A holiday reading list from the BlackRock Investment Institute

Jean Boivin |Dec 19, 2019

‘Tis the season for holiday reading. Jean shares our top picks to take you through the new year.

‘Tis the season for holiday reading – and for our annual December list of book recommendations to add to your holiday gift list or to crack open by the fire during some end-of-year downtime.

My BlackRock Investment Institute (BII) colleagues and I recently discussed our top picks, compiling them into the list below of our recommendations. My colleagues’ recommendations are grouped by nonfiction and fiction, in alphabetical order by title.


Bankers and Bolsheviks: International Finance and the Russian Revolution by Hassan Malik

 Lukas Daalder, Chief Investment Strategist for the Netherlands within the BII, says his holiday pick is this 2018 book chronicling how Western bankers ended up buying tons of Russian debt that was never repaid following the Russian Revolution. “A pretty interesting read on how the West got duped,” he says.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by  Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald

Janyne Quarm, a member of BII’s editorial team, says this 2013 book can help readers become aware of their “blindspot,” the part of the mind that stores hidden biases, which can influence behavior. “The book is scientific, detailed and eye-opening,” she says.

The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work by Richard Baldwin

Elga Bartsch, BII’s Head of Macro Research, recommends this 2019 book for an interesting read on the future of the global economy in an age of escalating trade protectionism. Richard Baldwin, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, argues that the globalization and automation of service and professional jobs will disrupt the white-collar workforce faster than factory workers were displaced during industrialization. He predicts this will lead to worker backlash, government countermeasures and ultimately a transformation in the nature of work.

The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets by Thomas Philippon

Another pick from Elga: this recently published book by Thomas Philippon, an economist and professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Philippon makes the case that decreasing corporate competition is behind many of the problems in America’s economy, including growing inequality. “He argues quite clearly that this rising market concentration overcharges U.S. consumers to a very material extent,” notes Elga, who sees an increasing possibility of U.S. regulatory pushback to this winner-takes-all trend of fewer and bigger firms dominating many corporate sectors. Such regulations, says Elga, would have important implications for whether U.S. profit margins’ decades-long march higher can persist.

Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity by Jamie Metzl

Ben Powell, the BII’s Chief Investment Strategist for APAC, recommends this 2019 book that examines the current and potential future implications of genetic tinkering: “what is already possible and indeed happening in ethically looser geographies, and what might be possible for parents and militaries in the coming decades,” he notes.

How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories by Alex Rosenberg

Also on Lukas Daalder’s list: this 2018 book by a Duke University philosophy professor on why narrative history isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

 BlackRock’s Global Chief Investment Strategist Mike Pyle recommends this “extraordinary and deeply reported account” of The Troubles and the reverberations of an act of political violence over decades in the lives of individuals, families and communities. The 2019 book is timely in today’s era of increasingly extreme global politics and with Northern Ireland a frontpage issue again, Mike says, calling it “the best kind of history – gripping and human, and rich with quiet wisdom for our own moment.”

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee  

Rujun Shen, a member of BII’s editorial team, says her top pick is this 2019 book full of practical tips for what readers can do to help the planet amid the various challenges it faces, from climate change to the overuse of plastics. The timely read “is illuminating and actionable,” says Rujun, who has already put some of the tips into action, including swapping meat for legumes in meals more often. Plus, she adds, it’s short and a quick-read.


Homeland: A Novel by Fernando Aramburu

Jack Aldrich, a BII business strategist, recommends this 2019 novel that recounts two families’ experiences on different sides of the Spain-ETA conflict over multiple generations. Jack calls it “an affecting, memorable depiction of the Basque Country’s recent history.”

Spark of Life: A Novel by Erich Maria Remarque

2019 marks 75 years since D-Day, an anniversary that led Scott Thiel to read this work of historical fiction about the Holocaust by the author of All Quiet on the Western Front. Originally published in 1952, the novel takes place in the last year of World War II and details life in a fictional concentration/labor camp, juxtaposing the physical and emotional struggle for survival in the camp with the progression of justification and denial in the guards and soldiers. “Not an easy book to read, but one of the most personally influential books I have ever had the privilege to read,” says Scott.

My recommendation

Finally, here’s my pick, also on the World War II theme:

Defying Hitler: A Memoir by Sebastian Haffner

My recommendation is a memoir written in 1939, and published in 2000, about daily life in Germany during the interwar period, including during the early rise of Nazism. It’s full of chilling insights into how Hitler came to power and why “defying Hitler” was so difficult for the average German. I found it a relevant read in a world where trust in democracy is decreasing and authoritarianism is on the rise in many countries.

Looking for more book recommendations? Check out our recent book list for beach reading and our holiday list from last year.


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