The best books to navigate operational resilience, what it means and why it's important

Why am I passionate about this?

I practised risk, resilience, and protection of infrastructure systems for 35 years. Mid-career, I became frustrated that we could deliver highly successful projects yet didn't deliver their ultimate purpose. This difference is particularly pronounced in war zones and the developing world, where most of my work has been. My research at the University challenged what I knew: it was as if someone had taken my heuristic understanding and cast the components like a pack of cards into the wind. I have shared some highlights in my journey to gather the cards. I hope you like them.

I wrote...

Before the Storm: Exploring Protection Planning and Security Integration

By A.H. Hay,

Book cover of Before the Storm: Exploring Protection Planning and Security Integration

What is my book about?

Written for the APS1025 Infrastructure Protection course at the University of Toronto, Before the Storm continues the story of Marianne as she explores the essential principles and concepts of protection and security integration. The characters and situations are all hybrid versions of real people and case studies, exaggerated to amplify the lessons. Her previous exploration of operational risk and resilience directly resulted in a partial grade improvement across the APS Infrastructure Resilience class. Marianne's exploits will never attract awards for storytelling, but they can help you understand the how and why of protection and adaptation, and the role and application of risk in understanding complex systems.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation

A.H. Hay Why did I love this book?

More than any other writer, Flynn explained the value and need for resilient critical infrastructure. He distinguished between foreseeable and unforeseeable threats, and made clear that we can reduce the risk and impact of both. Since 9/11, anything purporting to discuss protection/security and resilience was skewed to terrrorism, giving scant consideration to more fundamental changes in our world. Flynn brought this broader perspective to the fore, and I would like to believe he influenced political and academic thinking. I fear he was the Cassandra to the business community, who are only now starting to understand the risks they face. I made this book core reading for all the infrastructure courses I teach. It is clear, simple, and sets each concept in context with an unambiguous call to action.

By Stephen Flynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Edge of Disaster as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why do we remain unprepared for the next terrorist attack or natural disaster? Where are we most vulnerable? How have we allowed our government to be so negligent? Who will keep you and your family safe? Is America living on borrowed time? How can we become a more resilient nation?

Americans are in denial when it comes to facing up to how vulnerable our nation is to disaster, be it terrorist attack or act of God. We have learned little from the cataclysms of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. When it comes to catastrophe, America is living on borrowed time–and…

Book cover of Risk: A Very Short Introduction

A.H. Hay Why did I love this book?

There are some excellent books on risk like Bernstein's Against the Gods. The majority are insipid reads and over-simplistic. This little book stands out for its simple, clear, condensed overview of risk in theory and practice. It doesn't try to simplify to the point of complicating the subject; it presents the inherent complexities without drama. I made it required reading for my risk & resilience students and employees. It offers a sense of how risk changes with interpretation and how the perception can itself influence the occurrence and impact. If this idea of risk perceptions and how it influences decision-making strikes a chord with you, you might wish to explore more of Baruch Fischhoff's work—it is utterly fascinating and will forever change how you buy vehicle insurance and salmon.

By Baruch Fischhoff, John Kadvany,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Risk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We find risks everywhere-from genetically modified crops, medical malpractice, and stem-cell therapy to intimacy, online predators, identity theft, inflation, and robbery. They arise from our own acts and they are imposed on us. In this Very Short Introduction, Baruch Fischhoff and John Kadvany draw on the sciences and humanities to explore and explain the many kinds of risk. Using simple conceptual frameworks from decision theory and behavioural research,
they examine the science and practice of creating measures of risk, showing how scientists address risks by combining historical records, scientific theories, probability, and expert judgment.Risk: A Very Short Introduction describes what…

Book cover of The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong

A.H. Hay Why did I love this book?

