RECOMMENDED READING 2018
Check back often to see what books I’m recommending.
Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields — I liked this book because it dived right into the complexity of history and I learned a lot. It’s fascinating to read about the lives of others and be able to put those individuals into a larger context of social change. It is also incredibly sobering to realize these stories are only about 100 years old, and thus to wonder how much can actually change in that amount of time. So the content is still relevant, because it clearly informed what is happening in the present. The book provides excellent food for thought about the relationship between corporations and politicians, and makes you wonder how much second order thinking/action is possible in the systems we have.
Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms — Exploring the good, bad, and ugly of an algorithmic world. Mathematician Hannah Fry shows us how human biases creep into code with fascinating stories and accessible explanations. After reading this book, you’ll think about algorithms and the world we live in differently.
While we’re talking about Hannah, she wrote something in the introduction to her previous book, The Mathematics of Love: “Mathematics is ultimately the study of patterns — predicting phenomena from the weather to the growth of cities, revealing everything from the laws of the universe to the behavior of subatomic particles […] These patterns twist and turn and warp and evolve just as love does, and are all patterns which mathematics is uniquely placed to describe. […] Mathematics is the language of nature. It is the foundation stone upon which every major scientific and technological achievement of the modern era has been built. It is alive, and it is thriving.”
Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray — This is really a book about how our belief in beauty has become a pursuit in and of itself crowding out scientific observation. Sabine Hossenfelder argues this is why we haven’t seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than 40 years. In short we have a lot of beautiful theories that we are unable to confirm (like supersymmetry or grand unification). These theories are untestable (at present). This relates to how we think in general. We’re seduced by simplicity in an interconnected world and gravitate toward the unknowable.
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love — I loved this book. Dr. Sue Johnson explains Emotionally Focused Therapy in a way that will change how you see your relationships with everyone. The way to enrich relationships is to establish and build a safe emotional connection. If you can do this, everything changes. If you’re struggling in a relationship, this could be the book that helps you gets you unstuck.
AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order — I love broad books like this one. One of the most interesting things in this book for me was the exploration of the differences between what’s culturally acceptable in China vs. the U.S. and how that environment shapes the people, technology, and companies that emerge. It’s also an eye-opening look at which jobs are likely to be affected and when, by one of the worlds leading AI experts.
The Life of Frederick Douglass — This is a graphic novel that explores the incredible life of Frederick Douglas — his life as a young slave, his forbidden education, his eventual escape, and his influence throughout the civil war .
The Machine that Changed the World – This is the story of Toyota’s development of lean production in the car manufacturing business. Contrasted with the mass production systems that were common in North America since the days of the Model T, Toyota, having different constraints and wanting to compete globally, developed a system by getting down to first principles. That story, and how it played out over the globe, provides a lot of insights into how to question process and the value of risk.
The Coddling of the American Mind — While every generation thinks the one that follows is more coddled than itself, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argue that this time it really is different. I read this book as preparation for an interview with Jonathan for The Knowledge Project. What’s fascinating for me is looking at how our best intentions can inadvertently create fragile systems and people. If you’re a parent worried about your kids or if you sense something is going on with college campuses that just doesn’t seem right, this book might explain what you’re sensing. While the narrative and argument of the book are pretty sound, it’s hard to determine causation.
I skimmed The Model Thinker, which takes an academic approach to mental models, and On Confidence, which was put together rather well and would make an excellent gift for anyone who feels stuck. (Although fair warning, if they read this newsletter as well and you give them this book, they will know you think they are stuck!)
I didn’t stop there. I was in a reflective mood when it comes to love and picked up Love & Misadventure and Lullabies by Lang Leav. Her partner, Michael Faudet, has a book of poems that should be read with these two called Dirty Pretty Things (warning: this one is a tad kinky). What I love about Leav is how her words seem to be inside me. For example “Souls do not have calendars or clocks, nor do they understand the notion of time or distance. They only know it feels right to be with one another. This is the reason why you miss someone so much when they are not there—even if they are in the very next room.”
The Book of Why — An amazing exploration of cause and effect, allowing us to not only understand how we know things, improve our decision making and reasoning ability but also allow us to see what could have been. If you want to understand how you think or just get a firmer grasp on artificial intelligence, read this. (Do not get the audio book, this book is much better in kindle or paper.)
Why Don’t We Learn From History — The wisdom in this short book goes well beyond the few hours it takes to read. The author, B. H. Liddell Hart was a British Soldier and military historian. Two ideas that come out of this book are worth reinforcing. First, human nature changes slowly, if at all. What changes is the leverage we have to carry out that nature. Second, is that we study too narrowly and thus lose the context and significance of what we’re working on. As a bit of an experiment, I posted some of my notes on Twitter.
The Country Under My Skin — An unbelievable memoir. Gioconda Belli was born into an upper middle class family in Nicaragua, and ended up joining the Sandinista movement in the 70s in their efforts to overthrow the government. Her story is fascinating and provides so much insight into the region, notions of freedom, what it means to live and what it means to sacrifice. The writing is such that it doesn’t require you to agree with her politics. She shares her story and invites you to learn from it what you can. She starts by saying “But we come into the world with a ball of yarn to weave the fabric of our lives. One cannot know exactly what the tapestry will look like…,” and provides a fascinating account of how small choices took her to challenging, and ultimately rewarding, territory.
