“I have never read a book only once.”

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

For Alexander Scholz, Lead – SI Partnerships at Freshworks, an understanding of different cultures and people is essential for business, and books help traverse these cultural boundaries. Books evoke memories of different times and places, stretch the boundaries of imagination as they become companions for both pleasure and pragmatism. On a Zoom call for this inaugural “edition” of Freshworks Book Circle, Alexander discusses his eclectic choice in books and how they affect him in more ways than one.

What kinds of books do you read?

I try to read all kinds of books—business books to fiction—depending on my mood. But I can safely say that I have never read a book only once. I always get back to them time and again. On any given day, I have two or three books that I am reading at the same time.

What are you currently reading?

I am flitting between two books at the moment. The first is House of Islam by Ed Husain. Since I was a child, Arabia and its deserts have fascinated me. You can blame it on Walt Disney’s Aladdin, I suppose, but I love the story! Over time, you start to realize that there is so much more to it. In the past few years, I have been traveling a lot—from Lebanon to the UAE, and from Morocco to Oman. To succeed in a global world like ours, I find it paramount to understand people beyond their personality. Culture is a leverage, not a boundary. Religion, culture, and history play a big part in understanding regions better. This book helps answer some of these aspects and it has me hooked.

The second book is The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin. It is originally in German and is called “Wenn es Krieg gibt gehen wir in die Wüste”. I found this book in a small shop in Windhoek—the capital of Namibia—during my visit to the country in 2015. Curiously, this book is written by one of the men who decided to live in the Namib Desert in Namibia to avoid World War Two in Europe. Since Namibia was a German colony at the time, the two were not drafted for fighting. The book describes their journey over two and a half years in the arid desert. I get chills reading every page. I cannot imagine what the two men would have suffered. I only have my own experiences of heat, dust, and wind to compare but mind you, we traveled in a well-climatized 4X4.

Physical books or e-books?

I love physical books. I don’t know if it’s the color or the feel of holding one in your hand but it’s a beautiful experience. But, to be honest, e-books are a lot more practical. You can have all your books in one place, everything is on one device. The best part is, you can highlight stuff and see it on another device. Because I read a lot of books about business, I find this more practical.

What are some books that have inspired you? 

The Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt. This book has tons of good stuff on how to manage yourself—including keeping your ego in check, doing what is best for the team—and others.

Choice by Edith Eger. This one is a goldmine about one of the most successful business coaches, from Facebook to Google to Cisco and others. It has a biographical touch to it. Choice is an amazing showcase of what people are capable of doing if they choose to believe in themselves.

Your Brain at Work by David Rock. This book provides a beautiful insight into our brains—including why it is capable of things and what it is not good at and why. It definitely helped me to take a step back and, sometimes, just baseline certain expectations. Interestingly enough, it became the foundation for my interest in neurology and the brain in general. (For parents out there, I would like to recommend The Whole-Child Brain by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson.)

What are your favorite books of all time?

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not only are his books masterpieces of storytelling and human psychology but they are also amazingly fun reads.

Shogun by James Clavell. The story opens in the 16th century and accompanies a British sailor after his ship strands in Japan. It does have a Robinson Crusoe vibe, but the book  presents a fantastically detailed picture of feudal Japan.

 Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Willink is an ex-Navy SEAL of the U.S. army who endured the Iraq war and put down these learnings into this heartfelt book. Stories of wars are distilled into strategies that are equally helpful for our personal and professional lives. One of these strategies is ‘extreme ownership’. You own everything you do. Nobody else owns it. That does not mean, however, that you have to do everything yourself. Rather, the book emphasizes collaboration between a team’s members for success. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This book is an exquisite read because of the sheer use of language. It plays fantastically with a host of stylistic elements like alliteration. The setting is not only picturesque and rich, but it paves the way for discussing challenges and tensions between different groups of society (significant chunks of this play is set during the Russian Revolution), between different generations, but also the internal tension centered around growing old. The fact that the story is set in Moscow, where I spent a big part of my teenage years, has a lot of bearing on my love for the book.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. One of the founders of Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius wrote journals to clear his mind, and focus and challenge himself each and every day. Meditations is a reminder that our own mind is probably the most powerful friend and foe we have. I find myself going back to this gem of a book and again. 

What’s next on your reading list?

I am looking forward to reading these books: The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began by Valerie Hansen; Good Economics for Hard Times and Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo; and How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy by Julian Baggini. I also have around 70 unread books on my Kindle. I have promised myself not to buy any more books in 2021 without reading the ones I have but I surely find shopping for books more exciting than shopping for bags or shoes.

Cover design: Vignesh Rajan