Check back often to see what books I’m recommending.
Astroball: The New Way to Win It All — For those of you who already enjoy baseball, this is a no-brainer. Others are probably thinking baseball? “I can’t read a book about baseball.” Well … I’m not a diehard baseball fan, but I couldn’t put this book down. When Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball came out it showed me that I didn’t need to love baseball to love the specifics around identifying talent, running a professional sports team, and building a contender. After all, baseball teams are making decisions, removing biases, and applying mental models. As great of a story as Moneyball was, it left me wanting more details. Not only is Ben Reiter an exceptional storyteller but Astroball offers more details about the process than Moneyball. (Ben is doing a private AMA with our learning community next month on Astroball, so members can read the book and directly ask him questions they want more details on.)
Nature: An Economic History — Although somewhat dense in terms of the biological evidence for his theories, this book nonetheless is a new lens on the biological world. Vermeij tackles everything from competition and cooperation to extinction, examining nature through an economic lens to try to show there are only so many ways we can organize ourselves. It really speaks to the FS philosophy of understanding how the world works so you can align yourself with it.
The Last Alchemist in Paris and other curious tales from chemistry — This book is an accessible and engaging way to understand how chemistry has shaped our societies. The author, Lars Ohrstrom, brings a delightful and knowledgeable lens to the subject, using short historical anecdotes to explain the fundamentals of chemistry and why it is so relevant.
The Warrior Queens by Antonia Fraser — This book looks through history and examines the stories and legends of female rulers who commanded in battle. Fraser is gifted at peeling through the layers of fact, fiction, and myth, and engagingly demonstrates how our notion of history is shaped by both what happened and what we believed happened.
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything — Most history books examine a small block of time in extreme detail. In contrast, this remarkable book offers a sweeping history of the universe, from the big bang until now (13.8 billion years). The organization around defining events (thresholds) is brilliant, the writing is thoughtful, and the laws of nature are beautifully weaved into our understandng. A beach read for nerds. I loved everything about this book.
The Decision Checklist: A Practical Guide to Avoiding Problems — Covers everything from mental models to decision journals, packaged in a practical and easy-to-read format that can’t help but remind the reader of FS. Indeed the book contains a full list of our mental models (excerpted with permission). Overall it’s an insightful take on the world and a worthy addition to any student of life, regardless of whether you make decisions for a living or not.
The Age of Comfort – An absolutely fascinating book that relates the development of comfort to social norms that I had mistaken for the human condition. It turns out that we didn’t always want privacy when we went to the bathroom! DeJean paints a vivid picture of Paris circa 1700, and also does a masterful job of teasing out the implications of more comfortable seating (being able to fall in love) and smaller rooms (the first use of the word ‘personality’). It is striking that some of the things we take for granted now as being universally human are actually relatively modern constructs – like separate public and family spaces, and guest bathrooms!
Masters of Doom — My inner geek, (remember I have a computer science degree,) resonated a lot with this book which tells the story of John Carmack and John Romero (think of them as the Lennon and McCartney of video games). Carmack’s ingenious insight brought Nintendo style gaming to the PC. Both from broke homes, these guys paired up to create DOOM and Quake. While their relationship produced creative brilliance, it tore them apart. If you want to remember what it’s like to be young, ambitious, and creative this is an amazing read. (Would also highly recommend to any parents out there with teenagers interested in programming.)
Off the Clock adds to the growing roster of time management / stressed out books. I loved the discussion of unfilled time on the calendar. Specifically Jeff Heath’s insightful comments, such as “People like having meetings just because it make them feel like they’re busy, useful, and productive.” Of course we know that’s not true, but the subtlety is how it changes our behavior. If you’re supposed to look busy, you will seek out things to be busy with. What you lose is whitespace.
39 Clues: The Maze of Bones — The kids and I listened to the audio version on our road trip to NYC last weekend. They couldn’t get enough. So much so that I had to have book two waiting for them when we got home. The gist of the story is this: Grace Cahill, one of the most powerful women in the world, changed her will, leaving her descendants an impossible decision: “You have a choice – one million dollars or a clue.” Of course, lots of them take the million but the story is about those who take the clue that sends them around the world. We’re only on book two, and I don’t know what happens so don’t spoil it for me!
