Reviews in a slightly easier to read format available at:
TitleAuthorWhat it's aboutRatingFirst ReadIntending to re-readReview / Summary
ESSENTIAL, life changing reads, highest possible recommendation
Make it Stick Peter C. BrownHow to LearnHighest8/1/2016
This 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 BabinLeadership, Mission Oriented, Getting the Job DoneHighest8/22/2016
There 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 & GrowthHighest11/4/2016
I 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 peopleDale CarnegieHow to be influentialHighest9/6/2016
Probably 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 KhanemanDaniel KhanemanHighest6/2014Just 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 factsHighest6/2018
Bill 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 LessonsHighest9/18/2018
Maybe 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 greatHighest9/5/2016
Jim 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.
The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamPatrick LencioniTeamwork at workHighest6/12/2019
Adding this to my “must read” business books list, just below the LIFE CHANGING section. If you’re in any professional team setting, this is a solid cornerstone, go read it. The book is an allegory, much like the “Phoenix Project” and as a result it’s easy to read, highly memorable and easily goes on my top list. I won’t soon forget the story of the “outsider” CEO with little to no subject matter expertise whose focus on team levels up the organization and enables them to win. The characters are fairly believable and do a great job communicating the story they are meant to tell. It’s a little off putting that the book is quintessentially framed as what NOT to do -- but I think that with the allegory it works. It’s easy to remember the characters doing the wrong thing and use that as a tool to recognize problems in your own workplace. The five dysfunctions (from Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success My favorite of these is the first, the absence of trust. I’ve seen both sides of this coin, in different organizations and even in the same one. Just because an organization starts out with trust and vulnerability amongst its executives doesn’t mean it’ll always stay that way, it can devolve. It’s not that you always need to trust everyone to do a perfect job or to always have the right ideas, but trust that they’re acting in good faith, that they’ll be receptive to dialog, that they’ll allow and participate in a conversation with vulnerability, that they’ll always enter an argument willing to change their mind.
Work RulesLazlo BockHR & General BusinessHighest1028/2016
Another 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 / MarketingHighest11/14/2016
As 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
You 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
Escaping the Build TrapMelissa PerriProduct Management BibleHighest9/15/2022
I feel like my whole career I’ve been searching for a concise definition of what a Product Manager does at a tech company. Sadly, I’ve still not found a pithy phrase, but this book does an excellent job in long form. It rings 100% true from my experience and does a great job covering the role from many angles and perspectives. In short, this is a must read for anyone in/around product at a tech company. If your PM is just filling a backlog and your business is measuring “delivery” metrics only then you’re in the build trap and you’re potentially missing out on the majority of the value your team could be delivering. Perri really focuses on the value that a tech team, and a product manager, can deliver for the business. The best summary I can put together is it’s a laser focus on the why behind the work being done. Why build any given feature? Because it delivers some sort of business or customer focused outcome. Not because we think it’s a good idea, or because the CEO thinks its a good idea, but because we prove or demonstrate a real link between the feature and value for a customer that your business cares about
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.
Turn the Ship Around!L. David MarquetLeadership lessons from submarine commanderHighest11/4/2023
Combine Wilnik’s “Extreme Ownership” with Steve Covney’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and you get “Turn the Ship Around!” - leadership lessons from the armed forces manifesting from real world clear, well articulated, narratives. It’s pretty short and chock full of readily digestible and applicable tidbits. Well worth the afternoon read. The most impactful lesson for me is the parent idea of all the lessons in the book, simply the phrase leader-leader (as contrasted with leader-follower). The goal of leader-leader is to create a team of empowered leaders who think and act on their own but within an organized structure. Delegated authority with appropriate accountability and effectiveness oversight
How Google WorksEric SchmidtHow google hires people tc.Highest10/8/2016
As 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.
Managing HumansMichael LoppEngineerng Management 101Highest6/18/2021
Straight to the top of the list with this one! Yes it’s clever and witty, but the meat and potatoes is that It is chock-full of what I’m going to call ‘microframeworks’ for thinking about phenomena in the workplace and how people behave. There’s no grand overarching theme, it’s a handbook of how to think about and reason about managing people. I loved it so much I made a quick powerpoint deck ( summarizing my favorite microframeworks from the 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 empathyHighest1/4/2018
Definitely 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.
