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The Great Books Project

14 Jul 2017
Season 2, 2017

The Great Books Project (Season 2) is a selection of books recommended by faculty and staff of Singapore Management University (SMU). These titles inspired us and about 30 new books have been specially purchased to be made available for loan.

The following are the featured publications for this year. Click on the book title to check if the title is available for borrowing: 

Recommender School/ Department Book Title / Author Why did it inspire you?
Gregor Halff LKCSB The enigma of arrival : a novel in five sections/ V. S. Naipaul  Because it turns around the perspective of discovery of new lands from purely external to a more internal inspection
To the lighthouse/ Virginia Woolf Because it captures ambiguity  so well and it describes elegantly how one always has multiple emotional states at the same time
Loh Yee Leng Office of Finance In order to live : a North Korean girl's journey to freedom/ Yeonmi Park  An understanding of North Korea from an insider's view, as well as what is men's (and women's) response to survival and persecution
Lin Mei SIS Mindset : the new psychology of success/ Carol S. Dweck It explains different ways to think about your potential and can completely change your perspective and life.
Lean in : women, work, and the will to lead/ Sheryl. Sandberg  It advocates women's contribution to the workforce. It is motivational and empowering. 
Tan Yoo Guan SOSS The evolution of everything : how new ideas emerge/ Matt Ridley Introduce a way of seeing things that very revealing
Havovi Joshi CMP To kill a mockingbird/ Harper Lee Beautifully written, a timeless classic. "Growing up" in a small town and remaining true to one's values
Markus Karner LKCSB A pattern language/ Christopher Alexander et al. This book is an early manifestation of applied design thinking. The authors show hundreds of patterns in architecture and why and how they work. The book opened my eyes to why I feel good in some spaces and not so much in others. It also showed me how often sound principles are violated in architecture, and how easy it would be to remedy this. It showed me that is is possible to build buildings that people feel much better in than they currently do. 
This Is It: and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience/ Alan Watts This book contains six essays on human existence and experience. It is one of the very best examples of a fusion of "Eastern" and "Western" thinking, written by a Westerner but with a strong backdrop of Asian philosophy. It greatly inspired me to relax about my own existence. 
Steven Ng MWKLSWC/ DOS The Motivation Manifesto - 9 Declarations to claim your personal power/ Brendon Burchard Was a birthday gift from my colleague.  Touches on freedom, growth and finding meaning apart from pure existence.  Interesting insights on facing challenges, overcoming difficulties and striving towards excellence. 
Hiro Saito SOSS The Art of Communicating/ Nhất Hạnh, Thích The book gave me many insights into life; for example, how to communicate mindfully with myself (e.g. difficult emotions arising in my body), so that I can communicate well with others. 
Kieren Wong SOSS Quiet/ Susan Cain Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, "Quiet" shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. It is a timely reminder that introverts have a rightful place in this world, just as much as their extroverted counterparts.
Give and Take/ Adam M. Grant Using his own pioneering research, Wharton professor Adam Grant shows that how certain personality styles (taking/matching/giving) have a surprising impact on success. This book is a lovely antidote to any cynicism you may have about who succeeds in business and in life.
Fong Sau Yee Secure Mobile Centre What Your School Never Taught You About Money/ Dennis Ng Financial education is rather lacking in Singapore's education system but it is important to have the right knowledge and attitude towards financial management for young working adults. Concepts in the book are simple and easy to understand.
Yee Xin Library Of Bees and Mists/ Erick Setiawan It first introduced me to the term 'magical realism' and, as a student growing up with not much access to contemporary literature, it showed me the magic of storytelling can be performed by anyone. 
Sorcerer to the Crown/ Zen Cho It's a fantasy novel created by a Malaysian lawyer and it has more diversity of characters than half of Hollywood. 
Austin I. Pulle SOL Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan/ Anthony T. Kronman Forced a re-thing and re-evaluation of conventional beliefs and challenged assumptions.
Age of Anger/ Pankaj Mishra A good attempt to explain the existing rage culture and hatred of the "Other".
Ame IIE Tuesdays with Morrie/ Mitch Albom  
When Breath Becomes Air/ Paul Kalanithi  Life lessons
Deon Koh OCIS/ LB How Starbucks Saved My Life/ Michael Gill  It display how adaptable human can be by adjusting to our environment and situation.  And not to undermine our strength and determination
Mark Nowacki SOSS Summa contra Gentiles/ St. Thomas Aquinas This was the first time I encountered someone absolutely brilliant who would use his intellect to examine matters that were usually dealt with at the visceral, emotional level. It wasn't a matter of agreeing with Aquinas on every detail; rather, it was eye-opening to meet someone was obviously much smarter and a better human being than myself calmly working through the most difficult challenges of faith and reason with surefooted humility. 
Crime and Punishment/ Fyodor Dostoevsky I must have read this book five times in a single month. This book opened my eyes to the importance of compassion and the illusory attractiveness of Nietzsche's Superman. 
Low Jiaxin Library The Revenge of Analog/ David Sax Reminds readers of the value of analog, non-digital things.
Aniket LiveLabs Defending Jacob/ William. Landay I was often blinded by the love for my people. I would hesitate to point out their wrongdoings and just "let it go". But after reading this book, I realised that no matter who is involved- family, friend or foe- an objective stance in life is a must. Perhaps one's loved one has done something horribly wrong and due to one's bias they can't rectify the problem.

