From a book about how to make better decisions that can impact your personal life (as well as your investment portfolio), to a book about the rise of Jeff Bezos and the impact of Amazon.com Inc.’s business model on our lives -- especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s top book choices touch on a wide range of topics and genres.
If you are able to take a break this holiday season, be sure to check out some of the titles below.
Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman's Ruthless Quest for Global Power by Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck
This is an extremely enlightening read into the opaque world of Middle Eastern politics that centres on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his influence in the region. The book does a superb job investigating MBS's alleged role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while trying to reform one of the world's most restrictive countries into a major economic and political force. Hope has gone on along with a former Wall Street Journal reporter to launch Project Brazen, an investigative outlet that plans to look at the wealth of people like MBS and his Gulf region peers, continuing to dig deep into the riches of the ultra-elite.
2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis
I bought the book because Tom Keane, one of the anchors of Bloomberg Surveillance on our partner channel Bloomberg Television, picked it as his book of the summer. I haven’t gone wrong yet reading books Tom recommends.
2034 describes an armed conflict between the United States and China in the not too distant future – the year 2034. An incident in the South China Sea escalates to a nuclear attack and armed conflict between the two superpowers. In the early going, China completely disables the computer capabilities of the U.S. military and government.
It’s a gripping read, but chilling as well. Anyone who follows world affairs knows of China’s increasing assertiveness on the world stage, and the growing tensions between it and the United States. Russia and Iran also figure into the novel’s plot. What makes 2034 sobering is that its authors are in a position to know where those tensions could conceivable take the two nations. Admiral Stavridis spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy, finishing as a four-star general, and served as supreme allied commander of NATO. Ackerman is a decorated former marine and a former White House fellow.
“2034 is all too close at hand,” the book’s dust jacket says, “and this cautionary tale presents the reader a dark yet possible future we must do all we can to avoid.”
A reviewer at the Washington Post likened the novel to George Orwell’s 1984.
“In 2034,” he wrote, “it’s as if Ackerman and Stavridis want to grab us by our lapels, give us a slap or two, and scream: Pay attention!”
Leading to Greatness by Jim Reid (DISCLOSURE: he’s my husband)
Throughout Jim's life, he has had a deep passion for building leaders and teams and helping people grow. Twenty-five years ago his mentor, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, challenged him to write a book on leadership. And that is what he did. He has published a coaching playbook that any leader, especially aspiring leaders, can use to build a customized plan that will improve their impact in work and in life.
The message is simple and actionable;
Having a clear purpose and set of values
Playing to your deep strengths and passion, every day
Consistently making the right people decisions
Getting you and your team to full engagement
Having the discipline to deliver
If you are looking to take your leadership to the next level, have a read. I promise you won't regret it.
Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone
This book is a look at - and into - the world of Amazon and the man behind it. It's a particularly timely read as we have all gotten used to ordering everything we want and having it delivered almost immediately during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon, of course, goes beyond packages on our doorsteps to shopping at Whole Foods and streaming videos and music whenever we choose. This book takes a look at how Jeff Bezos has transformed his vision into a global brand and how the world's second-richest man's own business practices (and personal life) became part of the public's consumption.
How to Decide by Annie Duke
When it comes to investing and life choices in general, personal biases in decision-making can be your worst enemy. Duke raises awareness of the blind spots that impair our ability to make the best decision possible. Awareness is the first step in making better decisions. Having a solid framework for getting there is a gift from the author.
Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean
It breaks down the air and it tracks the crucial role that gases have played in human development.
Air is mostly nitrogen but plants and animals struggle to get hold of it. The book celebrates German chemist Fritz Haber, who won a Nobel Prize in 1918 for inventing the process that allows makers of fertilizer and explosives to capture nitrogen. The resulting plant nutrition has allowed billions of extra people to survive.
There are accounts of early gaseous anesthetics in medicine, such as chloroform and nitrous oxide, which helped to make surgery less hideous.
And the title? Kean takes a shot at calculating the odds that a few of the molecules you are breathing right now were exhaled by Caesar in his final breath after being stabbed by Brutus and the other conspirators in 44 BC.
Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald
One of the few silver linings to the pandemic has been having way more time to read. Enron’s collapse occurred just before I entered business journalism, and so I don’t think I fully appreciated the magnitude of its demise until I got through this book. Eichenwald’s background as a journalist makes this detailed account of the scandal a master class in reporting that made me feel like a fly on the wall to the scandal and brought me closer to the central characters, who appeared to have no idea of (or regard for) the quicksand they were entering. It doesn’t take long to realize just how fitting the title of the book is.
Honourable mention: The Storyteller by Dave Grohl
When I need a break from the world of finance, I turn to music. And Grohl’s writing here is as touching, emotional and inspiring as his musicianship.