High Output ManagementAndrew GroveManagement from soup to nutsHighest7/5/2021
Kind of surprising it took so long for this to make it to the top of my backlog. Andy Grove’s book here is a classic, I imagine in the 1980s when it was first published it was a watershed. Some of it is a little dated, some of it is “obvious” or at least commonly discussed in the 21st century, but the vast majority of it is clear, concise and practical. I mean, Ben Horowitz of all people wrote the glowing intro. There are many good summaries online but I’ll summarize the most impactful chapter immediately for me. Chapter 13 is about performance reviews, and as it turns out July is performance review month at our company. Some basic ideas -- performance reviews are critically important to providing a mechanism to provide clear task-relevant. The entire purpose is to provide transparency and helpful guidance to help people work at their best, so any misgivings or discomfort the manager experiences in giving constructive critical feedback (which most managers experience at least a little) need to be set aside for the good of the employee and the company. Some other key items -- performance reviews are about performance not potential, two biggest areas to focus on are skills and motivation, ensure that performance reviews aren’t surprises (good management will be highlighting issues in regular 1:1s, not just annual/biannual reviews), ensure changes in dollars are consistent with performance ratings, be very specific with feedback, focus on finding themes throughout work, evaluate holistically and ensure you’re getting input from others in forming feedback and cover the whole review period not just the most recent project.
InspiredMarty CaganBasics of good product managementHighest7/21/2021
After a several year hiatus I’m back in the product management world at work, and I feel that “Inspired” is a wonderful high-level overview to get back into it. I’m told that Cagan has a name for himself already with his blog series though before the book I wasn’t myself familiar with it. Credibility is pretty well established though via first hand stories of PMs who have achieved remarkable success. The book covers the basics of what the various roles are in the product management world and how they fit together. This may seem obvious or trivial, but getting an organization that doesn’t have strong product management to understand what the job of a product manager, user researcher, product marketing manager, UX designer etc. is is no small feat, so having a credible source to point to for succinct definitions of how these roles should work is invaluable. The major tenant of the book is that good product management is about identifying opportunities via direct customer development and validating them with the market/customers as cheaply and quickly as possible. That means testing via prototypes and wireframes that can be built in days, instead of with beta features that can take weeks or months to develop with engineering. The key is not having “brilliant ideas” but being able to have lots of ideas and throw out the ones that don’t work and prove that the good ones do before making the larger commitment to productize and launch them.
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.
Good Strategy/Bad StrategyRichard RumeltDefine Good StrategyHighest12/2022
This one goes straight to the top for me. It provides a framework and an articulation of the core of what “strategy” is that I think is generally elusive in other syllabi/books I’ve read. Strategy is made up of three key components: A diagnosis, a guiding policy and a set of coherent actions. Good strategy is simple, obvious, and identifies the key challenges to overcome. Good strategy makes hard decisions and provides clarity on how to overcome obstacles. Bad strategy is often just a listing of goals, or is fluff/gibberish. If your strategy looks like a todolist it’s probably not a good strategy. There are plenty of good summaries out there for this one, this is a good one near the top of the Google results:
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five DayGoogle Ventures peopleGroup prototyping in a weekHigh9/17/2021
I actually first read this several weeks ago, but I wanted to wait until I had actually gone through the “Sprint” as outlined in the book first before writing up a report. In short, Sprints are a great way to get a lot of ideas out of people’s heads, put things in context, make decisions and test in a fairly short period of time. The book/methodology as prescribed is a 5 day working session with a dozen people or less where you look at a business problem from a number of perspectives, decide on an angle to approach it, build a prototype and test it with customers to get feedback all during those five days. It makes sense in the book, and I’m glad to say it seemed to play out well in practice. There are, I think, three key things that enable such a methodology to be successful. 1) Every major decision has a structure around it and clear timeblocks within which for discussion and ultimately making a decision. No endless debate back and fourth exploring an idea inefficiently in a group setting. 2) A clear distinction between thinking about / discussion problems vs contemplating solutions. Deliberately postponing consideration on solutions really clarifies conversation and thinking. 3) A clear milestone of developing a prototype to test with customers at the end of the week to validate the business idea. The idea of “Working alone, together” is very powerful, even more so now with so much remote work culture. I think this concept is most powerfully explained with an example -- what’s more effective, sequentially going in a circle to ask people for their thoughts on a problem, or asking them all to write down their thoughts simultaneously then grouping them thereafter. Clearly the simultaneous route is more efficient and, it turns out, just as thorough and likely to get all creative inputs.
