Five months ago, an Excel spreadsheet began to quietly circulate throughout the global offices of J.P. Morgan in cities as far-flung as Hong Kong, Singapore, London, New York and Dubai.
What was on this furtive spreadsheet, you ask? Exhaustive detail on 568 books, all non-fiction, released in the last 12 months and nominated by the bank’s employees around the world for the express purpose of providing suitable reading to clients of J.P. Morgan’s $2.4 trillion asset-management franchise, which caters to some of the wealthiest people on the planet.
Since that time, an international committee of 16 people at J.P. Morgan have been assiduously winnowing down that master list – reviewing, reading and arguing over the finer points of each book – to come to a final 10. These selections, voted on in late April and kept under wraps since then, were released Wednesday morning.
“We’ll be on the phone with our colleagues in India, South America, Asia, Europe for months, going over all different types of books that have come out in the past year on art, science, design, management, biology, philosophy and pretty much any other topic,” says Courtney Straus, a Washington-based adviser for J.P. Morgan’s private bank, a division of its asset-management franchise with more than $992 billion in client assets. “We usually try to have someone representing every part of the world, and then we’ll send out a book to each client selected especially for them. Every year, I have people asking me when the list will be out.”
Being on the committee usually means reading a lot of books, she says, adding, “It takes commitment, but you do feel smarter, because it’s all non-fiction, none of it is fluff.” Straus reckons she’s read more than 100 books since J.P. Morgan launched its reading list for its superrich clients 15 years ago in order to keep in touch with them over the summer. “These are wealthy individuals at endowments and foundations, philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and we try to select books that are timely but also on the cutting edge.”
Among this year’s selections are Biz Stone’s Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind, about the genesis of Twitter, and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination and Being Prepared for Anything, by Col. Chris Hadfield.
“Technology is on everyone’s mind today, so we thought hearing how Biz Stone went from not having a job to suddenly being the co-founder of Twitter would be very inspirational for our Silicon Valley clients,” Straus says. “With Hadfield, you have someone talking about managing a team up in space and dealing with immediate problems, being calm in the face of incredible crisis and how to be successful if you know your role and you’ve got to do it over and over and over. Astronauts spend a fraction of time in space and about 99 percent of the time preparing for it. All of these are lessons that can be applied to how to run a business.”
J.P. Morgan’s reading lists in the past have frequently been predictive of the books that will hit the national bestseller lists, including Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point in 2000 and, more recently, The Soundtrack of My Life, Clive Davis’s memoir released last year.
The bank has a partnership with Barnes & Noble, which arranges the bank’s book purchases and, since 2008, has been highlighting J.P. Morgan’s top picks at its New York stores.
“Many of the big publishers have started sending not only catalogs to us, but galleys to consider,” says Darin Oduyoye, J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s chief communications officer, who created the summer reading list back in 1999 and heads up the bank’s international summer reading list committee.
Oduyoye, who says running the panel “is one of the best parts of my job,” has also reviewed well in excess of 100 books for J.P. Morgan. “It’s great, because summertime is usually a perfect opportunity for people to just relax with their families and read a good book.”
This year’s 10 books selected by J.P. Morgan for its Summer Reading List:
Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo.
Art & Place: Site-Specific Art of the Americas, by Editors of Phaidon.
The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley.
Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking, by Rawia Bishara.
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.