Investor Warren Buffett enjoyed learning more about how his son tries to tackle world hunger, while fellow billionaire Carlos Slim studied how General Motors Co. and AT&T Inc. reinvented themselves.
Pacific Investment Management Co. Chief Executive Officer Mohamed El-Erian zeroed in on U.S. politics and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew sought insight in the work of his predecessors. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked at American prosperity, while World Bank President Jim Yong Kim probed innovation.
These were some of the responses to the annual Bloomberg News survey, which asked CEOs, investors, current and former policy makers, economists and academics to name their favorite books of 2013.
The most popular selection was “The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and the Making of a New World Order” by Benn Steil. Others included “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone, a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek; “The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan and “The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire” by Neil Irwin.
Howard G. Buffett, chairman of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation
“The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty” by Nina Munk: Illuminated the flaws of trying to impose Western thinking on Africa. “Jeff Sachs’ ‘Millennium Villages’ tried to create a recipe for lifting regions out of poverty through massive aid and development plans designed from a distance by people who lacked a deep understanding of farming. This book is stark proof that approach just does not work. Farming is context-specific, and any plan that is not created from the ground up in partnership with local people who are invested not only in increasing agricultural productivity, but the development of sustainable markets, is doomed. The world needs to pay attention to these lessons and stop wasting resources.”
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
“40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World” by Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett: He thought he knew his son Howard’s story pretty well, but he says he was surprised to read his book. In it, he realized the evolution of Howard from a child of limitless energy but little direction into a serious philanthropist was dramatic. “It’s an absolutely authentic story, every chapter of it. I actually went back and read it again because I could watch how he became a man with all the best qualities of his mother, but also gained so much knowledge about farming. The book’s format involves relatively short stories that tell you about human beings that very few of us have ever encountered who are living in extreme and extraordinary environments. Howie has gone to these places and met the people. He understands their needs. His empathy fuels his passion to deliver real results to those who have hope and not much else.”
Paul Achleitner, supervisory board chairman of Deutsche Bank AG
“Why the West Rules -- for Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future” by Ian Morris: Helps to illustrate the intersection of time and change in human history.
“Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Asserts that institutions cannot only withstand volatility but also have the opportunity to get better because of it.
Anat Admati, professor of finance and economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business
“Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea” by Mark Blyth: Recounts some of the disastrous aftermath of rigid austerity policies over the years. He rightly points to reckless banks and bailouts as key to the current crisis in Europe, but this problem can be traced to failed regulation and the symbiosis of banks and governments. Citizens everywhere must demand better financial regulation. Blyth warns that austerity can threaten democracy.
“Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government” by Joshua Kurlantzick: Provides an insightful explanation of the recent setbacks in achieving quality democratic systems in the developing world. Kurlantzick points to why U.S. governments have not done as well as they could to bring about democracy’s most important benefits such as freedom and civil rights. It’s particularly difficult to view Washington, D.C., as the source of good policy and wisdom after reading.
“This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital” by Mark Leibovich: Made me laugh but also want to cry at some of the silliness and the increasing disconnect of This Town from the rest of society. The corrosive impact of “Big Money” and politics, lamented by others, is in full display.
“The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism” by Naoki Higashida (translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell). I urge everyone to read this. We take too much for granted, particularly our ability to communicate. Some brains are very different. More empathy would help.
Carlos Slim, chairman emeritus of America Movil SAB and the world’s second-richest man
“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall
“My Way: An Autobiography” by Paul Anka
“American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the U.S.A.” by Ed Whitacre
“The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined” by Salman Khan.
Vindi Banga, operating partner at Clayton Dubilier & Rice LLP and a former president for global foods, home and personal care at Unilever
“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone: Full of management lessons and an inspiration for every young entrepreneur on what can be achieved in half a lifetime.
“The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire” by Neil Irwin: A fascinating story of the three central bankers. Each a very different individual with his own beliefs, combating the crisis in very different political contexts.
“Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think” by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier: If the last decade belonged to those who used the Internet to invent new business models; the next decade will belong to those who possess and harness the power of Big Data.
Fiona Woolf, lord mayor of the City of London
“Giving is Good For You: Why Britain Should be Bothered and Give More” by John Nickson: Made me confront my own attitude to giving. It made me want to do more of it in a way of actually feeling good about the contribution you can make to the sort of societal issues you undertake in the role of lord mayor. And it read like a novel.
