both timely and important. Their book demonstrates that most of the major forces affecting the U.S. economy have little or nothing to do with globalization, Hill explains. Many displaced workers and others think they've lost their jobs to the global economy, but in fact the real cause is the shift from a manufacturing-driven economy to a service-based one.
Hill's interest in history has also drawn him to two books of a deeply personal nature: Children of Pride: The True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, and Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic.
Some 30 years ago, Hill explains, Robert Manson Myers compiled Children of Pride, an award-winning book that collected the letters of members of a plantation family who were my ancestors, says Hill. Now I'm reading Dwelling Place, by Erskine Clarke, which builds on the earlier story and follows a few generations of both white and black residents from the same plantation. It offers a powerful perspective on the humanity and resilience of African Americans under slavery.
Books on history take many forms, including the fictional alternative history genre enjoyed by Michael J. Broyde, a law professor at Emory University School of Law and the academic director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University. He recommends in particular The Man with the Iron Heart, by Harry Turtledove.
The book revisits World War II and imagines what would have happened if top Nazis had continued to fight the Allies even after Germany surrendered, says Broyde. Would Americans have the stomach to put up with unconventional attacks following the years of war they had already been through?
Broyde found interesting parallels between this what-if history and current events.
The parallels with Iraq and the events following the September 11 attacks are obvious, he says. Broyde calls the book a thoughtful read that considers what could have happened after WWII, while commenting on what eventually did happen in the last decade.
While reading is nearly always a pleasure, some faculty seize upon the holidays as the ideal time to devote themselves to their own writing.
I'm writing an updated version of my 2004 book, Corporate Finance: Principles and Practice, says William Carney, a professor of corporate law at Emory University's School of Law. I'm writing about corporate finance because many law students are not as comfortable with numbers as they could be.
The textbook, which is due to be released mid-2010, focuses on topics such as the legal and financial theories behind mergers and acquisitions, while also shining a light on public equity, bonds, and corporate and bank debt.
The current economy may be in a state of flux, says Carney, but the principles of finance and law still hold. Books like these may be periodically updated, but the issues they address will remain relevant for years to come.
Indeed, something similar might be said for all of the disciplines addressed at Emory and its specialized schools. Knowledge is continually updated and sometimes revised, but the quest for knowledge itself stands the test of time.