Nature, culture, art and books are the real food for thought, imagination and innovation.
They can also lead us to make better decisions and to live a thousand extraordinary lives.
Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008, Guy Verhofstadt, has been president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament since 2009. In September 2010, Verhofstadt and Daniel Cohn-Bendit were among a group of politicians who launched the Spinelli Group to reinvigorate the idea of European integration. Later, in 2014, his political grouping nominated him for the Presidency of the European Commission, and he was recently appointed as the European Parliament’s chief negotiator for Brexit. His latest book, released in the summer of 2016, was inspired by his conversations with world leaders: Bush, Blair and Poutin. Verhofstadt convincingly shows that Europe - once seen as a moral reference point and inspiration for the world - is now at a standstill.
Published in France in spring 2016, Jean Tirole’s Économie du bien commun has proved a huge popular success. Even Paris Match, a periodical aimed at a general readership, reviewed the book and noted that it had sold over 45,000 copies in a month and a half. Jean Tirole has a long list of accolades and titles to his name. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2014, he received the French CNRS Gold Medal in 2007. He is Chairman of the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), and a founding member and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Institute of Advanced Studies of Toulouse (IAST) and scientific director of the Institute of Industrial Economics (IDEI). Initially trained as an engineer, he is also director of the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as a member of the French Council of Economic Advisors and the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. As the Swedish Academy recognised, Tirole is one of the most influential economists of our time. The Économie du bien commun discusses four key topics in 17 chapters (each of which, as the author tells us, can be read independently of one another).
To better know the history and future of our species, I would recommend Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari, tells us in just 400 pages about other species of human beings, including several that have become extinct since we first walked the Earth and about our species today and how artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and other technologies will change us in the future. Translated into more than 30 languages, the book won the National Library of China's Wenjin Book Award for 2015. Although I disagree with Harari’s claim that humans were better off before we started farming, the deep lines of the story of sapiens are fairly uncontentious and set out with verve. Human beings (members of the genus Homo) have existed for about 2.4m years. Homo sapiens, our own wildly egregious species of great apes, has only existed for 6% of that time – about 150,000 years. The fact remains that the history of sapiens – Harari's name for us – is only a very small part of the history of humankind. He argues that prehistoric sapiens may have committed a massive genocide, leading other homo species such as the Neanderthals into extinction.
For admirers and critics alike, Henry Kissinger is more than just a former U.S. Secretary of State and former national security adviser. He is also an authoritative author. His new book World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History, like his previous works, is a valuable contribution to the modern historical canon. His first book A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822 was submitted as a doctoral thesis in 1954 before making it into print in 1957. His second, Diplomacy, was published in 1994. The title of his third and perhaps final offering, World Order, might seem ironically titled, for if there was one thing the world yearned for in 2014, it was order to drive growth and peace. In 2014, in the Middle East, the Syrian civil war had already killed hundreds of thousands and allowed jihadist groups to threaten the stability of the entire region. In Asia, China had grown more assertive, stoking anxiety among its neighbors.
This book consists of four long talks between journalist Cécile Amar and Jacques Delors, which took place in 2015 on the occasion of the latter’s 90th birthday. The conversations span Delors’ 10 years at the European Commission, the current situation in Europe, and the world in which France finds itself today. Its title paraphrases those of biographies of other historical figures such as Louis XVI and George Washington who - willingly or not – had to give up power. After two terms as President of the European Commission, Delors could have run for the presidency of France and would probably have won by a wide margin. However, as he says in the book with great sincerity, he abandoned political ambition out of moral honesty. He didn’t want to make promises he could not keep and he wanted to make room for the younger generation, of which his daughter Martine Aubry is part. Those who know Delors personally will recognise in these conversations his natural vocation to educate, as well as the transparency, insight and openness of spirit that have always characterised his work, first in France and then in the European arena.