BuildTony FadellAdvice from a the guy who designed the iPod/NextHigh7/30/2022
A general rule I have in life is if something is recommended to me three times by three different sources then I no longer have a choice but to try it. So when, while talking to people about the book I’ve been writing, for the third time I was asked, “Have you read Build yet?” I went and spent $22 on the hardcover copy. And I’m thrilled I did! “Build” covers a wide range of topics around building and running companies, generally through the lens of a story at one of Tony’s experiences. It’s a bit like “The Great CEO Within,” a bit more story / high level focused. “The Great CEO Within” is a handbook of where to go for tactical advice to solve acute problems, “Build” is where you go when you want mentorship from Tony but don’t have his phone number, both are incredibly valuable tools just for different circumstances. Some key highlights for me: The chapter on product managers I think is one of the best long-form descriptions of product management I’ve seen. I loved the anecdotes around designing the packaging for the Nest thermostat before the product was done, and the story of leaning into the baby-strangle-warning sticker requirements by making the sticker bigger and easier to tear off so people didn’t have to live with it. Overall the human element of building is, like all my favorite business books, at the core of every piece of advice here. There’s no magic formula to building companies, products, or companies beyond focusing on the human element of each.
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.
Conscious Business: How to Build Value through ValuesFred KofmanIntegrity and Consciousness in BusinessHigh6/25/2019
Setting expectations on this one -- it’s not full of novel ideas or packed with in depth research summaries. It’s a short book (4hr audiobook) and it’s filled with simple “common sense” ideas applied in an articulate and seemingly impactful way. Similar to “How to Make Friends and Influence People”, there is no secret sauce here, but the cumulative effect of applied “common sense” is useful. The book covers what I’d summarize as a condensed version of “extreme ownership” and labels it having integrity -- you were late because of traffic, but you could have predicted there would have been traffic at rush hour on the 405 and accounted for that to not be late. Kofman describes this as “being a player”, taking action to control things rather than passively letting the world happen to you. Kofman also describes how to have integrity in making commitments at work. As a leader you need people to make commitments for what needs to be done, and by when. When somebody proactively makes a commitment to what and when you can thereafter hold them accountable to that, and an employee with integrity will take responsibility for acknowledging if they can’t meet that commitment and working out a new commitment in its place. Kofman’s descriptions and stories around integrity resonate with me, it feels like a good word that isn’t applied/leveraged often enough in the workplace. Overall this isn’t life changing, it’s short, easy to get through and I found it useful.
Working BackwardsColin Bryan and Bill CarrAmazon leadership principlesHigh3/31/2023
I'd say about half of what I learned about how Amazon works from “Working Backwards” do I think is realistically applicable at companies outside Amazon. Certainly at smaller companies pre product market fit a lot of the exercises feel either prohibitively expensive or even outright impossible due to lack of resources. That doesn’t mean the book was a waste of time, far from it, it’s valuable perspective and the core lessons are insightful if not immediately applicable. Some key takeaways: yep, PowerPoint is basically the worst thing ever, “single threaded leadership” perhaps more commonly referred to as "focus" is important to getting things done, focusing on the customer and focusing on long term value are necessary to ensure consistent healthy innovation.
The Unicorn ProjectGene KimDevops philosophy at workHigh4/23/2023
Similar to the Phoenix Project that came before it, the Unicorn project is pretty much a must-read for anyone working in/around software development. The Unicorn project focuses on a few main ideas: Devops (continuous integration/deployment), developer experience, empowered teams, individually capable teams and core vs. context work. I’m a huge advocate for the devops philosophy and so of course I found the first third of the book, which is almost entirely spent describing in detail how a dysfunctional company behaves, viscerally frustrating. I just wish the whole thing was about 30% shorter. And that the author was a bit less…. Over-the-top about “functional programming principles.” It’s almost a meme, as if functional programming principles are going to literally save the world, reverse climate change, prevent geopolitical conflict and cure cancer. It’s a minor nuisance in what is otherwise an enjoyable, poignant book about high performing software teams.
The Art of War (Read it more than once, it's short)Sun TzuThink StrategicallyHigh9/5/2016
It’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.
