2016 Back-to-School Reading List
Whether you’re heading back to campus this year, back to the office or just looking to get back into the swing of things this fall, the Goldman Sachs second annual Back-to-School Reading List features book recommendations for every age and career stage.
Ben Ferguson – Securities, Tokyo
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State, by Glenn Greenwald
Greenwald was The Guardian reporter chosen by Snowden to break the story of the NSA’s vast powers of internet and smartphone surveillance. He painstakingly analyzes the NSA programs leaked by Snowden and starts a debate on the political, media and civil rights issues the programs have created. Greenwald’s account is a suspenseful and lively read. It also does a great job of explaining the technical details of various programs in accessible language.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
With the context of the Snowden leaks and NSA programs, I re-read 1984. Orwell’s dystopian 1950’s masterpiece proves more prescient today than in 1984. It resonates in our world of disaffected politics, state-sponsored surveillance and geopolitical tension. One thing Orwell got wrong: his ubiquitous telescreens used by big brother to monitor citizens that are a considered a threat by the main characters. Today, we happily drop a GPS enabled smartphone with video/audio components and geo-tagging into our pockets that can easily double as a tool to monitor every move in our lives.
John Kim – Investment Banking Division, Hong Kong
Easternisation, War and Peace in the Asian Century, by Gideon Rachman
Written by the chief foreign affairs columnist for The Financial Times, this book describes Easternisation as the defining trend of our age, and how the growing flow of wealth and power from West to East creates a new era of global instability. Rachman provides interesting perspectives on how this will continue to impact world affairs for decades to come.
George Lee – Investment Banking Division, San Francisco
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
Harari marries history and science to explain the dramatic rise of Homo Sapiens. This book is both a highly accessible scientific treatise and a fascinating meditation on the role of story-telling, imagination and culture in human progress.
Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love, by David Talbot
A cultural history of San Francisco from 1967 to 1982, Talbot traces a tumultuous period in US History from within one of the prime crucibles of change in this period, the San Francisco Bay Area. From the Summer of Love to the Grateful Dead to the Patty Hearst kidnapping, Charles Manson and the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, this book paints a picture of a highly discordant and violent period in our history which brought elements of awakening, wake-up call and redemption. A fascinating lens to apply to today's social and political climate.
The Nexus Trilogy, by Ramez Naam
Brilliant and provocative science fiction which also makes for a great summer thriller. A story of advanced neuroscience, nanotechnology, experimental drugs and the potential and peril of shared human consciousness.
Eiji Ueda – Securities, Tokyo
The Real Face of Deflation, by Kosuke Motani
This book, published in 2010, clearly defines and analyzes the relationship between labor force participation and GDP growth and explains how Japan’s economy fell into deflation. Understanding these dynamics can help contextualize global developments such as the financial crisis of 2008 (peak in US labor force participation rate), sub-1.5% US Treasury yields eight years on (decline in US potential growth rate amid aging demographics) and concerns about China (sharp fall in labor force participation rate since 2014). Furthermore, if one understands that low growth is a symptom of shifting demographics, it will naturally take a long time to resolve. As super easy monetary policy drags on, views on capital and capitalism are shifting – as evidenced by the recent rise in gold prices. I believe this book’s clear and insightful analysis can serve as a basic primer on how to understand the economies of today.
Katie Koch – Investment Management Division, New York
GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
After reading this book you will no longer think it is a compliment to be described as “a natural” at anything. Duckworth provides copious examples, including West Point applicants, math champions, and elite athletes, to demonstrate how tests that seek to establish innate intelligence or ability fail miserably to predict long term success. What does correlate well with success? A distinctive blend of a growth-mindset, passion, and perseverance over adversity that she labels “grit.” Adopting the central thesis has profound implications for the way we parent, coach, mentor, hire and pursue our own “top-level goals.” Grit ends on an inspiring note because Duckworth explains grit is not a “fixed characteristic” but instead can be learned.
The Gene: An intimate history, by Siddartha Mukherjee
Siddartha Mukherjee, author of the cynosural history of cancer, The Emperor of all Maladies (another must-read!) once again skillfully weaves together the personal, the historical and the scientific in The Gene. Warning: there are sections where you may need to dust off your old biology books (I had to call my mom, a science teacher, to conquer certain chapters). However, the book really hits its stride when it moves far beyond the exploration of the gene as the essential unit of biological information and starts to probe at the practical, ethical and moral implications of genetic determinism and modification. Riveting.
