Yet more books – Dylan Grice’s holiday reading list

More books. I’ve had an email from Dylan Grice at Société Générale with his five top books for summer reading. He has, like me, picked Joe Roseman’s SWAG as one. We’ve reviewed this here.

Next he has gone for Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feyman by James Gleick. Feyman is a much quoted hero of Grice’s and he holds that pretty much everything the Noble Prize-winning physicist ever wrote is a must-read. However, if you aren’t up to that this biography is satisfyingly comprehensive.

Feyman was a proper genius: his theory of quantum electrodynamics was the “first body of knowledge in which quantum mechanics and special relativity agree and provides the rules for all ordinary phenomena except for gravitation and nuclear processes.” But it isn’t so much that which makes him a hero for Grice. Instead it is the fundamental principle by which he lived: “love the truth”.

The lesson from his life is that “getting as close as possible to finding out how things really are isn’t merely a means to an end, a route to a higher purpose or a path to riches. It is the end. It’s the whole point”. He was also keen on truth in people.

Here’s a quote that sums things up (and one to bear in mind when you are talking to your local hedge fund manager about finance these days). “Ordinary fools are all right. You can talk to them and try and help them out. But pompous fools – guys who are fools and covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus – THAT, I CANNOT STAND. An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible.” 

Then there is Red Plenty: Inside the Soviet Dream by Francis Spufford. We all spend a lot of time looking at economic disasters – from hyperinflation to the Great Depression, but, says Grice, one “malfunction” that doesn’t get the attention it should is the “comprehensive collapse of the planned economy experiment”. This is a historical novel that goes some way to exploring the subject.

The problem with the system? Overriding the mechanism that caused the problems of capitalism (poverty, unemployment and so on) “meant overriding the same mechanisms that silently solved so many unseen ones”. One to read for a subtle appreciation of the free market, something all too many of today’s politicians could do with. 

Grice is also suggesting we all read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnerman, one he would make an “absolutely 100% necessary read” for new recruits to any firm.

Kahnerman invented the idea of behavioural finance and this book offers a “wonderful” breadth of knowledge alone with “framework and intuition” needed to understand it.

Finally there is one that I nearly put on my original list but didn’t for the simple reason that I couldn’t find my copy at the time. It is Philip Coggan’s Paper Promises: Money Debt and the New World Order. Grice puts his affection for the book like this: “one of the most profound rhythms of history has been that caused by the permanent tension between debtor and creditor and, as far as I know, this is the first book to illustrate this so comprehensively.”