The book is about a boy who was charged with the murder of a classmate. The father of the accused, while a state prosecutor, couldn't be disinterested enough to still be in charge of the investigation.

I guess despite one's love towards friends and family, objectivity should never be lost. I still have a lot to learn in terms of objectivity- but it has gotten me started.


Noel Athaide SIS How the mind works / Steven Pinker It is a superb synthesis of philosophy, psychology, science, sociology & biology that attempts to explain the complexities of our mind, from vision to emotion to culture. A great eye-opener, all through scientific reasoning, yet written in a natural easy to read style with plenty of humor. This has something for people from every walk of life. 
A Mathematician's Lament / Paul Lockhart It's actually just a 25 page essay. It provides a mind-changing argument for viewing maths as a pure art and why we need to teach it that way. (
Bretault François SOSS The Little Prince/ Antoine de Saint-Exupery  It unleashed my imagination
Oscar and the Lady in Pink/ Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt It helps facing the question of death, from a child's perspective
John A. Donaldson  SOSS Breakfast of Champions/ Kurt. Vonnegut Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions helped me to see that everyone is a day glow orange strip of reflecting tape. I love the thought-provoking scifi stories-within-a-story. So it goes.
Pictures at an Exhibition/ D. M. Thomas D.M. Thomas’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a mystery within a mystery within a mystery, made me a rabid misanthrope for a few days (until the effect wore off). Even the setting of Chapter 1 is part of the mystery (do not read the back of the book or any review - it will spoil a surprise that dawns on you with a creeping horror). Then the book fast–forwards 50 years and everyone changes identity. Extremely ordinary actions and off-hand comments are later revealed to be base evil. Nearly anything said about the book is a spoiler. Just read it. Make sure you have nothing on – and definitely nothing where you have to be perky. You will be a rabid misanthrope for a few days until the effect wears off. This is a study of the banality of evil. 
Katharina Lange SMU ExD Hare with amber eyes/ Edmund. De Waal This epic journey of a Japanese netsuke collection, spreading over the 19th and 20th century touches important historic events and ties them to the fate of a Jewish family. It inspires through generosity of mind and attention to (cultural) detail. Perfect read before you visit the National Museum in Tokyo!
Toh Weng Choy CEC The Gift of Fear / Gavin de Becker Alerts you to possible security breaches . A necessity in our troubled times.
Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion/ Robert Cialdini Talks about social engineering - people, being the weakest link in cyber security
Quek Leng Leng Diversity, Inclusion & Integration No Greater Love/ Saint Mother Teresa Mother Teresa's love and empathy for others make one wants to do likewise! 
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing/ Marie Kondō This book helps me to declutter my living area. It also teaches me to buy only the things I really need and like. 
Serena Lim LKCSB/ Corporate Comm Mindset : the new psychology of success/ Carol S. Dweck The growth mindset points to one's ability to develop and stretch one's potential. Having the growth mindset helps one to embrace an attitude of learning and a willingness to go beyond one's comfort zone. Positive effort is needed for a successful outcome, and failure/errors are regarded as stepping stones to success.
I am Malala / Malala Yousafzai The book is about a young girl's struggle for self actualisation through education in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
Nicola Green-Ho CEC Jane Eyre/ Charlotte Brontë  Jane never loses heart.  The obstacles she faced in the 18th century are very different, at face value, to the obstacles we face now, but ultimately the way we deal with them has not changed.  Jane teaches us that our destiny is our own, regardless of circumstances.
Lingxiao Jiang SIS War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet -- and Do Not/ Deepak. Chopra, Leonard Mlodinow It is a great debate between two extremely conflicting worldviews, and could help to shape our own worldview.
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets/ Nassim. Taleb There are so many things beyond our control. But we can always choose to keep our dignity and grace when facing difficulties.
Xavier Jayaraj Siddarth Ashok SIS Elon Musk: Inventing the Future/ Ashlee Vance  turmoils in the journey of a tech visionary, how a lean innovative startup can shape up the future of mankind 
Sriven Naidu  SOSS Invisible Gold in Asia/ David. Llewelyn The wisdom in very first lines in David Llewelyn's book knocked me off my feet.
"Don't make the mistake of thinking something is valuable merely because you can measure it. It is far better to work out what you value and then see if you can measure it."
The rest of the book is an accessible, no nonsense view of Intellectual Property Rights that I wish was available when I was just about to graduate and enter the knowledge economy.  Great for those who are creative and innovative - and this includes those manage creative/intellectual endeavours of all kinds.  
Trung Huynh (Andrew) SIS The Alchemist/ Paulo Coelho This book was changed my life. It is my inspiration which help me here working for SMU. It likes the cow boy cross the ocean working in a shop to gain money.
One day I will find out my destiny and come back hometown to get it.


