From espionage to home cooking, the team at FIIG share their favourite reads and podcasts for 2020
Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
By Ulysses S. Grant
The book is an autobiography by the 18th US President Ulysses S Grant. It was completed and published by Mark Twain shortly after Grant's death in 1885.
Grant critically recounts his story and the circumstances which shaped his life. He was obviously a major character in some of the most formative events which shaped American history.
The humble memoir begins with a surprisingly detailed look at his ancestry and childhood in rural Ohio and moves through to his two terms as President of the United States and pending death from throat cancer in near poverty.
Along the way he stood against slavery, fought in the Mexican American War, commanded the Union Army against legendary Confederate General Robert E Lee and was a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln.
The book is written in the style of the time which forced some re-reads. It was originally two volumes of 1200+ pages. My edition was 600 pages with extra small print. I have since seen it online in friendlier formats. The clear, succinct prose has been lauded by critics and it’s particularly refreshing when measured against today’s political dullards. It does contain extensive descriptions of military strategy, manoeuvres and detailed battlefield maps which may not appeal to everyone.
Reviewed by Judd Bogust, Director - Fixed Income
Business Wars – The North Face Vs Patagonia – Dirtbags
If you’re planning a long road trip over the Christmas break this is a must listen to Podcast that is more significant than ever in the current climate. Locally, the recent devastating bush fires and then the COVID pandemic, has heightened global awareness of how corporates govern themselves and the importance of a more sustainable business has never been so important. No one knew the business landscape and industry could shift so fast.
The North Face and Patagonia are successful in their own right but just how they strategise and run their businesses are polarising to say the least. This podcast highlights the origins, core values and disciplines Patagonia sticks to in a brave manner that is not for a short term gain but a longer term reward that sees it succeed over time and for the future which warrants respect and consumer loyalty. Its values are what big corporates are now seeing as mandatory to the demands of consumers that are buying for quality over quantity and making a statement at the same time. I never really understood the ethos around sustainability until this podcast drilled it home for me. We are seeing this behaviour transpire in the bond market as demand for ESG and Green bonds in primary and secondary is strong and increasing as the investor takes control of their future by supporting and pushing to expand into smart solutions, sustainable and responsible investments.
This is a fun, adventurous easy listen that will change what you think and love about business - Enjoy!
Reviewed by Charles Buxton, Associate - Fixed Income
Farmer Recipes and Stories from the Land
By Jody Vassallo
A book of recipes is probably not what Jon had in mind when he requested book reviews for the Christmas Edition of The Wire. But this is a recipe book with a difference. While it includes recipes by culinary luminaries such as Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, Michelle Bridges, Martin Boetz, Matt Moran, Jamie Oliver, Matt Preston and Jason Roberts, the real stars of this book are the farmers who produce our food and fibre in some of the most beautiful locations on the planet.
The farmers provide short stories about themselves, their farms, livestock and produce, as well as their own recipes, all accompanied by magnificent photography of the farmers, their animals, the rural locations and the food.
Farmer Recipes and Stories from the Land is the result of the collaboration between some of Australia’s best food photographers, home economists, food editors and writers, and an army of other people; all of whom contributed to the book voluntarily. This ensures that all profits from sales of the book go to the Country Women’s Association of Australia, who support our farmers and the communities in which they live.
Reviewed by Douglas Bates, Chairman
A Gentleman in Moscow
By Amor Towles
As soon as I heard about it I was fascinated by the concept of this book. An aristocratic Russian, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is sentenced to life imprisonment for writing a counter-revolutionary poem in the early 1920s. Nothing too exciting there you might think, however the Count, who is officially declared a “Former Person” at sentencing, isn’t shot or sent to the Gulags but to lifetime ‘imprisonment’ at the luxurious 5-star Hotel Metropol in Moscow.
I was intrigued to see if an author who had limited himself so significantly on subject matter could keep the reader’s attention throughout a 400+ page book where the action is (almost) entirely focused on Rostov in the confines of his admittedly luxurious lodgings. I needn’t have worried - Towles made his task seem effortless.
Instead of some expansive suite, the Count begins his stay at the Metropol in cramped servant’s quarters in the attic. Despite this apparent hardship, given the Count’s background, we quickly learn that he is an incredibly polite, civilised and philosophical character, one of his key maxims being “if one does not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them”, which stands him in good stead for his ordeal.
Despite having never worked a day in his life the Count starts working in one of the hotel restaurants - a job to which he brings all of his extraordinary care and attention to detail. Throughout the book the Count has (mostly) charming encounters with other guests and staff members including an unlikely on-going alliance with a 9 year old fellow guest Nina Kulikova.
I thought it was a fascinating book, both from an historical perspective of Russia in the 1920s and following decades and also the craft employed by the author to develop characters and emotions within the limitations of hotel life.
Reviewed by Darryl Bruce, State Manager - WA
By Ben Elton
At the beginning of the year I read this Ben Elton book on the recommendation of a friend. Elton is well known both for his writing and his work for television (Blackadder, The Young Ones and others). I also remember seeing a stand-up comedy show of his in New Zealand in the latter years of the last century.
Given that almost a year has passed I do not profess to remember all of the finer nuances but what is clear from the outset is that aging Detective Michael Matlock finds himself somewhat lost trying to navigate the nature of identity in the current world.
If you are puzzled by rise of individuals identifying as non-binary, gender neutral or a multitude of other related extrapolations then you might find this book to be a useful primer. The generally well-meaning Matlock consistently and effortlessly finds himself on the wrong side of discussions relating to such matters and is often left exposed as some sort of extreme hate figure.
The story is built up through various separate strands that gradually begin to interweave. Together with the concept of identity another key theme is the use and manipulation of social media by the powerful to achieve various unsavoury ends. This is obviously an extremely topical issue and one that Elton clearly wants to brutally expose for what it is.
The book is relatively graphic in parts and I probably would not recommend it to those of a more sensitive disposition. Murder and death make increasingly regular appearances throughout the book. Many well-known celebrities such as Boris Johnson (as Bunter Jolly) and Germaine Greer (as Geraldine Giffard) and many others also make extremely thinly veiled cameos.
Comment on current society is rife throughout and whilst not all of it makes comfortable reading, Elton as you would expect, riddles the book with tear inducing humour. If you want to give your abs a thorough workout without joining the gym in 2021 you should put this on your Christmas list.
Reviewed by Darryl Bruce, State Manager - WA
The Money Minutes
By Ross Greenwood - Apple Podcast
Ross tackles the main Political, Business and Economic topics of the day with insightful commentary and expert guests.
Reviewed by Ben Taylor, Director - Fixed Income
We Study Billionaires
On the show, they interview and study famous financial billionaires including Warren Buffett and Howard Marks, and they teach you what they learn and how you can apply their investment strategies.
Very interesting and insightful.
Reviewed by Ben Taylor, Director - Fixed Income
Agent Running in the Field
By John le Carré
Le Carré is known as the writer of more cerebral spy novels compared to say Ian Fleming’s more famous, physical and cavalier James Bond. His most well-known character George Smiley (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) never lifts more than a pen in anger. His latest book and unfortunately his last, as he died on the 11th of December, is very much in this vein, and takes you along the path of a soon-to-be put-out-to-pasture expert agent handler discovering a new friend is a traitor so smoothly you find yourself at the end of the story without even realising it. The denouement is equally gentile, but the underlying stress and sense of betrayal is well conveyed.
I enjoyed this book very much as it is an expert writer telling a story of layers so well that you almost don’t realise it is happening. Also, badminton is cool – even spies play it!
Reviewed by Jonathan Sheridan, Director - Fixed Income and Investment Strategy