Radical Candor: Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanityKim ScottCaring and Challenging Coworkers & ReportsHigh8/7/2019
It gets a high because the content is valuable, useful and incredibly important for managers at companies of all sizes. It misses a “Very High” because it’s a bit long, repetitive and the stories mostly come from Google which qualifies their applicability for smaller companies/startups to some minor extent. Overall the idea is that one of the key skills in being a manager is how to give and solicit feedback, and that there is a spectrum of behaviors (and interpretations of those behaviors) in how a manager goes about this task. Ranging from “Obnoxious aggression” to “ruinous empathy” to “manipulative insincerity” and “radical candor”. Link: The idea is that you need to challenge people directly, but also care personally and be authentic in your challenge in order to not come off as obnoxious. I’ll let you go read the book to get all the nuggets, stories etc. For me, I think as a manager I likely too often fall into the ruinous empathy category (I should ask my coworkers which category they think I fall into). Radical Candor I feel is a good tool in the toolbelt, a good place to checkin and self-evaluate where on the axis I fall and how I move further to the upper right.
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 effectiveHigh8/22/2016
If 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.
Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting ForJonathan RaymondLeadership, Coaching, PerspectiveHigh11/19/2019
I found the advice here good and solid, but maybe lacking a little in actionability? You hear the role-played scenarios in books like this and think “man, I’m really dumb and I’m not sure I’m capable of being that good a coach.” One of the tools in the book is to walk an employee who is having some kind of problem through various phases of feedback, from the subtle hint, to “the talk”, to the “we need to fix this or else” ultimatum. How is a manager supposed to keep track of what stage he’s in on this roadmap for every issue with every employee? It just seems unrealistic to be that eloquent, mindful, detailed and clear in every interaction, the bar is set so high, I wonder if it’s possible to get there. I guess that’s why I keep reading these though, hopefully at least a little bit sticks.
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.
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Michael Bungay StanierCoaching, 1:1sHigh6/15/2019
This is one of those prescriptive “do it exactly this way” kind of books, so only a high not a highest. The Coaching Habit first motivates asking and listening as opposed to talking, then goes through 7 specific questions that the author believes are key to good coaching meetings. The 7 questions: Kickstarting: What’s on your mind? Proving deeper: And what else? Focus question: What’s the real challenge here for you? Foundation: What do you want? Lazy question: How can I help / What do you want from me? Strategy question: If you say yes to this, what must you say no to? Learning question: What was most useful or most valuable here for you? (good summary at Huffpo: Similar to Managing the Unmanageables, the specific prescription here I don’t find very helpful or useful so much as the concept of making my own prescription during preparation time for 1:1 coaching meetings. That there is value in delimiting between coaching for performance (help somebody do better at a task) and coaching for development (helping somebody develop in their career / meet their personal goals).
User FriendlyCliff Kuang, Robert FabricantUser centric designHigh7/26/2021
I was a bit torn between Medium and High on this one. On one hand there are a handful of stories in here that really illuminate the core issue of what “user centric design” really means. On the other hand, there are a handful of history lessons that, at least for me, were not impactful and did not drive home the point of user-friendly design. I felt it really could have been two books, or one book that more clearly delineated “lessons on what good user centric design is” vs. “the history of user centric design”. The core lessons are important enough though that I went lenient. The most poignant example that stays with me is actually early on in the book, a vividly told story of the accident at the three mile island nuclear power plant. The basic summary is that the control room was designed by engineers in an unorganized / poorly thought out way. For example, different indicators and gauges would use different colors and statuses for “good” and “bad”. Imagine the difference between a wall of indicator lights that are arbitrarily colored, where you have to understand each indicator and its colors to know there’s a problem, vs a wall of green lights where green means good, and any change to red would mean bad, needs attention. From the way the story is told it sounds like such a simple and obvious paradigm was overlooked in the original design of this control room and that such design flaws were instrumental to the failure that occurred, in that humans took the wrong actions at the wrong time because they did not understand what the system was trying to tell them. Also, for office/commercial doors: a handle means pull, a plate means push. Please tell your friends / landlords.