FU Fangjian LKCSB The Three Body Problem/ Cixin Liu Great Imagination, Interesting Story.
A History of Modern Singapore, 1819-2005/ C. M. Turnbull It's interesting to learn Singapore history from the perspective of a western author. 
Hozea Ngoh IITS The Visual Display of Quantitative Information/ Edward R Tufte It is a classic work on data visualization, and introduces the reader to different methodologies and theories that underpin the design of various types of statistical graphics, as well as potential pitfalls and bad practices. A must-read for anyone working with the presentation of data and information.
The Elements of Typographic Style/ Robert Bringhurst This book is an eye-opener to the world of typography and helped me better understand that in every piece of media that involves the use of type, there are deliberate choices that have been made by a designer/editor, that will - for better or for worse - affect the reader's enjoyment and understanding of the content. As content creators, we must be mindful of the responsibility and power we have.
Mabel  IO When Breath Becomes Air/ Paul Kalanithi  It gave me a front-seat view to the many challenges doctors face, and how they can do their job only if they use their hearts as much as their heads.
These two quotes left me thinking long after I've finished the book - "We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.” and “What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”
Robyn Tan IIE Lean In/ Sheryl Sandberg To put it simply, women have subconsciously excluded ourselves from the 'meeting table', whether it's the imposter syndrome or stereotype threat. It's exciting to see how these self perceived limitations can be addressed and nipped in the bud, and the future will improve as women bring their value to the table!
Norman Li SOSS The Moral Animal/ Robert Wright This introduced me to evolutionary psychology and, in a very accessible format, enlightened me on the ultimate reasons for human thoughts, feelings, and behavior. 
The Fountainhead/ Ayn Rand The author's philosophy comes through clearly: believe in yourself and your ideas despite the multitude of less-inspired people who will stand in your way
Arnoud De Meyer President's Office Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind/ Yuval Noah Harari This very well written and rather sweeping history of the last 70,000 years provides an interesting scenario on how our civilisation developed. Whether I accept all the hypotheses and scenario's is a different matter, but the book made me think and reflect. 
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914/ Chritopher Clark Of the many books that were published recently about the events that led to the first World War, I found that this book provided the most interesting and varied description of all the players (both countries and individuals). It also made me reflect a lot on the comparison with the tensions in present day East Asia. 
Steven Miller Provost Office  Only Humans Need Apply: Winners & Losers in the Age of Smart Machines / Thomas H. Davenport & Julia Kirby The book does two things very well:
1. The authors clarify the distinction between Automation and Augmentation. They argue for the importance of using Smart Machines to Augment the work of people and to work together with people  versus using Smart Machines to Automate and eliminate people.

