David Dangoor: The books that have shaped my life

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Desert Island Books

David Dangoor: The books that have shaped my life

From Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker to Shimon Peres' autobiography No Room for Small Dreams, businessman and philanthropist David Dangoor reveals his desert island novels.

David Dangoor
David Dangoor

In the latest in our series of podcasts with Jewish people who are changing the world, Zaki Cooper talks to businessman and philanthropist David Dangoor about his life, career and the books that inspire him.

David comes from a well-known Iraqi family and grew up in Baghdad. His business background is in computing, but he has worked extensively in the property industry.

He has been very active as a lay leader in the Jewish community, and involved in a whole range of philanthropy, including as founder of  Dangoor Education (http://dangooreducation.com).

You grew up Baghdad in the 1950s. What are your earliest childhood memories?

In association with yu life

Sleeping out under the stars in the summer.

The weather in Baghdad is much warmer and drier. We used to drag our beds up onto the flat roof because of the heat and sleep there. It was great fun for a kid.

I never knew the dark political side that our parents did.

The first book you have selected is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, a novel set in 1950s India. What attracted you to this story?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Mistry captures the texture of India very well. But for me it was a very moving human story about the resilience of the human spirit in difficult times.

It reminded me a lot of the 19th century history of Baghdad, where hunger and danger is never far away.  Sadly, in India, many manual labourers, as a result of Covid, have lost their jobs. They’ve no money, no food and are at the mercy of loan sharks.

I found it a gripping story – very absorbing and moving.

You worked for IBM early in your career and then went to work with your father to develop a property business. 

The second book you have selected is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, an idea that is useful for business. Why do you like that book?

David Dangoor

As a scientist, I assumed that I always thought logically, but when I read this book, I was astonished at how constantly I was making the wrong choices.

It was a real eye-opener. It’s a book I keep going back to again and again to try to recalibrate the way I think.

There are some very interesting tales about Kahneman’s activity with the Israeli Air Force. He won the Nobel Prize.

You are extremely active in the Jewish community. You were president of the S&P Sephardi Community between 2011 and 2016. What was that like?

I came to the UK in 1960 and the Lauderdale Road Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue became our synagogue.

I have been a regular there for many years. With these communal organisations, if those who benefit don’t support them, who will? After 30 years of being involved in most of the voluntary activities, the role of president fell onto my shoulders. What I really enjoyed was to see how many people give up their time freely for the benefit of others. That’s one of the wonderful things about the UK Jewish community generally.

Listen to the first clip of the podcast here:

Related to this is your love for Israel. Your next book is The Accidental President by A J Baime about President Truman. Why that book and what’s the relevance to Israel?

The Accidental President

This concentrates on the first four months Harry Truman was president, during which the world order in which we live today was established.

Truman never wanted high office. Roosevelt had to push him to become his 1944 running mate and died soon after his fourth term began.

He had to deal, in just his first four months, with the fall of Germany, starvation in Europe and the Marshall Plan, dropping the atom bomb on Japan, the division of Berlin and the creation of the United Nations, and he was very helpful in the early days of the creation of the state of Israel. I really enjoyed reading this book.

The next book is also Israel-related, No Room for Small Dreams by Shimon Peres. Why do you like that particular book?

Shimon Peres came to Palestine from Poland in 1934 when he was aged 11. This book charts his life up till a few weeks before he died suddenly aged 93. It really is an overview of the history, the creation and the growth of Israel in the past nearly hundred years through the eyes of one of its most important sons. I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a fantastic read.

Listen to the second clip of the podcast here:

You do a lot of philanthropy in Israel and also the UK, and one of the areas is education. What drives that passion for education?

When we came to the UK from Iraq, my father had to leave behind all the businesses he had built up.

No Room for Small Dreams by Shimon Peres

All we brought with us was our education, and this country welcomed us, allowed us to rebuild our lives.

There comes a time when you want to give something back. Like many people, we support Jewish education but, as an immigrant to this country, we felt that supporting others who have come in to be able to make a contribution would be a good way to say thank you.

Another area you are particularly committed to his is interfaith and you were the original backer of the British Library’s Discovering Sacred Texts. Tell us more.

I think today a national library cannot exist only in its buildings.

When we funded the creation of the Discovering Literature website 10 years ago, the whole website of the British Library used to get just one million visits a year. Now Discovering Literature alone gets five million visits from all over the world.

With Discovering Sacred Texts, we want to try to do the same thing. We had hoped for 250,000 unique visitors in the first year that has just finished.  In fact, it is already 340,000. I expect within a few years it will be up to five million and this will be a chance for modern Britain to show off its multifaith background.

Discovering Sacred Texts

We’ve only scratched the surface of all your different projects. You are a man who likes to balance lots of different things, which brings us on to your last book – Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. What’s special about this title for you?

This is a very important book and it’s a must-read. We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep or in bed trying to get to sleep.

What Professor Walker does is give good advice on how to benefit our mood, to benefit our health, our relationships, and all of it while lying in bed. It’s a subject that very few people know enough about.

Those to whom I recommended this book have said it has changed their lives.

Listen to the full podcast here:

David’s Top Reads

  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • The Accidental President by A J Baime
  • No Room for Small Dreams by Shimon Peres
  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

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