Friday, June 15, 2007

Summer Reading

'Summer reading lists' are a staple feature of many commentators, both financial and otherwise. Macro Man always enjoys perusing these lists for interesting material that he may not have previously encountered. Of course, financial literary recommendations are often
populated by similar types of books, with several titles appearing on most of them. Who, for instance, has not been directed towards the Edwin Lefevre's classic Reminiscences of a Stock Operator at some point? Or Jack Schwager's Market Wizards and New Market Wizards?

While these books are certainly worth reading (though Macro Man can't help but observe that much of the wisdom contained therein does not seem to work terribly well these days), there is of course insight and pleasure to be derived from works that stray a bit further afield.

Without further ado, therefore, Macro Man is pleased to unveil his first list of recommended non-fiction, non-financial reading. The following are all books that Macro Man has read and enjoyed (in most cases, multiple times.) Many of them have, in one way or another, helped shape the way he thinks about markets:

1) The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason, by Charles Freeman.

An impressively erudite exploration of the rise of Christianity and the increasing emphasis on faith, as opposed to logic, in late antiquity. Dismissed by some critics as one-sided polemic, the book hits home when Macro Man reads some financial market research. Currently on Macro Man's bedside table.

2) Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, by Richard P. Feynman and Ralph Leighton.

Amusing yet insightful anecdotes from the Nobel-winning creator of cargo cult science. Good for airplane journeys with small children, as it's easy to pick up and put down. Recommended by Macro Man's high school physics teacher; the teacher was right.

3) The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene.

While the second half of the book discusses the incredibly bizarre and utterly unproven superstring theory, the first half provides a clear explanation of both Einsteinian general relativity and the weird world of quantum physics. If you've ever wondered what the theory of relativity actually says (other than e = mc ^ 2) , or what Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is, you'll find out here.

4) Science: A History, by John Gribbin.

Keeping with a theme, this book takes the reader through the evolution of scientific thought and technique. Not as homespun as Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, but written by a much more knowledgeable author.

5) The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.

50% crime thriller, 50% history lesson on the workings and architecture of 1890's Chicago, 100% true. There's not much in this one to shape your thought process, but it's a cracking good read.

6) Moneyball, by Michael Lewis.

Yes, the book is a bit of a panegyric to Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane. But the story of how one financially-challenged baseball team has used scientific analysis to challenge the game's orthodoxy and remain consistently good provides another lesson in the importance of tailoring your strategy to the facts, rather than deriving your facts from a pre-decided strategy.

7) Byzantium: The Early Centuries; Byzantium: the Apogee; Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, by John Julius Norwich.

Lord Norwich's narrative history of Byzantium in three volumes takes the reader through the twists and turns of the Eastern Empire from its foundation by Constantine the Great through the fall of Constaninople in 1453. The history of the empire has more twists and turns than a lifetime's worth of soap operas, and offers a few object lessons in how nothing really changes in geopolitics.

8) Fermat's Last Theorem, by Simon Singh.

The story of the solution of one of the most famous problems in mathematics, it is equally a history of mathematics (and its practioners) itself. Singh is a talented enough writer to make a complex subject matter accessible and enjoyable to the layman.


Anonymous said...

here are two finance related selections:

Fortune's Formula by William Poundstone

A very entertaining book that traces the surprisingly close historical links between gambling systems and quantitative finance.

Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance by Perry Mehrling

A faithful account of one of the few truly independent thinkers in academic finance.

Anonymous said...

And if you haven't, A Demon of our own Design is pretty much required reading.

Anonymous said...

Since you mention the Norwich books, you might also be interested in Runciman's History of the Crusades (the three volume version). His 'Fall of Constantinople' is also spectacular.

tmcgee said...

norwich is the best. you a brave man for talking all three volumes. i only managed the "short history" combining them in doing some reading before a trip to turkey. i still like to pick it up and randomly flip to a page because you never know what kind of soap opera you'll get. page 140: there was an attempt to force patriarch methodius to resign by bribing a woman to accuse him of seduction. "At the ensuing inquiry, Methodius is said to have proved his innocence by producing for inspection those parts which might have been thought most directly responsible for the alleged offence, explaining the shrivelled remnants of his manhood with a story of how, years before in Rome, a prayer to St. Peter for deliverance from lustful thoughts had been answered with distressing efficency. Not surprisingly, he won his case." Brilliant!

Macro Man said...

But Tim, with the three volumes you get three times as much of those kinds of stories!