2. The authors provide a very clever and useful framework for thinking about new jobs roles as people and Smart Machines increasingly work together. This framework is richly illustrated with many real-world examples. People at all stages of their careers, from university students, to those just starting their employment, to mid-career people, to senior executives, can use their framework to figure out how to position themselves and their organisations as we continue to move forward into this age of Smart Machines.

This book is a great starting point for gaining a managerial perspective on how Cognitive Systems and Smart Machines are actually being used to transform the world of work.  Tom has tremendous depth in how corporations used advanced IT to change and improve their capabilities. As such, the book is very insightful, and quite on target (as in, accurate) in terms of content.

The book is very well crafted. One of the co-authors (Kirby) is a senior member of the editorial team of the Harvard Business Reivew, and she knows how to write for the business oriented reader.

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World/ Stanley McChrystal  This is a true and phenomenal story about organisational change. General McChystal assumed responsibility for the US Joint Special Forces Operations Command in Iraq around 2002, and had to deal with the emergence of Al-Qaeda Iraq and all they havoc they were causing.

His Joint Special Operations Command forces and organisation were designed for one type of environment. While they had the world’s most capable people and organisation for conventional warfare situations, they were facing an adversary that operated in totally new and different ways, and the much smaller, less well equipped and less “efficient” adversary they were facing was getting the upper hand, and could not be contained.

The book takes you through the story of the transformation of his organisation in Iraq during that 2002 through 2007 period. The beautiful thing about the book is that the story is supported by strong principles. He helps the reader  understand the difference between organising and functioning  as a rigid and efficient hierarchy (his existing organisation)  versus organising and functioning  as a fluid and dynamic network (his adversary, and what he needed his organisation to become).

If you are interested in large-scale organisational change in contemporary situations, you do not want to miss this book.

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers/ Gillian Tett This is another book about organisational change, including some cases where changes were made quite successfully, and other cases where the barriers to change were too great, and the organisation suffered the consequences of the inability to change.

Some of the examples are from the private sector. Others are from the public sector.

Gillian is a writer for the Financial Times, so she has a great ability for story telling.

This book helps to remind us all of the importance and necessity of working horizontally across organisational boundaries. The book provides excellent examples of innovations that can occur when this happens, and how innovation is stifled when this does not happen.

Superforecasting/ Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner Philip Tetlock is a renowned Political Scientist who has studied how people make predictions about socio-political events.

He was able to motivate the Intelligence Advance Research Projects Agency (I-ARPA)  unit under the US Director of National Security Office to run a large-scale, multi-year “Forecasting Tournament” in order to provide a large data set on how well people forecast a range of  socio-political events.

This book is based on the results of this I-ARPA Forecasting Tournament. Tetlock focuses on those participants who consistently outperformed all the other participants in terms of forecasting accuracy. Tetlock delves into the issues of why a small percentage of people systematically and consistently did a better job of forecasting. Through this book, he elaborates on the work practices and mindsets of those who were the “Superforecasters.”

If you are interested in decision making under uncertainty, and in forecasting under uncertainty—especially in the realms of common and highly relevant socio-political affairs over near and medium time horizans---- then this book is a must read.

