Relax & Recharge: Late Summer Watch, Listen, and Read
August 12, 2022
The shore. The mountains. Travel. Downtime. It’s the summer of 2022. What are you reading, watching, listening to? We informally surveyed a group of dedicated readers, binge-watchers, and podcast aficionados to curate our own definitive and must read list of lists. Consider this an ice-filled cooler of refreshing, provocative, and sometimes challenging ideas to expand your views on topics as disparate as the fall of ancient civilizations to the rise of purpose-driven companies.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
One of our dedicated binge-watchers admitted that he was finally watching for the first time both The Sopranos and Mad Men, which are often cited in the same breath (or paragraph) as the best of episodic streaming. Both play to a certain nostalgia for past eras and fashions. Farient is after all a compensation and governance advisor so we’ll continue to stick to culture and business because even the most enlightened corporate director or officer could use a good recommendation or two.
Hands down one of the most riveting documentaries streaming now is HBO’s The Crime of the Century. This two-part 2022 documentary written and directed by Alex Gibney details the opioid crisis in America. Our watcher was on a long-haul flight when a four-hour movie seemed like just the ticket. The film provides both personal and global perspectives in a multi-faceted story originally told in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by Washington Post reporters Sari Horwitz and Scott Hingham and later in a bevy of books including Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain and Beth Macy’s Dopesick.
There are boardrooms across the land who fear and loathe Carl Icahn, who in a career as a corporate raider and in more recent decades as an activist investor has had among the greatest impacts on corporate American boards than arguably any other. Icahn: The Restless Billionaire, now streaming on Hulu, features lengthy interviews with Icahn (and many others) on what ails capitalism and how its weaknesses drove his success. The film is satisfyingly voyeuristic into Icahn’s opulent lifestyle and his greatest corporate triumphs and failures. It was released earlier this year on the eve of the titan’s 86th birthday.
When Work Feels Like Play
It seems that every business—particularly among money and management advisors—has a podcast or a series of podcasts. They’re great diversions while working out, driving, or being driven yet filtering the best from the rest is a constant struggle. Here are a few suggestions from our top ten list.
The omnipresent organizational psychologist Adam Grant brings us a “must-hear” podcast, “WorkLife with Adam Grant.” Faves among recent episodes is “The Four Deadly Sins of Work Culture” and “Rethinking Flexibility at Work.” How to think creatively about work and its impact on organizational culture should be on agendas across the board.
Another long-running podcast with a fanatical following is Freakonomics Radio. The popular weekly show about the “hidden side of everything” in June released its 500th weekly episode. Stephen J. Dubner, the co-author of the Freakonomics books, hosts. Among recent thought-provoking episodes, “Does Philosophy Still Matter?” and a three-part series “What Blockchain Can Do for You.”
May 12, 2020, is a date to remember for corporate governance types. That’s when Evan Epstein launched the first Boardroom Governance podcast. Since then, his twice-weekly one-on-one interviews with some of the best-known authorities on various aspects of governance—Peg Foran; Abe Friedman; James McRitchie; Nell Minow; Kerrie Waring; and our CEO, Robin Ferracone (all archived)—deserve a listen. He also has a newsletter on Substack.
Past is prologue is at the heart of the Fall of Civilization ambitiously written, produced, and hosted by Paul M. M. Cooper. Each podcast—which runs from one to four hours in length—explores the collapse of different societies throughout history—their differences and their similarities. Also informative are the bibliographies accompanying each episode.
How I Built This with Guy Raz continues to present inspirational origin stories of some of the world’s best-known or up-and-coming brands. Morning Brew’s ambitious twice-weekly Business Casual is cohosted by journalist Nora Ali and comedian Scott Rogowsky and brings invigorating insights into the next generation of entrepreneurs. Smart and bright, their conversations with creators, thinkers, and innovators are a reliable breath of fresh air.
Reading for Pleasure and Gain
Bill Gates’ has been publishing an annual list of summer reads since 2016. Two that were almost unanimously agreed on from this year’s list are Amos Towles’ first novel The Lincoln Highway since the much beloved A Gentleman in Moscow and nonfiction Why We’re Polarized by journalist Ezra Klein.
From the category of historical nonfiction, Daniel James Brown’s Facing the Mountain recounts the stories of quiet yet heroic Japanese Americans whose families were interred or separated immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. One minute a hero, the next an enemy the story is based in part on interviews with the survivors now in their 80s and 90s. If you loved Brown’s Boys in the Boat, this is a must read.
Corporate purpose is the subject of several forthcoming books and introspection is certainly warranted. Among the first out of the publishing block is Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati’s Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies. This deeply researched book argues that there can be no sustainable business without purpose. In a review, the Financial Times wrote, “Deep Purpose will not be the last book to claim to show leaders the way. However, it stands out as a thoughtful account of the dilemmas, tradeoffs, and pitfalls of moving beyond the pure-profit motive imperative, and how to overcome them.”
Several readers recommended CEO whisperer and serial author Ram Charan for the clarity and simplicity (but hardly simple) of his lessons on leadership. Boards That Lead: How to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, co-authored with Dennis Carey and Michael Useem, is a master class in board leadership for those aspiring to or entering a new boardroom.
Finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention a comp committee classic written by Farient founder and CEO Robin Ferracone. Fair Pay, Fair Play: Aligning Executive Performance and Pay is proving to be a timeless read that feels every bit as relevant today as when it was first published. Look for Robin’s next book in 2023.