Immunity to Change
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
Making groups work better togetherMedium6/20/2022
There’s something about this consulting-framework as a book pattern that makes it hard for me to recommend as a book unless I’ve actually bought into and used the framework. And in this case, I haven’t used the framework, so I can’t say too much about the framework itself. And given that most of the book is the framework, the value takes a bit more work to extract. The key theme for individual improvement is that impactful change occurs at the human level, it's seldom a skill or competency gap. It’s more psychology and personal development than it is reading textbooks and gaining experience. This seems pretty uncontroversial to me and is a theme echoed in many books about the goal and value of good people management. The key theme for group and collective change is understanding that, despite having shared high level goals, smaller and sometimes less obvious goals cause groups to behave in ways that lead to “canceling out” or working against “foot on the gas and brake at the same time”, or the titular “immune response” behaviors. The framework proposed in the book is a workshop that works groups through identifying these big goals and ultimately surfacing the immune behaviors that prevent the group from reaching the goal.
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell
Alan Eagle, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
Bill Campbell storiesMedium5/21/2020
I’ve known of / heard of Bill Campbell as something of a legend since I moved to San Francisco over 10 years ago, so it’s refreshing to finally read a book about the man. What’s striking about the stories of Bill Campbell is actually how unsurprising they are, given everything else I’ve read about “good management.” Bill was a people person, empathetic, was a good listener, had lots of love in his heart, focused on the human side of people at work. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a “management coach” and the lessons from Bill very much correlate with what I’ve learned. Don’t expect a coach to tell you how to run your business, or to even understand your business. That’s not the hardest part of being a manager/leader/entrepreneur anyway. Expect them to help you be a whole human and to bring that human into the workplace in a compassionate, thoughtful way,
Managing the Unmanageable: How to motivate even the most unruly employee
Anne Loehr, Jezra KayeManaging poor performers / difficult reportsMedium6/1/2019
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
The Choice: Embrace the PossibleEdith Eva EgerUplifting emotional journey of holocaust survivorHighest3/4/2020
There's something about a well told, gut wrenching, but ultimately uplifting story about a holocaust survivor: a rollercoaster with multi-thousand foot drops. I don't know if I've ever teared up listening to a book before, and this one got me at least half a dozen times. It's a story of a 14 year old girl and her family who are forced out of their home and eventually sent to Auschwitz, and her eventual just-in-time rescue as the war ends, through to her struggles to start living life again and grappling with her past. She's now a renowned speaker and successful Ph. D therapist with a very effective message. Two thumbs up.
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.
Your Best Brain: The Science of Brain Improvement
John Medina, The Great Courses
Brain Science & OptimizationHighest5/29/2023
Exceptional. Top marks in every category from me. A systematic approach to covering a wide range of topics related to the brain, including pit stops at evolution science, genetics and practical/peer reviewed studies for each topic. Medina himself makes an extraordinary narrator in the audio book. Each topic goes relatively deep on the actual science and ends with practical, applicable advice. Some key takeaways: Aerobic exercise, 2 hours per week, at any age, shows remarkable brain benefits. Being social, especially in your later years, is critically important to maintaining brain health. Your brain is constantly evolving, old brains can definitely learn new tricks. Anyone who claims they have a silver bullet nutritional guideline for brain health is almost certainly lying to you. Science does not yet know very many concrete things linking nutrition to the brain. Not because they don’t exist, just that it’s a very hard and highly individualized problem. That said, the Mediterranean diet is almost certainly a good idea
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our DecisionsDan ArielyCognitive errors people make, influencing behaviorHighest7/1/2016
Alright 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?
Dare to LeadBrené BrownVulnerability, courage, genuine leadershipHighest10/2019
Sidenote: The title and the general arc of the book are about leadership, but the meat and potatoes of the lessons here are personal, so it’s going into the self-improvement category. I feel Brown has built a personal brand around vulnerability and the benefits that come from allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and that’s certainly a major part of the book, but it’s not my personal key takeaway. For me the major take-ways from the book are about honesty and self-storytelling. The stories we tell ourselves, in easy moments and hard, define our emotions and often our behavior. Whether it’s anxiety about public speaking or having a tough conversation at work or a stressful experience with a partner, the story you tell yourself before during and after the experience dictates the quality and shape of your personal experience. The difficult part is that most of us harbor significant self doubt and that leads us to tell negative / anxious stories when reality is often far less consequential or negative. Trusting yourself, removing judgement (really hard for me), grounded confidence, “choosing courage over comfort” are some techniques to help there. Towards the end of the book she introduces the technique of acknowledging the “shitty first draft” of a story. Consciously acknowledge that the story you tell yourself about how a coworker behaved, or why a partner did something, or why you feel a certain way, is usually a shitty first draft of the real story. It’s got most of the details wrong, the plot is in the wrong order and is littered with poor grammar and typos. That acknowledgement enables a sense of perspective and willingness to find the next draft, to consciously build a better story.
