We asked the Global Equities team what books they have been devouring this summer and, as ever, it’s an eclectic collection with something for everyone. How many have you read?
Climb Your Mountain by Sir Ranulph Fiennes
A truly amazing character: thrown out of the SAS for using military explosives to blow up a dam created for the filming of Doctor Dolittle, Fiennes felt there was no other route for earning money than to be an explorer.
Beginning with a trip up the White Nile by hovercraft in 1969, but then with the Transglobe Expedition, his was the first – and still only – expedition to circumnavigate the world via both poles.
First to cross Antarctica on foot unsupported, he succeeded in climbing Everest on his third attempt at the age of 65!
Ever commercial with his tales, Climb Your Mountain features chapter titles such as Leadership, Ambition, Teamwork and Failure. He failed to make the South Pole solo in 1996 due to a kidney stone and the North Pole in 2000 due to severe frost bite.
Do not read this book for its business insights, but instead to wonder in awe at the character it takes to be a true explorer. The stories of Fiennes removing his frostbitten figures with a fretsaw and running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days – just months after a heart attack and coronary bypass – really cement the man as someone insane to us mere mortals living in the nine-to-five world.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is a Japanese arcade game, a cross between pinball and slot machines, that relies on both skill and luck to win – just like the unpredictable and uncontrollable game that is life, Min Jin Lee illustrates.
“Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.”
What follows is a rich work of historical fiction in which Min Jin Lee accompanies this family, and each of their searches for identity and success, across four generations. At the same time, she paints an enlightening portrait of the Korean-Japanese community in the 20th century, whose history has been largely overlooked.
If you want an immersive and beautiful read, this is for you. However, if a 560-pager isn’t your thing, I’ve heard great reviews about the Apple TV series adaptation that came out last year!
Chip War by Chris Miller
Very relevant from the perspective of government interference in the semiconductor industry today, but also an enjoyable read about how the industry has developed over time and its importance.
Your Baby Week by Week by Caroline Fertleman and Simone Cave
One I’m re-reading at the moment – very useful for new (and repeat) parents.
Shackleton by Sir Ranulph Fiennes
“To write about Hell it helps if you have been there…”
Fiennes brings a rare perspective to the Antarctic polar exploration exploits of Sir Ernest Shackleton between 1902-1922, and his partnership and rivalry with Captain Robert Scott in trying to reach the South Pole. Ultimately, Amundsen pipped them both to that particular prize, but Fiennes is one of only a handful of people who has truly experienced the deprivations and exhaustion that Shackleton encountered; he acts as a brilliant guide.
The insanity of Shackleton’s ambition culminated in 1915 when his attempt to be the first to traverse the Antarctic was cut short as his ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice. He and his crew should all have died, instead Shackleton fought back: enduring sub-zero temperatures, randomly fracturing ice floes, a perilous lifeboat journey across monster seas to South Georgia, and a final extraordinary march over glaciers to seek help.
Fiennes attempts to get us inside the head of someone who was clearly madder than even he is, and how the earlier Discovery and Nimrod expeditions shaped Shackleton into the incredible figure he became.
I first bought this book last year, on the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s death, but I was hesitant to start it as it looked like it could be an unrelaxing read. However, Shackleton is an almost mythical early 20th century character about whom I knew very little, so I’m glad I picked it up. If nothing else, it puts one heck of a perspective on whatever near-term challenges us nine-to-fivers may face from time to time!
Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
I picked this book up as I’ve increasingly struggled – especially after Covid – to focus both on a personal and a professional level. Every person who has found the same should read this.
Hari lays out multiple reasons for why the world at large is no longer able to focus or, as he puts it, “an attentional pathogenic culture” – an environment in which sustained and deep focus is extremely hard for all of us – has emerged.
Much of the blame falls at the feet of technology and social media, whose business models are rewarded for keeping us more engaged – and thus distracted from the real world – on their platforms. Meanwhile, the increasing use of artificial intelligence is particularly worrying.
These platforms feed users more extreme content to keep them engaged and, in doing so, foment the extreme viewpoints that are dividing society. I’m sure, like me, that you pick up your phone to read a message and find half an hour later you’ve let yourself get distracted by social media and 24-hour news feeds.
But it is not just our constant engagement with technology and failure to “live in the moment” that is to blame – generally, our modern lifestyles of being overworked and overstimulated are also contributing to our inability to focus. Most office workers never get an hour to themselves without being interrupted by meetings and emails; exhausted people cannot focus. This has severe consequences not just for society, but also for our environment.
One chapter raises a concerning point: our decreasing focus is happening at a time when we need it most. This “stolen focus” is a key part of the reason for the world’s slow response to the current climate crisis – when attention breaks down, problem solving breaks down.
Digital platforms spreading erroneous climate claims have further hindered progress by dividing public opinion. And, without public pressure, policy action has been underwhelming.
The book highlights the Ozone layer threat of the 1980s as an example of how effectively the planet once reacted to environmental emergencies. For those of you too young to remember, here is a refresh: in 1974 scientists published research that chemicals from everyday products like aerosols and refrigerators were destroying the Earth’s ozone layer and exposing the planet to more powerful UV rays. In 1985, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, which proved that the problem was greater than originally predicted. The alarm raised by these scientists led to swift action to ban the dangerous chemicals that were responsible for its deterioration – chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. By 1987, just two years after the hole was discovered, an international treaty was signed to cut the use of CFCs in half and in 1990 their use was banned altogether. Today, CFCs are outlawed by 197 countries around the world, with the ozone layer slowly recovering as a result.
This book encouraged me to switch my phone off during the workday while minimising my acceptance of online meeting invites (on certain days) so that I can achieve a better “flow state” of concentration and creativity in the workplace. At night I now move my phone to the other room with the result that I’ve broken my reading record of recent years – look out for the next book blog!
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
This was a book that had been on my reading list for a while but was hastened to the top of the deck by the realisation that Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation was on the way later this year; clearly, I wanted to get ahead of the ”what was better: the book or the film?” debate.
Killers of the Flower Moon follows the story of the Osage Indians in the 1920s. who were forcibly relocated by the US government from Kansas to Oklahoma and, as part of that resettlement – with uncanny foresight – negotiated mineral rights.
In the early 20th century, vast amounts of oil were discovered on their lands and the Osage became incredibly wealthy through their inherited head rights. What followed, however, were several unexplained disappearances and deaths within the Osage community in Pawhuska.
One of those rare books you struggle to put down.