Charles Fishman on Business & Books
April 16, 2015
Today we conclude out Thinker in Residence series with Charles Fishman by asking a few questions about business and books.
"One of the questions that I tug along with me—like a balloon on a string—is how you move huge organizations to change their culture, their performance, to really accomplish things."
Today, we wrap up our Thinker in Residence series with Charles FIshman with a set of questions we ask all authors about business and books. This portion of our interviews is always the shortest, and perhaps the least relevant to the book at hand, but I feel it lets us get a glimpse into the author's mind from a slightly adjacent angle. And, if you're one that's always looking to expand your reading list like we are, this is the part of the interview for you to do so. So, let's get to it...
C: What is the one unanswered question about business you are most interested in answering?
CF: One of the questions that I tug along with me—like a balloon on a string—is how you move huge organizations to change their culture, their performance, to really accomplish things.
My next book is about the race to the Moon, from the perspective of the scientists and engineers who invented the technology to get us there. We had 400,000 people working on the Apollo program. That's more people than were necessary to build the Panama Canal. It's more people than worked on the Manhattan Project. I'm going to be fascinated to see how NASA got all those people moving in the same direction, with urgency, focus, and relentless innovation.
C: What book has influenced your work the most?
CF: The book that made me think, I'd like to write like that, is one that gets too little attention: Michael Herr's Dispatches.
Herr is a journalist, and Dispatches is his reporting from Vietnam—he covered Vietnam for Esquire. The writing is so unconventional but so accessible, so vivid. It was like reading a movie. Like nothing I'd previously read. And of course, reporting about the Vietnam War, in a certain way, was in fact writing about people and their work.
What is the book you wish you had written (or admire the most) and why?
CF: Well, I wouldn't presume to imagine that I would have written it, but David McCullough's The Path Between The Seas is a book I love, and a model for explaining how something hard and complicated got done—the power of the moment in time, and the equally important power of individual personality and talent. I marvel that a book that is 800 pages long can grab you so powerfully.
What book are you reading right now?
CF: The Boys in the Boat, about the US Olympic rowers at Hitler's 1936 Olympics. It transports you—Daniel James Brown recreates that era, and the emotions of the era and the sport, with which I have absolutely no experience. Totally absorbing.
"It was like reading a movie. Like nothing I'd previously read. And of
course, reporting about the Vietnam War, in a certain way, was in fact
writing about people and their work."
~Charles Fishman, on reading Michael Herr's Dispatches