Saturday, September 22, 2007

Books which help define the dignity of a working life.

The writer Harriet Rubin in a wonderful piece in the New York Times on July 21st 2007 quoted the chairman of an international company as saying

“Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.”

Harriet Rubin is a great believer in the power of words and language. On her website she tells us that her favourite sources of information are not business books at all but histories, biographies, works of fiction and poetry. “The reason is that the language is richer, more evocative. When language is richer, I believe, one’s mind opens in new ways.”

The chairman of an international company she is writing about is Dr. Sidney Harman, Executive Chairman of Harman International Industries.

Harriet Rubin reports that Dr. Harman could never could find a poet who was willing to be a manager. So Mr. Harman became his own de facto poet, quoting from his volumes of Shakespeare, Tennyson, and the poetry he found in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Camus’ Stranger to help him define the dignity of working life — a poetry he made real in his worker-friendly factories.

“Mr. Harman reads books the way writers write books, methodically over time. For two years Mr. Harman would take down from the shelf The City of God by E. L. Doctorow read the novel slowly, return it to the shelves, and then take it down again for his next trip. ‘Almost everything I have read has been useful to me — science, poetry, politics, novels. I have a lifelong interest in epistemology and learning. My books have helped me develop a way of thinking critically in business and in golf — a fabulous metaphor for the most interesting stuff in life. My library is full of things I might go back to.’ ”

Harriet Rubin’s most recent book is Dante in Love. She tells us that the journey through The Divine Comedy may seem daunting, but the rewards are well-worth the struggle. The goal is to become a writer and poet, with Dante as our guide. He has already made the journey, and he's left behind is his guidebook, The Divine Comedy.

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