A bankers' reading list for the dog days of summer

The summer season is well in gear, but most bankers are just coming up for air after weeks of second-quarter earnings reports and a volatile first half of the year. If you are headed to the beach or mountains, staycationing, or just hiding, here are 12 books recommended by American Banker staff members and our contacts that offer brain food, escapeism or some timely humor.

The Pursuit of Economic Development: Growing Good Jobs in U.S. Cities and States
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An essential ingredient for a successful, growing community bank is that the communities it serves are vibrant. But many small and midsize towns in the U.S. that should be regional economic centers are struggling, often because longtime employers have closed up and new businesses haven’t been created to fill the void. Todd M. Gabe’s book discusses how communities can jump-start economic development and attract the types of companies where residents want to work. A proponent of the "creative class" concept, Gabe, an economics professor at the University of Maine, shows how economic development players — here’s looking at you, bank loan officers — can contribute to the recruitment and development of good jobs in their communities.

— Andy Peters, staff writer, American Banker

The Pursuit of Economic Development (Amazon)
Humor That Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work
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Worker stress costs the U.S. economy $1 billion a year in lost productivity and employee turnover. This book by Andrew Tarvin explains the benefits of humor for both the employee and the company, while warning of the pitfalls of inappropriate humor. The book offers the newspaper rule to determine if humor is appropriate for the workplace: Would you be comfortable with what you said or did being printed on the front page of your hometown paper? A fun, light read.

—Gary Siegel, digital editor, SourceMedia

Humor That Works (Amazon)
The Banker's Wife
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Any thriller that involves a dead banker, a spouse on a mission and an ambitious journalist is a natural for this list. In this Cristina Alger novel, Matthew Werner, an insider at the powerful offshore bank Swiss United, is lost in a private plane crash in the Alps. His widow, Annabel, aggressively seeks answers and concludes foul play has occurred. Meanwhile, the journalist Marina Tourneau, torn between high society and hard-hitting journalism, begins to piece together the story. Reviewers praised it as fast-paced, smart, blessed with strong women characters and surprisingly believable.

— Dean Anason, managing editor, American Banker

The Banker's Wife (Amazon)
10 Must Reads on AI, Analytics, and the New Machine Age
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To call this one a beach read would probably be a stretch, but this compilation of Harvard Business Review articles is a deep dive into artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies and how companies are applying them. The book offers stories of AI in real-life use at Vanguard and Stitch Fix. It also includes examples of how businesses are deploying drones, augmented reality, blockchain technology, 3-D printing and connected cars. It won't relax you, but it might give you a glimpse of the future.

— Penny Crosman, editor-at-large, American Banker

10 Must Reads on AI (Amazon)
The Immortalists
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Speaking of glimpses of the future ... If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? That question is the tag line for Chloe Benjamin’s gorgeous, sweeping novel that begins in 1969 on the Lower East Side of New York when four siblings visit a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anybody the day he or she will die. The prophecies they hear that day shape the next 50 years of their lives. Bankers will find no lessons here about fintech or consumer behavior, but may lie awake afterward, thinking about the nature of belief, the freedom of uncertainty and the degree to which we shape our own fates.

— Laura Alix, staff writer, American Banker

The Immortalists (Amazon)
Reconstructing the National Bank Controversy: Politics and Law in the Early Republic
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This historical book published in late 2018 covers the political controversy surrounding the first and second Banks of the United States from the battle over chartering the first bank between Hamilton and Jefferson through Andrew Jackson's campaign to kill the Second BUS in the 1830s. The events set the stage for milestones that would occur decades later, including the passage of the National Bank Act and the creation of the Federal Reserve, and informs our understanding of tensions that still exist today.

— John Reosti, staff writer, American Banker

Reconstructing the National Bank Controversy (Amazon)
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
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While Nassim Nicholas Taleb is famous for "The Black Swan," his previous book, "Fooled by Randomness," is a shorter rumination on how probability manifests in the real world —a perfect summer read. By using stories of fictional human beings to illustrate the nature of chance in markets and real life, Taleb explores complex mathematical ideas in an entertaining and understandable fashion. If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s better to be lucky or smart, this book will settle the argument.