Sonjoy Chatterjee – Investment Banking Division, Mumbai
The Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen
This book focuses on the long history of the argumentative tradition in India. It helps to understand the accepted heterodoxy in India where ancient leaders like Buddhist Emperor Ashoka and Mughal Emperor Akbar and modern leaders like Gandhi and Tagore have emphasized the role of deliberation and reasoning as the foundation of a good society. This book delves on how the tradition of persistent arguments is an important part of our public life and cuts across gender, class, caste and community despite the deep inequalities. The intellectual rigour in the book helps put in perspective the nature of the Indian identity both within the country and the large diaspora outside. It analyses the 'self images' of Indians affected by colonialism over the past centuries and the Western imagination of the Indian identity. It’s a great book for anyone who wants to understand contemporary India's place in the world.
Michele Della Vigna – Global Investment Research, London
The Land Where Lemons Grow, by Helena Attlee
This wonderful book takes you on a tour of Italy, following the extraordinary story of citrus trees, their genetic evolution over the centuries and the profound effect on the local economy and culture. From bergamots of Calabria, to lemons of Lake Garda; from blood oranges on the foothills of Etna to chinotto in Liguria, it is an exhilarating trip full of discoveries that shows men’s extraordinary resourcefulness and nature’s ability to evolve and surprise.
Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky
Suite Française is a fictional book that portrays life in a defeated France in 1940. It was left unfinished by the pen of Irène Némirovsky, arrested and brought to Auschwitz, where she died in 1942. Irène was a brilliant representative of the cosmopolitan European society of the early 20th century: born in Ukraine, Irène lived in France and established herself in the French literary community. After the war, her work was largely forgotten, till her daughters rediscovered the unfinished manuscript in 1998. It is a very moving account of those months of terror, and a vivid description of human emotions, written as the events were unfolding. Irène only managed to write the first two novels of her five-novel project. We only have the title that Irene envisaged for the fifth novel: Peace. Unfortunately, she did not live to see it, or write it.
Edina Jung – Human Capital Management, Jersey City
Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.
I love a good underdog story. This book, centered around the University of Washington crew team that wins gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, is all about determination, perseverance and teamwork. A great read.
Sarah Smith – Finance Division, New York
Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
The author recounts the stories of tenants and landlords in the poorest areas of Milwaukee during 2008 and 2009. It is an eye-opening account of the challenges faced by many in America to simply find and keep a place to live. It will stay with me for a long time.
The Quincunx, by Charles Palliser
I first read this novel many years ago and have recently re-read it. It is a huge, haunting story written by a modern-day professor of history in the style and era of Dickens, and is essentially a complex puzzle solving challenge disguised as a historic mystery novel. Not for the faint of heart.
Richard Manley – Global Investment Research, Hong Kong
Poorly Made in China: An Insider’s Account of the Tactics Behind China’s Production Game, by Paul Midler
This book is a look into the early years of China’s rise to become the workshop of the world. It contains firsthand stories depicting conduct that many will struggle to comprehend, but also outlines the cultural and governance challenges China’s manufacturers face as they are forced to compete beyond price.
Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and South East Asia, by Joe Studwell
While most listed Western companies are controlled by their minority shareholders, most Asian companies are controlled by a sovereign, corporate or family investors. Understanding the history, objectives and incentives of the tycoons that built many of Asia’s largest companies provides important context for anyone looking at Asia’s markets.
Liz Bowyer – Executive Office, New York
Dispatches, by Michael Herr
Years ago, when I went to work for Tom Brokaw on his book Boom! about the 1960s, the first thing he told me to read was Dispatches, Michael Herr's essential work of reportage on Vietnam. When Herr died this summer, I decided to re-read it, and was once again struck by how viscerally he captured the war experience. Herr renders Vietnam as at once terrifying and desensitizing, while also expressing the disaffection of a generation.
The Noise of Time, by Julian Barnes
The gap between appearances and reality is a theme in another book on my summer reading list, The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. Barnes constructs an imagined inner narrative of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich as he grapples with the idea of truth in life and art under Stalin's regime. It's breathtaking.
William Hurley – Investment Management Division, Austin
Massive Change, by Bruce Mau
This book is a must-read. As author Bruce Mau says, it is "not about the world of design; it's about the design of the world." The book is a collection of essays from some of the most creative minds on our planet. This book will help you understand how to "tap into global commons," "distribute capacity" and "embrace paradox." At my last startup, I purchased a copy for employees as a way of indoctrinating them into the culture. I also sent copies to all of our customers to help break them out of their standard way of thinking and increase their ambitions around their projects and initiatives.