Jacob J. Lew, U.S. Treasury secretary
“The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy” by Thomas K. McCraw
“The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don’t” by Nate Silver
Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and global research professor at New York University
“Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation” by Tyler Cowen: A highly informative read, unpacking a key factor underlying the growing inequality taking shape in the U.S. today: The middle class is thinning as a top echelon of high achievers makes good on structural advantages that the system affords them while the rest of the working population faces stagnation. Cowen’s book serves as both a cutting economic history of the past thirty years, and a predictor for where new trends and technologies are taking us. It is highly analytic, thought-provoking, and debate-inducing...yet refreshingly non-polemic.
“China Goes Global: The Partial Power” by David Shambaugh: I have long argued that we have entered the era of what I call the G-Zero, a global order where no country or group of countries can sustainably drive the international agenda. Shambaugh’s compelling thesis is likely the single biggest structural reason behind this breakdown in global leadership. China’s growing international reach cannot be denied; it has become sufficiently important economically to scuttle many international policies that do not suit its interests. But as China grows rapidly, its willingness and ability to engage in global affairs and promote its own values and priorities has come along much more haltingly. The result is a “partial power:” a China that can upend the global order, but cannot spearhead a new one of its own. This book offers a balanced, thoughtful, critical understanding of why China mustn’t be ignored -- but why it won’t be replacing the U.S. any time soon.
“Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data” by Charles Wheelan: From smartphones that track our coordinates and even our sleep patterns to the rise of Fantasy Football and social media sites that log our every written thought, the prevalence of big data is plain to see -- but how do we digest it? Any lover of lists and data needs a primer to cut through it. Whelan takes a complex subject and gives it new sheen. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants an accessible, entertaining lens into the nature of data and statistics.
Lawrence Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University and former U.S. Treasury secretary
“Wilson” by A. Scott Berg: Woodrow Wilson’s story, a century after his presidency. Wilson’s crusading ideals in favor of freedom abroad, and against excessive economic power at home, continue to define political debates. As America grapples with vast technological forces reshaping our economy, and a world system being transformed, both the positive and negative lessons of Wilson’s presidency have never been more relevant.
Philip Clarke, CEO of Tesco Plc
“True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership” by Bill George: An inspirational book about authenticity in leadership. It reminded me to appreciate differences in people and that there is no perfect profile of a leader.
Steve Kuhn, Partner and co-head of fixed income trading at Pine River Capital Management LP
“Trading Bases: A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball (Not Necessarily in That Order)” by Joe Peta: Was my favorite book of 2013. The author shows that the search for “alpha” in baseball gambling could be a fruitful one. The book also has lessons that extend well beyond baseball, indeed to all forms of investment. I bought a copy for everyone on my trading team.
David Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell International Inc.
As a lifelong Republican, it’s ironic the two books that stuck out were recommended by high-profile Democrats.
“The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science” by Richard Holmes: Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, suggested this. It really was an age of wonder because the whole idea of science was on everybody’s mind. It’s this fascinating tie-in about the early days of science and how that related to the literature of the time.
“Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson: It was recommended by Steve Israel, a U.S. Representative from New York who headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2012 elections. I find it just fascinating to get a sense of what was being dealt with and how they looked at things and what was a good plan, but just didn’t get executed well or didn’t happen because somebody didn’t make the right decision. As a leader, that’s what I’m having to deal with all the time.
Alistair Darling, former U.K. chancellor of the exchequer
“Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy” by Iain Martin: An excellent chronicle of the downfall of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc. The book draws extensively on interviews from members of staff and charts the eventual downfall of one of the world’s biggest banks.
“An Officer and a Spy” by Robert Harris: A fascinating novel based on the notorious Dreyfus affair at the end of the nineteenth century.
Barry Eichengreen, professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley
“Misunderstanding Financial Crises: Why We Don’t See Them Coming” by Gary B. Gorton: Uses U.S. history to fundamentally undermine what we thought we knew about financial crises.
“Prometheus Shackled: Goldsmith Banks and England’s Financial Revolution after 1700” by Peter Temin and Hans-Joachim Voth: Similarly uses history, this time the history of the British industrial revolution, to challenge everything we thought we knew about the connections between finance and growth. While it may not be possible to call either “an enjoyable romp,” both books are exceedingly well written and, given their use of historical evidence, considerably more entertaining than most economic and financial writing. They are two fine examples of state-of-the-art financial history that speak directly to current policy concerns. They will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates seeing conventional historical wisdoms overturned.
Olli Rehn, European Union economic and monetary affairs commissioner
“The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and the Making of a New World Order” by Benn Steil: A great narrative -- both very fluent and well-researched -- on the talks that created the International Monetary Fund and the Bretton Woods system of international economic governance which lasted, mostly successfully, until the early 1970s. John Maynard Keynes is here as much a devoted defender of the British national interest as the world’s leading analytical economist. Harry Dexter White, meanwhile, is shown to be a Soviet spy or at least fellow traveler in first class, which is why he never became the first-ever managing director of the IMF.
