Books for those dull days at the beach

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CEOs offer their tips for the best holiday books that ambitious bankers should be devouring

After a volatile few months in the capital markets, bankers report the first signs of that once-regular-but-now-rare phenomenon: the summer slowdown. Deals were slowing to a near halt in late July. However, no one in the industry can afford to switch off completely, with banks chasing down costs to catch falling revenues. So McKinsey has helpfully compiled an aspirational reading list for financiers heading to the beach by asking 13 chief executives what favourites they are currently clutching on their sun loungers.

To Euromoney’s eyes, it is a spectacularly dull list; long on pimped up self-help books, new age economics and political biography, short on anything we would like to snuggle up with ourselves.

Euromoney is sure Wendell Weeks, chairman of Corning, took a lot from "Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)" by early Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan, but we might just leave that one in the trunk of the holiday rental car. There it can rest beside Robert Frank’s "Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy" which apparently captivated Hakeem Belo-Osagie, head of Etisalat in Nigeria, and also Joshua Cooper Ramo’s "The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks", though this one may be worth a gander given that Dominic Barton, McKinsey’s own global managing partner, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and Weeks all commend it.

What do these titles tell us about corporate leaders, Euromoney asks Dr Liane Strauss, poet and teacher of creative writing at Rutgers and New York University? Strauss says: "My theory is that every title on this list is a subtitle of one all-encompassing supertitle: 'How To Be Me.’"

Strauss has a question of her own. She asks archly: "Could they not find any women CEOs who are doing a little reading this summer?"

All 13 bookworms on McKinsey’s initial list were men. Perhaps stung by Strauss’s criticism, McKinsey then managed to shoehorn a couple of women onto its roster of CEOs. They don’t seem a particularly imaginative bunch. Euromoney counts nine novels curling in the sun, next to 47 works of nonfiction.

So let’s hear it for the bankers. Roberto Setubal, chairman of Itaú Unibanco, is reading Leonardo Padura’s novel about Leon Trotsky’s exile in Mexico, "The Man Who Loved Dogs", as well as Irvin Yalom’s "The Spinoza Problem" a novelized treatment of the Dutch rationalist’s expulsion from the Jewish community in 1656 that moves forward in time to his influence on Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. Those might even make it into Euromoney’s beach bag. Carlo Messina, CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo, is reading "When Breath Becomes Air", the memoir not of a new economy businessman or politician, but rather a young neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, suddenly confronting his own mortality after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Jamie Dimon rather lets the bankers down by burying himself in a biography of Ronald Reagan when not digesting lessons from Arthur C Brooks’s "The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier and More Prosperous America". We checked. This is definitely nonfiction. Is Dimon, once rumoured to be a possible Treasury Secretary in the Obama White House, telling us something about his expectations for November?

A couple of bankers make it onto the recommended list as authors. Euromoney has to agree with Phuthuma Nhleko, chairman of South Africa’s Mobile Telephone Networks, that Mervyn King’s "The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy" is one of the most thoughtful books written by an insider in the global financial crisis.

We are less convinced by former HSBC chairman Stephen Green’s "The European Identity: Historical and Cultural Realities We Cannot Deny". These are essays just to glance at between laps of the hotel pool, we fancy. "Green argues the prime case for Europe as shared values… rather than share values," quipped Tribune Magazine when the pamphlet came out last October. "Certainly this short book should be compulsory reading for the Remain campaign, offering as it does some inspiration, hope and spice for those who self-define as Europeans."

Not a life-changer, then.