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  • Elina Halonen

Around the world in 7 books

I recently did a week of book recommendations on LinkedIn and I thought it would be fun to compile them into a post. My 7 books will help you understand yourself and others from different cultural backgrounds. These are rarely on lists of business books yet the understanding they can give you are essential in today's world. If you read these books, you will never look at the world the same again!


Why read these books? Well, most people reading this are not typical when it comes to everyone in the world – the chart below illustrates the world population as 100 people, and if find yourself in the chart below, you'll see just how much of a minority we are.

The global variation in reactions to COVID-19 have made it clear just how much cultural differences matter. Despite globalisation, we are not all the same - although we are all just as worthy. These books will give you lots of new windows on the world - much more so than the average business book.


Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World (Markus & Conner)

This book is co-authored by one of the big names in social psychology who has over 110 000 academic citations (for perspective: Dan Ariely has 47 000 and Richard Thaler has 150 000) yet you might have never heard of her. She is a pioneer in cultural psychology so I had read her work long before the book, but it's a great summary of how many forms of culture (e.g., region of origin, ethnicity, race, class, gender, occupation) influence the self - and subsequently how we think, feel and act. It's an accessible, engaging book, with a warm, friendly tone - just like Hazel Markus herself.


Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why (Nisbett)

Particularly important for this book, you can see in the chart that Europe and (North) America only account for 25% of the world's population vs. 60% from Asia - yet most of our business thinking not to mention behavioural science knowledge comes from the Western world. Although there has been much more research in this area in the past 15 years since the book was written (and sadly there isn't a revised edition), it remains a useful starting point for broadening your understanding of just HOW differently it is possible to see the world depending on where you grew up. As before, you'll never look at the world the same way.


Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Culture Wires Our Minds, Shapes Our Nations and Drives Our Differences (Gelfand)

This book is particularly important in the context of COVID-19 and the variation in global reactions to it. More recent than the first 2, this book adds an important dimension to understanding human behaviour - the importance we place on rules and norms, as well as adhering to them. There's overlap with books 1-2, but it's an independent and distinctive cultural dimension. It's an engaging and analytical book packed with insights, much like it's author is in real life. More on the link between cultural tightness/looseness and COVID-19 reactions: video, podcast, article.




Through The Looking Glass: Why The World Looks Different in Other Languages (Deutscher)

Language, culture and thinking are intertwined in many ways. Although much of the communication in both business and science now happens in English, exploring how other languages carve up the world differently can open up new perspectives and ways of thinking. This book is the perfect introduction!






The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead and Get Things Done Across Cultures (Meyer)

This book is yet another angle - this time you get a model for decoding how cultural differences impact international business through topics like communication, performance evaluation, persuasion, negotiation, leadership, trust and perceptions of time. Professor Erin Meyer is from INSEAD, one of the world's top business schools, so you couldn't ask for a better guide.






How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (Feldman Barrett)

This book is not specifically about culture, but Feldman Barrett's grand tour of emotions and affect makes numerous references to how context shapes how we feel, and perceive/interpret what we feel. A must-read for anyone working in marketing, market research or behaviour change - alternatively you could read the handbooks she's edited, but this is an accessible account of her long-term experience as a professor and former president of the Society of Affective Science.



The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating our Species and Making Us Smarter (Henrich)

This is a real whopper that takes time and dedication to read, but it will reward you with a deep understanding of gene-culture co-evolution as well as some of the key topics of behavioural science in general (e.g. cooperation, generosity). The author, Joseph Henrich, is one of the authors of the original WEIRD psychology paper and a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. The follow-up to this book is coming Sept 2020.


Happy reading!

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