“Misunderstanding Financial Crises: Why We Don’t See Them Coming” by Gary B. Gorton: Less linear than Alan Blinder’s “When the Music Stopped,” which is perhaps the best overall account of the crisis. But this is a more Minskyian and highly original analysis, which shows the recurrence of manias and panics over the past 250 years and why the decisions in the 1930s changed that, and no sweeping and systemic financial crisis occurred in the U.S. until 2007-2008. The Fed’s role as lender of last resort and the creation of the FDIC in 1934 take the credit.
“Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman” by Jeremy Adelman: This is a magnificent biography that combines Hirschman’s personal development as a committed reformist and social liberal, and as committed European, with his scholarly development as a leading political economist of his time. From the streets of Berlin in 1933 to Marseilles in 1940, from the lecture halls of Berkeley in 1941 to Nuremberg in 1945 and Columbia and Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s, it is just an extraordinary life.
David Einhorn, president of Greenlight Capital Inc.
“Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg (Einhorn’s cousin): Has been criticized for addressing only a small subset of women, namely women who already enjoy a great deal of privilege but still feel limited by a male-dominated business culture. I think the critics miss the broader issue: while the system needs to change and inevitably will, it is difficult for individuals to change it in the short-term. In the meantime, Sheryl offers pragmatic advice about how to succeed in the world as it actually is. And women aren’t Sheryl’s only audience. Lean In points out systemic problems to people who, until now, might have been oblivious to many of them. Sheryl has started an important conversation, not just in “Lean In” circles, but in boardrooms. I think that in a few years, her critics will take a different view. I appreciate Sheryl’s common-sense approach to what’s been an intractable problem. My cousin has written a brave and challenging book and, on a more personal note, it’s nice to see Grandma Roz get the tribute she deserves.
Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University
“The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality” by Angus Deaton: Tops my list of must-read books for 2013. Deaton tackles big topics -- global improvements to health and wellbeing, worrisome levels of inequality within nations and between them, and the challenges to curing poverty through foreign aid. His powerful, provocative argument combines careful analysis, humane insight, lucid prose, and a fearless willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. Whether you agree or disagree with its conclusions, this book will force you to rethink your positions about some of the world’s most urgent problems.
Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of Pacific Investment Management Co.
“Double Down: Game Change 2012” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: Motivated by a desire to better understand how politics is likely to influence economics and markets, I read a few books this year on what goes on behind closed doors in Washington. I emerged with more than just new insights on the powerful drivers of today’s unusual political polarization. I also gained a better understanding of the changing mix of tactical and strategic influences, the role of political lobbies and the unexpected consequences of seemingly benign political deals.
“Double Down” provides its readers with even more. Written in a flowing and engaging manner, it takes you through two inter-related political journeys that converged into yet another defining moment for America: the November 2012 elections. Whether it is the difficulties both parties faced in securing their political base while also engaging centrists, or the volatile and competing claims on some politicians’ loyalties and values, Halperin and Heilemann do a great job in explaining some of the disturbing realities of today’s Washington setup.
Importantly, they illustrate why too many of the nation’s counterproductive political outcomes are in fact due to quite rational political calculations and short-term incentives at the level of individual politicians. None of the books I read this year suggest that America’s political landscape will get less problematic in 2014. If anything, we should expect even greater polarization and dysfunction. That is the bad news. The good news is that due to books such as “Double Down,” we can all have a better understanding of why.
Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels
“China Goes Global: The Partial Power” by David Shambaugh: China is today a consequential nation, but its international economic and political personality is only partial and Beijing remains uncertain about what it wants to achieve through international policy.
“The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and the Making of a New World Order” by Benn Steil: The story of how the postwar system for the world economy was designed -- and how a secret admirer of the Soviet Union, Harry Dexter White, laid the foundation for U.S. global economic power by making the dollar a global currency.
Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard University
“War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First-Century Combat as Politics” by Emile Simpson: Best book of the year by a considerable margin. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he served as a Gurkha officer, Simpson is the most impressive scholar-warrior to emerge from the “War on Terror” (a label he deplores). Described by Sir Michael Howard as “a coda to Clausewitz’s On War ... a work of such importance that it should be compulsory reading at every level in the military,” “War From the Ground Up” should also be compulsory reading at every level in the business world. Its paradigm-shifting arguments have implications that extend far beyond the battlefield.
Peter Fisher, senior director of BlackRock Investment Institute and senior fellow at the Center for Global Business and Government at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
“An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff: Completely upended my (1970-vintage) understanding of biology and made me think about all ecosystems -- biological and financial -- in a completely new light, focusing on how we can mess things up not just by what we add but by what we take away.
Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
“Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century” by Christian Caryl: May be the year’s best. It brilliantly documents 1979, when “the twin forces of markets and religion came back with a vengeance” -- through Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping, the Iranian Revolution, the start of the Afghan jihad and the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland -- and is a must-read for any serious student seeking to understand what has ensued in the 21st century.
“Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham: Provides remarkable insight about one of history’s great transformational leaders.
“The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire” by Neil Irwin: Provides perhaps the best account yet of the accidentally transformational leaders that central bankers became with the financial crisis that erupted in 2007.
Jason Furman, chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers
“The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It” by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig
“Misunderstanding Financial Crises: Why We Don’t See Them Coming” by Gary B. Gorton: The best pair of economics books I read. Both of them proceed from rigorous theory and careful history to develop a single, all-encompassing narrative of the recent financial crisis and what should be done to prevent the next one. But the explanations, while individually compelling, are also diametrically opposed, with the former focused on solvency and the later on liquidity. Reading them together forces you to make up your mind or construct your own synthesis.
“The Charterhouse of Parma,” by Stendahl: Years ago I was defeated in my attempt to read it but this year I tried again. Once you get past the first hundred pages it turns into a fast-paced combination of court intrigue, romance, adventure, and love story -- all set in the fictional nineteenth century Principality of Parma and told with ironic detachment.
“Matilda” by Roald Dahl: Reading this to my children (age five and six) was one of my biggest thrills of the year.
David Farr, chairman and CEO of Emerson Electric Co.
“Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned The Tide in the Second World War” by Paul Kennedy: A truly fascinating read about the business people, soldiers, scientists and engineers who made everything work for the political and military leaders -- the real people who got things done to win the war, and the individuals you would never have known about who helped win the war. A very interesting read.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak: A much easier and very enjoyable read as I flew back and forth from India. It’s a young person’s perspective of the enormous “hell” the youth and normal German families lived through during Hitler’s time. About life in a small town outside of Munich and how she survived and helped people survive -- including an unexpected Jewish friend. It’s a powerful and moving insight unlike any other World War II books I have read -- through the eyes of “Death.” It does make you think about untethered power.
Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman
“Coolidge” by Amity Shlaes
“The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and the Making of a New World Order” by Benn Steil.
Guy Hands, chairman of Terra Firma Capital Partners
“Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War” by Max Hastings: Should be read by every politician who has any influence on international affairs. As Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Hastings writes brilliantly and hopefully the message of how easily the world can move from light to darkness through the misconceived actions of a few will drill itself into the souls of those who rule us. Perhaps the powerful few can learn from Hastings, in which case the powerless majority will be able to sleep more easily.
Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
“The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: This excellent read ties together leadership lessons imparted by president to each other, with politics continuing, of course.
“Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China” by Jung Chang: This readable book is a story of challenges, strategy, and leadership tracing the Empress Dowager Cixi’s rise to de facto ruler of China for decades.
Justin King, CEO of J Sainsbury Plc
“Best Served Cold: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Malcolm Walker” by Malcolm Walker: Rarely is a business person as candid as Malcolm, as he tells of the ups and downs of his Iceland journey.
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank
“Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” by Tony Wagner: Examines how creativity and innovation is sparked in young people. I’m asked all the time in my travels, what kind of educational system is most likely to nurture the development of innovators in any society? Through careful ethnographic analysis and wonderful case studies, Wagner suggests that “play, passion and purpose” are the key themes in understanding the emergence of creativity and innovation. The relationship between education and innovation is a key question for so many countries in the world looking to establish the foundations for economic growth and job creation. Wagner provides important insights that should be very helpful to both parents and policy makers.
Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
“Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn’t” by Robert G. Kaiser: An inside account of the sausage-making that brought us the Dodd-Frank Act.
“Banking Panics of the Gilded Age,” by Elmus Wicker: I’m rereading this to bone up for the Fed’s centennial, and because it’s a good antidote to superficial comparisons between 1907 and
“In the Name of Glory 1976: The Greatest Ever Sporting Duel” by Tom Rubython: Recounts the epic, season-long Formula 1 battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It’s a thrilling tale involving two utterly fascinating characters, and was the basis for the excellent, recently released Ron Howard movie “Rush.”
Andy Haldane, executive director for financial stability at the Bank of England
“The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution” by Samuel Bowles: Inequality and innovation could well be the issues for the next decade or more. Many believe innovation, and its close cousin globalization, cause inequality -- an unfortunate, but inevitable, by-product. masterfully explains why inequality leaves a deep scar economically as well as morally.
