In the video, McLennan raves about Fitzgerald's final (and unfinished) novel, which offers insight into the always-relevant crisis of work-life balance.
Fitzgerald follows the life of Hollywood mogul Monroe Stahr (based on the real-life film producer Irving Thalberg) — a staggeringly successful business executive who's thriving in public and flailing in private.
"What we begin to see is the lack of a fully integrated life — somebody who is literally working himself to death, but doing very well," McLennan says. "And then you need to ask, could he do as well if he had a more balanced life?" (For the record, McLennan says his students seem split on the question.)
Another of McLennan's favorite literary lessons in work-life balance and living well? Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha."
The novel follows a man who is struggling to "combine business and spirituality," McLennan explained in a (different) interview with Insights' Deborah Petersen this past winter. "He becomes a rich merchant who is at first unattached to material success, concentrating on putting his customers first and acting ethically with all stakeholders. But then he becomes covetous, succumbs to the 'soul sickness of the rich,' and becomes not only mean-spirited but also suicidal."
Eventually, he finds something like balance ferrying travelers across a river, "providing spiritual mentoring to some, but finding that most people simply want good transportation services."
Literary critic Harold Bloom said the trilogy — which follows Roth's fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman — "merits something reasonably close to the highest level of esthetic praise for tragicomedy." That's one reason to read it.
But that's not the only reason the books appear on McLennan's list. In a 2013 sermon at Stanford, he called 'The Ghostwriter' — the first of the three novels in question — a "wonderful illustration of the importance of balancing personal ambition with social awareness – of balancing individualism with community responsibility."
McLennan points to Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" as a "helpful study of the difference between East and West," says Rimby.
And he's not the only one. The novel, which follows an elderly butler so profoundly devoted to his profession he's blinded himself to the rest of the world around him, is regularly referenced in writing about leadership and ethics (like here, and here, and here.)
"...how to balance new-world selfishness in personal freedom with old-world selflessness in familial duty; examining whether there is a stable self (or Self) to rely upon in each of us or an ever-changing identity as we change our environments; the foundation of morality in karma, or reaping what one sows; and the struggle between fate and will."
"Miramar," which follows a peasant woman named Zohra who escapes her family and finds employment in a small hotel in Alexandria, makes McLennan's list for its dissection of sexual harassment in the workplace, Rimby writes.
According to him, the book illustrates the tension between enduring values (justice, freedom, and "courage as a virtue") and things that are ultimately fleeting (among them, the "single-minded pursuit of profit to the exclusion of fundamental human values").