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Are you a museum junkie? Is your television constantly set on the History Channel? Then you are missing out unless you dive into these novels constructed around particular historical moments.
As with most historical fiction, each book’s narrative is overlaid onto the scenes and mores of days past. Yet these works have more than just tales to tell: They also contain thought-provoking tidbits to inform your present-day career choices. Whether you’re trying to fix an operational issue or stamp out bias in the office, you’ll find relevant ideas and examples within these pages.
Dragonfly by Leila Meacham
Are you having difficulty getting your team to gel? Sit down with this book for a weekend and you’ll gain lots of inspiration for moving them from “storming” to “performing.” Set in the depths of World War II, this fictional account shows how people from disparate backgrounds can achieve revolutionary wins. I’ve often found—as the characters of Dragonfly do—that all it takes is a shared vision and commitment to a cause to rally individuals who might otherwise never give each other the time of day.
Deep River by Karl Marlantes
Imagine you’ve decided to leave your homeland for the wilds of turn-of-the-20th-century America. You’d be faced with the emotional turmoil of saying goodbye to a beloved place and most of the people in it. Yet those feelings would be tempered by the realization that you hold the key to your future. Through the eyes of Karl Marlantes’ logging industry protagonists, you’ll experience the hardship and joys faced by Finnish immigrants. And I predict you’ll find the items on your to-do list a lot less daunting after reading about their courage.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Discrimination is nothing new. And it’s no less rampant in the business world, although plenty of modern business leaders are trying to stamp it out. So imagine you’re a person with blue—yes, blue—skin living in 1930s Appalachia. Surprisingly, this condition is real and caused a tremendous divide among families living in that poverty-stricken part of the country. As a fierce supporter of education (and, obviously, a book lover myself), I was heartened by the novel’s demonstration of the power of learning to overcome prejudice.
Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
We know how tough it was for talented women to earn business cred in the 1960s. Park Avenue Summer sheds light on this era and the challenges faced by a young woman entering the publishing field—and those of her editor, the brash Helen Gurley Brown of Cosmopolitan fame. Today, unfortunately, we continue to talk about gender inequality in the business world. Still, I appreciated the way this book illustrates how a little unapologetic chutzpah can begin to change an industry—and people’s mindsets.
The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason
Have you been mired in business problems? I urge you to push aside the spreadsheets, close your Google docs, and dive into Tim Mason’s The Darwin Affair. Set against the backdrop of Victorian England, Mason’s novel gives you the chance to do a little sleuthing. Riding alongside the main character will give you insight into myriad ways to solve even complex mysteries. By the time you return to your budgets, you’ll be poised to look at your challenges from a fresh perspective.
The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar
From now on, I’ll be recommending Noelle Salazar’s book to anyone who feels beaten down by the status quo. Rather than live someone else’s vision of her life, 1940s pilot Audrey Coltrane overcomes gender discrimination to successfully contribute to the Allies’ war effort. Like every entrepreneur who has hit bumps in the road, Audrey relies on friendship and grit to restore her spirit and keep moving in the right direction.
A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum
Reading Rachel Barenbaum’s A Bend in the Stars will transport you to pre-Communist Russia, an era not often discussed in school. Amid the underlying ripple of impending global upheaval, the laser-sharp focus of Barenbaum’s protagonist stands out. Like the best entrepreneurs I’ve known, Miri is unwavering in her mission despite the barriers tossed into her path, and she successfully navigates these unexpected changes in pursuit of her goals. If business leaders persevere, remaining as authentic as Miri does, they too can birth a vision.