“The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths” by Mariana Mazzucato: Tells us that government has often been the guiding light behind genuinely transformative innovation.
If both are right, then they tell an optimistic story. Innovation and equality can be cousins, not enemies, provided government operates patiently to nurture future productivity and skills.
Pascal Lamy, former director general of the World Trade Organization
“Deep Sea and Foreign Going” by Rose George: Apart from my work with the Global Ocean Commission and my national service in the French navy, the sea has always held a fascination for me. Even if you don’t share my enthusiasm, you should, since pretty well everything we eat, wear and work with is carried by sea. Yet the shipping industry remains almost invisible, despite over 100,000 freighters on the seas. The book takes us behind the scenes to help us understand the often harsh realities of modern merchant shipping. She covers many serious (and murky) issues - whether environmental, legal, geographic or commercial - but also reveals something of the various different people who make their lives on the waves.
Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors Co.
“Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan” by Doug Stanton: Great true story of how a small band of CIA and Special Ops guys got in the good graces of some of the anti-Taliban war lords, and rode to what we thought was victory...until we gave it away a few years later.
Paul Martin, former prime minister of Canada
“The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by Thomas King: Takes real talent to convey deep thought without the reader knowing it. This is what Tom King has done, and on a subject matter that far more of us should understand, but don’t.
“The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan: I am only halfway through the book and I don’t want to put it down, but occasionally I must if I am to earn a living. On the other hand, when I finish it, I will regret having done so because what I will really want to do is read it again for the first time.
Laurie McIlwee, chief financial officer at Tesco Plc
“Everybody’s Business: The Unlikely Story of How Big Business Can Fix the World” by Jon Miller and Lucy Parker: A very good account of what big businesses are doing to ensure they have a greater chance of lasting success. The book focuses on what large, well-run businesses do best, making products or services people need and creating jobs. The book successfully argues, for me, that if big businesses are run in the right way they can be incredibly positive forces for society and for the benefit of all stakeholders (customers, suppliers, colleagues, shareholders and the environment). It’s a heavy subject, but written in an engaging way, filled with memory-jogging examples. The book uses a framework of 11 conversations, which are the big themes being debated from changes happening in health, education and skills to the changes in society driven by technology.
Allan Meltzer, professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and author of books on the Federal Reserve
“The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law”, edited by F.H. Buckley: The book that helped me most this year. A collection of papers on the details of regulation and the loss or weakening of the rule of law. Several of the papers provide detailed information on the depressing and harmful effects of current and recent regulations.
Axel Merk, president of Merk Investments LLC
“Market Sense and Nonsense: How the Markets Really Work (and How They Don’t)” by Jack D. Schwager. A must-read book for any serious investor because it shatters conventional thinking about efficient markets without reverting to exotic theories. Instead, it is common sense applied to established theories that is enlightening.
Scott Minerd, chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners
“The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order” by Benn Steil: An insightful book, bringing together two of my favorite topics to read about, gold and money, in a narrative that reads like a political thriller. The book offers a fascinating insight into the financial negotiations during the final months of World War II and underscores that ending conflict is not only about putting down guns but sorting out money matters too.
“The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire” by Neil Irwin. Five years ago, few people knew the words quantitative easing, but since 2008 QE has become a catchphrase for printing trillions of dollars to save the global economy from collapse. Ben Bernanke, Mervyn King and Jean-Claude Trichet were at the center of that unprecedented effort, which is revealed in great detail. This excellent volume does something I always appreciate: revisiting economic history to help explain our complex current predicaments.
“The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting” by Alan Greenspan: He was for many years the world’s best-known and most powerful central banker, so it was refreshing to see him revisit his record in this book, penned after the 2008 global financial crisis, which prompted him to ask why economic policies fail. As always, following the nuance of Greenspan’s reasoning is an education in economics and markets.
Andrea Morante, CEO of Pomellato SpA
“The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” by Carlo M. Cipolla: A very witty interpretation on stupidity. The book addresses itself not to stupid people but to those who, on occasion, have to deal with such people.
Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newtown Investment Management Ltd. and founder of the 30% Club
“The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?” by Seth Godin: Icarus flew too close to the sun and perished. We learn the lesson not to suffer from hubris, to avoid flying too high. Godin points out that Daedulus also told his son not to fly too low, too close to the sea, because the water would ruin the lift in his wings. This part of the story is often overlooked, because, as Godin argues, it is inconvenient to those who would have us be obedient and suppressed and more afraid of flying too high than undershooting. That is just as dangerous, though -- as many of us end up settling for far too little. The message of this brilliant book re-inspired me -- we really can achieve so much more than conventional wisdom might have us believe.