The Brain that Changes ItselfNorman DoidgeModern changing brain scienceHighest5/2021
I was not expecting this one! I was surprised, and at times overwhelmed by the stories in here. The book recounts the last 50 years of science in how the brain develops, not just in children but also in healthy, and unhealthy, adults. Incredible stories of recoveries from previously highly debilitating problems. The magic here is, perhaps surprisingly, not in any sophisticated drugs or profound understanding of the inner workings of the brain. The major advances are in outpatient therapies that maximize the brain’s inherent ability to rewire itself and develop new capabilities. Much of the book actually discusses the history of how neuroscience as a field rejected the notion of the brain as malleable and the remarkable progress made since we gave up being so stubborn. The best lesson I take away: neurons that fire together wire together. Said another way, the brain gets good at what it practices, and if you set it up for success with a good feedback loop then every round of practice is one incremental step forward towards building the new capability. That could be me replacing nail biting with taking a deep breath, or a recovering stroke patient learning to walk again, the process in the brain is the same -- one step at a time.
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.
Psychology of MoneyMorgan HouselFundamentals of money for adultsHighest11/2022
Should be required reading for everyone the day they get their first paycheck. It’s short, just a 3 hour audiobook, consisting of 18 lessons on money management. There’s nothing revolutionary here at all, just straightforward, practical, everyday advice and perspective on spending and saving money. Things like diversification, saving consistently, investing and compounding over time, not taking on more debt than you can manage, not panicking with the inevitable ups and downs of markets and so-on. I particularly loved the historical context on how thoughts on savings change with different generations, population groups being influenced by the economy and events of each era. How unexpected the rise of consumerism in the mid 20th century was, how savings rates changed with and around the Vietnam War / rise of OPEC in the 70s etc. The insights aren’t mind blowing, but given that it’s short and full of great content, that nudges it into my highest category.
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 PredictionPhilip E. Tetlock, Dan GardnerHow to think about the futureHigh6/2/2016
I’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, LeadershipHigh11/21/2016
A 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 USAHighest4/2016
Related 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 humankindHighest3/2017
The 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.
Ben Franklin: An American LifeWalter IsaacsonBen Franklin BiographyHighest10/2019
I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. Partly because Isaacson doesn’t write a bad biography, moreso because Ben Franklin had a more interesting life than I could’ve imagined. The only founder to have signed the declaration of independence, alliance with France, peace with Britain and the US constitution. He more or less single handedly negotiated the alliance with France (crucial to winning the war) and recognition as an independent nation / peace with Britain. He was also a critical negotiator at the constitutional convention, and whilst he didn’t draft the Connecticut plan (the compromise on representation in the bicameral legislature) he was the one to reintroduce and reframe the plan at the right time to actually get it passed and agreed upon. Franklin was responsible for groundbreaking discoveries in numerous fields of science, was estranged yet loyal to his wife, he started a line of three generations of Franklins to bear illegitimate children, and he often wrote highly influential / well regarded political pieces in remarkably clever allegory. There’s so much good story and drama here, you really couldn’t make it up. To top it all off, the way the story is told here, he was a man of good principles, was constantly striving for self improvement and ways to help and assist his fellow man, was jovial, social, entertaining. The true enlightened renaissance man, the less-cocky Tony Stark of the 18th century. I give Isaacson a lot of credit for making this an entertaining biography whilst also weaving in an appropriate and not-overbearing amount of American history to contextualize and educate.
The Wright Brothers David McCulloghHistorical nonfiction, the wright brothersHigh4/2016
Maybe 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 releaseHigh1/28/2016
Author’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 LibertiesHigh3/5/2016
This 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.
