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Escape lockdown summer with a brilliant book for the garden
Who's it for? All Investors
Our investment experts have raided their reading lists to share their favourite garden reads for your summer break.
There are plenty of genres to choose from – from non-fiction works on data, history of journalism and the finance industry, to popular fiction to read or re-read – there should be something for everyone.
If your garden is a more likely destination than the beach this summer, you can still transport yourself elsewhere with a gripping read. Find inspiration from what our experts have been reading in lockdown.
Cupcakes and Kalashinikovs: 100 years of the best journalism by women – Eleanor Mills and Kira Cochrane
As a former financial journalist, this book was right up my street. I loved reading about some of the leading female journalists and the impact they’ve had not only on the way news is reported but also the role of women in society. Having grown up wanting to be a war correspondent and achieved a masters degree in war studies, it was particularly interesting to learn more about those who covered war and politics, including the late Marie Colvin. I didn’t know her personally, but remember seeing her in the office when I worked at The Sunday Times and she was back from the Middle East. Immediately recognisable because of her eye patch, I remember being a bit star struck and thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s Marie Colvin!”. A really fascinating read.
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
“He didn’t do anything but be a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time”. These words from the novel particularly resonate because of the recent focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a while but with recent developments I thought it an opportune moment to finally read it. It’s an engrossing story about a recently married couple, starting out on their life together but their lives get turned upside down when the husband is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. The writing is so emotionally charged, that as the reader you can’t help but have sympathy and understanding for all the main characters as they grapple with life consequences they weren’t expecting. And given the current environment, I think the story had a more powerful impact on me than it perhaps would have done if I’d read it six months ago. Definitely worth reading.
The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction – Nate Silver
A book about statistics, what’s not to love? Joking aside, this is an insightful book packed with interesting, real-life, and relatable topics. There is even some topical observations on the spread of a virus – in this case bird flu. Although not a new book (it was written in 2012) the uncertainty of the current climate makes it interesting to revisit right now. Predictions and forecasts are increasingly in the spotlight and they are being thrust upon us not just from the traditional areas of finance and the economy but also across many other contexts such as public health.
Nate Silver came to prominence with his eye-catching political forecasts, successfully predicting the outcome of every state and the eventual winner, Obama, in the 2012 US elections.
He has also made a notable career out of interpreting data in many other fields, including baseball. In The Signal and the Noise, Silver shines a light on how most predictions fail, reveals the foibles of experts and laypeople alike and aims to help the reader understand how to distinguish a truly useful insight – ‘the signal’ – from the plethora of irrelevant information – ‘the noise’. Whilst the book doesn’t have the same compelling ‘geek conquers the world’ storyline as, say, ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis, or the detective-like narrative of ‘Freakonomics’ by Steven Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, it is still an easy and compelling read even for those without a scientific bent.
Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
Ever since I discovered audiobooks, my consumption of books has increased by about 1,200 per cent! With lockdown, I’ve been listening to them on my daily dog walk, rather than my commute, and am looking forward to catching up with even more during my staycation this summer. My first recommendation is Talking to Strangers. Whilst this book doesn’t give many answers, it does shine a spotlight on how we often trust people we shouldn’t and, just as tragically, don’t trust people that we should. I’ve found myself thinking back to the examples the author examines as I seek to understand events such as the murder of the American George Floyd.
Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men – Caroline Criado Perez
For anyone wondering why females are typically freezing in the office aircon (I’m not missing that whilst working from home!) while men feel it’s just right, you’ll probably find the data examined by the author quite frightening, when you learn about the impact of the ‘data gap’. This data gap is essentially how the world is typically designed using data about men and their bodies and lifestyles rather than women’s – and this book discusses the consequences of this on women’s health, safety, prospects and on global growth. For those that like data (me) this is a must-read.
Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
Lockdown has allowed me the luxury of a bit of a spring clean and in the process of sifting through the boxes of books that survived last year’s house move, I discovered several books that spurred me to re-discover why I enjoyed them so much the first time around. One that stands out is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. First published in 2008, the book provides a simple, easy to understand and often, humorous insight into how we think and behave in our daily lives.
From ‘Why we can’t make ourselves do what we want to do’ to ‘Why options distract us from our main objective’ and ‘Why the mind gets what it expects’, Ariely marries familiar everyday experiences with a series of enlightening and remarkable experiments, that challenge your understanding of human behaviour. Why do we go back for more food from the free buffet when we are full? Why do we queue up for ages to get a free sample of something when our time is precious? Apparently, if we have options we tend to overact to one that is ‘free’. Through the awareness that the chapters bring, Ariely demonstrates how we might make better decisions in our everyday lives. An informative and enjoyable read.
The Great Crash of 1929 – John Kenneth Galbraith
This is a vivid, accessible and gripping account of one of the worst economic cataclysm’s the world has endured. It was published in 1955 and has never been out of print. In a sense, the build up to 1929, which is so entertainingly described by JK Galbraith, provides an interesting contrast with today’s crisis. The problems the world economy experienced in the crash of 1929 and for a long period afterwards brewed up over many years. This was a speculative stock market bubble fuelled by greed, folly and blind optimism. Spotting bubbles is always easier after they’ve popped, but this provides a handy checklist of some of the kinds of behaviour to watch out for.
The Magus – John Fowles
If you can’t get to the Greek islands, this is an absorbing substitute. It is written from the perspective of a young English schoolteacher on a visit to the fictional island of Phraxos (based on Spetses where Fowles taught in a boarding school in 1951-52). It was originally titled ‘The Godgame’ which gives you some sense of the way in which the author plays with your perspective, with what is real and what is not in this beautifully layered mystery packed with masterful plot twists. I have read it any number of times and still keep coming back for more.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
42. That’s how many years it has been since the original series of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was broadcast on BBC radio. Later turned into a book that became the first in a ‘trilogy of five parts’, the comic science fiction story has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide, and my well-thumbed copy sits proudly on the bookshelf in our front room.
42, as fans will know, is also the ‘answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything’, as calculated by a computer in the story called Deep Thought.
I make no apologies for recommending a book that so many people have probably read and re-read countless times. I have lost count how many times I’ve read it.
But the antics of the last man left on Earth – Arthur Dent – and his alien friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the fictional electronic Hitchhiker’s Guide, hold special memories for me. Just a few years ago, we were holidaying in France and I brought with me my usual library of cycling autobiographies and travel books, plus my worn copy of HG2G, with its creased cover, torn pages and broken spine. At the time, my son was at an age when reading books was something he once did in primary school and life was great so long as he had Wi-Fi and pizza. But as I bored my family to death reeling off quotes and one-liners on the exploits of the main characters, my son was intrigued enough to pick up the book and read it himself. This was his rediscovery of reading, a pastime he has continued to enjoy ever since.
When I mentioned to a neighbour that I was writing this review, he looked at me with an almost hypnotic grin, as memories stirred of his first encounter with the book. A few days later, he was messaging me quotes (with the odd smiling and winking emoji), which revealed to me that he had been into his loft to dig out his old copy.
If summer is a continuation of our near-Groundhog Day existence under lockdown, one thing I will be doing is dusting off my old copy and putting my family through another torturous few days of quotes and excerpts. But ‘don’t panic’ – as the fictional guidebook proclaims on its cover – they’re used to it.
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