Zach's Reading List
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Reviews in a slightly easier to read format available at:
TitleAuthorWhat it's aboutRatingLast ReadIntending to re-readReview
ESSENTIAL, life changing reads, highest possible recommendation
Make it Stick Peter C. BrownHow to LearnHighest8/1/2016This will be the strongest statement I’ve made about any book I’ve ever read: If in the course of your life right now you have to learn new things on a regular basis, whether you’re in school, or your kids are in school, or you read a lot for work, whatever, I make my strongest possible suggestion that you stop what you’re doing and read this book right now. The book is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a summary of what the scientific community at large, in the year 2014 (when it was published), knows about how the human brain learns new things. It talks about learning “styles” e.g. visual vs. auditory. vs. kinesthetic and that everything you think you know about these styles is not supported by scientific research. It talks about highlighting text and rereading material, spoiler: they’re not very effective strategies according to peer reviewed and corroborated studies. The book, of course, also describes what does work: recall strategies, spaced repetition (i.e. intelligent use of flash cards), and effortful learning -- there is no free lunch, effective learning takes effort. I’ve personally already noticed a noticeable difference and improvement in how I absorb material and the mental gymnastics I do around learning new material as well. I could not be happier with the 8 hours I spent in the car listening to this.
Extreme OwnershipJocko Willink and Leif Babin
Leadership, Mission Oriented, Getting the Job Done
Highest8/22/2016There are plenty of good summaries of the content of Extreme ownership if you google it. Rather than make a crappy attempt to summarize them here, I’ll instead document a tiny bit of the effect this book had on me and also the effect it continues to have on the business I work for. Not a day goes by where somebody at the office doesn’t cite extreme ownership. It’s use as a justification for either a request from somebody or an explanation of behavior, since we’ve all read the book, instantly avoids both a lengthy conversation and whole heap of potential emotional stress for somebody. We’ve all bought into the idea that our purpose at work is to drive the mission of the company, not to drive our own egos, and as such we must all take ownership of our responsibilities and not make excuses for ourselves or those on our team. To say it doesn’t make work a fast-paced and refreshing place to get shit done would be a gross understatement.
7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen CoveyPersonal Development & GrowthHighest11/4/2016I simply can’t say enough good things about the list of 7 habits. The book itself is far from perfectly laid out in my humble reader’s opinion, but the process of exploring each of the 7 habits either through the book or via your own research and introspection aligns very well with everything I’ve learned and witnessed about productivity. For posterity (also Independence: 1 - Be Proactive -- Don’t wait for things to happen, exercise control over the things you have control over. Don’t bemoan what you can’t control. 2 - Begin with the End in Mind 3 - Put First Things First -- Talks about difference between Leadership and Management. Leadership being left brained and management being right brained. Also, the “four squares” of tasks is a really clear mental model for me. I definitely need to spend more time in #2. The categories of tasks: 1) Important and Urgent 2) Important and not-urgent 3) Not Important and Urgent 4) Not important and Not urgent Interdependence: 4 - Think Win-Win -- Think of what the other person wants, collaborative and not competitive relationships 5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood -- Listening as a skill that is as important to master as reading, writing and speaking 6 - Teamwork 7 - Continuous Improvement professionally and personally -- my favorite habbit of them all, there is nothing more important than having the humility to admit imperfection and constantly seek out personal improvement.
How to win friends and influence peopleCarnegieHow to be influentialHighest9/6/2016Probably the most well known of the books I’ve read lately. It’s a book for absolutely everyone, I’m amazed it’s not required reading in high school and then again in college. (roughly) “If you learn one thing from this book, that is to stop and think of situations from the other person’s perspective, then that should be enough to change the course of your life.” The whole book really resonates with everything I’ve learned about management as well -- a good manager spends a lot of effort to see things from the perspective of team members, spends more time thinking about them than themselves. I can see myself re-reading this on something like an annual basis as I know for sure I don’t follow all these lessons nearly as often as I would like to, and I want to keep working on improving that.
Thinking Fast and SlowDaniel KhanemanHow humans thinkHighest6/2014Just go read it. It's the bible on modern cognitive science, behavioral science and decision theory. Best book in this list.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World -- and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Hans RoslingFactfulness and fighting instincts to find factsHighest6/2018Bill Gates’s new favorite book, so much so that he bought it for every college graduate this year. Having now read it, I’m not surprised. Not my favorite book ever, but it’s up there. Well narrated, fairly short, to the point, data-driven, compelling and, honestly, makes me less stressed about the world. Some interesting book-facts: Experts agree that global population will peak between 10-12B and will not increase forever I’ve heard it before, but it’s interesting to again hear, in an unqualified, data-driven, factful way, that democracy is not a precondition for an improvement in quality of life and a lift in status of people in a country. I usually don’t summarize content in these reports verbatim, but the 10 factfulness rules of thumb are worth jotting down, if only so I can remember them better myself. Helpful Links: List of Factfulness Instincts -- Dollar Street -- See how the world really lives The 10 factfulness rules of thumb: The Gap instinct -- Look for the majority in-between the pitched extremes. Reality is rarely as polarized as it seems. The Negativity Instinct -- Bad news is more dramatic and catches attention instincts. Good news simply isn’t news. So expect bad news, it’s the norm in “the news.” The Straight Line Instinct -- Trends rarely continue up and to the right following straight lines. Trends plateau, or accelerate. Look for what the real rate of growth is (re: global population trends) The Fear Instinct -- “Recognizing when frightening things get our attention, and remembering that these are not necessarily the most risky. Our natural fears of violence, captivity, and contamination make us systematically overestimate these risks. The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected by your own attention filter or by the media—precisely because it is scary. When you are afraid, you see the world differently. Make as few decisions as possible until the panic has subsided.” The Size Instinct -- “recognizing when a lonely number seems impressive (small or large), and remembering that you could get the opposite impression if it were compared with or divided by some other relevant number.” Numbers need context to make sense. 4.2 million babies died last year. That sucks! But 10 years ago it was 5 million a year and has been decreasing every year. Bad, but getting better. The Generalization Instinct -- “ recognizing when a category is being used in an explanation, and remembering that categories can be misleading. We can’t stop generalization and we shouldn’t even try. What we should try to do is to avoid generalizing incorrectly.” Majority just means > 50%. Could be 51%, could be 99%.The Destiny Instinct -- Remembering that small changes overtime add up to major change. Keep track of gradual improvements and always seek to update knowledge. Talk to your grandparents more if you want to see how values have changed.The Single Perspective Instinct -- When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. Instead, get a toolbox. Look at problems from many angles, test your ideas and look for examples that would disprove/find problems with your opinions. Don’t claim expertise or trust expertise outside of its actual field of expertise. The Blame Instinct -- “recognizing when a scapegoat is being used and remembering that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future. Look for causes, not villains.” Punching somebody in the face rarely actually fixes any real problems. The Urgency Instinct -- Remember that most decisions are not as urgent as they seem. Take small steps. Take deep breaths. Recognize that rarely do you have to make a decision on a short timeline and that rushed decisions often have unintended consequences/side effects.
Highly Recommended -- Business / Startups
The Hard Thing About Hard ThingsBen HorowitzHard Decisions / Leadership LessonsHighest9/18/2018Maybe displaces “Good to Great” as my new favorite business book. It’s simply excellent. Not a systematic assembly of what “good leadership” is but rather a substantial handful of useful lessons on thinking about leadership. There’s a ton that’s NOT new in this book. Being a leader is hard. Being a CEO is harder. Making decisions is hard. The “right” thing often feels like tough love / the wrong thing to everyone else at the time. As a leader you have to manage your own pscyhology and, in effect, take yourself out of the decision / problem. That as a leader your decisions and actions often have far reaching consequences other than what was intended. Then there’s a ton of story in the book. Ben’s story is great. It’s also added tastefully to support the various themes / lessons he is telling. Then there’s a ton of stuff that I hadn’t heard before in management books. The term WFIO I’ll now remember and use forever. I love his descriptions on hiring, “hiring for strengths, not for avoiding weaknesses,” discussions on “peacetime” vs. “wartime” business leadership ( , somehow I hadn’t explicitly read “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager” yet (, and the unique-to-the-book “Good CEO, Bad CEO”, looking for “lead bullets” to solve problems instead of silver bullets (aka lots of things need to change, not just one magical one) and so so much more.
Good to GreatJim CollinsWhat makes great companies greatHighest9/5/2016Jim Collins is my new business hero. The background of the book is that Jim Collins spent years with a team researching and dissecting the performance of hundreds of public companies and did a rigorous analysis to find *systemic* differences between normal companies and companies that produced remarkable and sustained growth (by a rigorous definition that he sets out in the book). Everything about the book is fantastic because it’s all supported by real data, and it all seems totally intuitive. I learned a tremendous amount and thoroughly enjoyed it. I doubt I’m a “level 5” leader right now, but I certainly will continue to work on self-improvement and hope to one day earn that distinction.
Work RulesLazlo BockHR & General BusinessHighest1028/2016Another Google book, this one I liked even more. Lazo Block, Head of People Operations (aka HR) at Google goes through many of the lessons learned in building Google as an organization. Lazlo is data driven, practices mindfulness and is only convinced by experimentation and meaningful lift. His stories come across as science experiments, and for that reason I find them convincing. I learned a lot about maintaining culture and morale at scale -- definitely a book I’ll revisit a number of times over the years.
Made to StickChip and Dan HeathMessaging / MarketingHighest11/14/2016As a tech geek I was a bit wary of a book heralded as a tome on marketing. My bravery though was rewarded with an absolutely excellent read. The core lessons in the book are well justified and obvious in hindsight (as I think most good business lessons are) and even better, they are immediately applicable. I particularly am going to take away the lessons on being concrete, being unexpected and weaving through story. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the lessons: Overall I can usually tell I’ll like a book and reference it for a while when it seems to “fit” into the world of other excellent business books. There’s lots of overlap between “Made to Stick” and the “7 Habits” and “How to win friends…” and it all just feels like different angles on how to treat other people like human beings, a variant of the golden rule.