From what I understand, this is the only large scale field study of this kind, where there was a large experiment (in this case, a Forecasting Tournament) specifically set up to create a data set that would enable the systematic study of forecasting and decision making for the types of events that were of interest to this community.

Tetlock’s co-author, Dan Gardner, is a journalist and writer, and helps with making sure the book is that well organised and well stated and edited, and very easy to follow and understand.

Judgement in Managerial Decision Making/ Max H. Bazerman & Don A. Moore Prof Bazerman teaches at the Harvard Business School, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is well known as a researcher in behavioural decision making, and for bringing together the knowledge of this field with the field of negotiation. Prof Moore teaches at the Business School of University of California, Berkeley, and is also a well known researcher in behavioural aspects of decision making and cognitive biases, with a current focus on   overconfidence in decision-making, negotiation, and ethical choice.

As this is the eight edition of this text, it is very well structured and carefully presented. Afterall, Professors Bazerman and Moore have been able to refine this text over eight major iterations.

If you are looking for a guide to behavioural aspects of judgement and decision making, this is a great starting point. As both authors teach in business schools, they use a lot of relevant managerial examples.

I like the way this text is organised. If you read through any of the chapters, or through the entire book, it will provide you with an excellent introduction to the foundations of behavioural aspects of judgement and decision making.

The Power of Noticing: What the best leaders see/ Max H. Baxerman As I so enjoyed Prof Bazerman’s text on judgement and decision making, I continued on and read another one of his books.

As Professor Bazerman notes in the preface of this book (page XX), “…the concept of bounded rationality and the influential field of behavioural economics have largely defined problems according to how we misuse information that is right in front of us. By contract, noticing concerns our bounded awareness, or the systematic and predictable ways we fail to see or seek out critical information readily available in our environment.”

As such, this book is a wonderful complement to the Bazerman and Moore text on behavioural aspects of judgement and decision making. In this book on The Power of Noticing, he focuses on the systematic ways people avoid looking for relevant  information available in the environment that is not right in front of them as they consider the problem at hand.

If you want to further expand your understanding of behavioural aspects of judgement and decision making, to include how people mis-use information that is available to them, as well as fail to use information that could be available to them, then this a great book to read.

Machine Learning: The New AI/ Ethem Alpaydin This is a beautifully crafted overview of Machine Learning ideas and concepts for non-specialist audiences. It is easy to read and understand.

The author is a well known research and author in Machine Learning, his widely known text, Introduction to Machine Learning, published by MIT Press,  is in its 3rd edition. So he is a very credible source of information on machine learning ideas and concepts.

He states the purpose of the book as follows in the Preface (page Xiii):
“The aim of this book is to give the reader an overall idea about what machine learning is, the basics of some important learning algoritms, and a set of example applications. The book is intended for a general readership, and only the essentials of the learning methods are discussed without any mathematical or programming details. The book does not cover any of the machine-learning applications in much detail either; a number of examples discussed just enough to give the fundamentals without going into the particulars.”

In other words, if non-computer scientist, especially people from the management or social science areas, want a sound introduction to machine learning concepts, this is an excellent and reliable book to get started with.

Deep Learning/ Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville This is a textbook. Seminal people in the field of Deep Learning and Artificial Neural Networks note that this is the first comprehensive textbook that includes basic concepts, practical aspects, and advanced research topics that will serve the needs of students, practitioners and instructors.

The 28 page introduction of this textbook provides the most authoritative and insightful overview to Deep Learning (including the historical evolution of Deep Learning) that you are likely to find anywhere.

As this is a serious text, it will take work to go through each of the chapters. Just by reading the intro in detail, and thenk skimming each of the chapters, and selectively reading more deeply in those areas where you are most interested, you will tremendously deepen your understanding of the state-of-the-art of Deep Learning. Rather than just hearing and understanding the buzz words, you will really understand what is happening, and what these algorithms and systems, together with their data sets, are actually doing.

Got a Great Book you think should be part of this list? Let us know at

Want to see the books recommended by faculty in 2015? Go here.


Last updated on 06 Sep 2017 .