Red NoticeBill BrowderRussia... Bad stuffHigh7/19/2021
In general I’m fairly over the American culture of anti-Russian skew in most of our media. It feels like the “bad guys” in nearly every movie are Russian, the Russians influenced the election etc. etc. It’s not-so-subtley pervasive. So when “Red Notice” was recommended to me at first I balked. ANOTHER anti-russian story? But it kept getting such good reviews and I kept having friends recommend it, so I finally gave in. I’m not going to ruin the plot for you, but to say that Bill Browder sounds like a great guy. A clever investor with an actual sense of ethics. His campaign for the Magnitsky act reminds me of Jon Steward’s campaign for the Zadroga Bill, something so obvious in retrospect, yet it still took a herculean effort by a selfless campaign to make it happen in Washington D.C. I listened to the audiobook during my running training this past week, it got me through about 8 hours of running. Any book that can distract from 8 hours of running, well that’s saying something
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir PutinSteven LeeRussia & PutinHigh1/28/2016
Basically 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.
American KingpinNick BoltonNarrative nonfiction story of the Silk RoadHigh3/4/2023
Fantastic narrative non-fiction telling of the story of the Silk Road website, the drug/weapons/illegal goods marketplace in the early 20-teens. The facts of the story make a very interesting narrative, ranging from improbable crimes, to money laundering, to crooked cops, to government incompetence, to a years long “faces on the wall” investigation. Bolton does an amazing job capturing the story and weaving into a real time narrative. I’m legitimately impressed by the depth of reporting, research and how it is all weaved into a narrative story. My favorite line from the book is a metaphor comparing crime to come out ahead at the casino. Sure, if you’re clever you can win on any given night at any given table. But the house has a fundamental advantage in odds, and essentially unlimited cash to play with so will always win in the long run. So if you run an underground drug empire you can stay out of jail for a while, you can fool the first task-force set out to find you, but the government is big, really big, and given enough time, some FBI agent, some officer, somewhere, will figure it out, and you’ll lose.
The Ultimate Engineer
Richard Jurek, Gerald D. Griffen
Biography of George M. Law, NASA AdministratorHigh1/1/2021
The book is a biography of George M. Low, best known as NASA Administrator during the Apollo and Space shuttle programs from the late 1950s to 1976. Of course everything about space and rockets is always cool, but the inside human story of just how exactly did a government organization manage to marshall the resources of half a million people to successfully land men on the moon? The book doesn’t cover the whole story of course, but it speaks to the remarkable contributions one man can have. The Ultimate Engineer will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll have you yearning to look up at the night sky and wonder. It has lessons on management, building organizations, discipline, technical excellence. It’s a biography of a man who lived an incredible life and an inspiration for what can be done with the right amount of skill, courage and discipline.
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 Science of EnergyMichael E WysessionUtility scale Energy trends around the worldHigh9/5/2023
The Great Courses once again delivers in spades. The author (and narrator) is full of energy (hah) and enthusiasm for the subject. The coverage of fairly nuanced scientific topics is very comprehensive, even handed, insightful and relatable. My only criticism is that its a very rapidly evolving space, and the book is nearly 10 years old. I’d love an updated version that covers trends in renewables in the 10 years since the book was written. I actually tried to do a bit of research myself to find that out, turns out its super easy, barely an inconvenience in the US. We have an entire bureaucracy called the Energy Information Administration that publishes numbers on a monthly basis for energy produced and consumed by source (and many other dimensions). The author’s predictions from 2015 have essentially come true and are actually being realized today, in 2023, on a monthly basis. We use meaningfully less coal every month, and solar and wind are on an exponential rise. At current trends wind and solar combined will overtake coal in the quantity of energy generated in the USA in the next ~2-3 years
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.
A Promised LandBarack ObamaObama autobiography of first 2 years in officeHigh3/1/2021
This is my third… maybe fourth… ok third Barack Obama book. The first one though post presidency! And not the last -- this book only really covers up through passing ACA. Will you like this book? I guess that depends on whether you like Obama and trust his judgement/reasoning. If you do then yeah, you’ll probably find this pretty insightful and learn a bit more about what it’s like to be Commander in Chief. If you don’t then I imagine this would be a frustrating experience for you. The most poignant pieces for me were some of the behind the scenes insights into how exactly the Obama whitehouse worked with congress, and some of the particular setbacks with respect to passage of the ACA. One senator passing away and one surprise-result in a snap election completely changed the game and trajectory of the rest of the administration. All in all a great contemporary history piece, I look forward to the next installment(s?).
