Never the Twain shall meet? Robeco’s summer reading

Never the Twain shall meet? Robeco’s summer reading

07-07-2017 | Insight

What are the leading lights of Robeco reading while on vacation? Summer is almost upon us, and for many of us, that means being curled up on the beach with a good book. In this summer special, our portfolio managers and specialists reveal what their thumb-turners will be as they recharge their batteries.

Avoiding sheep’s testicles

Henk Grootveld, portfolio manager of the Rolinco fund, says his main choice is Homo Deus, a Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “I have read his first book called Sapiens about the history of mankind in just two days,” he says. “This book is, among other things, about the switch from religion to humanism to Google. To ‘Google it’ is our latest form of religion, according to the writer.... we no longer listen to the church, or to our feelings about right or wrong, but simply follow Google and Amazon. It is about our next step in the evolution of mankind, which might be merging with robots and plugging more AI into your brain. I would especially like that last one, so I can plug in the French AI chip. This will allow me to finally order my dinner in our holiday restaurant without being surprised to get sheep’s testicles on my plate.”

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When you’re mates with Rembrandt

In a clear case of ‘great minds think alike’, Pim van Vliet, portfolio manager of Robeco Conservative Equities, said he planned to read Sapiens (Henk: don’t tell him the plot!), and also aims to focus on the historical opus The Lives of Jan Six by best-selling Dutch author Geert Mak. The book tells the story of 17th century merchant and Amsterdam Mayor Jan Six, a key cultural figure during the Golden Age. He amassed an impressive collection of paintings and etchings – including one from his good friend Rembrandt – from a key period in Dutch history. And for anyone who would like to learn the finer points of quantitative investing while sipping pina coladas and taking the kids paddling, Pim also modestly recommends his own work, High Returns from Low Risk: A Remarkable Stock Market Paradox, written with colleague Jan de Koning.

Hound of the basket-fulls

Fresh from co-writing the quant book with Pim, the story of two legendary entrepreneurs will be entertaining Jan de Koning, client portfolio manager in Quant Equities. His first choice is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, who founded Nike with a loan of USD 50 from his father and turned it into a multi-billion dollar global brand. He also plans to read Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, a biography of the electric car pioneer by Ashley Vance. “Reading the biographies of successful entrepreneurs broadens my perspective and helps me to recharge while lying in a hammock or sun bed somewhere on a remote beach," Jan says.

Wild at heart

Sustainability investing means challenging existing thinking, so Ecomodernisme by Marco Visscher, Ralph Bodelier, et al, is the choice of Carola van Lamoen, Head of the Active Ownership team. “It’s a book on a new movement with outspoken perspectives on economic growth and sustainability, where eco-modernism is presented as a rather optimistic movement,” she says. “I want to better understand their sometimes controversial and out-of-the-box ideas on the future of the Earth. They consider 10 billion people on our planet not a problem at all; they plead for intelligently intensifying agriculture; they consider full-speed urbanization as a necessity from an environmental perspective, and they see an important role for nuclear energy in the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Carola also plans to read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. “It’s a true story of a man who gives away all his savings to charity, burns his cash, and invents a new life for himself living in the wilderness, separated from the rest of humanity in Alaska.”

War and peace

Credit investing is about reducing risk, and today’s leaders would do well to listen to the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, says Jankees Ruizeveld, analyst in Global Credits. Admiral James Stravridis, who Jankees met at a conference, said the US should approach conflicts by using "smart power": the combination of soft power (diplomacy and development) and hard power (military might). “He furthermore said that reading books is key to understanding these conflicts,” says Jankees. “He mentioned: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick, and World Order by Henry Kissinger. To my surprise, he was emphasizing the importance of fiction. In those books, he said one could really understand how other people think, and can therefore better understand how they act. One of the books he recommended was The Cartel by Don Winslow, a book on the Mexican drug cartels. I’ve not finished it yet, but the book surely feels like a Godfather of our time. Before one considers building a wall between Mexico and the US, I would recommend reading this excellent novel first.”

Pimping my punch

Chess enthusiast Steef Bergakker, portfolio manager in Trends Investing, plans to improve his game this summer: he’ll be leafing through 1,000 Checkmate Combinations by Victor Henkin. “Checkmate in chess is the equivalent of the knockout punch in boxing, and after a disappointing chess season, I need to pimp my punch,” he says. “This book is the perfect workout.” He will also find time for Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay, the story of a celebrated female war photographer, by William Boyd. “He’s my favorite author; brilliant prose and evocative storytelling about life in all its beautiful, funny, sad, gruesome but ultimately satisfying aspects,” Steef says. “I’m also reading Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies by Geoffrey West, on how nature and society self-organize according to surprisingly simple rules.”

Never the Twain shall meet

Léon Cornelissen, Chief Economist, will be critically focusing on one of literature’s giants, Mark Twain. “The new Dutch translation of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi triggers me to try it in the original American. I am very fond of the first part of Huckleberry Finn, until Huck and Jim miss the Ohio river, and then not only the heroes of the tale, but also the author become more and more lost. Twain’s book on Germany, A Tramp Abroad, is a must-read, ending with his wonderful essay on The Awful German Language! Nowadays, you see a lot of parodies on Waiting for Godot (e.g. ESTRAGON: ‘Well, shall we get on with the job of Brexit?’ VLADIMIR: ‘Yes, let's get on with the job of Brexit.’ [They do not move.]) which inspired me to buy not only The Complete Dramatic Works by Samuel Beckett, but also the exhaustive biography of him by James Knowlson, Damned to Fame. A recent discovery by me is the Polish author Wiesław Myśliwski, whose Stone upon Stone I intend to read this summer.”

History repeating itself

Emerging markets have long been fashioned by trade and war, so the preferred reading for Fabiana Fedeli, Head of Global Fundamental Equities, is Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia, by Michael Vatikiotis. A renowned journalist who has lived in the region for three decades, the book is a first-hand account of him trying to resolve conflicts in his role as the Asia Regional Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. “History is such a helpful guide for the future,” says Fabiana. “I also have my eyes set on Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution and the Speed of Thought by Andrew Lo, as – despite the rise of model-based investing – I believe that financial markets are still driven by human behavioral patterns.”

Light in the dark

A wartime weepy is the preferred choice of Lukas Daalder, Chief Investment Officer of Robeco Investment Solutions. He’ll be reading All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in occupied France during World War II. He also plans to join colleagues reading Sapiens. “There is little doubt that Doerr will be my favorite,” Lukas says. “Additionally, I have started to re-read some of the classics in my own bookcase: I just finished Lord of the Rings. With that in mind, I might be going for The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, the story of a British borstal boy by Alan Sillitoe. I only have a vague recollection what the storyline was, but it is one of my favorite book titles.”

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