Unreasonable Men

Three books on leaders whose bold thinking has shaped and continues shaping the world.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that reasonable people look at how the world is and adapt themselves to it. Unreasonable people dream about how they want the world to be and go about creating it. That’s why progress comes from unreasonable people, such as the three men profiled in these books.

Lee Kuan Yew is the founder of modern Singapore. As the country’s prime minister from 1959 to 1990, he transformed what was essentially a backward city-state into an economic powerhouse through his unconventional ideas. For example, recognizing that it would provide an economic advantage, he decreed English be the primary language taught in schools.

Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World is composed in a question-and-answer format. Using excerpts from speeches, interviews and papers Lee wrote, the authors allow him to speak for himself, as they share his straightforward views on the future of our world. His thoughts on China’s global ambitions and the role its leaders expect the country to play in Asia this century are particularly relevant.

This book makes you think: The free world created a long-term containment strategy for Soviet communism. Is one needed for Chinese authoritarian capitalism? And if so, what should that strategy be?

Stephen Schwarzman is the founder and CEO of Black- stone Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world, and arguably the most successful. He is a doer who thinks big—and the bigger he gets, the bigger he thinks. His autobiography, What It Takes, is a study in bold action and relentless execution. We gave this book to our executives at Johnsonville Sausage.

Don’t be put off by the style. There is a lot of “I did this” and “I did that” in this book. At first blush, it seems like one more “look at me” story written by a successful person who knows most attendees of the Davos summit on a first-name basis. But the more you read, the more you think, “Wow, this man isn’t bragging, he is giving his recipe for success.” The recipe: Think big. Go big. Risk little.

Most private equity firms expect winners, losers and break-evens. Schwarzman lost everything once and promised himself it would never happen again. He does not accept losers and has been remarkably successful in eliminating them. It’s worth the reading effort to learn how to do that. You don’t have to agree with all his methods, but his success cannot be denigrated.

Calling Elon Musk an entrepreneur is like calling Chernobyl a brownout. Written by Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk is a must-read for anyone who wants insight into our future—since Musk is busy creating what a portion of it will look like. Vance, a Bloomberg Businessweek tech writer, had almost unlimited access to Musk and the people who surround him in researching the book.

Vance took full advantage of this access to provide insight into what makes this enigma tick. In reading, we learn Musk loves big problems that require big solutions, such as transportation, global warming and space travel.

There is an old adage that one man can’t cure world hunger or save the planet. This is sound in principle, but no one told Musk that. He isn’t working on world hunger just yet, but he is focused on saving the human race. The book covers the childhood that shaped Musk, along with landmark projects such as his founding of Tesla, a company whose influence can’t be denied. A recent study indicates that more than half the cars on the planet will be electric by 2035. Vance also writes about SpaceX, which Musk created to colonize Mars as a hedge against an existential event on Earth. This seems more probable in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. In short, the book provides a fascinating study on one of the great visionaries of the last 100 years.

RALPH STAYER, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.