Monday 22 January 2018

The Iron Lady, terrorism and crime (but very little business). What economic leaders liked to read in 2015

With a few days left out of the boardroom, business personalities are busy curling up with a book. Colm Kelpie discovers the page-turners that have taken their fancy

The story of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai inspired Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon
The story of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai inspired Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The book choices of our business and economic leaders are interesting for what (mostly) isn't on the list - business books. Very few have chosen titles related to their job or area of expertise, suggesting, perhaps, that they're consciously ensuring their down time is not contaminated by work.

Indeed, John Teeling says he rarely reads any business or business "guru" books, preferring instead the escapism provided by fiction of the likes of Ian Rankin and Lee Child.

There are a few exceptions, however. What do Fiscal Advisory Council chief John McHale and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King have in common?

They believe former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's memoir of battling the financial crisis, 'The Courage to Act', was one of the best books they read this year.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan revealed he was looking forward to sitting down over the Christmas break with the second volume of Margaret Thatcher's authorised biography, because he wants to read more about the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

When it comes to fiction choices, the crime genre is favoured by a number.

Nama chairman Frank Daly's a spy fan, or to be more precise, a fan of John Le Carré. He'd been hoping to find a copy of Le Carré's biography by Adam Sisman in his Christmas stocking (we're not sure if he did, but here's hoping).

Controversial French author Michel Houellebecq is popular with our two French contributors, the OECD's Pascal Saint-Amans and Central Bank deputy governor and financial regulator Cyril Roux.

But they've chosen different titles. Mr Saint-Amans, who spearheaded the OECD's Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (Beps) project, told the Irish Independent that he favoured 'The map and the Territory', which he described as a "ferocious criticism of our consumerist society". He points out that the author lived in Ireland at one point.

Mr Roux, meanwhile, chose 'Submission', which was coincidentally published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, and depicts the French 2022 election and the establishment of a Muslim republic in France.

Here's the full list:


Finance Minister

"Over the Christmas period I hope to read Margaret Thatcher the Authorised Biography, Volume Two. Recently I attended an event to mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was an interesting period in Anglo-Irish relations and took place at the beginning of my political career. I look forward to reading more about it over the Christmas period."


Chairman of the Fiscal Advisory Council

The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and its Aftermath by Ben Bernanke.

"The book tells a gripping story of the Federal Reserve's response to the economic and financial crisis. Bernanke, a leading student of the Great Depression, was the right person in the right place at the right time. In clear prose, he gives a blow-by-blow account of the many innovative actions required to prevent the economy from falling into another Great Depression. Beyond the economics, the book provides a fascinating personal account of management in a crisis."


Senator, businessman and founder of Superquinn supermarket chain

Portrait of a Patriot, by Anne Chambers

"T.K. Whitaker is one of the most impressive men I know."

White House Years, by Henry Kissinger)

Perform as a Leader, by Orlaith Carmody

"Orlaith is a great communicator."

The Scrap, by Gene Kerrigan

"This is a fantastic true account of the 1916 rising."

I am a Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes


Director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration at the OECD

The Map and the Territory, by Michel Houellebecq

"I love the sarcastic and disillusioned approach of Houellebecq, who is extremely provocative. Nicely written and a ferocious criticism of our consumerist society. Very smart and funny too. A few interesting pages on Dublin, where one of the characters lives.

Of course, I read this one in French and I hope the translation is good."

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark

"A very detailed analysis of why European countries did walk to war. The book provides a fair description of the damages generated by nationalisms, driven by the insanity of politicians (starting with French politicians). I find it essential to learn about the past to properly understand the present."

Perfidia, by James Ellroy

"Am still reading this frantic, fascinating thriller. I usually don't like thrillers much but I love James Ellroy's books. A source of slang vocabulary for a non-English native speaker."


Central Bank deputy governor and financial regulator

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

"Helen Macdonald grieves her father by rearing the wildest of birds of prey. Taming a goshawk requires extraordinary dedication and an uncanny ability to read the mind of a creature far removed from the human animal.

"Call it extreme psychology if you will. As any parent would expect, this exposes any fault and frailty in the rearer's psychic constitution.

"As she treads in the brambles with her temperamental charge, Helen Macdonald also finds a winding path to greater self-knowledge and out of her grief."

Submission, by Michel Houellebecq

"One-time Ireland resident, best-selling author and agent provocateur Michel Houellebecq happened to publish this thoroughly enjoyable novel on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. It depicts the 2022 French presidential election, and the establishment of a Muslim republic in France. Part deadpan political fantasy, part pean to literature, the novel struck a nerve in France and fed many a dinner conversation there."

The Night Alive, by Conor McPherson

"This gripping new play covers familiar territory of modern dystopia, ageless tropes of family disputes, and sounds a cautionary note on the perils of kindness to strangers. In the terrific production at the Gaiety, the well-directed cast made the most of Conor McPherson's spot-on writing, sharp humour, dramatic nous and unerring timing."


