Recently there was a thread on what books one should read to assist in the development of a successful career in finance. I strongly believe in balancing your library with pure "finance books", pleasure reads, and classics, with a strong bias towards the classics. You will learn about structuring a deal, negotiating working capital, building nuanced financial models, etc. on the job. While interesting reads such as Red Notice, Barbarians at the Gate, and King of Capital tell thrilling tales of big things gone bad and how the finance society's masterminds solved them, they won't contribute much to making you a well-rounded "Intellectual Killer". On that point, I bet Schwarzman, Kravis, and Browder have books like Middlesex on their bedside tables. Reading has always been an obsessive hobby of mine, so I thought I would share some of my favorites to the monkey community. Below is a sampling of my favorites with a short excerpt on what makes them the beautiful, timeless creations they are.
The Tempest - William Shakespeare
I would argue this being Shakespeare's best work – its obvious poetic beauty and exploration of life's most difficult questions make this a compelling read. Shakespeare's lyrical tale informs the reader that conquering enemies requires patience and the willingness to bring them intimately close. However, the complexity in characters and paralleling stories / plot make this a challenging puzzle of a story.
Side note – a tasteful reference / quote from the tempest at the dinner table is an ultimate finesse. Strong emphasis on tasteful; there is a fine line between seeming like a do-nothing literary snob and an Intellectual Killer.
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Reading this alone is a trial of patience and perseverance; it is a long, dense, but redeemingly thrilling read. Pulitzer Prize winning stories speak for themselves, but this is special. Eugenides breaks literary convention by writing his masterpiece on first-person omniscient narrative, where the protagonist, Cal, is allowed to know what has gone through the minds of other characters. This gives Cal awareness to terribly uncomfortable truths that I think offers a valuable lesson to the reader and you monkeys: learning how to cope with realities far out of your reach. I was a self-conscious kid – inspiring stories like Middlesex helped me find my way to becoming a confidant man.
Ulysses – James Joyce
This book taught me more bout clever, high-brow whit than anything I've ever read or heard. The art of story telling is something I think is way undervalued in society; this is the ultimate, exhaustive guide to mastering that art. Between reading chapters of this mammoth, you can probably recess with some curls and chest presses with this book. However, don't be one of the many who quit before hitting the 100 page mark – this story brilliantly comes full circle and is well worth the time.
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Definitely a book held closely by some of the most intellectual circles in the world, if you have any curiosity of the human condition whatsoever this book is for you. It's essentially about a young man in the 19th century that comes up with the idea that some people should be able to kill without impunity under circumstances which advance the good of many. People are moral creatures and divide humanity into guilty humans and innocent humans. Although I am not justifying this implication, there is a lesson to be learned: the powerful move beyond comforting moral judgments in order to understand the world. Once we have transcended identifying moral acts as guilty or innocent, we have obtained a powerful skill: the ability to understand our enemies.
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
It is a cliché that we hear time and time again – bad things happen to good people. In the circumstance of this true story, horrifying, monstrous acts happen to great people. We realize it doesn't matter how good-natured and loving people are in your community - monsters are everywhere.
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Not necessarily a literary classic, but an excellent read and well worthy of its place on the list. A tale of a young, blind girl living in German occupied France during the invasion of WWII. Books like this remind you that things can be a lot worse than working late on a turn of comments in a luxurious Manhattan high rise office. Besides being a study on circumstantial happiness, this is an incredibly intimate view of the war in France. Most of the stories of the war are written about its leaders and soldiers, but getting a terrifying glimpse from its innocent captives is uniquely enlightening.
Thinking Fast, and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
I won't make poetry of this book as most of you are well aware given its popularity in our community, but book builds on challenging concepts that will reshape the way you approach problem solving; full of really enriching intellectual surprise, this is well worth spending the time on.
The Art of War – Sun Tzu
Often found on the favorite reading list of famous leaders and athletes, this is the ultimate guide to combat strategy. As you read, you will hopefully realize how applicable the strategies analyzed are to leadership and success.
I would love if other monkeys would contribute to this list with other classics they have read that complement the "Intellectual Killer" theme. As my pops famously said "I prefer books over swords. They don't need sharpening."