Stories | July 23, 2014

Eight “must read” books for 2014

Four ING economists share the best books in their holiday satchel for 2014.

The “must read” round-up includes the "improbable" hit by French economist Thomas Piketty as well as last year’s women in business bestseller Lean In.

Group chief economist Mark Cliffe
Moment of Clarity, Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen

This is a trenchant critique of business decision making based on “linear thinking”, involving logical analysis and hard science. Such thinking assumes that customers are rational individuals who know what they want and make informed choices. The reality is rather different, and businesses are fooling themselves if they think they can make strategic choices based on “big data” and brainstorming sessions. People often make spontaneous and irrational decisions, in a social context and in a climate of uncertainty. The book advocates careful “sense-making”, using the full range of social sciences to arrive at “moments of clarity”, which yield a deeper understanding of the bigger picture in which business is operating.

Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It, Ian Leslie
Another “pop science” book, but I found this inspiring. It emphasises that progress relies on curiosity moving on from the mere pursuit of novelty to a quest for knowledge and understanding. Leslie offers a few tips on to how to develop such “epistemic curiosity”. He argues that success comes to people who cultivate a “conscious ignorance – to be fascinated, even obsessed, by what they don’t know”.

Senior economist - Italy Paolo Pizzoli
Capital in the Twenty First Century, Thomas Piketty
An interesting volume which helps rethinking about value and its generation. With the ratio of capital to GDP back to very high historical levels, it seems that we are back to rent-dominated economies. This is particularly relevant these days, with many western countries trapped in a prolonged stagnation. Accumulated wealth, often cited as a silver lining, can be only partial solace, if it comes from inability to generate growth or from the effects of an ageing population. Driving developed economies back on a growth path is the challenge of our times.

Chief economist - Poland Rafal Benecki
The Russian Roulette, Marian Zacharski

This non-fiction book by a famous former Polish Intelligence officer presents a broad picture of early-90s politics, in a country which had just started its successful economic transition and escaped from the Soviet Bloc. This is a comprehensive lesson in the real-life politics, which is extremely useful for understanding the current policy challenges in Europe and relations with Russia. The author’s character presents a unique combination of professionalism, entrepreneurial skills and pragmatic thinking. Both the book and the author are very impressive.

International Consumer Economics senior economist Ian Bright
The Bankers’ New Clothes, Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig
Spurred by a glowing review in the Journal of Economic Literature, I was determined to read this book penned by professors of economics in the US and Germany. Although first published in 2013, its argument that the structure of global banking remains fragile is powerful and disturbing.

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
A recommendation by a colleague prompted me to read Lean In, written by Facebook’s chief operating officer. The bestseller’s style of writing was not to my liking; however, its message of how to promote women in management is important. For me, the strength of the book was its many and detailed footnotes. These more than offset my lack of comfort with the style. For the economics profession, the role of women is particularly important as Nobel laureate Robert Shiller noted in a tweet on 16 March 2014.

Identity is the New Money, David Birch
Some may argue that money is never far from an economist’s mind but few appreciate the complexity of what money actually is. David Birch, a thinker on technology and digital currencies, understands money. This short book contains interesting anecdotes of how people in the past have defined money and how computing and new technologies are likely to change the way that people organise transactions and store wealth – in other words, what they choose as money.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
On a somewhat lighter note, Shelley’s writing style is dated but the story still has energy. And in many ways, it is a less horrifying vision than that given by Admati and Hellwig.

Your “must reads”
Do you have a book to recommend? Tell us here or tweet @eZonomics with the hashtag #summerofbooks.

eZonomics team
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