—Michael Jamesson, a principal at Jamesson Associates, a community bank consulting firm in Scottsville, N.Y. (via American Banker staff writer Ken McCarthy)

Fooled by Randomness (Amazon)
Leading Through Uncertainty: How Umpqua Bank Emerged from the Great Recession Better and Stronger than Ever
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Former Umpqua Holdings President and CEO Raymond Davis’ second book was released late in 2013. While the aftershocks of the financial crisis — and Umpqua Bank’s success in absorbing them — permeate the book, the broader themes that Davis emphasizes endure. Brand reputation, consistent transparency for investors and inspiring employees to achieve and fuel a culture of winning are important for bankers and business leaders of all stripes. Davis retired as CEO of Umpqua in 2017. In his 23 years as chief executive, the company grew from $150 million in assets to about $24 billion. It now has nearly $28 billion in assets.

—Jim Dobbs, staff writer, American Banker

Leading Through Uncertainty (Amazon)
Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog
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If you need a mental break, pack this latest from the humorist Dave Barry on your next trip, or stash it in the car to read while waiting for your kids to finish practice. Barry explores seven basic lessons offered by his loyal boxer-Dalmatian-you-name-it mix — yes, there is some comedic license here. However, a couple of the lessons, don’t be afraid to meet new people or don’t lie “unless you have a really good reason, which you probably don’t,” are perennials for business types. Amid all that, you’ll roar at the 10-step “old-person technique” for smartphone photo taking, and his fantasy that a cable executive calls 911 only to find out that it has been outsourced to his own company.

—Dean Anason, managing editor, American Banker

Lessons From Lucy (Amazon)
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill
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Nothing new to know about a familiar figure like Churchill, right? Candice Millard dispels that notion right away in this riveting, silky smooth read about the future British leader's early life, including his being taken prisoner in South Africa in 1899 in the Boer uprising. The young Churchill's thirst for war, glory and political success are surprising in contrast to the sober, wizened image from a later era that is etched in many of our brains. It's a classic tale of be careful what one wishes for. And, if you are looking for lessons that carry over to the modern world, the mismatch between the outdated fighting style of the British army and the guerrilla strategy of the rebels is a case study in disruption. Churchill is said to have taken many lessons from these experiences that shaped him and thus world history. And did I mention the cool escape sequence?

— Dean Anason, managing editor, American Banker

Hero of the Empire (Amazon)
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.
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Speaking of stories that age well. ... Ron Chernow’s 1998 biography of the world’s first billionaire is timely again, given the heightened focus on wealth and corporations in contemporary politics. One of the charms of "Titan" is how it creates compelling narratives from details layered in dusty history. The wild early days of the American oil industry and the elder Rockefeller's maneuvering to the top of it make for high drama. Chernow follows that thread into the public battles Rockefeller Sr. waged in his life, most notably with the muckraking pioneer Ida Tarbell. Interestingly, the scrutiny applied to the patriarch's work ethic and habits in this biography gives it almost a second life as an executive management how-to. Given his eventual philanthropic legacy, it may prove to be a useful guide for today’s budding tech billionaire.

— Suleman Din, bank technology editor, American Banker

Titan (Amazon)
You're It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most
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Four faculty members and administrators of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University examine decision-making processes inside large corporations, startups and nonprofits as their leaders grapple with turbulent times. They examine how leaders decided the best way to mobilize during a hurricane, react to a bombing or contain a major disease outbreak. The goal is to show readers how to recognize exactly what's going on in a moment of change or emergency, what to do, and how to lead successful teams. Given the challenges facing bank executives today — fintech disruption, economic volatility, active shootings and data breaches — the potential applications of the book's so-called meta-leadership methods are endless.

You're It (Amazon)
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