Peak: How Great Companies get their Mojo from MaslowChip Conley
Having evangalist customers, employees and investors
Highest11/30/2016You can’t not love Chip, he is more than any other individual I know a true inspiration, everything about how he thinks and how he lives his life really is an inspiration. He is dripping with humanity in all the right positive and forward thinking ways, and his book reflects that. Not only is Peak the most well researched book I’ve yet written a report on (every chapter includes a list of references and recommended reading which is *awesome*) but it’s also very insightful and actionable. I had the very distinct honor a few years ago to meet Chip and attend a weekend seminar he did at Esalen where he gave a condensed version of his three pyramids and the book goes through those lessons rather well. A quick tl;dr -- Peak describes how to have your customers, employees and investors have "peak experiences". He builds up a hierarchy of needs in Abraham-Maslow style for each group and describes how to satisfy the base needs and aspirational needs and turn each group into true evangelists for your business. It’s all told through the lens of Chip’s venture, Joie de Vivre, a boutique hotel chain, and Chip does a great job drawing meaningful lessons from how he thinks about elevating all three groups to the top of the pyramid. I can only aspire to bring 1% as much joy into the world as Chip has, here's to hoping Peak can help me do that.
Pitch anythingOren KlaffHow to pitch ideas / convince peopleHighest12/21/2016
I loved it. Not my new favorite book, but definitely up there. The book introduces a whole new set of vocabulary, based on simple cognitive science, to discuss relationships in high stakes business situations. The basic idea is to make the reptile/crocodile part of the brain comfortable and receptive and ensure you keep the recipient genuinely interested and subservient to your narrative. Klaff introduces specific techniques, like a toolbox, to use in various situations. I almost wish this was a class I could take with homework assignments to practice each technique on a peer. I feel it's definitely a useful set of new vocabulary and a new lense to look at a small but important aspect of life
The Phoenix Project
Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr
How IT is important for an orgHighest12/28/2016
I'm not sure what genre this is... Fictional non-fiction? Whatever it is, it's awesome. It's a story of how technology is embedded, supports and lifts companies told through the lense of actual characters in a fictional company. It's written in an engaging way and the lessons the characters learn apply well to real businesses. The 'three ways' ( Systems Thinking -- Everything affects and supports everything else within the business, IT is not just “IT” it’s “IT that supports the business” Amplify feedback loops -- Faster product releases allow you to collect customer feedback quicker and respond to the market quicker The third way is about “creating a culture that fosters two things: continual experimentation, taking risks and learning from failure; and understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery.” Much of these techniques, by practical implementation, is already standard practice in a good modern startup, but thinking about the reasoning and using the frames seems obviously valuable to me.
How Google WorksEric SchmidtHow google hires people tc.Highest10/8/2016As a former APM this was a particularly fun read, as I lived many of the stories that the book tells about APMs. I have some opinions on things the book gets wrong, or that the book makes seem roses and dandelions but which were really ugly and incompetent, but I don't think that's really productive or useful.conversation. I'd rather focus on the meaningful lessons I did learn and how to apply them. Most of those lessons are framed by vocabulary that the book introduces and is likely how I'll remember those lessons: A “growth mindset”: somebody who doesn't look at themselves as static but as changeable, that with effort you can change your own skills and behaviors, that you can grow and become better. “Smart creative”: Somebody you trust to innovate on ideas, to take in their environment and synthesize the future with skill and dedication. “Divas”: Employees that are difficult to deal with or culturally a bit askew but still have tremendous value, skill and provide unqiue perspective in a team. You fight to keep divas. “Naives”: somebody only out for themselves, focused on their own goals and outcomes, not the companies. You get rid of naives asap. “Technical insight” a core intuition about a product that lets you truly differentiate in the market. There are more, but these are the ones that stick out most to me right now. Anybody that's ever asked me about my experience at Google will know that Eric Schmidt is truly one of my heroes, and so of course I recommend his book.
Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness
Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
Choice Architecture & Behavioral EconomicsHighest2/12/2017
Anything behavioral economics by Thaler or Khanaman of course has to get my highest recommendation. That said, you only need to read the first half or 2/3rds of this one -- the back is incredibly dry and detailed and goes on for way too much detail on personal financial decisions. The book skips over a bit of the biography and jumps more or less straight into the various scenarios where nudges can have an affect. I love the vocabulary on "choice architecture" and will absolutely adopt it as part of my regular lexicon. Choice architecture basically being the process of designing a process whereby you present an option to somebody else (making a decision for them aka setting a default is just a base-case of choice architecture). The basics of choice architecture should be taught in every high school... I look forward to a day when governments and employers adopt consciencious choice architecture in a majority of operations.
Never Split The Difference, Negotiating as if your life depends on itChris VossModern take on negotiations via empathyHighest1/4/2018Definitely a different take on negotiations than “Getting to Yes.” One of the things that shocked me about this book is that it paints a picture of negotiation is a very, very immature field of study. That, up until his book, the leading thought in the field goes back to “Getting to Yes” which was published decades ago would lead the reader to believe that there aren’t researchers actively moving the field forward. Substantively, the book does feel like it advances my thinking on negotiation and I recommend it. It’s also short, mostly told through narrative, actionable and to the point. Some core takeaways: Focus on your best case outcome and mentally anchor yourself there. Be prepared ahead of time with solid research, and be prepared to be in control of one’s own emotions. Start with very high anchors, work your way there in reducing percentage increments. Use precise numbers that indicate thoughtfulness and calculations. Be patient, mirror the other person’s feelings and thoughts, make sure you do your best to make the other person feel like you are listening and that you really hear them. Get them to a “that’s right” moment -- where they feel you have summarized their position well. Vs. “You’re right” which is a “go away” response that shuts down the conversation and doesn’t indicate identification and understanding. Don’t be afraid of silence, use it as a weapon, recognize when it’s being used on you, take your time. Seek to understand the other side and find hidden “black swans”, or pieces of information that, previously known, dramatically change the landscape of the negotiation. “No” is just the beginning of the negotiation.
Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex WorldStanley McCrystalCross functional collaboration w/Army lessonsHighest5/21/2019
“Team of Teams” lives near “Extreme Ownership” on the bookshelf in that it’s written by a retired high-ranking military officer and basically is an entire book to communicate and explore a single military idea applied to business. The big idea here is that in fast paced and interconnected modern world, “shared consciousness” and “emergent intelligence” are required of teams to compete and is only enabled by breaking down silos and encouraging transparent, broad communication. I loved the analogy that when you’re in a small team, your teammates are “your people” and even if one is loyal to the broader cause, other teams are always in some way “less” than “your people.” The point of a ‘Team of Teams” is that it’s the leaders job to broaden that sense of “your people” to as cross-functional and large a group as possible by opening up lines of communication, breaking down barriers, insisting on transparency and empowering down the chain. And that by doing so you enable the organization to foster heightened levels of creativity and problem solving that are impossible in a siloed command-and-control culture. Personally I find this not only intuitive, but a bit of a relief. If anytime anybody asked me to lead a team they expect me to always have all the right answers I’m confident I will disappoint -- it’s not the leaders job to always be a problem solving superhero, it’s their job to enable the organization itself to be the superhero. The book is filled with Iraq special-operations anecdotes, similar to “Extreme Ownership” which I actually found interesting and valuable to help drive home the point. I won’t soon forget the narrative of how Al Zarkawi was ultimately found and killed and the leadership lessons therein. Overall “Team of Teams” is a pretty short, well written, enjoyable and valuable read. Applied to an organization alongside Extreme Ownership and I can see the two together being a strong recipe for positive, productive company culture.
The Challenge Culture: Why the Most Successful Organizations Run on Pushback
Nigel TravisOrganizational Culture, Hiring, War storiesHigh12/5/2018
I started reading Onward by Howard Shultz (Starbucks story) and after about 5 chapters gave up. Shultz just goes on and on about how awesome he is and how only he could save Starbucks and how awesome Starbucks is etc. etc. I mention this because, by contrast, “The Challenge Culture” is simply excellent. The book is not a testament to Travis’s unique or phenomenal persona and skill, and it’s not just a collection of anecdotes. Travis has a thesis on what makes good business culture, he describes how it works, then gives plenty of examples approaching the problem from all sorts of angles to demonstrate how effective it is. The fundamental thesis is this: A good business culture allows employees to challenge one another, at any level, whilst simultaneously remaining civil and respectful. Pushback is the name of the game, and titles and position are unimportant when weighing facts and logic. Everybody should be free to challenge a leader at any time, including a CEO, and it is the person in authority’s responsibility to open the door for that challenge, to read the room, to notice when he or she isn’t being challenged and to invite that challenge for the benefit of the business. The only thing keeping it from getting a “Highest” rating from me is that it’s a fairly one-dimensional look at business. I liked the perspective, I liked the writing, it was valuable and worth the time to read, it’s up there, but it’s not the very first business book I would recommend to somebody.
The Art of War (Read it more than once, it's short)Sun TzuThink StrategicallyHigh9/5/2016It’s a 1 hour audio book for something like $2. If for no other reason than you’ll get to say you’ve read the art of war you should read it. You really don’t need me to summarize it other than to say I thought it was a worthwhile 1 hour and $2.
SCRUM: The art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Jeff Sutherland & J.J. Sutherland
How to organize a group of people to be effective
High8/22/2016If you’re a computer engineer you’ve probably already heard of scrum, and you’re likely even using (at least part of) the scrum process already. This is the book by the “creator” of scrum and as such it does a good job of documenting the ‘whys’ and the ‘how we got here’ of many of the elements of the scrum process. Unfortunately it’s also burdened by being overly obsessed with itself and reads like a gigantic sales pitch for scrum. If you get past that though the book is a great read for anybody either leading or a part of any team project. The basic idea is rather than plan a project all at once and try and reach milestones that you made up on day 0, you identify very small, say 2-week milestones and sprint to those goals. Along the way you ensure all stakeholders have incredibly tight communication and identify blockers and process improvements as regularly as possible. In short, the combination of near-term goals and a dedication to continuous improvement makes for very efficient work as a team.
A Higher LoyaltyJames ComeyLeadership from Director of the FBIHigh5/15/2018
I went into this maybe expecting something similar to Fire and Fury. An expose that only serves to reinforce or increase anxieties. What I got, however, was actually quite different. This is NOT a “trump book”, it is the story of Jim Comey’s career intermingled with lessons on leadership and ethics. It’s clear Comey is an articulate guy, and he had some really good editors. It was almost funny how in some passages it’s clearly Comey’s voice, and in others you can tell it’s been “sexxed” up a bit to make it more engaging or salacious. The net effect is actually tolerable in my opinion, even if it means pundits will discredit the book because it mentions, for all of 2 paragraphs, Comey’s evaluation of Trump’s hands and tanlines. Honestly, the thing that has me strongly recommending the book is actually nothing to do with the politics, it’s actually not a bad book on leadership. It nicely aligns with many of the lessons from “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and conveys those lessons with relatable personal anecdotes. For anyone considering a position of leadership in the public or private sectors, this book has something for you.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupJohn CarreyrouHow not to build a business, TheranosHigh11/7/2018
My goodness. What a story. I’m left so completely and utterly disappointed. Disappointed in the management of Theranos, disappointed in all the investors and directors of the company, disappointed in a legal system that allowed Theranos to intimidate employees which prolonged the life of the company, disappointed in the modern culture of “hero”-izing founders, idolizing them and avoiding any and all scrutiny. The whole thing is a tragedy of incredible proportions. The number of batshit crazy executives out there with crazy ideas on how to manage employees, build culture and think about customers is flatly depressing. There is very little uplifting about this story. There is some good news though. “Bad Blood” reinforces my commitment and dedication to being a good manager and building positive work culture. The book is a great example of how not to build a company. The book is also really well written and a captivating story. Carreyrou is the hero here, the book gets a solid recommendation from me!
