This year has been a mixed fare for me as prior commitments with academics and learning a new craft meant that I couldn’t read as many books as I would’ve liked to. This made me more ‘choosy’ and selective when it came to book selection. Read on to find out about my best reads for this year
This years selection of books which I picked up has deviated from my usual fare of fiction, history, economics, geopolitics, and sports. The deviation was largely owing to the fact that I am pivoting into a new professional field, and my belief is that a large degree of experience (lack of rather) can be made up by reading topical and excellent books on the subject. My back of the hand calculations say that 10 years’ worth of experience can be made up by reading approximately 200 books on the subject. The trend line is certainly not linear, so i’ll be loathe to equate twenty books with a year of experience.
Anyways, before I ramble on, my top reads for this year features books across the spectrum of psychology, finance, and sports. It is also important that I specify that some of the books in the list were published earlier than 2020. So without much further ado, here is my list…
1 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The book is an interesting read for everyone, notwithstanding their profession. The author brings home the fact that the most insignificant things in life have the largest impacts with vivid examples of the correlation of success in the Canadian Junior Hockey leagues and birth month, before moving on to explain how the ‘first make/break’ often leads to cumulative (dis)advantages throughout one’s life.
I found this book to be especially interesting as it essentially makes a case for working smart and hard the first time around. On another level, it also drives home the randomness of life and how probability affects our lives. Further, the author also explores how culture and upbringing affects a persons professional capacity in the future, with unique examples from the South Korean aviation industry, and math prodigies from China, where the system of learning counting aids in making a child understand math much faster and more comprehensively.
2 – Skygods by Robert Gandt
Written by someone who traveled the well-beaten path from a military to commercial cockpit before trading in his overalls for a pen, this non-fiction book is a biography (and love letter of sorts) about commercial aviation’s and Pan Am’s golden age in the 80s. Paced like an action thriller with tongue in cheek humor, this is an unputdownable book for all the right reasons.
While the author essentially chronicles the evolution of Pan Am, Boeing, and its enigmatic CEO – Juan Trippe, this books also possesses hidden gems for all professionals in the business world and beyond. To start with, the book preaches the virtues of being adaptable to change and pivoting one’s skills depending on the situation on hand. The struggles and unwillingness of the seaboat captains of Pan Am, many of whom were world war aces – and treated as ‘skygods’ by their juniors, to come to terms with the newer jet engine technology and still maintain relevance is beautifully elucidated (Spoiler Alert – the Skygods were laid off and reduced to ground-nobodies). Further, considering that we are at the intersection of further percolation of technology in transportation and aviation, this book is a timely reminder for everyone to make the choice between constantly evolving and learning, or being relegated to the history books (crew rooms in this case!). Readers will also find stories about Pan Am’s outpost in Germany prior to the destruction of the wall, the tragic Pan Am flight 103 bombing, and the business dynamics between Boeing and the commercial airlines of the day very interesting.
3 – My Life & Lessons in Red and White by Arsène Wenger
Written by a man who revitalized a then failing soccer club back to the pinnacles of English football, which also included staying unbeaten for 18 months, building a 60,000 seater stadium and a new training complex among others during a 22 year tenure at The Arsenal, who also happens to be my hero, this autobiography was hotly anticipated by all gooners and the football fraternity across the world.
During the final years of his tenure at Arsenal, Wenger was subjected to some unfortunate power plays by the board as well as unfair treatment in the form of financial restrictions and expectations from the fanbase. Arsene was arguably the victim of his own success, but people wanted to know what happened behind the scenes at the club during his last half decade. True to his nature, Arsene has not written a razzle dazzle tell-all book and it is perhaps another one of the few occasions where this man’s class and principles infuriate everyone. For someone who faced the injustice of losing a cup and championship because of match-fixing in france to rejecting offers from Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and some of the other big names, the book is somber and positive in tone.
The stories about Arsene’s childhood in his village, and days working at the family inn are an interesting as are the chapters about his time in Japan, moments which definitely shaped a part of his personality.
4 – Tiger Woman on Wall Street by Junheng Li
An autobiography of sorts by the founder of JL Warren Capital, a China focused equity research firm, and former wall street investment banker, I enjoyed reading this book as not only did reading it give me a brief insight into wall street and equity research, but it also provides an insight into the economy of China and the ‘sous-tendant’ drivers of the economy.
The book charts Junheng’s doggedness and perseverance to have a glittering career in finance on wall street. Snippets about how she improved her English by biking for three hours everyday in the hot and sultry weather of Shanghai, to her classes as well as her experiences in high school and university are interesting to read about. Further, readers will also be treated to her thoughts on some of the best practices on equity research and how traditional analysts often arrive at wrong valuations of companies and their stock. The concept of stocks having their own life apart from the company is certainly interesting, and Junheng also makes a case for when and why bottom-up analysis is more important and relevant for stock analysis. Lastly, Junheng also provides a unique perspective on the China growth story and some key messages for would-be investors in the Chinese growth story.
An interesting insight into an immigrant’s experience in one of the most traditional industries of all, this is a light read best read during a boring Sunday afternoon with a cup of hot chocolate.
5 – Den of Thieves by James Stewart (Best Read)
Saving the best for the last, the heyday of the ‘Masters of the Universe’ prominently featuring Junk Bond King – Mike Milken, and the then most famous Arb – Ivan Boesky, is covered in this seminal work by James Stewart. The book traces the path of some of the important people in the merger-mania era of the 80s and uncovers the motivation that many of these men had.
Reading this page turner will give a great insight into the excesses of the finance industry during the 80s. Further, for more serious readers, they will also be exposed to the concept and history of high-yield bonds, a financial instrument which has arguably shaped the financial landscape today, especially for private equity and activist investing (then known as corporate raiders – its funny how dastardly actions are still acceptable today but only if they have nicer sounding names).
Pick this one up on a Saturday morning and be prepared to be enthralled by and invested in the lives of Mike Milken, Martin Siegel, Boesky and co. as they weave through their lives to attain Master of the Universe status. Those who like to indulge in nostalgic practices will also be treated to a healthy dose of famous financial firms of yore such as Drexel Burnham Lambert, Kidder & Peabody, the ‘Highly Confident’ letter, and events such as the Predators Ball.
As this eventful year draws to a close I do have an idea about the specific types of books that I will be looking to pick up next year. Let me know what you think about this list, and if there was something which you think was a great read. Feel free to check out the rest of my blog and see you next year!