Book club: five books for freshers

Finbarr Bermingham selects a handful of books that freshers everywhere should have on their shelves

Politics & Economics

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

In the days before Freakonomics, you'd have been unlikely to find a bestselling economics book in a cool, riverside flat, wedged between volumes by Gabriel García Márquez and J.K. Rowling. But that's the exact locale in which this one writer happened upon his first coffee-stained, dog-eared edition. Six years ago, economics was unfairly considered the reserve of the highfalutin and hyper-educated. Few realised that when academics referred to "the economy", they were talking about our everyday lives and not decisions made in some stuffy chamber in the Square Mile.

Levitt and Dubner didn't make economics interesting; they just made everyone else realise it was. In drawing wayward, fascinating lines between teachers and sumo wrestlers,the KKK and real-estate agents, drug dealers and journalists, the authors make economic theory accessible and fun. The innovative geekery of Levitt and the journalistic nous of Dubner make for an educational page-turner that should be essential reading for students of all disciplines. For the overriding doctrine of Freakonomics isn't theoretical or numerical, but one that should be embraced as a guiding principle for scholars the world over: question everything.


Idea Man by Paul Allen

There are few companies which have shaped the world we live in to the extent Microsoft has. Growing from humble, mid-seventies roots in New Mexico to arguably the most influential technology firm in the world, it has a business model envied by many, replicated by few. While he may have been eclipsed by his erstwhile colleague Bill Gates in the fame stakes, Paul Allen's contribution to the partnership should never be underestimated. Idea Man is the first time Allen has told his side of the story and gives a fascinating account of a man who for too long was content to fade into the background.

For budding entrepreneurs, the lesson to be gleaned from Allen's memoir is simple: "one good idea does not a lifetime's work make." After providing Microsoft with the ideas and inspiration needed to galvanise Gates' entrepreneurial brilliance, Allen gradually distanced himself from the company, having contracted Hodgkin's lymphoma. But he wasn't finished yet. He went on to reinvent himself as a philanthropist, sports team owner and investor. In a literary world that is saturated with biographies of C-List celebrities and two-bit sports stars, Idea Man finally presents a personal story that's worth reading, from one of the greatest innovators of our time.

Banking & Finance

The Game by Alex Buchanan

Has there ever been a time when so many are interested in the actions of so few? Since the proverbial hit the fan in 2008, the world and his dog have taken a growing interest in the City and yet its inner workings remain something of a mystery. The very term evokes cloaks and daggers, smoke and mirrors. But with his brilliant, warts and all, exposé of London's financial sector, Alex Buchanan shines light on areas rarely illuminated before.

Despite having worked as a stockbroker for four City institutions, Buchanan doesn't argue for, nor against, the lifestyle and remuneration of his erstwhile colleagues. Instead, he presents the facts: cold and hard. In five easily followed, well-explained chapters, he covers each cog in the machine. City jargon is explained, complicated terminology debunked and despite being at pains to make The Game digestible, he doesn't once condescend. Buchanan's achievement is to give the City an (often ugly) human face, all the while reinforcing how our struggling economy simply couldn't survive without it. For those harbouring ambitions of a career in finance, or those simply intrigued by the functioning of the City's institutions, The Game will provide essential comprehensive - and humorous - insights.


Letters to a Law Student - A Guide to Studying Law at University by Nicholas J. McBride****

The problem with much industry/subject-centric literature is its fear of explaining the basics. Too often, authors get hung up on being high-brow and in doing so fly over the heads of many of their potential readers. As with the rest of the books we've featured in this section, Letters to a Law Student doesn't fall into this category. Nicholas McBride's entertaining guide takes the highly readable form of a series of letters and, pleasingly, starts right from square one: "What do law students do?"

Less tome, more companion, this book offers advice that's valid from sixth form days until well after you graduate. Covering everything from how to get onto the law undergraduate course you want, to dealing with the stress that comes with it when you do, and from getting to grips with legal theory and practice, to what to do when you finish university, Letters to a Law Student is simultaneously comprehensive and light. McBride's "novel" should be high up on the reading list of any budding purveyors of the law.

Consulting & Professional Services

What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

What The Dog Saw is best viewed as a study of the human condition: what makes people tick? For Gladwell, the world is a case study, ripe for hypotheses and examination, and his ability to compare seemingly incongruous situations and draw conclusions from the inconclusive is inspirational. It's an attitude that's brought him fame and plaudits galore, and one that should be noted by anybody considering a career in the management and understanding of groups of people.

There's an old Yiddish quotation used by Malcolm Gladwell a few times throughout What The Dog Saw that helps explain his modus operandi. "To a worm in horseradish," he says, "the world is horseradish." This book is a collection of thoughts and observation from a man who has spent the best part of 15 years immersed in the horseradish of others. Gladwell is the kind of guy who sees a glimmer of light in the dullest of dishwater. He declares that "everything is interesting" and then sets about finding out why and presenting the facts. From tracking hair colour copywriters and ketchup manufacturers,to examining "why people choke", to questioning the value of the most accepted of virtues, intelligence, Gladwell climbs inside the heads of others and reports, in the most fascinating terms, his findings.