Steve JobsWalter IsaacsonBiography of Steve JobsHigh3/8/2018
I feel it important to acknowledge that I hold many negative opinions about Apple, about “closed ecosystems” and have always disliked Steve Jobs and the nature of the “cultish” atmosphere he was so successful at creating. So, I’m a bit biased in this review. That said, I’m no so ensconced in my owned narratives as to be unwilling to read this book with an eye towards learning and being inspired by elements of Job’s life that are in fact remarkable. Jobs’s life is the life of a complicated guy. I’m not super interested in his personal life; his wife, his kids, his college story, his celebrity, the drugs, the eating disorder… it’s all whatever for me. Far more interesting to me is how he behaved in a professional environment and how that lead to such fantastic commercial success and some very elegant products and industry changing movements. The number one lesson I take home from this book is a crystallization of my own understanding of management vs. leadership. Good managers build strong teams, manage morale, meet deadlines, grow talent etc. Good managers don’t call their employee’s work “dogshit”, don’t sideline employees and have them feel ignored or unappreciated and certainly they don’t send people home morally crushed or confused about direction. Management is a lot of people skills. Leadership isn’t as much about people (although certainly it’s a component), it’s about subject-matter expertise, it’s about pushing a team to do better work than it would otherwise do, it’s about raising the bar, it’s about sending people back to their desks inspired to kick ass and produce fantastic work. The biography is very long but ultimately an easy read. I don’t leave the book having changed any of my opinions on Jobs really, if anything they’re reinforced, but that honestly couldn’t matter less. More important is that I think the book/Jobs’s story does have good lessons about how to advance the world, and for that I recommend it and am glad to have read it.
Managing the Unmanageable: How to motivate even the most unruly employee
Anne Loehr, Jezra KayeManaging poor performers / difficult reportsMedium6/1/2019#NAME?
I really liked the systematic way that this book suggests approaching various management scenarios. My biggest takeaway from the book will definitely be to have a framework / checklist in place for managing difficult employees (so-called “unmanageable employees or UE”) and to follow it consistently. Some useful checklists: The Five Cs ( Commit or Quit Communicate Clarify Goals and Roles Coach Create Accountability And the 10 communication questions ( What problem is my UE presenting? Do I have any sense of the root cause of the problem? What’s the impact on my UE’s performance? What’s the impact on my team? What actions have I taken so far? How has the UE responded to those actions? When will I hold a conversation with my UE? What are the main points I want to get across? What are the questions I might ask my UE? How will I know if the talk is a success? General advice on coaching questions: - Short - Open ended - Without including advice / statements - Thought provoking I really don’t care for the writing style of much of the book, and the end of each chapter “if employee says X, you can say Y” section is very cringe-worthy. I didn’t really enjoy the process of listening to the book, but I do find the key takeaways valuable, and so it goes in a highly recommended category but only gets a medium.
Highly Recommended -- Self Improvement\
Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts - Becoming the Person you Want to Be
Marshall GoldsmithAdult Behavior ChangeHighest4/20/2017
Faaaanntastic. Recommended for everybody. Psychology based from somebody super experienced and accomplished, well written and actionable. Similar to “Power of Habit” but better. Covers how the environment affects your behavior (and how you can manipulate your environment to align with the change you want to see). How to phrase questions usefully, “am I trying my best”, “did I give it my best effort”, “am i willing at this time to do what it takes to affect a positive change?”. The book is broken down into three main parts -- Part 1) Environment 2) How to try 3) Structure. (READ THIS!) Summary: Quote about Part 1: “The first objective is awareness – being awake to what’s going on around us. The second is engagement – actively participating in our environment – and that the people who matter to us recognize our engagement. Trigger -->(impulse – awareness – choice) --> Behavior Feedback – both the act of giving it and taking it – is our first step in becoming smarter and more mindful about the connection between our environment and our behavior” And about Part 3: As we need help when we’re least likely to get it, there should be a simple structure that (a) anticipates that our environment will take a shot at us and (b) triggers a smart, productive response rather than foolish behavior. This process requires us to score our effort and reminds us to be self-vigilant. The simpler the structure, the more likely we’ll stick with it. We need commitment, awareness, scoring, and repetition.
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our DecisionsDan Ariely
Cognitive errors people make, influencing behavior
Highest7/1/2016Alright I admit it, I have a fetish for behavior economics and judgement theory. Predictably Irrational is, in spirit anyway, a practical continuation of Thinking Fast and Slow by Khaneman (TFAS). You can see an outline of specific topics covered here: . In short, it ranges from the endowment effect, to the placebo effect, to some fairly awkward sexual arousal and judgement studies. It’s a bit more experiment focuses than TFAS, which feels more theory and terminology heavy. Overall, if you’re already on the behavioral economics train as I am, this is a good one to add to the library.
Into the Magic ShopJames Doty, MDMindfulnesss through the story of a poor boyHighest11/2017
#bookreport …. Yes that’s right, I haven’t stopped reading and taken up binge-watching netflix (much). I’ve actually read about 15 books since the last book report, all of which are either about raising dogs or are part of the epic fantasy series the Wheel of Time (god damn those books take forever) which don’t really warrant reports. Maybe I’ll have some reflections on WoT when I finish it (only 4 more 30+ hour book to go…) Anyway, without further ado, “Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart” by James Doty MD It’s the modern “House of God” from an enlightened/compassionate perspective. It’s “The Phoenix Project” meets “Everywhere you go there you are”. If you’ve not read any of those books then don’t worry, this book is still for you. I loved it. It teaches the core lessons of mindfulness via allegory and anecdote rather than definitions and writ exercises. Dr. Doty’s story is itself both heart wrenching and heartwarming, the writing is compelling and the stories I found very easy to identify with and take with me in life. A young impoverished and underprivileged child by sheer good fortune encounters a woman who teaches him the lessons of compassion, mindfulness, meditation and acting with intent. The story takes this young boy, who doesn’t know where his next meal will come from, to college, med school, riches, bankruptcy (financial and moral) and back. I’m no expert, heck I’m a headstrong and arrogant 29 year old bachelor/entrepreneur, but to the extent I’ve known happiness and enlightenment in life it’s mostly been through experiences where I’ve given and been surrounded by compassion, mindfulness and love. The stories in Into the Magic Shop make fantastic references and reminders to stay on the right track. We all fall off the horse from time to time. I personally really struggle to show myself kindness when I err, and Into the Magic Shop is a great reminder and tool, at least for me, to help stay on the right track.
Wherever You Go There You AreJon Kabat ZInnMeditation & MindfulnessHighest12/20/2016
A few years ago I was very lucky to spend a weekend at Esalen with Chip Conley and Soren Gordhamer -- two pioneers and leaders in the mindfulness space and so I had a bit of a jump start on my mindfulness practice. Simple breathing meditations really make an absolutely tremendous difference in my own cognitive ability and clarity of thinking, even just 10 seconds of closing my eyes and doing nothing but listening can be utterly transformative and anxiety reducing. Kabat Zinn is basically the leading writer on mindfulness and this book does a great job, in a pretty short read, of walking anybody through the basics of mindfulness, how to go about even the simplest of practice and setting expectations for results (which is to say, to have no expectations). The most memorable line for me is something along the lines of “By stopping to die every once in awhile you allow yourself to more fully live”
Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessCharles DuhiggHow habbits work, how to change themHighest11/26/2016
This is one of those books where after the first couple of chapters you stop and realize that you will for the rest of your life see things differently. The obviousness of the “habit loop” is incredible in retrospect, I see it in nearly everything I do. The basic idea is that our brains are always trying to be efficient and so we store behaviors as habits that become nearly automatic. Habits are triggered by cues which cause us to do routines in order to get rewards. (e.g. I get up from my desk to get a snack at ~2:30PM everyday) The book walks through many details and examples, but one powerful lesson is that once you learn a habit you basically can’t forget it, you will always respond to the cues, but you can change the routine to something else that gets you the reward you want. A good summary:
How to Lie with StatisticsDarrell HuffMisleading statitics in the worldHighest12/2018
Written in the 1950s and still perfectly applicable today. It’s not necessarily because of anything particular about specific book that it gets my highest recommendation. There’s nothing in it I’ve not heard before, however it is a very concise summary and an easily consumable version of the basic statistical tricks / misleading tools that one learns over a lifetime. Depending on how much you remember from high school this book might be entirely old news to you, or it might be all new. Either way, it’s absolutely worth going over again. It’s a 4 hour audiobook, you don’t have an excuse! Some of the top things to remember: “Average” can be any of mean, median and mode, and they mean very different things! A mean (or the commonly understood definition of “average”) can be very easily skewed by a few outliers. The mean salary at a company of 20 people is certainly skewed if the CEO makes 20x as much as the other 19 employees! Always look for which average is used and ask yourself if outliers are skewing the results. It’s virtually impossible to have a completely unbiased and representative sample. Always look for where the sample came from, how big it was, and what conscious, and unconscious, biases exist. Always, always, always, look at the axis on a graph. Truncating an axis is almost guaranteed to give you a misleading picture. Ask yourself the statistic in the opposite. 5% of people die from X. That means 95% of people survive X. Does it change your perception of X to use one version or the other of that story? Should you behave differently?