“The BRIC Road to Growth” by Jim O’Neill: Offers pithy and compelling arguments about how far the center of economic growth has already shifted to the emerging markets -- and the lessons that must be learned from this shift. By showing the degree of change that has already taken place, he powerfully illustrates the need for Western policymakers to be less dogmatic, more adaptive. The final chapter is entitled “Rescuing Capitalism,” with a call to action to become “more flexible, more open to lessons from...this new world.” This resonates with me and echoes my own views about why the European Union, with its bureaucracy, rigidity and rules-based construct, is an outmoded model in a world where adaptability and agility are essential.
Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel
“A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity” by Luigi Zingales: Zingales, a University of Chicago economist, talks about the benefits of free markets and the danger to them of monopolization and cartels that are coming from the private sector. I was very impressed by him. It’s a problem that afflicts all free-market economies. There’s a difference between being pro-business -- that is, big business -- and being pro-market, which fosters competition. He says we have the ability to allow real competition, to prevent concentration of economic activity and unfairness, to enable the distribution of financial resources in order to give the same tools for growth, distribution of growth and the fruits of growth. This mission is not simple, because the state of Israel was built with no small degree of economic concentration.
Benn Steil, senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White and the Making of a New World Order”
“The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan: My book of the year. The author is a master of narrative history; indeed, her “Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World” was the inspiration for my own venture into the genre. “The War That Ended Peace” is its prequel, if you will, in which MacMillan brilliantly paints the complex and tragic tableau that tipped Europe into the Great War and the flawed peace that followed.
Gordon Nixon, CEO of Royal Bank of Canada
“The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan: A remarkable story and lesson on how individual decisions can change the course of history and create global upheaval. As in her “Paris 1919,” she provides extraordinary insight into the key players that, in this case, caused or failed to stop the First World War.
Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank and chairman of Goldman Sachs International Advisers
“Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750” by Odd Arne Westad
“Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War” by Stephen R. Platt: Both offer fresh looks at China’s multi-dimensional links to the West in an era the Chinese consider to be a century of humiliation. In addition to the “might-have-beens,” these fine books, which draw on Chinese sources, raise the intriguing question of what we might learn when Chinese scholars are able to write honest histories.
“The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved” by Jonathon Fenby: Offers English speakers their best book on the incomparable Charles de Gaulle: amazing, demanding, and maddening, de Gaulle’s unique sense of France -- and self -- defined the France that arose after World War II.
“The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World” by Daniel Yergin: Offers fascinating stories about subjects that are, in the hands of others, oft-times technical and dense: energy, security, technology, and the environment. Yergin’s range of knowledge -- about characters, science, and policy -- enables him to wrap all within a delightful narrative history.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform
“How Money Walks - How $2 Trillion Moved Between the States, and Why it Matters” by Travis H. Brown: Explains where America is headed by documenting where Americans are moving. Brown combines U.S. Census data on American internal migration between states and IRS data on incomes to chart how Americans and their money have been leaving high tax states and moving to low tax/no income tax states. One can calculate not only how many Americans on net have left New York and California between 1985 and 2010, but the annual income lost to those states as well. Texas gained a net 572,656 new residents since 1985 with a net income gain of $24.94 billion since 1992. State level politicians are sculpting their own future electorates by who they drive out and who they attract.
“Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge” by Scott Walker: The Wisconsin governor puts the lie to the quip attributed to Otto von Bismarck that “no one would wish to see how their laws or sausage are made.” Now governor, and future presidential candidate, Walker makes the story of passing legislation in 2011 that neutered public sector labor unions a fast-paced action story brimming with union violence, 70,000-person mobs at the state capitol and enough betrayals and heartbreak to fill a Kardashian weekend. Just as with World War II spy thrillers you kind of know how this ends, but the read is compelling and the narrative just may be the American future nationwide circa 2017.
Jim O’Neill, former chief economist of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and a Bloomberg View columnist
“Mexico, The Great Hope” by Enrique Pena Nieto: This book by Mexico’s president gives powerful and clear details behind one of the most ambitious reforms I have witnessed in my career.
“The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson: An amusing but disturbing in-depth insight into life in North Korea.
Frank Partnoy, professor at University of San Diego School of Law and author of “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay”
“The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund” by Anita Raghavan: A comprehensive, no-stone-unturned account of the Galleon insider trading cases. Lots of scoop on Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta, and the increasingly prominent role of South Asians
“The Buy Side: A Wall Street Trader’s Tale of Spectacular Excess” by Turney Duff: At the other end of the spectrum is a wild ride through several firms, including Galleon. There are mountains of cash, crime, and cocaine. Shocking, I know.
“Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better” by Clive Thompson: Argues that we should embrace radical new technologies that help us improve our minds by partnering with computers. I’m not going to start wearing Google Glass, but the research and stories are compelling, entertaining, and counterintuitive.
Edmund Phelps, Nobel-laureate professor at Columbia University and author of “Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change”
“An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen: Is necessary and overdue. It breaks the silence among India’s educated classes over the mass poverty still very much in evidence in that country, despite the progress, and it proposes large-scale government measures aimed at reducing this poverty. The authors argue, pointing to Indonesia and China, that various government measures -- even programs for wide medical care -- will do more to increase growth than to slow it down. This stimulating book stands alongside some other new books that urge societies to understand better the roots of economic dynamism.
Dalton Philips, CEO of William Morrison Supermarkets Plc
“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone: While not an official biography and no doubt there will be many who challenge the research, it’s a wonderful page-turner about one of the most disruptive thinkers in the world. You get a real sense of the insatiable appetite Amazon has to dominate the retail landscape -- to literally be the “Everything Store.” Chilling stuff if you’re a bricks & mortar retailer like I am.
“Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness” by Scott Jurek: The book has three main strands going on concurrently, making a fascinating read. There’s a) the intriguing life story of his journey to becoming one of the world’s greatest runners, b) his love of food -- however it’s all things plant-based (vegan) -- as he romances you through his story with mouth-watering recipes and c) the parallel of his story to dominate against the odds in his field with that of the business field (in my case retail). A real page turner.
Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to President Barack Obama
“The Son” by Philipp Meyer: A long but excellent read about three generations of one Texas family dealing with the burdens of the past and the challenges of a changing Texas.
“The Sound of Things Falling,” by Juan Gabriel Vasquez: A beautifully written book about how the choices we make affect our lives forever, masquerading as a suspense thriller.
Stuart Rose, chairman of Fat Face Ltd. and Oasis Healthcare, former CEO of Marks & Spencer Group Plc
“Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814” by Rory Muir: I’m interested in history, especially military history, and Wellington.
Dominique Senequier, founder of AXA Private Equity
“Fugitives” by Alice Munro: A book of very good and original novels.
“Memoirs of Talleyrand:” Eight volumes written by him and edited by a small publishing house. A fantastic journey through the late 18th century and early 19th-century politics in Europe.
Laura Tyson, professor at Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
“After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response and the Work Ahead” by Alan S. Blinder: An insightful, well-written account of the financial crisis, its causes and the remaining policy challenges
“The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths” by Mariana Mazzucato: A compelling and timely account of the government’s essential role in fostering the scientific research on which innovation and economic progress depend
“The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers” by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick: A practical guide, replete with examples, of how to develop for-profit scalable business solutions for the needs of bottom-of-the pyramid customers
“What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” by Michael J. Sandel: A thought-provoking analysis that challenges the justice of market outcomes and raises concerns about the effects of markets on societal norms and values.
John W. Snow, former U.S. Treasury secretary and chairman of Cerberus Capital Management LP
“The Growth Experiment Revisited: Why Lower, Simpler Taxes Really are America’s Best Hope for Recovery” by Lawrence B. Lindsey: For someone looking to delve into the public policy issues associated with tax reform, the book, by one of the leading macro policy economists of our time, would be hard to beat. Newly published as a paperback edition this year, it demonstrates why tax policy is an essential component of a strong growth agenda.
“Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West” by William Cronon: The pioneering work in historical methodology, which brings into play the intricate web of forces that lie behind, shaped and created things we take for granted today, like the city of Chicago. It is a brilliant work with far-reaching importance for anyone interested in historiography.
“In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America 1859-1864” by Edward L. Ayers: By the prominent Civil War historian, it also represents new directions in history, bringing the reader a deep sense of the contingencies that lie behind the historical record we know. It represents a truly original work on the Civil War as it traces the relationship between two communities not far removed geographically but on opposite sides of the conflict, providing a unique social history of the time.
Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University and co-author of the Marginal Revolution blog
“My Struggle: Book Two: Man in Love” by Karl Ove Knausgaard: There will be six volumes in total. Quite simply this is one of the best novels ever written.
Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Plc
“My Autobiography” by Alex Ferguson: There are tremendous parallels and lessons for our own business, albeit we operate on a smaller (public) scale. Sir Alex has a lot of wisdom for all of us, e.g. nourishing “home-grown” talent, meticulous planning, man-management, team-building, playing the odds and motivation.
Timothy Adams, managing director of the Institute of International Finance
“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone: Offers great insight into Jeff Bezos’s secret sauce of breath-taking, disruptive success: a passion for perfection, obsessive focus on the customer, big dreams, eagerness to explore new areas (and occasionally fail) and a refusal to be stymied by the “corporate no” or the status quo mantra of “we’ve never done that before.” I can’t wait to see what Bezos does with my hometown paper, the Washington Post.
