Your summer reading list: Titles about cities, leadership, and more for our evolving world

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Summer reading 2021 | © Joerg Steberm, Shutterstock

About 500 days into the global pandemic, it might be difficult to think beyond our current COVID-19 reality given the uneven pace of vaccination and recurring waves of infections worldwide. Yet summer in the northern hemisphere has been accompanied by an easing of restrictions—particularly in Europe and the United States—so it seems fitting to start visualizing how we want the future to look, before we fall into the complacency of the world as we knew it.

To help you along this journey, below are some suggestions for your summer reading list focused on shaping the post-pandemic world, building modern cities, reimagining leadership, and (why not?) becoming immortal.

ImageRescue is a roadmap to use COVID-19 as an opportunity for a radical change of direction to construct a fairer, more inclusive world. It’s not a lesson in economics, but rather a global vision of how the current economic model could be reshaped to address the daunting challenges brought to the surface by the pandemic, including escalating climate change, growing inequalities, weakening health systems, and international instability. The pandemic can be the inflection point to not just upgrade, but to radically reform this world order by prioritizing people and planet, focusing on more redistribution and investment in quality and shared health, education, and jobs to create cohesive and stable societies. Whether you agree or not with the need to create an outright new operating system, the urgency for countries to cooperate and to strive for a more sustainable path for the world economy is undeniable. In fact, “People, Planet & Prosperity” is the theme of this year’s G20 that focused its first-ever meeting of Development Ministers on the challenges of financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and of territorial development to shape an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable COVID-19 recovery.

ImageThe G20 highlights in particular the critical role of cities and local authorities to build forward better. Large cities seemed to have lost their appeal due to the changing social and work paradigms that came with the pandemic, but in the United States and Europe residents are flocking back and mayors are re-imaging spaces for greener, inclusive, resilient cities. After all, the future is definitely urban: according to the World Bank’s Demographic Trends and Urbanization, 56 percent of global population already lives in urban areas, and urbanization is set to become the defining megatrend of the century with three- quarters of humanity expected to be living in cities by 2050. But how do cities work? It is only fair to learn about the foundations of large cities if we are to imagine our future in them, and The Works: Anatomy of a City does just that. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations, the book gives a full picture of the daily working of New York City’s urban infrastructure: what happens below your feet along the sewage system, the automation of the metro, the logistical planning behind garbage collection, and the maintenance and expansion of the city’s harbor—all become anecdotes to understand the vast services needed to run a modern city.

ImageCities have always been complex and multifaceted, and through a quick, fun read of historical fiction we can get an account of infrastructure services in arguably the most famous city of the Roman Empire, Pompeii. Through the namesake book, we follow Marcus Attilius Primus, newly appointed engineer for the aqueduct in southern Italy, as he tries to repair the water supply in Pompeii. We know the inevitable is about to happen: Vesuvius erupts and wipes out the city covering it in layers of lava and ashes that kept bodies, artefacts, and mosaics intact to this day, but Attilius gives us an accurate picture of the sophisticated water and sanitation system of a Roman city in A.D. 79. You will have to read the novel to find out whether he survives the eruption.  

With its effects and the restrictions needed to fight it, COVID-19 has pushed many of us to pay more attention to our mental and physical well-being, especially in the workplace. Beyond the consequences on the nature of work, summarized by McKinsey in Future of work after COVID-19, the pandemic highlighted a need to change the way leaders lead. In a podcast episode called The Boss Factor, McKinsey looks at the impact that your relationship with your boss has on satisfaction on the job and in life, showing how this deeply affects all areas of staff productivity and well-being. These findings have an implication for the “bosses of the future,” as they will need to have excellent emotional intelligence—not just to lead, but to support their teams to deliver their best given the changing nature of work imposed by COVID-19.

To conclude, I leave you with a last recommendation of a book that is at the top of my reading list: Lifespan: Why We Ageand Why We Don't Have To is an intriguing science-based discussion of how to slow down and even reverse aging. The promise to live younger and healthier for longer can give us the optimism we need in these still uncertain times.  

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This blog is managed by the Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees Group of the World Bank. Learn more about our work here.


Giulia Motolese

Analyst, Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF)

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