Summer is upon us and, while we all like to get away, beach reading obviously loses some of it’s charm if it’s not in some way related to work. Here’s four recommendations from the NPC team for the books social sector people should be taking on holiday with them this year.
Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou
Reviewed by CLARE WILKINS
Bad Blood is the story of Theranos, a biotech company that became the darling of Silicon Valley, raising $400m in investment and achieving a valuation of £9bn before it dramatically fell from grace when The Wall Street Journal published damning reports alleging the whole company was a sham. The founder has since been charged with massive fraud by the SEC. The book is written by the journalist that broke the story, and it’s a very compelling read.
It shows us of the need for good due diligence, and while (I hope) the charity world doesn’t boast Theranos’ apparent level of subterfuge, grantmakers should heed the lessons in Bad Blood. Questions of impact, leadership, charity finances, challenges, opportunities and learning should all be part of the conversation. Savvy grantmakers should be comfortable with asking these questions, and good charities shouldn’t be afraid of answering them.
After a string of news articles on disappointing charity conduct, Bad Blood is a useful reminder that the private sector certainly isn’t immune from regrettable behaviour or bad decisions. It’s a timely reminder that great things don’t just happen automatically; best practice needs to be highlighted and cultivated by both charities and donors alike – and we can’t do that without proper data.
Fuck nuance, by Kieran Healy
Reviewed by JAMES NOBLE
Not a book, but a provocative paper from Kieran Healy that’s a counterpoint to the calls we sometimes hear in the social sector to reflect on and grapple with complexity. He does not deny that complexity or nuance exists, but worries that demands for more and more nuance obstruct the generation of theories that are “intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful.”
The author is writing about sociology, but it applies in our sphere. He charts the history of nuance’s increased evocation in the social sciences and likens it to an invasive weed. His concern is that calls for greater nuance are not a virtue, but a cop out: a convenient way to both refute arguments and make them irrefutable, or simply to make ourselves look more sophisticated. In contrast, good theories are abstract, generalisable and interesting. They should also be true; though not all the time, and that doesn’t necessarily matter, so long as they are useful. It’s an interesting and at times amusing read, which challenges us to be bolder and resist the temptation to throw our hands in the air because it’s all too complex.
Stuart: A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters
Reviewed by RACHEL TAIT
A colleague recommended this book recently because I’m currently researching homelessness. The author met Stuart Clive Shorter, who was rough sleeping rough in Cambridge at the time, in the 1990s. One might expect a sequence of events and causes that explained how Stuart ended up in prison, then living on the streets, then holding down his own flat and campaigning. In fact the biography actually starts towards the end of Stuart’s life and works backwards because as Stuart keeps reminding the author and the reader, life isn’t that simple.
Things unravelled over the course of Stuart’s life, both quickly and slowly, logically and illogically, hilariously and tragically. When you, like me, become desensitised to the shocking aggregate statistics about rough sleeping, stories about individual people like Stuart will change your perception of the rough sleepers you see every day. 13 years after publication, this book is as relevant as ever.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Renni Eddo-Lodge
Reviewed by KATY MURRAY
If you haven’t already read this book or had someone tell you to read this book then…do you live under a rock? Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book was originally a blog post that went viral. It opened up a conversation about racism in the UK, so she extended it to a full-length book that has done very, very well. And quite rightly. I’d been agonising for a while about how I, as a white Brit, knew more about racism and race relations in the USA than in my own country. What I could do to remedy that? Then, behold: this book arrived.
With racial tensions high post-Brexit vote, and diversity high on the voluntary sector agenda, it’s a must read for those UK volsec bods who feel as ignorant as I did. Already read it? Don’t stop there. Eddo-Lodge also developed a podcast called About Race, which is also worth a listen. And next on my own reading list are: Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch, The Good Immigrant, David Olusoga’s Black and British: A forgotten history, and Natives: Race and class in the ruins of Empire by Akala. Oh, and the Resolution Foundation recently released new research about racial discrimination in the work place. Plenty to be getting on with.