“The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton: Dickens-like in its sweep and ambition but so intriguing and readable that even the Twitter generation will find it addictive. At 28, the author is on a fast start to a stellar career.
Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy
“Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)” by Chade-Meng Tan: A great “how to” book by a senior Google Inc. leader. This is an especially good read for those Type-A personalities who are poor listeners, uptight, unpleasant to be with, often in a hurry and always “right.” In other words, this is a great book for someone like me. In all seriousness, there has been lots of talk lately about “mindfulness” and its role in health and happiness. Meng uses meditation and contemplation exercises to improve focus, clarity of mind and awareness. I am a beginner and still -- as my colleagues will tell you -- have lots of room for improvement. But I was delighted to find this book. I suggest you also read it, practice what it preaches, and become a better and happier person. This type of progress has huge benefits both at home and at work.
Thomas J. Curry, U.S. comptroller of the currency
“Camus: Portrait of a Moralist” by Stephen Eric Bronner
“The Fall” by Albert Camus: I am actually reading these now. It might be a little odd for a bank regulator to be reading the biography and a work of an existentialist, but recently, I have tried rereading books that I read in junior and senior high school. It is interesting how differently you respond to a work in your youth and in middle age.
Bjoern Wahlroos, chairman of Nordea Bank AB
“The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression” by Amity Shlaes: Europeans, and particularly our central bankers, need to learn more about the Great Depression. As unlikely as it may sound, the parallels to today are uncanny. Destroying an economy by regulation, taxation, and deficit spending, while starving it of money, has all been done before. It tells the story from the bottom up. We are once again reminded that the road to doom can be paved with the very best intentions. For the European reader, the book is definitely a deja vu experience -- and a scary one at that.
William White, chairman of the Economic Development and Review Committee at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
“Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets it Wrong” by David Orrell: Lists its 10 crucial assumptions (the economy is simple, fair, stable, etc.) and argues both entertainingly and convincingly that each one is totally at odds with reality. Orrell also suggests that adopting the science of complex systems would radically improve economic policymaking, not least through emphasizing the continuous need to avoid truly bad economic outcomes.
“The Rediscovery of Classical Economics: Adaptation, Complexity and Growth” by David Simpson: Covers similar territory in a more academic way. It also shows how the thinking of classical thinkers (ending with John Stuart Mill) can be linked to complexity economics through Austrian theory, especially the later works of Hayek.
“Economists and the Powerful: Convenient Theories, Distorted Facts, Ample Rewards” by Norbert Haring and Niall Douglas: Helps explain the remarkable tenacity of the mainstream belief system in spite of its inherent implausibility and the strong counter evidence provided by the ongoing global economic crisis and growing inequality. The authors contend that the privileged seek to preempt change by cultivating the belief that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” Sadly, it rings all too true.
Daniel Yergin, Vice Chairman of IHS Inc. and author of “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World".
“The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future” by Paul Sabin: A short, engagingly-written book, it is the story of the famous “bet” between Paul Ehrlich, the prophet of the population explosion and environmental doom, and Julian Simon, the advocate of technology and markets. They clashed over whether the world was “running out.” As it turned out, Ehrlich got the fame, but economist Simon won the bet. At the same time, the book is also an insightful exploration of a half century battle over environmental policy. And it certainly provides you with a perspective on today’s great environmental debates.
Peter Liguori, CEO of Tribune Co.
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn
“The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach
“Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” by Mary Roach: I read Roach’s 2008 book “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” and liked it.
Bertrand Badre, chief financial officer of the World Bank
“Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941” by Ian Kershaw: I do fully appreciate how the great historian enters into the “daily life” of World War II, be it the key decisions taken in 1940-1941 (as why at the end it was not irrational for Japan to attack the U.S. while knowing the chances of success were so limited, or why Hitler made the decision to declare war on Russia given his limited strategic options) or analyzing why Germany fought that long in 1945. It helps understand what happened and how it happened. With the firm hope it never happens again.
“David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell: As always with him this is witty stimulating and energizing. We all know that David should have lost and Goliath won! Was it that obvious? Food for thought in the many situations when the impossible seems so obvious. An invitation to consider adversity with a brand new eye.
Dan Loeb, CEO of Third Point LLC
“The End of Illness” by David B. Agus (one of Steve Jobs’s oncologists and a leading cancer researcher): This book provides excellent evidence and research-based recommendations for practices that lead to a healthier, longer life. It will pay for itself with the money you save on supplements and vitamins you no longer purchase after reading it.