Zero to One, by Blake Masters and Peter Thiel
This is one of my favorite books to recommend to new entrepreneurs and innovators. The concept is simple enough, the next Bill Gates won’t invent an operating system, the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t invent a social network. To truly innovate, you are able to escape competition and market factors by creating ideas that are “0 to 1” and with those ideas, completely new marketplaces.
Bobby Vedral – Securities Division, London
Inverting the Pyramid: the History of Football Tactics, by Jonathan Wilson
For all the sports/soccer fans out there – this is an excellent book that describes how football tactics have evolved over time. Applicable to our work – as it shows how “change is the only constant.”
World Order, by Henry Kissinger
Nobody knows the world of politics & diplomacy better than Henry Kissinger – an absolute and undisputed numero uno!
Shigeki Kiritani – Investment Management Division, Tokyo
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond
Europeans conquered other continents with guns, germs and steel. What makes the difference between conquerors and conquered? The author demonstrates from various points of view that it wasn’t because of the superiority or inferiority of particular races, but because of the geographical and ecological advantages that the Eurasian continent offered to the people who lived there. For example, in Eurasia, there happened to be plants and animals suitable for domestication, which could be transferred and shared relatively easily across the continent. Fun reading with lots of intellectual stimulation.
Dino Fusco – Services Division, Jersey City
Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
This is a must-read for every ‘Seinfeld’ addict. It is a hilarious behind-the-scenes history of how Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld created the concept, characters and story lines that resulted in the greatest television series of all time. It will make you want to put on a “puffy shirt” and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting…..
The Healthy Workplace, by Leigh Stringer
This is a well-researched book with relevant and provocative data and statistics – as well as intriguing insights and anecdotes – designed to shed light on how simple changes to our office workplace can increase worker productivity, reduce medical costs, and create healthier, happier employees. Everyone who works in an office can relate to the subject matter and assess for themselves the validity of its recommendations and conclusions.
Sally Boyle – Human Capital Management, London
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is my favourite of Chimamanda’s books (although Purple Hibiscus and Americanah are also wonderful). Half of a Yellow Sun combines a beautiful account of three lives in Nigeria in the 1960’s against the backdrop of the country’s civil war. The characters in her book are so well-drawn and Chimamanda writes compassionately about her country’s history and its people.
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life, which has been nominated for a number of book awards this year, is a long but very compelling read. It follows the lives of four classmates from a small Massachusetts college as they pursue their chosen paths in New York City. It is an extraordinary study of friendship and trauma – you are led to understand the minds of the characters in a way that is equally gripping and at times, harrowing.
Kent Clark – Investment Management Division, New York
The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail - but some don't, by Nate Silver
This is a remarkably engaging book about how people fail when making predictions and the approaches followed by superior predictors. Each chapter uses real-world examples from different disciplines to reveal how the best and worst predictors behave, including revisiting Billy Beane, the protagonist of ‘Moneyball,’ and speaking with Goldman Sachs’ Jan Hatzius. Silver even successfully finds a way to gently introduce the reader to Bayesian statistics, which I realize is hard to believe but true.
Churchill: A Life, by Martin Gilbert
This is a good one volume biography of Churchill by Martin Gilbert, who was the “official” Churchill biographer. I think Churchill is as interesting for his mistakes and failures as he is for his successes, his seemingly boundless energy and curiosity, and for having been an incredibly prolific writer. The biography gives good perspective on some of the most important events of the 20th century, at least as seen from Churchill’s vantage point. Unless you have a good knowledge of the political figures of this era, I’d recommend an e-book edition since you can easily get a bit of information on the many characters who feature throughout the book.
Lisa Opoku – Technology Division, New York
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The book is written by the author for his son. I chose to read it because I have a son and I think the experience of being a black male in America is unique. I want to be educated by his perspective for my son Austin’s benefit.
Black Wealth, White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality, by Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas Shapiro
Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund recently recommended this book during a meeting I attended with her. The book explains many important historical facts about wealth in the black community and how public policies have impacted the problem. It is not light summer reading but I am enthusiastic about the education I am getting on how differences in the transfer of wealth contribute to racial inequality.
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
My friend gave me a copy of this book and told me it was “homework.” I told her she had too much confidence in me if she thought I could work a full day and read 300 pages in 48 hours! It is about two sisters from Ghana where my friend and I are both from. The novel details the life of one sister in Ghana and the other who was sold into slavery in America. It is a very well-written and educational narrative of their lives.