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A reading list for Bill Gates--and you. A conversation with literary critic Harold Bloom. Interview by Diane L. Coutu.

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Abstract

In today's technology-driven world, who has time to pick up a 400-page novel? Most executives don't--they have urgent e-mails to answer, training seminars to attend, meetings to lead, and trade publications to scan. But according to Harold Bloom, one of America's most influential scholars, they should make time in their hectic schedules to read great works. In a wide-ranging conversation with HBR senior editor Diane Coutu, Bloom discusses the importance of literature: every individual--regardless of profession--needs to stretch his or her mind and reflect now and again on the human condition. "By reading great imaginative literature, you can prepare yourself for surprise and even get a kind of strength that welcomes and exploits the unexpected," he says. Because there are so many great works and there is so little time, Bloom presents a reading list for busy executives. Shakespeare's King Lear can teach businesspeople about change. Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays capture the ethos of the American spirit--individualism and inventiveness. Bloom says Sigmund Freud's conceptions "form the only Western mythology that contemporary intellectuals have in common." And people will never fully understand some aspects of themselves until they read Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. In short, Bloom believes the humanities have much to offer businesspeople: great books broaden their awareness and their range of sensibility, he says. But reading literature will not make businesspeople more moral, he cautions. Bloom also discusses other topics such as how to read well, the state of popular fiction, the role of irony, and the subject of change.

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