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything
Chris HadfieldStoicism, determiantion and space shit!Highest6/2019
I’m a bit of a sucker for anything space, so this one, as long as it didn’t suck, was likely to get a recommendation from me. Thankfully, not-suck it did, in fact, I found it to be excellent. Here’s what you’re getting here -- a non-fiction fantasy fairy-tale of a young boy who wants to be an astronaut and of course does. The book is filled with lots of fun story and detail about what it’s like to be a spaceman, and that makes it go by fast. In between the one-in-a-million type stories the reader gets lots of grounding lessons for going through life with a positive attitude and determination. I particularly liked “Aiming to be a zero” methodology (instead of aiming to be a “+1”, i.e. focus on not screwing up instead of trying to be flashy). My favorite lesson of all though - as an astronaut your actual odds of going to space are very low. There are lots of astronauts, not many missions and many, many reasons why you might be overlooked for any given opportunity. Therefore, if you're basing your happiness, self-worth and value on how many times you’ve actually been to space you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, anxiety and misery. Even if you do go to space once, it’s unlikely you’ll do it again and yet you still have to find a way to live life. Far better to enjoy every victory along the way, no matter how small, and to base your sense of self on the journey rather than the major milestones. Because no matter what every astronaut eventually has their last space walk.
Misbehaving: the Making of Behavioral EconomicsRichard ThalerFather of Behavioral Economics Speaks TruthHigh7/2016
The original bible on behavioral economics -- chronicling the story of Thaler having to fight against the old school "chicago" form of economics. The whole thing just seems to incredlby obvious in retrospect -- of course humans aren't always perfectly rational actors. An absolutely core read, really anything Thaler has written should be required reading.
Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner
How to think about the futureHigh6/2/2016I’m going to call this an unofficial sequel by another author to TFAS. It takes a data-driven and behavior based approach to analyzing how do individuals and organizations make forecasts and predictions. This isn’t magic 8-ball stuff, it’s data-driven analysis of how and why some people make provably more accurate forecasts than others. And not by a little either, the gap is huge. Long story short, have an open mind, collect as much data as possible, be willing to change your opinions, ignore the sunk cost fallacy and have as small an ego as possible. Obvious stuff in retrospect, really. Not super long, super insightful, worth reading after TFAS. Also, if you’re aim is to be well educated and you desire to understand the world and make your own predictions of the future, don’t read the news, watch TV or pay any attention at all to somebody that gets paid to have an opinion unless that person’s opinions are rigorously tested and their accuracy published. As far as I can tell that pundit doesn’t exist.
Discover your true northBill GeorgeMindfulness, LeadershipHigh11/21/2016A fantastic read. This book sits nicely next to “Made to Stick”, “7 Habits” etc. in fleshing out the theme of mindful leadership. The book dives pretty deeply into what is mindfulness and self-awareness, and expands into lessons on how to take that in a positive way to the workplace. From treating others as equals, to the “transformation from ‘I’ to ‘we’” to lessons on engagement, active listening, encouraging further leadership etc. There is a fair amount of sales-wank promoting the book across the web which IMO is a bit of a turnoff, despite that though the book itself was great. A really good summary:
The Undoing Project: A friendship that Changed Our MindsMichael LewisBiography of Khaneman & TverskyHigh2/1/2017
Michael Lewis is consistently fantastic -- having now read The Big Short and the Undoing Project, the guy does an amazing job with his research and his writing is thoroughly enjoyable. I am unashamed about my intellectual fetish for behavior economics and decision theory and admiration for Khaneman and Tversky and Lewis does justice to what is probably one of the greatest intellectual leaps of the late 20th century. He chronicles more or less the entire story of both Danny K and Amos T. from their childhoods through to their time with the Israeli Army to their time as world-leading thinkers in their fields. And of course the relationship between Danny and Amos. He also does a pretty good job of summarizing some of their main findings in a consumable and memorable way. I walk away from the book with a profound respect for the two of them, and also a deep jealousy for the intellectual relationship they had. There have been times in my life where I've felt maybe just the faintest glow of that intellectual compatibility with somebody... to experience it as a red-hot flame for as extended a period a time sounds like a life-satisfying kind of experience. A new bucket list item anyway.
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield
Influencing BehaviorHigh10/2014
A cornerstone book for me. The strategies they propose and the way they break down behaviors is really practical. The lesson to change behavior by modifying the environment (essentially, make the desired behavior the default) is one of my favorites
King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Steve Shwarzman and Blackstone
David Carey and John E. Morris
Private Equity over the past 40 yearsHigh1/2019
Kind of like ths title, this one is a little bit long winded. Like, a lot long winded. There’s very little in the way of “surprise” subject matter, it definitely covers subject matter that cleanly fits under the heading of the title of the book, that is, Shwarzman and Blackstone. Maybe one that’s best to break down simply in things I liked/didn’t like Liked: It’s detailed account of an industry that I really knew nothing about. We hear “private equity” all the time but never before have I really stopped and look at what they do as an industry, what role they’ve filled in the market/economy for the past 50 years and how it’s evolved. I do feel more well rounded and better off for this understanding, and so ultimately for that, it was worth the time. Didn’t like -- It’s kind of a story, and there are some repeated characters, but it’s not really told like a story, so you don’t really get attached to any characters and it it’s not something you’ll enjoy for it’s storytelling. It’s also very long. And a lot of financials and numbers for a book. Did I mention it’s long and has lots of numbers?
59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lotRichard WisemanScience based self-help & improvementHigh4/10/2017
Lots of short summaries of (what seems like) scientific results. Much of the science is covered but extremely briefly and grossly over-extrapolated. That’s OK though, go into it knowing that some of it should be taken with a grain of salt and ultimately there are some useful tidbits. Some good summaries: And some of my favorite mini-lessons: Small acts of kindness toward others are good for both parties Rewards reduce the enjoyment of most activities as does payment. Volunteering to do something and getting paid to do it will lead to different emotions and reactions after the fact. Having your unconscious work on problems is a regular theme in the book, if you are working hard on something try taking a break by playing a game of sorts, sudoku, crosswords, etc. This works with both creative issues and making decisions. Knowing your options, then distracting yourself, then making a decision quickly helps a lot.
Highly Recommended -- History / Perspective on the world
Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindYuval Noah HarariAnthropoloigical RationalismHighest5/31/2016
I call this book the textbook on “Anthropological rationalism.” Not a book for the closed minded or deeply religious as I'm pretty sure it'll challenge at least some preconceived notions for more or less everybody. It’s an extremely thoughtful, well researched, documented and carefully laid out analysis of the modern human race in the context of the human species as just that, a species of animal. A species that evolved from other homo-genus species, and had to co-exist with other homo-species, and over millennia span the globe. It covers many topics, ranging from our impact on other species (in short, we’ve driven a monstrous number of other species to extinction, and had done so long before the industrial revolution) to labeling patterns in modern human interaction and identifying underlying natural-selection mechanics for why they might be. For me it’s in the same ballpark as TFAS (“Thinking Fast And Slow”), though it’s not an easy read, and it’s quite long, but all in all still gets a solid 2 thumbs up from me.
Alexander HamiltonRon ChernowLife and times of Alexandre HamiltonHighest11/2016
tldr; The book is excellent, go read it. I am glad I waited a couple of weeks to write this report as since I’ve read the book Drumf has become el-presidente, I’ve seen the musical on broadway and listened to the soundtrack about 25 times. The soundtrack actually does a half decent job of retelling the story, but of course because it’s hip-hop it’s easy to miss the details and clever lyrics. The book is told from an at least moderately neutral perspective… it’s really hard to not like Alexander Hamilton though. An orphan immigrant with a voracious appetite for reading and writing becomes a general in the continental army, a “junior” founding father, author of a majority of the federalist papers, the secretary of treasury for GW and influential lawyer. That his son was also killed in a duel is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. As a citizen of the USA in 2017 it is hard to not be struck by the parallels of the election of 1796, the politics of setting up the national bank, the very disrespect that got Hamilton killed etc. to modern politics. 250 years of politics and we still haven’t figured out how to have constructive debate in the public sphere… it’s like a perpetually dysfunctional family. And then you remember the great projects/things we have done… the world’s first computers, the panama canal, men on the moon, transoceanic communications, the first heavy-than-air planes, the internet… imagine what we could do if every politician had a degree in mindfulness and behavioral economics.
A People's History of the United StatesHoward ZinnUnderstanding the USAHighest4/2016Related reading: An Open Letter to open minded progressives I almost considered not writing a book report for this one, as it’s clearly very politically biased (it’s liberal/populist) and doesn’t put a lot of effort to show the “other” side. That said, he justifies this well: the “other” side, as he puts it, is basically what’s in your history textbooks. Columbus was a hero and american’s worked peacefully and traded with the natives, modern 20th century american imperialism is justified, the vietnam war was provoked by HCM/Russia/communism, dropping nukes on japan was to prevent loss of life in a ground invasion, the gulf war was to prevent Saddam Hussein from taking over / committing war crimes in Kuwait etc. This is the common narrative we all learned in grade school, and Zinn challenges all of that. Not a book for the closed minded or for anybody staunchly pro-government and pro-big business. I learned a lot, and it reminded me of many of the themes in Moldbug’s open minded progressive letter. It’s also a long long book, and at times very dry and boring (especially the pre-revolutionary war chapters I found a not very exciting), but if you’re not a jingoist and willing to have some existing historical beliefs challenged, I recommend it.
Homo DeusYuval Noah HarariFuture of humankindHighest3/2017The sequel to Sapiens. If you haven’t yet read Sapiens, go read that first. For real, stop whatever you’re doing now, and go read it. It’s that good. Homo Deus is more or less a continuation of where Sapiens leaves off -- picking up with an exploration of what it means to be a “homo sapien” going into the 21st century, what with instant access to information at all times, medicine extending lifespans by decades, therapies and mechanisms for improving performance during life, artificial intelligence everywhere etc. Harari is as usual eloquent, rational and insightful. Around the same time I finished the book the guardian posted a wonderful article about it, If I haven’t sold you on it yet go check it out:
BecomingMichelle ObamaMichelle's Story to the Whitehouse & OutHighest2/2019“Becoming” has something for everyone, love, romance, intrigue, moments of joy and moments of sorrow. Not only is it an enjoyable autobiography of the Obama’s journey thus far, it’s also a colorful story, full of powerful life lessons and perspective. She (mostly) stays clear of politics, but if you really can't stand the Obama's politics then you can cover your ears/eyes for those small sections. Michelle is a wonderful storyteller, I really felt that I got to know her family growing up on the southside of Chicago, that I was along for the ride as she graduated Princeton and eventually met Barack. You walk away from the book feeling like you got to know Michelle & Barack the humans, if even a little bit. There’s nothing that isn’t inspiring and uplifting about their story for me. I may have never lived in the White House, but Michelle’s message of focusing on family, optimism, doing good for the world, etc. rings true for me. Life’s too short to fall down the rabbit hole of cynicism, the walls are often too slippery to climb your way back out. Definitely listen to this on Audible as Michelle herself narrates it and her voice really lends color and character to her story. You may also notice I'm rating it higher than either of the Barry 'O books I've read. Not because I didn't like Barack's books, but I think Michelle does a better job tying together her perspective, the story and the life-lessons.
