Must-Read Book: 21 letters on Life and Its Challenges by Charles Handy


It’s not very often that non-fiction books reduce me to tears. The much-anticipated new book from Charles Handy managed to do that on more than one occasion. 


I first became aware of Handy, as an idealistic 16-year-old. I grew up in a family business and I was curious about how it all worked. To say that his seminal work, the Age of Unreason, blew my mind would be an understatement. It was, as if, he could see into the future. In it he introduced concepts like portofolio working, and shamrock organisations. 


Charles Handy is now 86 years old, and in this book he shares advice from his life in the form of 21 letters to his grandchildren. It is practical, powerful and emotional in equal measure. He examines his life, owns up to his failures, and urges his grandchildren to learn from them. 


As someone in the middle of my life (I’m 46), I found this book particularly powerful. I’ve lived enough of my life to validate Handy’s advice, and I would hope to have enough of it left to practice some of the wisdom he passes on. 


There is a certain end of an era quality to the book, which I found especially emotionally resonant. Charles wife Elizabeth died in a road accident last year and he speaks very touchingly about how this has affected him.


In the summer of 2012 Charles and Elizabeth Handy came to Dublin to give a talk at the 50th anniversary of Relationships Ireland, which was co-founded by his late uncle Canon Handy. At the end of the talk I queued to get him to sign my well-thumbed teenage edition of The age of Unreason. It has pride of place on my bookshelf.


It’s very seldom that a book shines a light into your life, as the reader and makes you want to change how you live your life. Do yourself a favour – read it.