What’s on your bedside table?

About three years ago, I was invited to a private gathering hosted by Citi Private Banking. They wheeled out various divisional heads, US CEO, global economist, the whole shebang, eight of them in a line. The presentation was interesting on a superficial level but a bit ho hum and predictable. The moderator invited questions from the audience at the end, all serious and worthy matters, but, just as he was looking to wrap up proceedings ahead of drinks etc, I felt my arm inexorably rise at the last, as if hailing a taxi or appealing for an offside flag.

He glanced over to me, eyebrows arched, so I stated that there was only one burning question for me. As I am a great believer that the world beyond informs the world within, what were the panel of experts reading at the moment? They all looked a bit startled as if groping for an invisible autocue. I didn’t wait for the moderator. I simply pointed to the guy on the end and asked him the question directly. To his credit, he overcame the shock of being first in line by responding he had Dr Seuss for company as he read it to his kids at night. It went rapidly downhill from there. The second guy revealed he had the Rothman’s Rugby Yearbook, the third the bible (I thought that kind of thing was confined to hotels in the US Mid West!), the fourth some Grishamesque airport schlock, number five was devouring a weighty tome about the Bolshevik Revolution (and one look at him told me they were well suited), six and seven I now forget but some salvation appeared at the end of the line in the choice of Kurt Vonnegut. Ah, at last, evidence of a fertile and imaginative mind.

At the reception afterwards, numerous guests approached me to say that my question was by some distance the most revealing of the afternoon. Business is business but an excessive focus upon it squeezes the juice from the human dimension. Relationships and the way we engage with one another are vital and one should never underestimate the pleasure of sharing. In that spirit, I unreservedly recommend the following six books, albeit none are presently on my bedside table:

“You’re An Animal, Viskowitz!” by Alessandro Boffa. A wonderfully witty and clever book. Just sublime.

What Money Can’t Buy – The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel. A brilliant but highly accessible exposition from one of the greatest modern philosophers.

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halperin. Bedwettingly funny. Say no more.

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. A fascinating study of the right and left side of the brain and how the coming age will reward creative rather than process led thinking.

Duveen by SN Behrman. Arguably the greatest art dealer of all time, Duveen had every US magnate in his pocket in the pre WW1 era and beyond. Behrman was a fine journalist so his book is pithy, informed and wonderfully gossipy.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves. The pot boiler to end all pot boilers. Graves is a consummate storyteller and the sheer sweep of this magisterial novel is perhaps best appreciated by those on gardening leave or considerable time on their hands.

What books do you recommend? I shall be intrigued to hear all your observations. They may reveal more than you realise!

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