Our summer reading list

Aug 20, 2021

Looking for some good reads for the rest of the year? My colleagues at the BlackRock Investment Institute and I have put together a list of books that we have enjoyed this year and hope you will find inspiring to read.

We split the titles into fiction and non-fiction, by alphabetical order – except for my pick, which is listed at the end.


1971 - Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth. The book claims – boldly – that 1971 was the most influential year in the history of rock music, with pivotal albums by bands such as Led Zeppelin. Vikram Subhedar, a writer on BII’s publications team, disagreed. He said 1991 produced even more iconic rock music. Nevertheless, it’s a very enjoyable bit of musical history that is peppered with interesting social commentary – particularly about the UK – and provides some great listening recommendations. He liked it enough to read it himself after buying it as a gift for a friend’s 50th birthday.

Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 by Donald Keene. Henny Sender, a Senior Advisor to the BII, recommended this biography of Emperor Meiji who was instrumental in transforming Japan from an isolated, feudal state to an industrialized power. Yet the emphasis on racial and cultural purity has lived on in Japan. Henny was reading this 700-page brick while watching racially mixed Japanese athletes being celebrated at the Tokyo Olympics – with cautious optimism. “One can only hope that Japan’s new embrace of multiracial athletes will prove lasting,” she said.

Hitting Against the Spin: How Cricket Really Works by Ben Jones and Nathan Leamon. Ben Powell, BII’s chief investment strategist for APAC, said the book offers insights into how quantitative research is now driving a lot of what were previously thought of as areas of pure talent, Including high performance sport. “The book intelligently assesses the usefulness of math, while making it clear that math can’t be used to completely abdicate the responsibilities of humans for some critical decisions – or to discount the importance of sheer luck,” he said.

Passionate Spirit - The Life of Alma Mahler by Cate Haste. Beata Harasim, BII’s senior investment strategist, recommends this intriguing biography of Alma Mahler - one of the 20th century’s most extraordinary women and perhaps its greatest artistic muse. Mahler was a prolific and gifted composer in her own right but was unable to fully explore her talents.

The New Climate War by Michael E. Mann. This book can jolt you out of despair and “doomism” over climate change, said Rujun Shen, a writer on BII’s publications team. Mann, a renowned climate scientist, stresses both urgency and agency in our efforts to combat climate change. By that, he doesn’t mean you should swear off meat or never fly again, but you need to help push for systematic changes that are essential for systematic decarbonization.

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis. “The last thing I thought I would want to read about this summer was the pandemic,” said Axel Christensen, BII’s chief investment strategist for Latin America, yet he couldn’t put down the book. “Lewis did such an amazing job in turning a story we all have been going through into an exciting thriller,” he said.

The Statue that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island by Terry Hunt and Carl Lopo. Yu Song, BII’s Chief China Economist, said this book changed his view of what had happened on Easter Island by convincingly arguing that the mainstream theory on the island’s history is inconsistent with archaeological evidence. The authors proposed an alternative theory, although Yu said he’d rather not spoil the plot.

This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Dominic Elliott, a communications specialist for the BII, said this lively book sheds light on two questions at the same time: how our brains work and why we create and listen to music. Levitin is a neuroscientist who has also worked as a music industry producer. “He may fail to make a slam dunk case for music’s existence,” said Dominic, “But after reading this you feel sure that there must be more to music than psychologist Steven Pinker’s infamous view that it is merely ‘auditory cheesecake,’ an accidental byproduct of the development of language.”


Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. This is one of the all-time favorites of Scott Thiel, BII’s Chief Fixed Income Strategist. This children’s book tells the story of the journey of a china rabbit, but it’s really a story about becoming aware of the true power of love, said Scott.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Paul Henderson, a member of BII’s Portfolio Research Group, recommends this classic novel – the inspiration for the Academy Award winning 1972 film. The most intriguing part of the story to him– was how the protagonist makes things happen with his “reasonableness,” – in a criminal underworld no less. An audio book is a great way to go through this one, Paul said.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. This novel placed Tyll Ulenspiegel, a legendary trickster in medieval German folklore, in the early seventeenth century in a Europe after the Thirty Years’ War. “It is a very powerful book on some of the adventures of Tyll Ulenspiegel,” said Lukas Daalder, BII’s Chief Investment Strategist for the Netherlands, “It’s written from a new perspective, which makes it a very good read.” The novel was originally written in German and was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize.

Finally, here is my pick:

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. This is one of the most captivating – and disturbing – books I have read in a very long-time. Beyond helping readers understand the opioid crisis, the book offers a broader lesson on how “science” and “experts” in marketing can go very wrong.

Jean Boivin, PhD
Jean Boivin, PhD
Head of BlackRock Investment Institute
Jean Boivin, PhD, Managing Director, is the Head of the BlackRock Investment Institute (BII). The institute leverages BlackRock’s expertise and produces proprietary ...

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