The Wright Brothers David McCulloghHistorical nonfiction, the wright brothersHigh4/2016Maybe I’m just a giant geek and it was my first time learning the full story of the Wright brothers but I loved, loved, loved this book. I got so attached to Orville and Wilbur that by the time we got to the epilogue and it discussed their passing that I might’ve gotten choked up a bit. The book chronologizes the full story of the Wright brothers, from their early days running a bicycle shop, to their years of testing gliders at Kitty Hawk and learning to fly, to finally deciding to put an engine on the thing and being the first powered heavier than air flight in 1903, to their (multi year) effort to convince the world it had actually been done and their final ‘coming out’ in France *five years later* in 1908. The most remarkable part of the story, to me, is the character of Orville and Wilbur, a kind of character that doesn’t seem to exist to commonly in the 21st century. A true pair of role models, and I deeply envy their relationship with one another. I won’t spoil much more, go read the book!
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
Glenn Greenwald.Story of Snowden's releaseHigh1/28/2016Author’s Credentials: Glenn Greenwald has been a leading privacy/surveillance journalist in the US for over a dozen years, and was one of the two principle journalists working with Snowden on the leak in 2013. My Reaction: The book is an alarming/alarmists look at the state of U.S. surveillance and treatment of the media. It is not a particularly neutral and balanced view, but Greenwald also isn’t crazy and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The picture he paints of the Snowden revelations and the U.S. government's later reaction to the leak is appalling and makes me ashamed to be American. From the government bulk collecting metadata of all emails and phone records of US Citizens on domestic soil, to inserting backdoors into network equipment that we export to our allies, to threatening investigative journalists with criminal charges, we’ve not had a particularly good few years for civil liberties and privacy. Greenwald doesn’t leave you feeling particularly positive about the US or Obama at the end, and you can’t really blame him as, at the time of writing, the DoJ was threatening Greenwald with criminal prosecution for his role in assisting Snowden with his publications should he return to the U.S. -- he lives in Brazil. I did a little bit of research and it doesn’t look like Greenwald has been charged to this point. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the book and I highly recommend you read it. I want a bit more insight as to how things got the way they are though, and why/how the picture of the Obama administration Greenwald paints could be so different from the Obama that campaigned to be president; so my next book is “Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency” by Pulitzer winning Charlie Savage which I hope will explain a bit more of the inside story.
Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 PresidencyCharlie SavageObama's Administration on Civil LibertiesHigh3/5/2016This book is the perfect follow-on to “No Place to Hide” (reviewed previously). It goes into detail about decisions the Obama administration has made, including the handling of Guantanamo (and why it’s not closed yet, basically he tried but congress blocked it), NSA spying programs, the apparent crackdown on leakers and drone warfare (including using drones to kill an American citizen abroad, Anwar al-Awlaki -- I highly recommend a read the final years / lawsuit / death sections of al-Awlaki’s wikipedia page). The way the story is laid out isn’t particularly easy to follow or easily allow the reader to put the pieces together into a big picture. Minor structural complaints aside, the overall story feels accurate and balanced. Basically, Obama’s record on upholding the civil liberties he had promised is fairly poor (as No Place to Hide clearly demonstrated), however that’s not entirely his “fault.” The book outlines a lot of changes in the 21st century in terms of culture, technology and warfare and how these unprecedented situations put the administration between a rock and hard place. He describes the administration as always taking a very ‘legalistic’ view on these issues, working with the Office of Legal Council (OLC) to work on extensive (classified) memos and research to legally ground decisions the administration favored. He paints a picture of Obama prioritizing 1a) being on the right side of the legal question and 1b) what’s in the nation’s “national security interest” over the civil liberty interest in many cases. I walk away from the book not angry or upset about the work Obama’s done, but disappointed (I do, however, have a really bad taste in my mouth regarding attorney general Eric Holder). His administration faced massive challenges, far bigger than anybody gives him credit for, and on some issues there was great progress and on others he took a legal high-road and left the important social issues for dead. I appreciate his mindfulness when it comes to leaving his successor with good precedents and trying to give them a clean slate to build on, but I think on some issues we deserved far more public debate/exposure and more effort to stand to principles rather than legal maneuvering.
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir PutinSteven LeeRussia & PutinHigh1/28/2016Basically a biography of Vladimir Putin from what I experienced as a fairly balanced perspective. It'd be easy for a bio of somebody this polarizing to either be strongly supportive or critical, but Steven Lee Myers does a fair job showing both sides of the story. It covers "Vladimir Vladimirovich" (or Volodya) from childhood and early adulthood in the KGB, to his later rejection of the KGB and astoundingly swift rise to power. It also covers his terms as president/PM of Russia since 2000. Basically it paints Putin as a manipulative and selfish figure who uses his incredible intellect and planning capacity to keep himself in power whilst ostensibly also trying to increase the glory and wealth of the Russia itself. The end of the book describes the realistic scenario that Putin will remain 'democratically elected' in power as President until 2024 and the mixed emotions that many of the public feel towards that fact -- there's a whole generation of Russians that have never known anything else and are enamored and an older generation that has seen famine with the USSR through feast in the 2000s and now fears a return to the soviet ways. Overall, I'm not a Russian scholar and I don't do business with Russia or interact with anybody in Russia really ever in my daily life, but the background and context of Putin and where Russia has been politically since the fall of the Berlin wall is fascinating and helps provide perspective on modern geopolitical events.
Son of Hamas
Mosab Hassan Yousef & Ron Brackin
Autobiography of Mosab Hassan YousefHigh7/4/2018
Summary: The autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of one of the founders of Hamas, Israeli-collaborator and convert to Christianity. One of my first thoughts having finished the book is that it’s hard to know what is really true from the story, and what is distorted or misremembered by the author. That said, the key events and threads of the story are broad enough and verifiable and so are almost certainly accurate and I can’t find anything online in a quick search that upends any particular details that matter, so I’m going to take it all at face value. For context I grew up going to Sunday school and I’ve been to Israel a handful of times, but I’m absolutely no Middle East scholar. I’m likely very poorly educated on the history and current realities of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It is with that background, interested but far from knowledgeable, that I actually found the book to be rather profound and enlightening. I think the book tells a rather compelling story of one person’s life, it’s educational as to the timeline of major events in the conflict over the past few decades and certainly provides material to reflect on. From the distributed/disorganized reality of Hamas, to the infighting and lack of cohesive desires & demands of the Palestinians, to the zero-sum impossible situation the IDF and Israelis sometimes find themselves in. It’s also a pretty short book and written in a pretty dramatic/personal style, so it goes by very quickly. There is a movie of this story, “The Green Prince”, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my list.
The Coming StormMichael LewisWeather Data & Weather AlertsHigh9/20/2018
You know, I had never thought too much about weather data and where it comes from, and certainly never really foresaw myself reading a book on meteorology. The Coming Storm is my first “Audible Short” -- only about 2.5 hours of audio book (which is maybe an hour and change at 1.75-2x speed). The best way to describe my experience -- It was a very well spent hour and change. I feel I have now a surface understanding of the world of meteorology data and some of the problems therein, enough that perhaps I’ll find another book on the subject at some point. Given the brevity of the book, it’s very light on detail, but that’s not what you read a short for. It’s an introduction to a whole new topic, told in a relatable, to the point, and eye opening way. Given that it’s free and only an hour of your time, two thumbs up from me
The Arsenal of Democracy; FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War
A. J. BaimeDetroit, Ford & WW2 High7/12/2018
Summary: The history & lives of Henry Ford I, Edsel and Henry II with a focus on their work to build up the company and then transition the company to war-time production. Lots of depth on Edsel that is missing from other Ford books I’ve read on the family. Not much on GM, Chrysler etc. The first major section is the founding story of Ford by Henry I which I’ve read a number of times, nothing particularly special or insightful about the telling this time around. The later sections however were all brand new historical story to me, including a fascinating look at the inner workings of Ford in the late 30s and 40s (some serious culture cluster-fk going on), the rise of women in the factories, the Detroit housing crisis, union disputes, the story of the b24 liberator, the air-campaign in Europe etc. A bit of a slow starter, but I found myself going through it quickly thereafter. If nothing else I’ve a new respect, and sadness, for the tragedy that was the life of Edsel Ford, and a similarly new perspective on what WW2 did to the United States from a technological perspective. WW2 started with some combatants still in biplanes, and by the end we had jet fighters, mass production of gigantic bomber airplanes and nukes.
The Art of Racing in the RainGarth SteinFictional story about racecar driverHigh12/1/2013
Being a "car guy" or a "track car driver" or even just a super enthusiast of racing -- there are certain truisms we've all learned at some point. They're truly engrained in the culture, the way of life. This book is an homage to all of those truisms in car culture, the common threads that bind us together. If you consider yourself interested at all in racing and are curious about the way of life, or are just nostagic for a well told story, I highly recommend this. Cult Classic status.
The Skeptics Guide to American HistoryThe Great CoursesNon-traditional view of American HistoryHigh6/2015
I'm a sucker for different perspectives than what we're taught in school, and this is exactly that for American History. We're taught a very deliberate and rosy picture of American History in the US, and the truth is sadly not as rosy. We had slaves for nearly a century, religious toleration is a bit of a myth, "Carry a Big Stick" was foreign policy for decades, women couldn't vote for nearly 150 years, facts that fly in the face of the 'land of the free home of the brave' narrative. Well written and enjoyable.
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American DreamBarack ObamaObama's PoliticsHigh2017
I'll do these two together, as they seem to blend together in my head. First of all, it is wonderful to listen to a President who can string together coherent sentences that express complex ideas. And of course with Barry O' narrating, it's actually a pleasure to listen to. I feel like I learned an incredible amount about the 44th President from these books, not just his personal history which is actually a pretty compelling story, but (especially in Audacity of Hope) about his political views. It seems that, back in 2004, he predicted pretty much on the nose the political climate of 2017, and in my opinion, accurately diagnoses the underlying causes -- a nation of identity politics, party over country, an environment where trust matters more than truth. That the senate majority leader would use the strategy of outright obstruction regardless of the merits of the agenda because when congress is ineffectual the people don't blame congress, they blame the sitting president. The books also touched quite a bit on racism, both what Barack Obama experienced growing up and his views on it as a political issue the country is still grapling with. Overall, strong recommendation. You may not agree with all the politics, but you can't fault him for at least taking the time to make his case -- back in 2004/2005 when he was a junior senator, long before his run for the presidency.
