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Summer reading: space, sports and actuaries!

Summer reading lists span space, sports, some Tolstoy — even one for actuaries

Non-fiction topics ranging from space exploration to workplace diversity, along with historical fiction set in World War II France, contemporary fiction that travels the globe and the sweeping novels of Leo Tolstoy, top the summer reading lists of some Pensions & Investments' readers.

Scott Davis, chief investment officer of the $31.3 billion Indiana Public Retirement System, Indianapolis, selected a book from each category — investing, leadership/self-improvement and fun.

Under investing, Mr. Davis plans to read "Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. "I believe the investment profession requires a great deal of humility in order to be successful," Mr. Davis said. "Based on what I have heard, this book provides a master class in helping the reader think more about how he or she evaluates luck vs. skill."

The leadership selection is "Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World" by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg. "I am always fascinated by stories that highlight the lives of people who have become successful in investing, business or other facets of life after experiencing doubt from others," Mr. Davis said. "This new book shares ideas on how we can be more creative in the face of adversity."

The third book on Mr. Davis' list focuses on his favorite baseball team — the Chicago Cubs — and its triumphant 2016 season in "The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse" by Tom Verducci.

"As a longtime Cubs fan, I am looking forward to reliving and enjoying the Cubs' epic 2016 World Series win again through this book," he said. "It was a season that I will never forget, and this book offers insight into how it was all possible."

Cary Grace, CEO of Aon Hewitt's global retirement and investment solutions group in Chicago, said, "I literally have two books in my bag I started reading." The first book is "Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics" by Richard H. Thaler. "It deals with the question of how do you really help drive and enable people to make the right decisions?" The other book is "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah, historical fiction about a family in France during World War II. "Really, really good book. I'm halfway through it and I highly recommend it," Ms. Grace said.

A gift from Canyon Capital Partners piqued the interest of David Holmgren, CIO at Hartford HealthCare in Hartford, Conn. It's a paperback copy of "Mindfulness for Beginners" by Jon Kabat-Zinn. "It's about, as we say, 'getting into the zone,'" said Mr. Holmgren, who oversees $3 billion in pension, endowment and other assets. "It was big five or six years ago. It's about meditation, how to bring attention to the present."

R. Dale Hall, managing director of research at the Society of Actuaries in Schaumburg, Ill., has three must-read books this summer, including a tasty selection for the actuarial community.

First on his list is "Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and ​ Second Chances" by Leland Melvin. "I'm always a fan of how sports and science intersect, and this looks like a good story that meets that criteria, and also offers some insights on overcoming adversity," he said.

Mr. Hall said he has been a fan of Bruce Feiler's work over the past decade, so "The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us" is also among his summer reads. "Appears to be a good book on building positive relationships, with Feiler again traveling the world to find answers to some of life's big questions."

Finally, "How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics" by Eugenia Cheng is one of Mr. Hall's must-reads "because what would a summer around the pool (or hitting a golf ball or volleyball) be for an actuary without considering that constant relationship of circumference to diameter?"

Michael Brakebill, CIO of the $44.4 billion Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, Nashville, said the last books he read focused on "the impact of technology on humanity and investing."

"Our Grandchildren Redesigned" by Michael Bess and "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow" by Yuval Noah Harari "paint a pretty dour outlook" on that impact," he said. "The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies," by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, is "much more optimistic."

"I started with Bess' book and really found its message moving," Mr. Brakebill said. "He did an excellent job of discussing the key issues we face as technology accelerates."

In true summer reading style, Rob Austin, director of research at Alight Solutions in Charlotte, N.C., read "Into the Water" by Paula Hawkins while on Kiawah Beach in South Carolina. He liked the structure of this book, by the author of "The Girl on the Train," in which each chapter conveyed a different character's point of view.

Julie K. Stapel, a Chicago-based partner in the employee benefits practice group at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, recommended a novel in which the perspective shifts between two key characters. "A Tale for the Time Being" is perfect for summer — or any time of year, she said. "I never tire of Ruth Ozeki's beautiful novel tracing the lives of Nao, a 16-year-old Japanese-American girl living in Toyko prior to the 2011 tsunami, and Ruth, a middle-aged Japanese-American novelist living on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. Told from their alternating points of view, the book is all at once hilarious, page-turning and heartbreaking, with tutorials on Zen Buddhism thrown in for good measure. It's an absolute delight in any season."

