We look ahead to 2021 perhaps with new eyes, new hearts, new minds. Behind us is the shifting uncertainty washed in by the global coronavirus pandemic, a U.S. election mired in uncertainty that left some elated and others forlorn, and a continually evolving world order, with citizens and nations wondering: How will this all shake out?  Where will we land?  Where will I land?

But this collective trauma has had its upsides too. COVID-19 lockdowns brought precious and unprecedented time at home with families. A close presidential race turned out voters in numbers not seen in over a century, with signals of moderation on both sides. Though war and conflict raged abroad, there were stunning signs of peace and hope. For example, Israel normalizing ties with some Arab neighbors gave a glimpse of a new world order. And the unprecedented development pace and efficacy of the new COVID-19 vaccines permit optimism for the next pandemic. Let’s hope, of course, there’s not one.

As we compiled our book list this year, we chose texts which not only help us through hardship but also remind us of the fortitude and ability to restart that we all have inside us … and will take forward into 2021.

Morenz Group’s Top Five Books for 2021

 1.      The Splendid and the Vile

Released in 2020, Erik Larson’s book chronicles the daily life of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in what historians have called London’s darkest year, when 30,000 city residents were killed by Hitler’s bombs. On Churchill’s first day in office, the Nazis invaded Holland and Belgium; Czechoslovakia and Poland had fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. The reader observes Churchill and his family move between 10 Downing Street, his country home Chequers, and his wartime hideaway Ditchley, where he and key staff took cover when the moon was bright and the bombing threat, high … all while teaching Britons the art of fearlessness and to “never, never, never give up.”

 2.     Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63

 The first volume in author Taylor Branch’s historical trilogy of the Civil Rights Movement under Martin Luther King, Jr. was published in 1988, but it couldn’t be more relevant today.

 A top reviewer called it then:

 “Right out the pages of our lives – Compelling portraits, placed in the excitement of a period when oppressed and powerful people moving together changed themselves and their country profoundly …”

 It sounds like what we have all been seeing on our television screens of late and provides a solid backdrop for greater awareness.

This book gives a close and personal look at King’s early years and rise to prominence through events like the Montgomery bus boycott, the Freedom Rides, lunch-counter sit-ins, church bombings and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr. It won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1989.

3.     Disunited Nations: The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World

This new-world-order guidebook by author Peter Zeihan was published in March of 2020.  Some of the changes it predicts over the coming decade are: China faltering while Japan rises; Saudi Arabia – and not Iran – threatening peace and security in the Middle East; and France replacing Germany as Europe’s most powerful country. But his main premise is that nation after nation will adjust to the strategic retrenchment of the United States by stepping back from the international system and moving forward instead in the spirit of each country for itself. This go-it-alone impulse will give regional powers like Turkey and Argentina room to lead, while exposing others’ true vulnerabilities. Russia and Brazil come to mind here.  Whether truth or baseless prophecy, time will tell, but the author’s constraint-based analysis is worth considering.

4.     Lee Kwan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World

The founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew was also its prime minister from 1959-1990.  In this 2013 book, authors Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill combine interviews, speeches and Lee Kwan Yew’s many published works for insight into the man who counseled Chinese leaders and American presidents simultaneously. The authors capture his take on topics ranging from Islamic terrorism to the welfare state and echo his easy assertion that China intends to be the greatest power in the world. When asked if India would ascend as well, Lee Kwan Yew’s unique take was, “Not likely.  India is not a real country. Instead, it is 32 separate nations that happen to be arrayed along the British rail line.”    

5.     Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life

In his introduction, author James Kerr writes, “Rugby, like business and like much of life, is played primarily in the mind.” The text then lays out fifteen lessons in leadership, both simple and profound. What do leaders of one of the world’s greatest sports teams look for in players?  Talent, of course, is one thing. But, Kerr notes, “a player who makes the team great is better than a great player.” Other takeaways are: adaptation or “when you are on top of your game, change your game”; being a good ancestor or “planting trees you will never see”; and finding something you would give your life for. Or, as the author puts it, “Don’t die like an octopus, die like a hammerhead shark” … keep fighting the fight!