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
Ghost in the WiresKevin Mitnick, William L. SimonKevin's hacking daysHighest9/3/2019
This might be because of my personal brand of nerd, but I was truly engrossed in Kevin’s story. The writing was colorful and entertaining, Kevin’s story feels relatable, I felt the thrill of the chase as Kevin runs and hides from city to city. The descriptions of his hacking exploits were fascinating and also a bit scary, but also completely and utterly believable. Ultimately I loved the story, but I walk away feeling sad that, really, not much has changed in the 30 years since Kevin’s hay day. Equifax’s leaking of 100+ million users’ social security numbers becuase of a default password on a router proves that. Anyway, it’s a fascinating and easy read, two thumbs up from me. Now to find the “Art of Deception”.
Born a CrimeTrevor NoahA collection of childhood stories from South AfricaHighest12/16/2018
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.
Project Hail MaryAndy WeirMan goes into space to save the worldHighest10/1/2022
The author of “The Martian” strikes again. It’s a geeky book about science that’s made attainable for non-scientists. Weir uses narrative to explain high school level science topics as applied to a man in a spaceship doing space stuff in a compelling sci-fi story arc. The story is compelling and has meaning, the characters are absolutely fantastic and easy to fall in love with, the science is plausible and the writing is witty, funny and engaging. There’s nothing not to absolutely love here, a great way to kill a few hours.
Yumi and the Nightmare PainterBrandon SandersonStacking Rocks and Painting NightmaresHighest6/15/2023
I think this is my favorite Brando-Sando book perhaps ever so far. Not only that, I think it’s also tremendously approachable to a wide audience and has no other cosmere-prerequisites, it would make a great introduction to his writing. What sets Yumi apart for me is the very clever payoff that comes from the development of character. The way the story is told really gets you into each of the characters heads, and he takes you on a really enjoyable journey that feels like it really matters by the time you get to the end of the book. It’s also cute, funny, engaging and was at least partially inspired by one of my favorite video games, Final Fantasy X, so, what’s not to love
The Final Empire, the Well of Ascension, the Hero of AgesBrandon SandersonFictional story of the world endingHighest2/25/2022
Yes, I got sucked into more Brandon Sanderson. I just finished the Mistborn era 1 trilogy, all 1603 pages, 689,000 words or 82 hours of it. The first of 3 trilogies + 2 novellas or a 11 book series. Woop! You know those books that have a good opener, but the sequel is kind of a letdown? They had a few good ideas, and then the author basically rehashed them without all that much ingenuity and failed to recreate the spark the second or third time through? Yeah, that’s absolutely not what happened here. The third book is by far my favorite of these three, they build on each other very naturally. It’s extremely clear that the ideas woven together here were not developed incrementally, Sanderson had the big picture in mind before he wrote the first sentence of the first book. With Mistborn Sanderson proves he is the absolute master of plot payoff. That seemingly even minor details in book one come back to be part of significant plot points and storyline resolutions in the third book is a true wonder and joy to experience. I’m somewhat awestruck. The character development, the clever plot twists, the exquisite foreshadowing, the depth of worldbuilding. Call me a fanboy but I find it an incredibly neat and tidy package as a trilogy, with a very satisfying conclusion. If you enjoy fantasy writing, if you thought Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings was your kind of story, then please accept my humble strongest recommendation to read and enjoy Mistborn.
The Lost MetalBrandon SandersonFiction story of a western lawman and jester partnerHighest1/29/2023About 525,000 words (~62 hours of audiobook) of Mistborn Era 2 (also referred to as the Wax & Wayne series). Add that to the nearly 700,000 in Era 1 and we’re well over a million words (~150 hours) into Mistborn on the planet Scadrial. There’s all the familiar excellent world building, character development, plot twists, surprise endings etc. you’d expect from Cosmere novels. What I’ll miss the most though, is Wayne. Wayne is the first fully featured comic relief character that I can remember from Sanderson. Sure there was Lightsong in Warbreaker, but this is a main viewpoint character across four novels. I don’t know where Sanderson comes up with this stuff, but it’s just such excellent and on-point comedy. Era 2 pulls off a Western-style shoot 'em up, with a full-blown magic system, with an emotionally drained lawman and a court-jester sidekick. And it pulls it off stupendously. For the most part characters don’t show up again in between Eras (so far), I’m really going to miss this cast.