St Paul's Institute

Late Summer Reading?

by Barbara Ridpath

Posted: 15 Sep 2014

Yes, it is a little late in the season to be handing out summer reading lists. Think instead one of those book reports you had to do at the end of the summer when you were still in school. I had the pleasure of dipping into several books relevant to the work of St Paul's Institute this summer and thought readers might appreciate short reviews and recommendations on some fruitful reading.

Ethical Ambition, by Derrick Bell
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; (1 Sep 2003)
ISBN-10: 074756454X, ISBN-13: 978-0747564546

Of the four books covered in this article, Ethical Ambition is the easiest and quickest to read. Written in the breezy style of a mémoire, a US civil rights leader and law professor writes very personally on how an individual can not only pursue a career but also enhance their life's experience by making decisions about both career and personal life within an ethical context. This is an extremely valuable book for anyone trying to be their authentic self in all contexts. Bell's very personal example of someone who lived his principles should give courage to anyone who believes they have to choose between ethics and success.

Together, by Richard Sennett
Allen Lane; (2 Feb 2012)
ISBN-10: 0713998741; ISBN-13: 978-0713998740

Sennett is an American professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. This book is the middle book of a trilogy beginning with The Craftsmen, and ending with a yet to be published volume on the making of the urban environment. Sennett focuses on the history of cooperation, and how society, development and work have caused us to become 'atomized' as members of society. It then considers techniques that, with practice, might strengthen the bonds between people and recreate community. Amidst the forces that limit our direct contact with others: economic inequality, the 'loose' connections of a web-based society and the wholesale move around the world from the countryside to cities, this book offers some hope of ways to reconnect. I read it because I was pondering how we can solve problems together without understanding the perspective of the 'other.' While I found few concrete solutions, I came away with a far greater understanding of the reasons behind some historical customs, and a far deeper belief that living for and with others in community is a key part of life's purpose and life's joy.

The Acquisitive Society, RH Tawney
Martino Fine Books (1 Oct 2013)
ISBN-10: 1614274916, ISBN-13: 978-1614274919

The Acquisitive Society was first published in 1920 by the English economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist and Christian socialist, RH Tawney. It is not an easy book to read, but it reminds the reader that what we are living through today is not new; others have considered issues of inequality and the value of the accumulation of belongings.' However, in 1920, it was still possible for the academic to write of 'moral values' of both Parliament and industrial organisations and prescribe solutions. He was, perhaps, the Thomas Piketty of his age, though he approached his subject without the volumes of data used by Piketty. Tawney examines what changed in the social structures of society from medieval society to his present day. He suggests that we need to put limits on surrendering the 'unfettered exercise' of economic rights by tempering them with social purpose.

Is there a Gospel for the Rich? Richard Harries
Mowbray (1 May 1992)
ISBN-10: 0264672763, ISBN-13: 978-0264672762

First published in 1992 by Richard Harries, then Bishop of Oxford, this book tries to set capitalism within a moral framework with some success. He looks to a wealth of other scholars, recognizing that there are almost as many ways to do this as there are Christians. The cynical reader might call those views with which he does not agree rationalisations or justifications, but Harries points quite clearly to a moral core of Christian values that can help the questioning Christian to develop his or her own views on the corporation, ethical investment, and globalization.

A singular source of pleasure in the book for me was rediscovering the famous John Wesley quote from a sermon preached in 1744: 'Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.'

About this author

Barbara Ridpath is the Director of St Paul's Institute.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.