Stories | June 27, 2017

Summer reading list 2017

With classics from the 1850s and 1970s to brand new releases, this year’s list for your summer break takes in thoughts on Brexit, artificial intelligence, and what we should be spending money on to boost our happiness.

No summer holiday would be complete without a good book. Here, eight ING economists and behavioural scientists recommend reading for our down-time.

 Rob Carnell, chief international economist - global markets research 

Stalingrad by Antony Beevor

As usual, I will be staying away from the world of economics this summer (everyone deserves a break!), and to offset the blazing sun, tropical greenery, and exotic food, I will be enjoying the harrowing tale of freezing temperatures, starvation, terror and brutality, mixed with occasional acts of compassion and bravery on both sides that is Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad. 

Unlike some other dusty histories, Beevor treads a fine line between historical account and novel, revealing some of the touching letters home from combatants on both sides. 

He also sheds a focused light on the staggering and politically motivated ineptitude of the leaderships in this conflict, against which generals were often too afraid of reprisals to disregard, usually with terrible human costs as a result. 

It’s enough to stop your daiquiri melting, and if you enjoy this, then the subsequent Berlin is a must read! 

D-Day by Antony Beevor

For those who want to start the story from the opposite front, “D-Day” will make you look at glamorising movies such as “The Longest Day” in a completely different light, and the iPad version has embedded film clips for added interest. 

Frequent friendly fire, the war fatigue of the incoming US troops, and almost “unionised” behaviour of the British “Tommy” (forever breaking off fighting to brew tea) makes this a must-read. 

One thing quickly becomes very clear from this account – the historical outcome of this campaign was far from a foregone conclusion. 

 Sebastian Franke, consumer economist - ING Germany

Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

Money can’t buy happiness? Think again, say Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. While happiness is obviously nowhere to be found on store shelves or in online shops, money can buy a lot of the things that do contribute to happiness. Then why is it that spending money often doesn’t make us significantly happier? We’re not spending it right, they say.

Based on a 2010 paper by Dunn that actually first got me interested in behavioural economics, this book takes us on a tour of the science of spending, looking at what makes us happy and what we actually spend our money on – and what we can do to get more happiness out of our purchases.

Should you buy a house or take a trip around the world? The answer may surprise you.

 Ian Bright, managing director - group research

Between Debt and the Devil by Adair Turner

Between Debt and the Devil remains extremely relevant and challenging given the continued high levels of personal and corporate debt around the world. Turner recognises that there is no perfect financial system and so the threat of financial failure - even crisis - remains.

The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalisation by Richard Baldwin

The Great Convergence provides a useful way to think about why and how increasing global trade and technological change are disturbing many economies and societies. Admirably, it admits there are no easy answers to these disruptive influences.

Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan

Staying with the globalisation theme but winding the clock back several centuries, I continue to work my way through Peter Frankopan’s Silk Roads: A New History of the World. As with Baldwin’s book, it is a reminder that the West has not always been dominant in the global economy.

Exit, Voice and Loyalty by Albert Hirschman

Trying to understand the emotions behind the Brexit vote led me to Albert Hirschman’s 1970 short book Exit, Voice and Loyalty. It forces the reader to acknowledge that, once the sense of being able to change a relationship for the better is lost, the relationship cannot be saved through compromise alone.

 Nathalie Spencer, behavioural scientist - group research 

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis 

The Undoing Project is the story of a delightfully nerdy bromance. This book is not just about the birth of the field of behavioural science, it is a look into friendship and the intellectual bond shared by two of the field’s greatest thinkers: Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. 

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus, a follow-up to Harari’s earlier book Sapiens, explores what might happen to the human race as we become increasingly augmented by technology. This book asks as many questions as it answers, provoking thought about efficiency gains, societal trends, and the ethical implications of moving towards a world of artificial intelligence. 

 Mark Cliffe, chief economist 

Machine, Platform, Crowd by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

This newly-published book is a lucid and timely exploration of three powerful trends unleashed by the digital revolution. 

The authors describe “three rebalancings”. Firstly, as machine learning either complements or supplants human minds, secondly, as digital platforms drive the selection, production and distribution of products and services, and thirdly, as online crowds increasingly augment or surpass the core functions of companies. 

Although the three themes are given equal billing, in the end what dominates is the potential for platforms to capitalise on machine learning and crowd mobilisation. The power of giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook testifies to this. 

While the authors argue that incumbent “pipeline” companies will be able to coexist, they leave little doubt that the platforms are gaining the upper hand in a growing number of sectors of the economy. 

 Anna Dijkman, editor-in-chief, economics desk - ING Netherlands

The Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann

I find consumption a fascinating topic. It has become very important for economic growth and is therefore closely watched as an economic indicator. Some people even see it as a way to express their identity. Others, though, think we are addicted to buying new stuff and are harming the planet with our insatiable consumption. 

It is often portrayed as a recent US export, but Frank Trentmann shows it is a truly international phenomenon with a long history. He explores six centuries of consumer behaviour in different parts of the world and tries to find out what and why we consume. And this book is over 800 pages, enough to keep me busy this summer.

 Karol Pogorzelski, economist - ING financial markets 

The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan by Sebastian Mallaby

Alan Greenspan is no doubt a fascinating figure. Once an acolyte of libertarian Ayn Rand, Greenspan has argued that the creation of the Federal Reserve was a historic mistake. Yet he went on to chair the institution for nearly 20 years. He was perceived as a foreman of financial deregulation and then blamed for the world financial crisis. 

There are many good reasons to read his biography - among them the fact that it helps to overcome the ex post bias, namely that judging people and actions is much easier after their impact has been revealed than before. 

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg

Swallowing Mercury is a short (143-page) and enjoyable book about a girl growing up in the 1980s in a remote Polish village. It consists of different stories, some uplifting and funny, others bizarre and scary. 

It paints a vivid picture of a place at the edge of modernity. People there still think in superstitious ways and follow strange customs, yet are surrounded by modern appliances and institutions. The book was nominated for the 2017 International Man Booker Prize.

 Hans Caron, head of market research - ING Belgium 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

In this masterpiece of French literature, Gustave Flaubert depicts the life of Emma Bovary, a young woman who desperately tries to fulfil her unrealistic romantic aspirations but ends up in unsurmountable debt and eventually commits suicide. 

From a behavioural finance perspective, I believe the novel enables us to gain a better understanding of how education and social structures affect our decisions and choices. 

Furthermore, the narrative, with a protagonist splashing out on luxury goods, can make readers more conscious of the pitfalls of spending; aren’t we all potential prey for manipulating merchants such as the unscrupulous Monsieur Lheureux? 

When it comes to empowering people to make better financial decisions, increased empathy with those who are struggling with money, for any reason whatsoever, may be the ultimate benefit of reading Madame Bovary. Identifying with people’s emotions and thoughts is, in my opinion, a prerequisite to financial education.

eZonomics team
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