Dreams from my FatherBarack ObamaObama's childhoodHigh2017
I'll do these two together, as they seem to blend together in my head. First of all, it is wonderful to listen to a President who can string together coherent sentences that express complex ideas. And of course with Barry O' narrating, it's actually a pleasure to listen to. I feel like I learned an incredible amount about the 44th President from these books, not just his personal history which is actually a pretty compelling story, but (especially in Audacity of Hope) about his political views. It seems that, back in 2004, he predicted pretty much on the nose the political climate of 2017, and in my opinion, accurately diagnoses the underlying causes -- a nation of identity politics, party over country, an environment where trust matters more than truth. That the senate majority leader would use the strategy of outright obstruction regardless of the merits of the agenda because when congress is ineffectual the people don't blame congress, they blame the sitting president. The books also touched quite a bit on racism, both what Barack Obama experienced growing up and his views on it as a political issue the country is still grapling with. Overall, strong recommendation. You may not agree with all the politics, but you can't fault him for at least taking the time to make his case -- back in 2004/2005 when he was a junior senator, long before his run for the presidency.
Overhaul: an Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry
Steven RattnerBailout of Autos in 2008/2009High8/2015
I've said it before I'll say it again -- Obama does not get nearly enough credit for how he and his team handled 2008 and 2009. Steve Rattner et. al. are an incredible team that basically did what many thought was impossible. The world owes Rattner et. al. a debt of gratitude for all the amazing cars GM & Chrisler are making today. The C7 Corvette, the Hellcat, the Viper ACR, all would never have happened without the competent management of Team-Auto. Definitely read this one.
All the President's Men
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Watergate coverup, by the journalists High12/6/2018
A throwback to 1974, but reading it, you’d think it’s written in 2020 and about an entirely different presidency. The motivation for reading “All the President’s Men” needs no explanation in 2018, and I’m not disappointed. The parallels are striking. This is a book report, however, not a political commentary, so, on with the actual book. Growing up a “Millennial” you learn a tiny bit about Nixon, Vietnam and the 60s/70s but it’s really only a superficial explanation. I don’t recall any point in my education diving into these tumultuous events of our recent history in any level of detail. Reading about the Watergate cover-up in detail, I feel makes me a more educated American, and throws a splash of perspective on modern politics. And I do think this book does a half decent job of filling in some of the gaps there. I’m also struck at the depiction of the legwork of the journalists. Sure, perhaps a bit biased since it was written by the journalists themselves, but it’s a great view into the struggles and challenges to being an investigative journalist digging into powerful political figures. “All the President’s Men” also has a somewhat unique method of storytelling that I found enjoyable, written by Woodward and Bernstein, it’s about Woodward and Bernstein however it’s told exclusively in the third person. Not at all what I expected, but I enjoyed it, and I do feel I learned something.
The Party - The Secret World of China's Communist RulersRichard McGregorChina's Communist Party Inner WorkingsHigh4/20/2017
The book itself: a bit long and dry, a tad repetitive, lacking an overarching narrative… but that’s kinda OK because I find the subject matter fascinating. The subject matter: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Did you know that China actually has a constitution? That the Premier/President isn’t actually a dictator but just the most powerful member of a 9-member “standing committee” which is actually just a subset of a full 25-member politburo? And that in the past 20 years or so China has had 4 premiers with (mostly) peaceful transfers of power? (Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping). In truth the actual governance of the country is vastly more complex -- what a transfer of power from e.g. Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping really means isn’t so clear, and that Jiang Zemin up until recently was still basically the head of the military, it all gets murky fast at the and has virtually no form of transparency. How this all percolates down to the rest of the country is fascinating and well worth the read in my opinion, it is far too complex to even attempt a summary here. People often ask for my feelings on China… It’s spectacularly easy to point to and identify ways in which the CCP and China in general is a morale failure, to ways in which it’s legal systems are corrupt, to the human rights violations. That said, it’s also easy to point to their accomplishments, their sheer ability to just get shit done, and the amount of good they have done in the past few decades by lifting HUNDREDS of millions of people out of desperate poverty and into something resembling a middle class and an elevated quality of life. Not to mention being a world-powering economic engine, both in terms of their volume of natural resource output and their manufacturing capability. How many wars has China started lately? Also, since the US isn’t investing in “big things” for our future anymore, guess who is? China has nearly 3x the annual investment in clean technology as the USA ( ), they are regularly and dramatically increasing the amount of they spend on space exploration, though they’re still behind NASA (whose budgets are mostly flat) ( and they’re building a particle accelerator nearly twice as large as the LHC ( and are willing to include science as a part of public policy: and it’s widely thought that China will replace the US in the TPP (
Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in IntelligenceJames ClapperIntelligence Community in the Era of TrumpHigh5/13/2019
Clapper has a long history in the armed services and intelligence apparatus, and the first 60% of the book goes through it in what, to me, felt like laborious detail. I’m not a military guy and so the alphabet soup of military acronyms and relationships in many cases went clear over my head and was difficult for me to empathize with and enjoy the story. One does get a sense though that Clapper is a rather thorough guy with his heart in the right place. The latter 40% of the book, basically Clapper’s time as Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in the Obama white house, is a much more modern/relate-able set of stories and I found myself considerably more engrossed in the narrative. Similar to James Comey’s book, everyone has their perspective, and reasonable people can disagree on their interpretation of various incidences, especially judging reactions and motives behind various public statements / public-misstatements in press conferences and testimonies. I’ll just say I didn’t find Clappers perspective offensive, he doesn’t seem like an unreasonable guy, even though I disagree on some of his characterizations/choice of colorful language for e.g. Edward Snowden’s leaks and the use of section 215 of the Patriot Act. I would give this book a Medium rating overall, but I’m bumping up to High because in the later half of the book Clapper does an excellent job of focusing on what matters with respect to Trump/2016+. What matters isn’t how incompetent our president is or what stupid thing he said on Twitter, it’s that a foreign government effectively manipulated the electorate through a broad misinformation campaign, that we’re doing little to nothing about it and the existential threat that poses to democracy as a whole.
Enjoyable, but forgettable / non-essential
Born a CrimeTrevor Noah
A collection of childhood stories from South Africa
Simultaneously a very descriptive and accurate book title, but also very much underselling what our new daily show host has to offer. It’s not an autobiography, it’s not about comedy, it’s not about hollywood, it’s just a collection of stories about Noah’s childhood and life in South Africa. If that were it, however, this would’ve gotten a medium rating, so there must be more. The thing to realize here is that Trevor is smart. I mean, wicked smart. He takes otherwise benign sounding childhood stories, puts them in vivid and detailed context and makes them impactful. Only a genius comedian could have done this so well, whilst simultaneously making the book highly entertaining and compelling. It was the fastest 9 hour audiobook I’ve gone through in a long time. Throughout this book I laughed (a lot), I cried (some), I was made to ponder my own life and ways I look at the world, I was presented with serious moral and ethical questions about how the world works. I enjoyed every chapter. Would read a sequel in a heartbeat.
The Wheel of Time Series (14 books + Prequel)Robert JordanFictional story of a boy who must save the worldHigh5/1/2018Maybe
#bookreport #kinda 17 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes. The equivalent of more than 12,000 pages. 15 months of real-world time. Finally, I've finished reading the entire Wheel of Time series. I don't think this really warrants a book report, so much as a reflection. This is, by a long, long way, the most investment I've ever made into a single story line, into the lives of a set of characters, into an imaginary world. The feeling of.. nostalgia? emptyness? sadness? at having come to the end is profoundly strong. There's not really much else I want to say really... just need to digest this for a while. Maybe take a bit of a non-fiction break before diving into something that deep again. Easy to get the bends on the way back up.
Oathbringer, Vol. 3 of Stormlight Archive (and 1 & 2)Brandon Sanderson
Fictionary story of a man who must save the world
And now you know why I haven’t had as many book reports lately, I fell head first into another epic fantasy saga of thousands of pages. The good news is this one is only three books long… with 2 more coming (eventually). After finishing the Wheel of Time last year I felt I just had to follow Michael Kramer and Kate Redding (narrators) to their next world, which just so happened to be by the same author of the last 3 Wheel of Time books. Whilst not set in the same universe, there’s a familiar sense of “home” listening to Mike and Kate voice these characters. “Oathbringer” in particular gets a lot of flak on the internet for being “crap”. I disagree, it certainly has it’s slower story arcs (tell me with a straight face that WoT didn’t have entire books that could’ve been eliminated…), but overall I really enjoyed the character development and the story. Both “Words of Radiance” and “Oathbringer” has scenes that, unlike any other book I’ve ever read, had me listening on the edge of my seat. The duel scene in “Words of Radiance”, the battle of Thaylen city and the battle of Alethkar in “Oathbringer” all easily come to mind as stories I’ll likely never forget. I’m eager to read the next chapters in the story! In particular I really enjoy Sanderson’s commentaries on morality, on self-actualization, on motivations for war. It’s a remarkably deep philosophical book behind a veil of epic fantasy heroes and evil villains. It’s hard to go too much into the allegory without giving away any spoilers, but needless to say, there are many points along the way of Dalinar’s journey where it’s worth taking the time to stop and consider your own life/actions/thoughts in the same way our stories hero does.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War Mary Roach
Summary of random, interesting science in military
It's a Mary Roach book, how can it be bad? A humorous analysis and summary of research and problems the military has had to solve. From the sleep schedules of submariners to poop (theres a lot on poop), to fireproof underwear. "Read all Mary Roach" books should already be on your todolist and if it's not, make it so.
Crash Course: the American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster
Paul IngrassiaHistory of US Car CompaniesHigh7/2015
Paul Ingrassia is in general fantastic. Everything I've read of his is thoroughly well researched, insightful, full of interviews and personal anecdotes that help convey the narrative. And of course it's about a fun subject, car companies! How these places are run by such shmucks is absolutely beyond me sometimes -- the culture and the desire to do things as its "the way its always been done" is incredibly powerful, and also coincidentally highly antithetical to startups. Anyway, the story of American car makers from mid 20th-century to Bailout, it's great. A great prequal to Overhaul by Steve Rattner as well if you ask me.
reviews in a slightly easier to read format available at: Sean CarrollScience, Philosophy, Mind of a PhysicistHigh7/15/2016(Sorry for the longer than usual report, I’m stuck at ERW with a 2 hour delayed United flight) I always appreciate the physicist's perspective on the world, for the physicist seems to unfailingly be a pure rationalist and believe nothing that can’t be demonstrated empirically. The book covers a huge range of topics, from a timeline of the development of physics itself, to philosophy (quite a lot of philosophy, actually) to, what I think is an invention of the author, the concept of “Poetic Naturalism”. If things like La Place’s Daemon and a very extended conversation on the balance between a deterministic universe and free will seems interesting to you, go for it. (Spoiler: there is no free will according to Carroll, but that doesn’t matter because at least as far as you and I are concerned we perceive something that we call free will). I in particular love his descriptions of “emergent” paradigms and his framework for structuring arguments such that terminology is consistent. For example, discussing the temperature of an electron is a nonsensical conversation because temperature, by definition, doesn’t apply to electrons (it applies to collections of atoms / molecules, specifically their average kinetic energy). Similarly a single molecule doesn’t have a viscosity, a fluid with lots of molecules does. There is a language for having conversations about atoms molecules and a separate language for discussing fluids -- both can describe the same phenomena but the concepts we use to make accurate descriptions are often different and make no sense when mixed. Carroll is articulate and clear if a bit long winded. I’ll probably reread this one again in 6-9 months to really get the most out of it.