Two of Leo Tolstoy's classic examples of tracing a long narrative through characters of disparate status and perspective also made P&I's summer list.

"I just finished 'War and Peace' and liked it so much I plan to read 'Anna Karenina.' I had read many Dostoyevsky novels at Amherst as part of a course on his work, but never read Tolstoy. I am catching up," said Stephen Siderow, co-president and co-founder of BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, New York.

Moving to non-fiction, current events inspired some selections. "I just finished reading 'Hillbilly Elegy' by J.D. Vance, a memoir about growing up in Appalachia during the last 30 years. Vance provides a timely perspective on this rural working-class subculture by offering an insightful, yet at times troubling, rationale for the economic challenges these folks face. A great read to help understand the recent populist, pro-Trump political movement," said Ari Jacobs, senior partner and global retirement solutions leader at Aon Hewitt.

"Given what is going on in the political arena, I am re-reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" to see if I can better understand if some of the principles which explain investment decisions (good and bad) can be applied to voting decisions (pattern recognition, for example). These principles certainly have been applied to the art market with great success," said J. Tomilson Hill, vice chairman, Blackstone Group, and president and CEO of Blackstone Alternative Asset Management.

His ambitious summer reading list also includes "The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver and Manipulate in the Digital Age" by Adam Segal; "The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future" by Martin Ford; "Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man's Fight for Justice" by Bill Browder; and "Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art" by Arnold Hauser.

Inspired by the authors' recent presentation at the Federal Reserve System's annual benefits conference, Peter Birle, the Newark, N.J.-based assistant vice president of communications and education at the $21.53 billion Federal Reserve Employee Benefits System, is reading "Get Momentum: How to Start When You're Stuck" by Jason and Jodi Womack. "Jason and Jodi taught us how to practice what we preach in support of better engaging participants while enriching their work and personal lives. It's a quick read and a fantastic book, one I'm sure I will refer back to time and again."

"Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity" by Kim Scott is also on Mr. Birle's summer list. "What Kim Scott shares — through stories of her time at Apple, Google and other companies — is gold. She has found the prescription for finding that sweet spot between obnoxious aggression and ruinous empathy, both of which often turn otherwise good managers into nightmares."

Katie Taylor, vice president, thought leadership, at Fidelity Investments in Boston, plans to read "How Great Women Lead: A Mother-Daughter Adventure into the Lives of Women Shaping the World," by Bonnie St. John and her teenage daughter Darcy Deane. Ms. Taylor and others organized an internal working parents group at Fidelity to discuss family and work issues, so she was attracted to this book that engages with mother/daughter relationships and explores the lives of women in leadership positions.

Laurent De Greef, Acadian Asset Management's Boston-based director of client solutions and product development said "The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences to Achieve Successat Work" by Laura A. Liswood is "really helpful at framing the challenges building and harnessing the power of a diverse workforce brings."

Mr. De Greef is also reading Seth Goldman's "Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently — and Succeeding." "This is the story of the company behind Honest Tea. Great account of the challenges one faces when launching a new company" and also applies to product innovation within an established organization, he said.

Debra Woida, a director and head of delegated investment services, North America, at Willis Towers Watson PLC in Chicago, called her non-fiction selection, "Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer" by William Knoedelseder, a "very interesting read. It not only talks about the fall of Anheuser-Busch, it also talks about the craziness of the family."

Jon M. Braeutigam, CIO, Bureau of Investment, Michigan Department of Treasury, East Lansing, which oversees investment of the $57.6 billion State of Michigan Retirement Systems, said: "Right now I'm pretty busy so I haven't started any new books. The last book I read was "Rescuing Retirement: A Plan to Guarantee Retirement Security for All Americans" by Tony James and Teresa Ghilarducci, which is very thought-provoking."

This story was written by Trilbe Wynne with contributions from Rick Baert, James Comtois, Rob Kozlowski, Robert Steyer and Christine Williamson.