Reading and Language Arts: Worksheets Don′t Grow Dendrites — How’s this for a reading recommendation you won’t get anywhere else? My quest to reverse engineer learning and better understand the theoretical underpinnings to strategies I know increase retention and recall. The book is full of 300 activities, mostly geared toward grade school students (1-12) but effective for adults as well, especially when it comes to reading comprehension. If you have kids in elementary school, it’s the perfect excuse to read this book. Not only can you help your children learn better, but you can increase your comprehension.
Tiger Woods — Even if you don’t like golf, this book is hard to put down. One of my working hypotheses is that people with extreme abilities are not balanced. Attempts to address the imbalance usually cause them to lose some or all of their advantage, which contributed to the outlier success. Tiger is fascinating. From a very young age, he practiced golf for hours a day, reaching 10,000 hours of playing time by the time he was 12. This was by design. Nothing got in the way of Golf. Tiger’s father, Earl, shaped so much including removing girlfriends that got in the way, ensuring Tiger was a catalyst for race issues, and modeling heavy drinking and womanizing. I can’t recommend this book enough, it’s a hole in one.
A biography of Moses and Walter Annenberg. The book is superbly written and at time reads like fiction. Moses Annenberg went from baseball bat brawls in Chicago to the penthouse in New York and along the way you can see his decisiveness, stubbornness, and willingness to learn.
Two other books came across my desk this week. Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters — Freeman Dyson put together a beautiful collection letters spanning four decades to give us a glimpse into not only his mind but the massive changes we witnessed in physics and the world. And Bandwidth, a captivating near-term sci-fi read.
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist — A friend of mine met the author of this book, Kate Raworth, at TED this year. If you’re a person that thinks economics is broken but can’t really argue why it’s broken, this book will put words to your feelings. While Raworth sets out to reframe our understanding of economics, she ends up broadening our mind.
The Science of Success — A business book with a section on mental models, yes please. Most of the models in this book relate to decision making and economics and give you insight into how to run a culture based company.
Bilingual Project Learning — While this book is designed for pre-schoolers, my kids (7/8) and I have adapted the provoke-investigage-reflect cycle into some of our activities. I wish I had this book when they were younger.
The Death of Expertise — Tom Nichols shows us why the surge in narcissistic and intellectual egalitarianism has crippled informed debates. “All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.”
Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything — Your future won’t be dictated by what you know today but rather by how fast you learn and adapt. While I read a lot on learning, most of it is incredibly dense. As an example, consider, “Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning.” If you’re interested in learning more about learning, Learn Better is very approachable and full of helpful insights and tips. A teacher friend mentioned that it incorporates a decent chunk of what she’s learned about learning.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus – Charles C. Mann – Amazing! Despite it’s size and density, I read this cover to cover in a week. Mann is a good writer, especially because he injects his excitement and enthusiasm for his subjects right into his prose. His points are extremely well researched, and he is diligent about including and examining dissenting opinion. The suggestions in the book are mind-blowing to the extent that it reexamines everything most of us were taught about the pre-Columbus Americas and basically makes a great case for how most of it is wrong. At the same time, his analysis and conclusions are extremely logical for anyone who has read a lot of history and biology. I found myself many times thinking “of course, that makes perfect sense.” Well worth reading.
The Opposable Mind —An insightful read on how successful people think about problems. The most insightful mechanism of which is eliminating the false duality of doing either this or that and creating a new reality, which Roger Martin, the author, calls integrative thinking. This is “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas … and … produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” While the book is a quick read, the ideas will stay with you longer. Martin is an expert guide.
Skin in the Game — Of course I’m reading this. Love him or hate him (and no one I know is neutral), Taleb is generally worth reading even if you don’t agree with what he’s saying or how he’s saying it. I loved the part on the reliability of knowledge, which triangulates well with our approach to using time-tested mental models. Taleb’s arguments are not without their own biases. I recommend you read this negative review, which for some reason seemed to be pulled from Amazon at the time of this email.
Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue — There is an old Scottish motto that no one attacks me with impunity. You know that moment when someone slights you, and you decide that it’s too much. The moment you decide that you’re not going to take it anymore. You don’t always respond like the boxer would, throwing an immediate counterpunch. No, sometimes you hold it in waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fights end quickly. Karma is not always as fast. Conspiracy offers a look at how one powerful man slighted another with a simple comment on the internet (see butterfly effect). Had this comment been about any other man, or perhaps on any other day, it would have been lost forever. But when Peter Theil read the comment, he decided to do something about it. Consider This book a manual in the art of executing strategic revenge against those that have wronged.
Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World — I hate the title of this book but love the content. The book tackles big questions like: How do we make sense of reality? How do we develop? How do we advance and get better? How do we understand our own growth or lack thereof? How do we understand reality? Jennifer Garvey Berger suggests we can learn something about the patterns of adult development not only to understand ourselves and move us forward but to better understand and support others. This book isn’t something you read before bed when you’re tired but it is something you read to push yourself forward and better understand the world.
The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling —Before you walk into a Casino you should read this book. Investors will love the section on pari-mutuel betting. Gambling attracts a lot of incredibly intelligent people — like Richard Feynman, Claude Shannon, and Ed Thorp — to see if they can gain an edge over the house. It strikes me that gamblers share a similar mindset with hackers — seeing gambling as a system with rules and probabilities where small advantages can be unearthed and exploited before the opponent catches on and closes the loophole.
Average is Over — There is a fundamental divide between workers, for some the computer will help and for others, it will cost them. This will increase the wage gap, however, it might not be as bad as you think. The future it working with technology, which is constantly adapting. The future will be owned by those with wonderful people skills and those that can rapidly adapt and use technology.
The Complacent Class — We’re becoming more risk-averse, moving less, productivity is declining outside of tech, and more medicated. Individually we’re settling, but collectively this has massive impacts like screwy politics and reduced competitiveness on an international level.
Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts, which comes out this week. I was lucky to have an advance copy. I read this in preparation for having Annie Duke on the podcast. Anyone interested in making better decisions can learn a lot from this book.
Fear City — A fascinating overview of New York’s fiscal crisis and the rise of austerity politics. More than a financial thriller, Kim Phillips-Fein gives you a front-row seat into how seemingly small steps lead to unforeseen outcomes. Essential reading for anyone looking to understand New York’s brush with bankruptcy and how it shaped politics.
A Beautiful Terrible Thing — For anyone that’s ever dated psychopath, this incredibly powerful memoir will not only resonate but offer inspiration. The way the book was constructed is creative and engaging.
America’s Bank by Roger Lowenstein — A legacy of the Jeffersonian era of small traditions and small government, Lowenstein tells the story of the creation of the Federal Reserve. Before the reserve, financial panics, bank runs, money shortages, and depressions were common. By the early twentieth century, it had become apparent the banking system was ill equipped to handle the rapid development of the industrial industry. The abandonment of the gold standard would have shocked the founders, who assumed money had to be more than pure paper. The challenge of organizations, including the Federal Reserve, is to adapt to a world for which it was not intended. This means organizations are created with flexibility that can accommodate a wide variety of scenarios, like the financial crisis. The Federal Reserve, no more guarantees sound banking policy more than Congress can guarantee the creation of good laws or the President can ensure good Policy.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers — Engaging and thoughtful, this book explores the many uses cadavers have. Done with both respect and a quirky curiosity, the author tells a fascinating story about what can happen to our bodies after we die. Reading this also provokes a lot of questions about what is life, and what really matters. The answers will be different for everyone, but this book certainly provides a unique perspective on how to consider the relationship between our biology and our ‘selves’.
Merchant Kings: When Companies Rule the World, 1600-1900 — It’s not a part of history that many are fond of remembering, tied up as it is with exploitation and murder. So bizarre to us now, that a country could just ‘give’ a monopoly on land that it didn’t own thousands of miles away to a private corporation that wasn’t required to obey national laws, completely disregarding the wishes of the land’s inhabitants. The author manages to be honest about this history while providing a fresh perspective on the relationship between company and country, and why every single one of them were both moral and financial disasters.
Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More — A lot of practical advice in here on how to focus your energy to do more. The section on constrictive conflict and meetings dovetails well with Ray Dailo’s notion of an idea meritocracy.