Accessory to War
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang
Astrophysics & WarHigh11/5/2018Tyson never fails to disappoint. What do you think was the first thing to happen AFTER Galileo invented the telescope? Why, they used it took look at the stars! I kid. Generals used it for strategy and planning in war. “Accessory to War” is an insightful account of the history of astrophysics and its application to everyday life, and a damning review of modern politics and societal values. From telescopes of old, to spy satellites, to asteroid mining, to nuclear bombs, Tyson covers it all, and fairly convincingly at that. It’s a bit long and honestly a bit repetitive, but points worth repeating and remembering. One of my favorite lines… “Maybe we should figure out how to do the whole ‘peace on earth’ thing before believing we’re capable of ‘peace in space’”.
The Big ShortMichael LewisWallstreet Collapse in 2007/2008High10/1/2016I’m not a finance person or generally a wallstreet sympathizer, but it stuck out to me that, although I liked the book, the critic in me can’t help but think it’s a bit one-sided. I think the best piece that highlights this is actually the epilogue, which is fairly alarmist and paints the story of the (paraphrasing) “US Tax Payer spending billions to subsidize the banks whilst wallstreet CEOs still make millions”. Now, strictly speaking that’s true, according to wikipedia TARP as a whole spent $426.4 billion but took in $441.7 billion, so the US Gov netted a profit (on TARP anyway). Googling for this info turns out to be super easy, tons of transparency reports, i.e., so, kudos to the administration for that. Nitpickign aside, I do feel much more well informed as to how the crash happened and (at least a little) more informed as to what a “credit default swap on subprime mortage bonds” is. Good storytelling, characters you can identify with, peppered with a bit wallstreet bashing and data, facts and figures. A hearty recommendation, if for no other reason than it’s nice to feel like you at least kind of understand some of the elements involved in the 2007/2008 crash.
Go Like HellAJ BaimeFord & Ferrari at LeMons in the 60sHigh7/2015
Growing up with Michael Schumacher and modern F1 is a privledge and a curse -- racing used to be very different than it is now. Go Like Hell is a great story about the epic battle between Ford and Ferrari at LeMons in the 60s that gave us such classics as the Ford GT and the Shelby Cobra.
Switch: How to Change things when Change is HardChip and Dan HeathLearning / Changing behaviorsHigh12/20/2016
A pretty good summary of the book is here: Overall not super memorable compared to Make it Stick, but there are a few good nuggets. For example, the book recommends focusing on “bright spots” in an effort to fix problems. It points out that often when something is going wrong, we look at failed examples to diagnose why did they fail, and the instinct to look at the successful examples to identify why they succeeded is less natural (e.g. why do some employees quit? Well, why did the others stay?) The book also is very consistent with another of my favorites, “Influence” which is that behavior is defined as much by situation as anything else -- if you desire a behavior from somebody, make that behavior the default, the easiest, the obvious. The book also makes a great connection between behavior and fundamental attribution error which is a pretty nifty insight and reinforces the situation-is-the-problem-and-the-solution as a mechanism for behavior change.
Sled Driver: Fling the World's Fastest JetBrian ShulSR-71 BlackbirdHigh12/5/2016
This is a bit weird because I actually *read* this book (I bought an autographed copy on eBay a few years ago). The book contains phenomenal photos taken by the author (a blackbird pilot) and is sort of an autobiography of the author's life with the plane. Lots of great insight via story of one of the true marvels of human engineering. I think the story is best summed by one of the last sentences in the book... "The aircraft retired (in 1990) with all its speed and altitude records still unchallenged. En route to the museum, (on it's final flight) the jet set four new continental speed records. Total flight time from LA to Washington D.C. was 64 minutes. On it's final day the Sled had averaged 2145 miles per hour".
Engines of Change: A history of the american dream in fifteen carsPaul IngrassiaAmerican History through CarsHigh10/2014
Awesome -- a chronicle of american culture from the early 20th century through the turn of the 21st through the lense of the automotible. From the original LaSalle as the first 'premium' automobile to the Mustang as the first vehicle for "self-expression" (pun intended) after nearly 2 decades of constant war, to the introduction of the BMW as the "yuppie" vehicle to the transition from station wagon to minivan to SUV our choice in cars says a lot about what's going on in society at any given time. Really well written, well narrated, thoroughly enjoyable.
The Challenger Sale
Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
How to sell, be a good salesmanHigh1/3/2017
So I originally wrote a book report for this review which was really not so kind. I’m not a salesperson, it’s not in my job title and likely never will, it’s just not my passion in life. And the book is very much targeted at sales people. Then I let it sit a few days, and I realized the value in understanding sales, even if it’s not my job (seemingly a recurring theme in my life). The 80/20 of the book I think is the notion that the job of sales is to make the sales process add value to the customer beyond just the actual delivery of the product. Sales is about educating the customer in all the things they’re not seeing/doing/experiencing without your product, challenge their preconceived notions and let them ask the questions which lead them to the realization that they need your product. Maybe that’s a shitty summary, I’m not a salesman, but I do feel it has, after sitting for a while, improved my perspective. If you are into sales then perhaps this would be an essential book for you
The House of GodSamuel ShemStory/satire of medical residency/internshipsHigh1/2016
For anybody with a doctor in the family, or thinking of going into medicine themselves, I'd think this is on the must read list. An intense (and somewhat gruesome) fictional satire of what residency was like at Mass general in the 1970s. According to my dad some of the technology still linkers... "gomers go to ground" etc. Fun and entertaining at times, horrible and depressing at others, overall insightful and helps me feel like I understand the medical profession a bit more. Definitely helps make the "compassion exhaustion" that some doctors exhibit a bit more real and understandable.
Hooked, how to build habit forming productsNir EyalProduct Development & Cognitive ScienceHigh12/21/2016
I definitely have a fetish for books discussing cognitive science and use cognitive biases to make a point about human behavior. The book does a pretty insightful analysis of the rise (and fall) of Zynga etc. The insight feels like a blend of The Power of Habit, Predictably Irrational and Flash foresight -- understand how people are motivated (the elephant), guide behavior (instruct the rider, build satisfying effortful variable reward schedule loops) etc. My day job isn't 100% focused on product design per say, but the insights are likely useful nonetheless. I need to start printing out short lists and patterns that books like this have and posting them on the wall. Travis Steffen up for a cooperative project?
When Breath Becomes AirPaul KalanithiAutobiography of Paul Kalanthi, neural surgeonHigh1/18/2017
Topseller and on many lists as one of the best books of 2016. I’ll give you that it’s very well written… and also absolutely gut wrenching. Very reminiscent of “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch… it’s actually hard to write this review without tearing up remembering Randy’s lecture and the last few chapters of this book. The morale of the story is of course positive, you have one life to live so spend it living. It’s good to read a book like this every now and then, to be reminded of your own mortality and to appreciate everyday, take nothing for granted and to make your journey your own. Everyday is a good day.
Secondhand SoulsChristopher MooreFiction: Ridiculous comedyHigh1/2016A Christopher Moore book -- it’s going to be pretty silly and hilarious. Great way to kill a few hours.
A Dirty JobChristopher MooreFiction: Ridiculous comedyHigh11/2015A Christopher Moore book -- it’s going to be pretty silly and hilarious. Great way to kill a few hours.
Modern Romance: An InvestigationAziz Ansari, Eric KlinenbergDating in 21st centuryHigh2/20/2017
It was so good that I had to actually stop reading it halfway through -- Ansari really articulates the at-times brutal and exhausting nature of dating in the world of tinder. Outside of some introspective anxiety, I found it really well written (and superbly narrated), very well researcehd and genuinely funny. I learned a little bit here and there, definitely helped to open my perspective a bit (I definitely make more phone calls now!) and was super easy to read. Solid recommendation.
The Mechanic: The Secret World of the F1 PitlaneMarc 'Elvis' PriestleyInside story of F1 from a McLaren mechanicHigh6/10/2018
Loved it, really enjoyably written and rather insightful of the world of F1. Especially from the perspective of a mechanic -- it’s a great look behind the scenes, more than just the life of a driver, but also the life, the emotions and the rollercoaster of the team as a whole. Elvis is hilarious, the audio book is well narrated. I wish it was twice as long.
The Way of KingsBrandon SandersonBook 1 of the Stormlight ArchiveHigh8/29/2018
Same author as the guy who did the last 3 Wheel of Time books. A bit of a slow start for sure, but he builds a super rich and vibrant world, with believably motivated characters with depth and growth. Loved the ending. Excited to read the next 2.5 books in the series, but perhaps I’ll take a non-fiction interlude.
Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the GIfts of a LifetimeBill Gates SrBill Gates's Dads thoughts on adult lifeMedium12/25/2018
Written by Bill Gates’s father, it’s a fairly wholesome book of some interesting stories and lessons. I think the biggest takeaways for me are that family really matters in shaping children, and Bill Gates Sr definitely provides some good anecdotes of “good family.” Some strong traditions, lots of support for individuality, lots of effort to socialize and expose, and most importantly, “showing up.” There’s lots of small gems here and there, and little inspiring stories. No really well thought out frameworks to take away though, other than the title which pretty much says it: show up.
Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from Formula OneAdam Parr & Ross BrawnBusiness & Strategy in F1Medium12/30/2018
It’s a super quirky format, a book-length Q&A session interspersed with commentary, but it works. Some key takeaways: I had no idea who Adam Parr is, turns out he’s super smart. Ross Brawn, also, super smart. Ross Brawn’s track record in F1 is even better than I thought -- literally all 3 times that he took over as principal in the past 30 years have gone on to have multi-year championship streaks (Benetton 94,95, Ferrari 2000-2004, Brawn->Mercedes 2009, 2014-2018). Formula 1, whilst a crazy circus, is also a business and all the major lessons from pretty much every good business book apply - hire good people, build a strong, trusting culture, focus on process, structure, encourage failure as a means to make progress, never take your eyes off the ultimate goal and most importantly, don’t be an asshole.
