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Reading recommendations on risk management: 4 books to add to your November reading list

This month’s selection focuses on the “why” behind tragedies and the lessons public safety can take from other professions

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This is the eleventh in a year-long series where I share my top risk management reading recommendations. These are the books I review regularly regarding the discipline of risk management and related issues. Each of these gives you hints on how to recognize, prioritize and mobilize solutions for the risks you face in your organization.

I previously shared some tips for making notes and summarizing key points from the books I read, as well as some recommendations for other publications that will help you keep up with trends. Let me know what works for you and then check out my reading suggestions for November:

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Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental

By Marc Gerstein

So you think you know what happened to the unsinkable “Titanic.” How about what happened at Chernobyl and right here at home during Hurricane Katrina? Both Space Shuttle tragedies – Challenger and Columbia – should have never occurred. And how about British Petroleum (pick one of their tragedies) and the pharmaceutical tragedy known as Vioxx? Were these unavoidable misfortunes that no one could possibly have imagined? All of them were tragic disasters that could have been prevented, or whose damaging repercussions could have been mitigated if people really understood the discipline of risk management.

Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way it Comes Apart

By Mark Eberhart

Early on in the book, the author talks about getting marbles from his parents when he was a kid. Rather than play with them, he heated them up in the oven and then dropped them in ice water to see how they would break. His behavior reminded me of a person I am very familiar with, so I had to buy it and read it. A somewhat technical book on molecules but well worth the read as it shows how the “nail” can cause the whole building to fall.

Inviting Disaster: LEssons from the Edge of Technology

By James Chiles

A brilliantly written summary of a number of high-profile tragedies in the world and what really caused them. It is a must-read for the serious planner. Also, pick up “The God Machine” by the same author. This is a fabulous book on how the helicopter (that we know today) was developed. Every problem in the development of a machine that met the requirements of a helicopter had to be addressed from an engineering and risk standpoint. The human mind is simply amazing.

Safety in the Chemical Industry

By O.P. Kharbanda and E.A. Stallworthy

What the heck caused “Bhopal” back in the 80s? This is an interesting read on why things go right and wrong in the chemical business.

That’s it for this month. Let me know what you think of these books and share your leadership and risk management reading recommendations. Email

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.