Judith Rodin is one of the more extraordinary influencers of resilience thought and practice. As President of the Rockefeller Foundation, she oversaw the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. The initiative may not have been as "sticky" as many hoped, but the lessons from this experience continue to inform and spur action in cities worldwide. This book gives us a sense of her thinking and vision in driving the initiative. It does not hold all the answers, and many take issue with her perspective. Nonetheless, it is a must-read for anyone thinking about protecting our cities. In an ideal world, I'd love to see Judith Rodin write the next book with Juliette Kayyem, former US Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, drawing on all that we've experienced over the last tumultuous decade. 

By Judith Rodin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Resilience Dividend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Building resilience,the ability to bounce back more quickly and effectively,is an urgent social and economic issue. Our interconnected world is susceptible to sudden and dramatic shocks and stresses: a cyber-attack, a new strain of virus, a structural failure, a violent storm, a civil disturbance, an economic blow. Through an astonishing range of stories, Judith Rodin shows how people, organizations, businesses, communities, and cities have developed resilience in the face of otherwise catastrophic challenges: Medellin, Colombia, was once the drug and murder capital of South America. Now it's host to international conferences and an emerging vacation destination. Tulsa, Oklahoma, cracked the…

Book cover of Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems

A.H. Hay Why did I love this book?

Not easy reading, it may well slide down your "must read" list. However, resilience is an ecological concept. C.S. Holling, co-author of Panarky, coined the term resilience in a 1973 ecological science paper. The practical application of resilience, specifically operational resilience, and its relationship to adaptation and protection, has evolved greatly over the last 20 years. Nonetheless, Panarchy gets to the raw ingredients of these multi-domain ideas. It remains an invaluable touchstone for those exploring nature-based solutions as tools of protection and resilience planning for disaster risk reduction. It is a fascinating reminder of how quickly the world and emerging practices can change, yet the fundamental concepts endure. It reminds me of the essential value of books and how reading and internalizing an argument is so much more intellectually nourishing than today's tendency to graze information.

By Lance H. Gunderson (editor), C. S. Holling (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Panarchy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book examines theories (models) of how systems (those of humans, nature, and combined humannatural systems) function, and attempts to understand those theories and how they can help researchers develop effective institutions and policies for environmental management. The fundamental question this book asks is whether or not it is possible to get beyond seeing environment as a sub-component of social systems, and society as a sub-component of ecological systems, that is, to understand human-environment interactions as their own unique system. After examining the similarities and differences among human and natural systems, as well as the means by which they can…

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

A.H. Hay Why did I love this book?

I struggled to keep my recommended reading list to five books. The subject is much bigger than the succession of oversimplified opinions discussing resilience, adaptation, and protection. I was greatly influenced by Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction and the need to ensure that we can adapt and protect ourselves even as we seek to mitigate the changes we have caused in our world. I am also a pragmatist at heart and often find myself referring to Hirschman's essays—he was probably the arch-pragmatist among economists.

He spoke of the dangers of trying to fit the world into a model, as opposed to building a model to understand the world. Few heed his advice, typically measuring the world about us by the familiar tools at our disposal. In the process, we become blind to the actual changes in our context and fixate on the immediate issues and returns. In effect, we lose sight of our future and whether we/our business can survive all the changes we face. We make matters worse by decoupling key performance indicators and key risk indicators, focusing compensation metrics on what has past rather than our preparedness for what is approaching. We become willfully blind to what is happening around us and reward ourselves for this ignorance. It is the entire antithesis of Drucker's first fiduciary responsibility of directors to protect against loss.

These concepts and many more are expertly woven into the vignettes through Robinson's The Ministry for the Future. I'm not typically a modern fiction reader, generally preferring fiction that has stood the test of time (I'm a poor judge of fiction quality). This book is different on so many levels—it is one of the most thought-provoking reads in a long while. Besides, how can one not be drawn in when the central character's favourite album is Kind of Blue.

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Ministry for the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


“The best science-fiction nonfiction novel I’ve ever read.” —Jonathan Lethem
"If I could get policymakers, and citizens, everywhere to read just one book this year, it would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future." —Ezra Klein (Vox)

The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us. Chosen by Barack Obama as one of his favorite…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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