We cannot understand our complex world without grasping the basic elements of evolutionary theory. All of Gould’s books on evolution and natural history are superb, but Panda’s Thumb is my favourite and is a good place to start.
This brilliant and challenging little book gives the most cogent reason for why we procrastinate about the most important things in our lives. It is both inspiring and daunting, and a must-read for people who ever find themselves avoiding what they know in their hearts they should be doing.
I love this book because it helped me understand that even experts can be blind to important features of their subjects. I have done a lot of work on country competitiveness, but if anybody had asked me in 2000 to name the top 100 conditions that underpin a thriving economy, I wouldn’t have mentioned ”a well-functioning land registry system.” Then I read de Soto’s compelling case that the ability to get clear title to a piece of land is the essential precondition for successful capitalism. That not only changed my view of economics, but it also taught me to never be too confident that I’m seeing the whole picture. You can’t see what you aren’t looking for — so get help from others who see things that you don’t!”
Even more enlightening than Machiavelli’s The Prince, this book describes power takeovers and social organizations in a chimpanzee colony and argues that power politics is part of the evolutionary heritage that we share with our closest nonhuman relatives. I’ll never look at academic or corporate politics the same way, and I understand their machinations much better for having read this book. Chimps, unlike humans, do not cloak their political pretenses in rhetoric, so we can see more clearly the process at work and thereby learn much about ourselves.