Around the Institute

Our Favorite Books of 2013

December 23, 2013

With all the speakers and major events we host annually, it’s no surprise that many of us here at the Aspen Institute love to read. This year, we asked a few directors and staff to share their favorite reads of the year. Scroll down to get their recommendations, along with commentary on why these books are at the top of their lists. If this list isn’t enough to satisfy your literary cravings, you can also browse through a list of featured books from 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival speakers here.

Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program (EOP)

In EOP, we continue to be concerned about the challenges so many people face in today’s labor market. Three books that are particularly interesting in this regard are:

Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: the Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do about Itby Peter Cappelli (2012)

This book came out in 2012, and describes how the challenges that companies face in filling positions may not rest solely — or even primarily — on a lack of qualified applicants, but rather on a range of issues in the hiring and employee development process. Two issues to that end include an inadequate infrastructure for identifying qualified candidates, and a reluctance to bid for skills.

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir (2013)

With respect to the challenges poor individuals in particular face, this book offered a compelling discussion of how the fact of poverty leads to an inability to succeed in many dimensions of life. The book offers great insight into why so many working poor are unable to just work harder to get ahead, and offers important lessons for how public policy can better support access to economic opportunity.

The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs & Boost Profits” by Zeynep Ton (January 2014 release)

This book changes conventional wisdom about the need for companies to pay very low wages in order to compete. Backed by very careful research, it also offers a strategy for business success that not only allows for, but is built on workers’ success and customer satisfaction. We are excited to be hosting Zeynep Ton on January 17, 2014, to discuss this important new book.


Eric Motley, managing director, Henry Crown Fellowship Program

Pity the Beautiful: Poems” by Dana Gioia (2012)

I waited a long time for the publication of these poems. Dana is not just a friend; he is one of the greatest living poets of our time. He is a master formalist, and a great metaphysical poet, who reminds us that poetry, words — living words — still matter. He has a wonderful way of linking the ancient to the present, making the experience rich and contemporary in every way.

Dante’s “Divine Comedy” translated by Clive James (2013)

James’ new translation brings a fresh and interesting energy to this timeless text. First of all, his introduction is exceptional and wonderfully insightful, and equally important is the genius of making the poem flow in English, as it did in Italian. Little is lost in this translation.

Being Bernard Berenson” by Meryle Secrest (1980)

This biography came out in 1980. As I try to make sense of the current art market, where sales of Freud and Hirst tower Renaissance masters like Botticelli, I decided to retreat to Berenson’s world for some refreshment and enlightenment. In my opinion, Berenson remains one of the most extraordinarily interesting individuals in the history of art.

Toni Verstandig, chair of Middle East Programs

The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)

This book is beautifully written, with great character development and the storyline of an Indian immigrant’s relationship with the home country and his new home in America.

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” by Ari Shavit (2013)

This book is a gripping and compelling story of the Startup Nation, with themes of survival and the struggle for identity, stability, and peace. It reads like a novel, but it is through the lens of an accomplished journalist who is a part of Israel’s history, and also the struggle for its future.


Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East” by Chris Schroeder (2013)

This book tells the story of the Entrepreneurial Revolution remaking the Middle East, as the Middle East seeks to find its way through turbulent political change. It is a must-read for understanding the region’s potential and promise for the next hub of innovation and opportunity.

Other book recommendations include:

Dan Glickman, executive director of the Congressional Program

Peter Reiling, executive vice president for Leadership and Seminar Programs, and executive director of the Henry Crown Fellowship Program 

Related Content:

Featured Books from 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival Speakers