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Wall Street's summer reading list—and what it says about the market

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Ah, summer. A time where many of us stuff a towel, sunscreen and a great book into our weekend bag. Next stop — the beach. So, what's Wall Street reading? Are they turning the pages for pleasure, like the rest of us, or looking for guidance to navigate this crazy market?

I checked in with over 100 finance professionals and the overwhelming response was: to improve their trading game. Most of the people I spoke with felt that, in the current environment, where job stability is low and market fears are high; they need any edge they can get.

"I've been on edge since last August when stocks got taken to the woodshed," a junior hedge fund trader said. "Where I work is like the 'Hunger Games.' I don't need to read that crap on the beach. I need to step up my game."

Here's what's on Wall Street's summer reading list:


“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

By Angela Duckworth

"Grit" has become a buzzword in the business world, thanks to the fact that the White House has consulted psychologist Angela Duckworth and that she's won a MacArthur "genius" fellowship. Some of the people she profiles in her book show how grit — a combination of passion and persistence — works. She discusses West Point cadets who have to endure grueling initiations, a woman who overcame cerebral palsy to become one of the most successful comics in Britain and a young finalist in the National Spelling Bee. Duckworth breaks it down very simply why grit works:

Talent x effort = skill

Skill x effort = achievement

It's all about achievement. And, in a results-oriented business, people will take any roadmap to success that they can find. As Duckworth explains: "Grit" is a more reliable predictor of success than IQ or talent. And everyone can learn how to be gritty.

When I was on Wall Street, grit was definitely the secret to my success. Now everyone will have the inside tip!

“Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business”

By Charles Duhigg

Author of the successful book, "The Power of Habit," and New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg uses fascinating anecdotes to get across the key concepts for how to be more productive. In "Smarter Faster Better," he uses example of plane crashes, assembly-line miracles, kidnappings and more to prove his point. The idea is that it's all about choices like exercising control, connecting mundane tasks with bigger purpose and building mental models of the future. Duhigg explains in depth why we should all have a "bias toward action" as a precursor to creative results. It's a painstakingly researched book with a data-based foundation of actionable steps to improve one self.

“The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future”

By Steve Case

Remember AOL co-founder Steve Case? Well, he's now investing in start-ups through his venture-capital firm Revolution and "The Third Wave" is a story about how the internet evolved and where it's headed. Not surprisingly, he weaves in a lot of personal stories about his career and the history of America Online.

As Case describes it, the third wave of the internet is an era in which entrepreneurs will immensely change the landscape of "real world" sectors like health, education, transportation, energy, and food. And, in the process, they'll change the way we interact and go about our daily lives — in summary, it affects everything related to the stock market, so it's a no-brainer that Wall Streeters are planning to toss this book in their beach bag when they head to the Hamptons.

"I've heard a few guys in my office talking about it," a sales trader said. "It sounds like a great combination of fascinating stories and a look into the future. And that's what we get paid for — to predict the future."

“The Girls: A Novel”

By Emma Cline

OK, OK, so Wall Street's not all business. They also like to read about girls who go astray. "The Girls," set in the late 1960s in Northern California, is about 14-year-old Evie, who is drawn to a group of carefree girls in the park and eventually gets sucked into their Charles-Manson-like cult.

"I heard Scott Rudin has the movie rights," a sales assistant said. "It sounds dark. So it's at the top of my list."


“Shoe Dog”

By Phil Knight

"Shoe Dog," a memoir from 78-year-old Nike founder Phil Knight, mostly covers 18 years of his life. It begins in the early start-up years of his company in 1962 and leads all the way up to when Nike went public in 1980. He delves into how he tricked Japanese running-shoe manufacturer Onitsuka into supplying his non-existent company with sneakers to sell, the how and why the shoe box is orange and his regrets of not signing Magic Johnson because he thought he was "a player without a position who'll never make it in the NBA."

So, of course, Wall Street wants to learn how a guy can go from selling shoes out of the back of a station wagon to building one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the world. Because, at this rate, you never know when one of them may be back hustling out of a station wagon — or when they'll come across a station wagon they want to invest in.

"I think they'll be a lot of great takeaways in this book," one sales trader said. "I mean it's Nike — right? Even if I can learn a little I think it's worth reading."


“Heroes of the Frontier”

By Dave Eggers

Author Dave Eggers is popular among many finance professionals for his previous works. As Publishers Weekly describes "Heroes of the Frontier": "The core of the novel is relatable to anyone who has thought about starting over in an unknown place…" (See the pattern forming here?)

It centers around Josie, who falls on hard times after being sued by a former patient and losing her dental practice. She flees her life (and ex-husband) in Ohio, taking her kids to the Alaskan wilderness where they live in a RV.

Because … what Wall Street guy HASN'T thought of doing that?!

"I've read all of Eggers' books," a banker said. "He's masterful with his words. I have no doubt this will be as good as all of the others."


If you were waiting for a list full of light reading to signal the "all clear" on Wall Street, you're going to have to wait until next year. The lightest this list gets is a Charles Manson-like cult!

Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group. Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the book, "The Buy Side." Catch him on CNBC's "Filthy Rich Guide." He's also a consultant on the Showtime show, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.

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