My 2015 Summer Reading List

Summertime is here. The days are still getting longer, the kids will soon be in camp, the beach beckons. With Memorial Day behind us, we have 12 weeks before Labor Day sneaks up on us.

My goal each year is to read three books a month between the holidays that mark the unofficial start and end of summer. Optimistic, I know, but some of these are slim volumes. Here are the books I have queued up for poolside/beach/hammock/boat/long hot days reading:

• “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” by Richard H. Thaler

The father of behavioral economics explains its birth, early struggles and recent successes. If you don’t know who Thaler is — and really, who is reading one of my columns who doesn’t? — this book will introduce you to his keen intellect and sly wit. I am already a third of the way through this one. I expect this will be the biggest economics book of the summer, if not the year

• “Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street” by John Brooks

When asked for a book recommendation, this is what Warren Buffett suggested to Bill Gates. After he finished it, Gates wrote a blog post about the book with the headline “The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read.” That is good enough for me.

• “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

This book looks at a fascinating subject: creativity in business. Catmull tells the tale by recounting of the history of computer animation: His early partnership with George Lucas at Industrial Light & Magic to his co-founding of Pixar Studios with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. The box-office records and more than a dozen Academy Awards Pixar has amassed suggest he knows what he is talking about.

• “The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created” by William J. Bernstein

Why has prosperity been the engine of civilization for the past 200 years? Bernstein explores this subject in a big-picture work that highlights four elements of human progress: Property rights, scientific rationalism, capital markets and transportation/communication. There is a series of books by Bernstein that I am looking to dive into, and this is only the most recent.

• “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” by Randall Munroe

This is another one on my book shelf since I received it as a holiday gift last year. Munroe is the creator of the delightful xkcd webcomic, and created a side project called What If? — answering ridiculous theoretical questions as serious scientific inquiries. The book is the natural outgrowth of that. It has been described as “hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask.”

• “Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger,” by Peter Bevelin

How do our thoughts get influenced? Why do we make so many misjudgments? How can we improve our thinking? These are the subjects under scrutiny in Bevelin’s multidisciplinary exploration of wisdom. For those whose goals include clear thinking and hard-won wisdom, this might be the summer read for you.

• “The Wright Brothers”  by David McCullough

McCullough is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for some of his earlier biographies. The reviews of this one have been nothing short of stellar. I am interested in the tale of how two bike-shop mechanics invented human flight.

• “Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring)” by Christopher Hitchens

This has been on my reading list for a decade. Now that Hitch is gone, it’s well past time to dig this out and see if it’s as fabulous as the reviews claim. I suspect it is.

• “Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader” by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Yet another biography: I devoured Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs,” but found it wanting. The author never gave me the sense he really understood the world of technology, and this created a sense that an entire dimension was missing from Jobs story. I expect this newer book, written by technology journalists, contains that missing element.

• “Where Are the Customers’ Yachts: or A Good Hard Look at Wall Street” by Fred Schwed

Ever since if began working in finance two decades ago, I have plowed through every classic investment book there is. From Jesse Livermore’s “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator” to “Manias, Panics, and Crashes” by Charles P. Kindleberger to anything Michael Lewis has written, I have consumed just about all of the classics in any good Wall Street library.

This is one that has perennially been on my reading list that I have somehow managed to not read. I am committed to correcting that oversight this summer.

Bonus read: • “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick

I read it so long ago, perhaps it is time for a revisit.

That’s my summer reading list. Perhaps I should revisit this in the fall to review what I especially liked, and to reveal my winter reading list.

And just in case you’re looking for other business-related reading matter, see “What Are Your Favorite “Non-Boring” Business Books?


Originally: Books Worth Reading This Summer  



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  1. rd commented on Jun 3

    I strongly recommend “The Living Landscape” by Richard Darke and Douglas Tallamy. It will change how you look at landscaping and gardens. Related books worth reading to understand the modern natural world are “Rambunctious Garden” by Emma Marris and “1491” and “1493” by Charles Mann. “1493” is also important reading to understand the world economy over the past 400 years.

    “Where are the Customers’ Yachts” is a fun and depressing read. It will highlight how little has changed on Wall Street, but how much has changed with Vanguard, Schwab, etc. arriving over the past 40 years.

    If you just alternate between Peter and William Bernstein’s (unrelated) books, you get a pretty complete history of practical economics and finance.

  2. save_the_rustbelt commented on Jun 4

    reread: Bailout Nation and When the Music Stopped — still digesting how so much criminal behavior could go unpunished

    one book each by Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard and John Sanderson – need a little fun here

    a book by Clay Christensen

    the latest Field Book, Boy Scouts of America

    Macbeth – a primer on power and ethics

    David Brooks book on values is overrated, but I picked four interesting chapters and it was worth the read

    and I gotta look deeper into Barry’s list

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