Morenz Group Top Five Books for 2023

Between the pandemic, war, inflation and diminishing civility, it’s hard not to let the headlines give you a headache or a heartache. But this time of year is not just about reflection, it’s also about hope. And this isn’t the first time in history when things looked bleak. Looking back at historical events and the leaders that shaped them helps us anticipate the future. The five books on the 2023 recommended reading list pull from history to provide an interesting lens with which to view our current troubles. With a particular focus on pivotal leaders over the last century, these books can provide a sense of comfort that through awareness and understanding of what’s come before, we can look more confidently to what’s to come.

I’ve always been fascinated by studying the characteristics, skills and strategy that world leaders exhibit, and the first book is a masterclass on some of the most powerful and influential leaders of the modern age, as presented by the indomitable Henry Kissinger. Kissinger’s Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy shines a spotlight on six world leaders of the 20th century and how they met the unique challenges of their time.

  • Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer – rebuilt Germany’s identity after the devastations of WWII
  • Charles De Gaulle – restored France’s essence after the humiliations of WWII
  • Richard Nixon – shaped American foreign policy toward a new world order during crisis
  • Anwar Sadat – restored Egypt’s lost territories and self-confidence after the war of 1967 and secured peace with Israel
  • Lee Kuan Yew – built Singapore into a prosperous city-state with a shared national identity from an impoverished port to become the envy of the world
  • Margaret Thatcher – the Iron Lady renewed Britain’s vitality through economic reform and dogged foreign policy after the nation’s long-suffering imperial decline

Kissinger dissects the leaders’ strengths and weaknesses and evokes the spirit of another world leader to point to why we should bother assessing these historical icons: “Study history. Study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft,” said Winston Churchill.

Best leadership book I’ve read since 12 Ordinary Men. Thanks, Brandon!

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, is a work of fiction that provides provocative insight into the Russian mindset, not only from the perspective of military might and power, but also from the musicians, writers and artists that have been so influential during more than a century of war, strife and hardship. It really brought home the fear and danger that comes with living under a Communist regime – something many in Moscow are likely experiencing as President Putin wages a war against Ukraine that is condemned by global leaders and increasingly unpopular at home.

Through the eyes of Count Rostov, placed on life-long house arrest in the Hotel Metropol by the Bolshevics after the revolution, the reader experiences first-hand Lenin’s conceivable, yet misguided, transition from rule by the Czars and the aristocracy to Marxism. The reader becomes a witness to the impact to daily life as Stalin takes up this philosophy, setting the stage for the spread of Communism we see today from Russia to China and Cuba.

This is truly a must-read for anyone interested in Russian history. Thanks, Langston!

The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, by Michael Pillsbury, is an eye-opening look at China’s long-term plan to become first in the world, surpassing the United States and all others in economic, military and geopolitical power. It breaks down the strategy and inspiration that drives China and its leaders, both historical and current, to achieve world dominance by playing the long game, patiently waiting for decades or longer to achieve victory. According to Confucius, “There cannot be two suns in the sky or two emperors on earth.”

China believes that military might is not the deciding factor in winning a long-term competition, but rather that achieving economic dominance should be first, and from there, the country can enforce its superiority through military power. It’s fascinating how Pillsbury details China’s journey through millennia of war and revolution with specific emphasis on the “century of humiliation,” a term used in China to describe the period of intervention and subjugation by both Japan and Western powers from 1839 to 1949.

This book pulls back the curtain to reveal what’s driving current President Xi Jinping in both his domestic policies and foreign relations, especially his complex entanglement with Russian President Putin.

Prescient read, Bryan!

In The New York Times bestseller The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization, author Peter Zeihan lays out some cold, hard truths about where the world, and specifically America, is heading. The steady march toward globalization is breaking apart, and we’re now entering a multi-polar world in which globalization’s warts, inefficiencies and ineffectiveness is coming into sharp view, especially following the pandemic. One world doesn’t recognize the unique cultures, regional resources and limitations, and trade imbalances that can come from relying too much on one another.

Zeihan envisions, instead, a shift toward countries becoming more independent, growing their own food, producing their own energy and making their own products. He posits that the interconnected world we’ve been moving toward will begin to bifurcate and cause the deceleration of globalization. Moving things from A to B will get increasingly more difficult and expensive, so every country will have to solve for themselves amid challenges like declining birthrates and reduced resources. All this while the world is undertaking a critical re-industrialization and energy transition, leaving everything from food supplies to critical metals and materials in question.  Zeihan paints a vivid picture of what this “new world” might look like – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Thanks, Peter. I continue to appreciate your unbiased efforts to provide clarity.

The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink, by William Inboden

President Ronald Reagan beat incumbent Jimmy Carter by a landslide in 1980, taking 44 states and following a decade of strife and crises that left Americans weary and looking for a savior. Vietnam, Watergate, the OPEC oil embargo, economic pain from the energy shock and recession, communist advances across the world and a USSR nuclear advantage, the Iran hostage situation and USSR advances into Afghanistan had all taken their toll on America’s domestic mood and prosperity, not to mention its international position. Each of the previous five presidents before Reagan only served one term, and it seemed like the Office of the Presidency was broken, and our standing in the world had lost its dominance.

Reagan set out to fix that, and examining his leadership quality can tell us a lot about what it takes to be successful, whatever your profession. He was a master at building coalitions and strategic alliances that advanced peace through strength and established mutually beneficial partnerships based on an open-economy philosophy and a foundation of faith. In fact, Reagan believed in a divine purpose for America as a beacon of religious freedom and human dignity, and was personally committed to Christian devotion through prayer. His leadership in promoting democracy and free markets helped America improve its economic position, and the Great Communicator, as he came to be known, ushered in a new era of American prosperity, increased global allies, an end to the cold war and dismantling of the Berlin wall. Like all presidents, he had his failures, but his overwhelmingly positive approach to his leadership style and coalition building allowed him to consistently achieve solutions rather than stalemates.

Thanks, Will. Great perspective; I felt like I was right there with you.

I hope you will find these books as illuminating as I have as we begin a new year filled with uncertainty and hope. Thank you to all who have provided book recommendations to me. Please keep them coming.