Serial entrepreneur and exploration specialist

"I have been a voracious reader for decades. It is one of my greatest pleasures. I read three daily papers, 'The Irish Times', the 'Irish Independent' and the 'Financial Times' before going to work; and four Sunday broadsheets, two Irish and two UK. I subscribe to numerous magazines including the 'Economist', 'Business Week', 'Fortune', 'Investor Chronicles Times' and 'Phoenix'. I would read most of them on a regular basis. This to stay informed. For relaxation and escapism I read crime fiction. Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Michael Connelly and James Patterson are favourites. I tend to buy the Amazon bestsellers in Crime Fiction.

"When travelling or on holiday I would read at least one book a day. My Kindle is a Godsend saving me lugging piles of books around. I rarely read any business or business "guru" books. I try to read a couple of "quality" tomes each year, usually on Dublin or Irish history, Next year I will go through a few on the 1916 Events."


Enterprise Ireland chief executive

I am Malala - The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai

"This is the memoir of Malala Yousafzai, who came from a remote village in Pakistan and how she has become a cosmic force for change as well as a focus for a number of complex agendas. I was interested to read this book as I had heard that it was an inspiring story worth reading. I also read If I let you go, by Clare Mackintosh because it was recommended by a friend as a real page-turner."


Chairman, National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

"I enjoyed a great number of books during 2015 and it's hard to choose the best of them but here goes:

"I'm just finishing A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre which tells the extraordinary story of Kim Philby who was probably the most notorious double agent in the history of British Intelligence. However the book is about much more than Philby and indeed an equally fascinating character for me was Nicholas Elliot who for many years was Philby's friend and colleague and perhaps the individual most betrayed.

It's also a sometimes incredible retelling of the incompetence of the intelligence services and how easily they were fooled by Philby and the other so called Cambridge Spies. Factual but reads like good fiction. The afterword by John Le Carré reminds me how much I'm looking forward to reading the latter's biography by Adam Sisman - hopefully coming my way!"

"My book of the year was Thomas Harding's The House by the Lake. Through the stories of the five families who built and then occupied the holiday home by a lake not too distant from Berlin Harding really tells the story of Germany from 1890 to the present day. His great-grandfather built the house in 1890 and for most of his life Harding had listened to stories about it from his grandmother. From the moment Harding first visits and finds the now derelict house in 2013 I was hooked. For once the blurb for a book "history at its most alive" lives up to reality. If ever I write a memoir this is the model I would use!

"Harding is also the author of Hanns and Rudolf which tells the true story of the hunt for Rudolf Hoss the former Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by Harding's great uncle Hanns Alexander. I read this book in 2014 and found it an intriguing study of two driven personalities - albeit driven in quite opposite directions."

"Vivid Faces, by R.F. Foster is the story of what he calls the revolutionary generation which led to 1916 and beyond. His timely history is a very readable study linking the lives and beliefs of those whose contribution we will be commemorating next year. No rose-tinted spectacles here - this is an erudite account of the dreams, enthusiasms and passion that drove these revolutionaries but also an honest account of the realities that followed and which, as often, did not live up to the dreams.

"Finally, my choice of "second-hand book found in the charity shop" is Missing, by Tim Gautreaux, published back to 2009. This novel is set in Louisiana in the 1950s and tells the story of a one-man search for a young child abducted "to order" from a hotel in New Orleans. The searcher is Sam Simoneaux, a tough, virtuous but somewhat naïve hero - and hero he is. I found myself rooting for him right through this well-paced saga which uses the steamboats of the Mississippi as very effective backdrop. In fact the search is as much about Sam's own search for his future as it is about the child and every page kept me wondering how it would turn out for him. Not telling though."


AIB chief executive

Screaming at the Sky, by Tony Griffin


Former governor, Bank of England

The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky

"Diaries of those who were close to, and not the principals themselves, are often of most interest because they combine careful observation and intriguing gossip. Maisky, as the Soviet ambassador in London in the 1930s, does not disappoint."

The Courage to Act, by Ben Bernanke

"A clear and complete account of the experiences of the Federal Reserve chairman during the worst financial crisis in history. From personal experience, I know Ben Bernanke has the patience of Job. His account of the crisis explains why he needed it." (Bloomberg)


President, JP Morgan Chase Institute

The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World, by Montgomery and Daniel Chirot

"A gem of a book in that it has the audacity to paint in big strokes to portray a great intellectual history that puts our often competing, current belief systems into their 18th and 19th century contexts. In light of the increasingly perplexing news headlines, this type of bold context setting is a real gift." (Blomberg)


Mesirow Financial, chief economist

Dead Wake, by Erik Larson

"The true story was chilling in revealing the other side of terrorism and why the Germans were willing to risk their lives to take down civilian targets such as the Lusitania. Not as chilling as what we face now, but a step in that direction. It also made all too clear how we can know and not know an attack is coming and still not act fast enough." (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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