Fear: Trump in the White HouseBob WoodwardTrump's first 18monthsMedium11/19/2018
A bit like Fire and Fury, but with a few more perspectives than just Ivanka Jared and Bannon. Notably, we get to see some of Gary Cohen and Rex Tillerson here. Beyond that, I didn’t really feel I got a whole lot new. The major revelations of the book were covered in the nightly news around when it came out. I’ve become, as most of us have, immune to the absurd and my surprise-bone has broken. There’s a lot to push the outrage button on, but anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock already has enough to push the outrage button for. Similar to “Fire and Fury”... if you’ve been alive in the past 3 years and consume even a modicum of news, reading the book just increases what is already an elevated blood pressure. I read it because it felt like the right thing to do. I’m confident Woodward did his research on the anecdotes and they’re accurate, they certainly come across as plausible. I’m at a loss of what else to add to this book report, I’m not putting a lot of effort into it because honestly, I’d like to stop thinking about this subject for a while!
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at OddsAlan JacobsHow to argue with tea-partyersMedium11/13/2018
I started off totally in love with the author’s thesis. The introduction really pulled on my heart strings in the right way, copious references to Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow), recognizing how cognitive biases throw us off in our regular thinking, and a proposal that this would be a book to help get through the day without falling pray to our own human failings. Alas, for me at least, a promise unfulfilled. There are some great nuggets in here, I loved the bit about the debate club that awards points for actually changing people’s minds (and not some phony rubric), and some of the discussion about approaching people with empathy and with a goal of first understanding before attacking. And the idea of thinking of argument as war (“attacking” an argument etc.). Lots of great nuggets. But as a whole, I don’t really feel like there’s a framework here that’s useful. Despite really wanting to, I don’t take away anything new. It’s pretty darn short, so worth a glance perhaps, but don’t go out of your way for it.
What HappenedHillary ClintonHillary Clinton 2016 ElectionMedium6/4/2018
Politics: I don’t hate Hillary Clinton. As a human being, she comes across as having her heart in the right place and as a thoughtful, caring individual. Granted, this was HER book, but her words, tone of voice and perspective all come across as genuine to me. She DOES take responsibility for the 2016 election, but she is also eager and willing to list the external forces at work that she had to deal with that she feels were unusual/extraordinary, up to you to decide if you agree with her on that or not. If you really want to know JUST “what happened” she answers this question really only at the end. I definitely found her perspective interesting, as well as the data that her campaign spent more time and money in Michigan, Pennsylvania etc. than Obama did, so the commonly accepted refrain that she “didn’t go to michigan” actually seems to be 4 pinocchios. Massively interesting the comparison side-by-side of “A Highler Loyalty” and “What Happened.” Comey and Clinton have very, very different views on the summer of 2016. Having read both books, I think they’re both right. Comey felt he had an impossible set of decisions and he did what he felt was most honorable/ethical, and Clinton is right that in all likelihood his actions did affect the election enough to send it to Trump. Non-Politics: The book is mostly Hillary’s story, told in a meandering, not-entirely structured, stream of consciousness kind of way. From an editing perspective the book is gets two thumbs down from me -- it’s really all over the place and doesn’t have much of a cohesive thread or message other than “Keep Going.” The timeline of her life isn’t linear, the stories and meaning of each chapter were out of focus for me, at times her arguments feel trivial or come off as deflecting. In spite of the less-than-clear roadmap in the book, I did find the stories humanizing, I do feel like I “know” Hillary better now, and I did enjoy the book. I do think it could’ve been 35% shorter and would’ve been just as good or better.
The President is Missing
James Patterson & Bill Clinton
Fictional action/thrillerMedium6/27/2018
It's a fictional action/thriller novel, I have no idea why Bill Clinton is on the jacket. It’s like one of those action movies with half-decent acting and a laughably poorly thought out plot, but for some reason it’s still entertaining for 2 hours yet the minute you walk out of the theater you never think about it again.
InfluenceRobert CialdiniPsychology of PersuasionMedium1/10/2017
Not the first book to cover this material, but it’s fairly well covered by Robert Cialdini. A good reminder of some elementary lessons, social proof, reciprocation etc. Not sure it’s life changing after having read TFAS etc. but gets a solid B+ nonetheless. A good summary for most of the value minus the stories:
Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma BuiltDuncan ClarkPseudo autobiography of Jack Ma / AlibabaMedium4/15/2017
That Jack Ma has literally built a global empire from across the ocean seems to be broadly overlooked. As those of you who know me well know, I am not one to idolize or by a sycophant about successful entrepreneurs. There are many successful businessmen that I hold contrarian opinions on (Musk and Jobs are the two that come up the most)... but I can say comfortably that I adore Jack Ma. He comes from very humble beginnings, has big dreams but most importantly, is a conscientious and self-aware human being. In the context of Chip Conley’s business-maslow pyramid (from “Peak”, go read it if you haven’t yet) Jack is a leader that respects all three of the major pyramids -- the customer, the employee and the shareholder. He’s also supremely well versed in tactics that must have come from “The Art of War,” another trait I find admirable. Clark does a good job covering all of these things, if you’re even remotely interested in the Ma/Taobao/Alibaba story I recommend the book.
Awaken the Giant WithinAnthony RobbinsAchieving your goalsMedium12/2016
Holy testosterone batman. Especially the audiobook with the author as narrator, dude is seriously 11/10 on testosterone scale. That aside, the basic idea is sound, but it's not very tactful about it. The basic idea is that you can do anything you set your mind to. It's short, thankfully, and for that reason gets a modest recommendation
The Omnivore's DilemmaMichael PollanCorn, Organic Food, HuntingMedium4/30/2019
The Bad: Mr. Pollan is not a scientist, does not think like a scientist, and he knows that most of his audience is the same. For the first five chapters or so he very much plays into the anti-science that is pervasive in the zeitgeist that is the public conversation surrounding food, and he dog whistles intensely for the anti-corporate anti-industry leaning crowd. It was very distracting and off-putting for me, so much so that I very nearly put it down after the first three chapters. The Good: After the first few chapters, Pollan dispenses with much of the pandering and actually starts telling an interesting story and laying out real facts. The middle part of the book is actually a fairly convincing story on why we all should eat organic. For me it boils down to this: It’s not up for debate that the food industry as a whole is a race to the bottom on price, and it’s not hard to imagine that food that wasn’t in such a race might be produced with more attention to quality, sustainability and the environment. For me, that’s now what organic means. Food which prioritized at least a little bit beyond being as cheap as possible. The USDA definition of organic is extraordinarily broad, and has mostly been defined by industry lobbyists. That doesn’t mean it’s useless, just that most consumers assume it means far more than it actually does ( . It does not mean your food came from a small farm with all the work done by hand. It does not mean no fertilizer or pesticides were used. It does not mean your food wasn’t grown with GMO’d seeds (not that GMO is actually the root cause of most food concerns). It does not mean that the food was not processed in a factory. In fact, most organic food, especially sold by a large chain (i.e. Wholefoods) comes from “Industrial Organic.” Pollan also does a good job of describing many of the ways in which we’ve regulated ourselves into nonsensical situations in the farming world. Between the corn subsidies, requirements that there be dedicated bathrooms for inspectors (designed to force out small farms that can’t afford extra seldom-used bathrooms) it’s clear not all regulation is for the benefit of food quality. That said, when else in the history of humans have we had so few food shortages? Especially in first world countries, the notion of a food shortage for the last few generations is laughable. This should be hailed as a tremendous accomplishment. Perhaps now that we can produce enough food, it’s worth thinking about how we can maintain that accomplishment, but also put some effort into how well we do it. The back third of the book is Pollan's story about making a three course meal from foods he grows/harvests/hunts himself. It's a fun story, a bit out of place compared to some of the serious/alarmist tone earlier in the book, but a nice soft ending to a sometimes fairly straining experience.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Everyday Life
Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths
Applying computer/computation science to lifeMedium1/19/2017
I’m very curious how this reads for folks without a computer science degree. For me anyway, I loved it. Some really useful lessons, especially the explore-exploit paradigm for searching in the real world and the 37% rule -- if you are going to search for something (a spouse, a new apartment, hiring a secretary) learn the field by spending exactly 37% of your effort doing nothing but looking, do NOT make any commitments until you have either used 37% of your time or looked at 37% of the market. After 37% jump on the first thing that’s the “best yet” and you, with mathematical certainty, have the highest likelihood of making the optimal decision. The first half the book is definitely more applicable to everyday life, the back half is kinda just interesting computer science IMO.
Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)
Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid
Data and sublte biasesMedium3/16/2016I give Rudder a lot of credit for providing a very data-driven no-frills no-excuses objective look at some really big trends from data. The introduction to the book sets expectations pretty well too: this book isn’t going to change your life, but it’ll provide a fair number of good water-cooler or dinner-table conversation starters. He covers topics include native race-prejudices we all have, despite how hard we may try to not have, to gender roles, to the effect that the size of an image has on response rates on dating sites (my favorite insight from the book, actually. Bigger pictures means the pretty people get more responses, and the less-pretty get fewer. By a lot. A real lot. That’s why dating sites often don’t have high res photos), to defining regions of america by cultural-similarity instead of arbitrary state lines. Overall it’s well written, short, quick and interesting, but not life changing. If you’re remotely interested in the subject matter go for it, but if you don’t already have a data-driven world view (why don’t you?) it’s probably not the book for you.
Argumentation: the Study of Effective Reasoning
The Great Courses David Zarefsky
Argument as a field of studyMedium8/2015
My largest takeaway from this is that there is a necessary precondition for arugment: that in order for it to be an arugment there must be a minimum of two participants each willing to have their opinion changed, a minimum bar of openmindedness. If you enter into an argument unwilling to change your mind then you aren't really arguing, you're wasting oxygen and blowing hot air. The book also goes through "Breath first" and "depth first" techniques etc., but really the necessary preconditions sit longest with me.
How We Got to NowSteven JohnsonInventions that make modern societyMedium7/2015
Solid, insightful. Who knew we used to ship ice around the world for refridgeration? Six covered inventions: Glass, Refrigeration, Sound Recording, "Cleanliness" (chlorinated water, soap sanitation in general, Paris's sanitation issues), Clocks/Time, Lighting.