The Laws of Human Nature — I believe in biological instincts that are core to all creatures including humans. Understanding these subconscious and automatic instincts is the key to better understanding ourselves and others. This book offers tools to better understanding how our emotions mislead us and others. Indeed, throughout the book, you will better understand not only yourself but friends, family, colleagues, and politicians. If I was to pen a chapter that added to this book it would be on core biological instincts that all animals, not just humans, share; things like self-preservation and hierarchy. Although Greene’s book was on human nature and not biological nature, I think a biological view offers different scaffolding to see the same issues. If you’re into understanding others and yourself, the book is well worth reading. Like almost all of Greene’s other books, this one offers an amazing bibliography for further reading. (I interviewed Greene for the Knowledge Project. He was just finishing this book at the time but the podcast pairs well because it gives you a peek into Greene’s mind and keen sense of story to illustrate his point.)
The Razor’s Edge — It’s been a while since I recommended fiction and this philosophical exploration of life will not disappoint. Larry Darrell comes back from the war and pursues a life of meaning rather than what society and his fiancée Isabel expect of him. The story is a piercing look at other people’s expectations of us as well as reverberations of what happens when we choose a different path. It’s rare that we refuse to bow to societal pressure in the absolute sense that Larry does, but there is a part of him in all of us.
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson — The book shakes the foundations of our long cherished beliefs. Not any beliefs in particular, but the system of believing itself. It shows how some of our survival mechanisms lead us to make truly awful decisions, all in the name of protecting our view of world and self. It reveals how much energy we put into shoring up our own convictions, and how even the most well-educated of us have a remarkably terrible ability to integrate dissonant information. But don’t despair.
The Rise of Andrew Jackson —This book takes a look at Jackson’s rise to the presidency. The story includes archenemies (Henry Clay), a propaganda machine, and a slew of people who wanted him in power. Despite living in a time with different customs and perceptions, the 1828 election would eventually foreshadow the art of the negative campaign. The authors, David and Jeanne Heidler, argue this is because the 1828 campaign meant more to more people than ever before and this greater significance leads to tactics that would secure victory at any cost. We can view the 1828 campaign as a turning point around honor, respect, and the nature of presidential discourse. Jackson’s rise, on the backs of the most organized and coordinated campaign in history at that point, also coincided with growing discontent with the established political class. Jackson’s team knew when to push and when to step out of the way and allow momentum to propel it to victory.
The Order of Time — This is an exceptional book, both in its content and aspirations. The science it discusses is modern, but the concepts it explores are about the fundamentals of what it means to be human, questions that we have been questioning and struggling with since forever. The language is beautiful, the descriptions of physics clear, the story thought-provoking. It merges questions of scientific exploration with questions of the soul, and provides some answers and many more possibilities. For anyone who wants a new perspective on the big questions of life, read this book.
Mr. Nice Guy —This book is about what happens when two people are totally honest about sex with one another. It gives you pause and makes you think. Here’s my take: Open and honest communication is very important up to a point. Talking with your partner about what you like and what you don’t as well as shared and individual needs should lead to better sex. However, this can be taken too far. Rating partners for their performance possibly encourages them to step outside of the moment and focus on the wrong thing. Meaningful sex comes through emotional connection. Anything that increases that connection likely makes the sex (and your relationship) better. I know a lot of couples that talk about the quantity of sex they have but few are willing to take the risk and talk about the quality of the sex they have. Through sex you can explore yourself and your partner. And remember, the best sex is a physical manifestation of your emotional connection.
Mastering the Market Cycle and The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks in preparation for our podcast interview with him on The Knowledge Project. While aimed at a financial audience, both books contain lessons for everyone. Howard is amazing at pulling lessons from history to better understand what’s likely to happen in the future.
Josh Kaufman slays a Hydra with his book How to Fight a Hydra, which explores what it means to live meaningfully in a world that is necessarily fallible…. One of my favorite excerpts from the book was this beautiful and insightful passage: “People strive to make their world comprehensible, predictable, and rewarding, but their locus of control extends only so far. No matter who you are, what you do, or the resources you have at your disposal, you have to learn to live with uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, and fear of the unknown. That’s the cause of our discontent: we want to be assured of the outcome before we invest.”
James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. This book will change your understanding and approach to habits. This part resonated with me: “Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.” (As I was reading this I was reminded of another book A Practical Guide to Avoiding Problems.)
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever — A great practical book that you can immediately put into practice. What I liked most was how it saves time by learning how to have better conversations. Not only better as in more effective and more efficient but better as in less BS and more win-win. (We did exclusive AMA with the author in the Learning Community.)
This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor — A hilarious, heartbreaking, and—according to my doctor friends—accurate look inside the medical establishment. The number of life or death decisions made by people on little to no sleep will leave you horrified. I couldn’t put it down.
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams — A powerful book that’s influenced how I think about sleep and my routines. Consider it a compelling case for the superpower that’s within reach: sleep. More than other books on the subject that simply focus on the ‘what to do’, this one gives you why you need to do it. By providing an overview of current sleep knowledge and explaining it in and accessible and detailed way, Matthew Walker sets this book apart from the other books. (As an aside, if anyone knows Matthew Walker, the author, I’d love to have him on the podcast.)
The High Growth Handbook — I loved this book, which is a collection of interviews and insights from some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley like Reid Hoffman, Marc Andreessen, Patrick Collison and more. They talk about the role of a CEO, managing a team, and most importantly growing a business. Elad weaves their insights with his own resulting in a playbook you can use to gain insight into growing any business. (We did an exclusive AMA with Elad in the FS Learning Community this week and his insights were exceptional. If you’re not a member you’re missing out.)
Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL — This book comes out Tuesday and I’ve been waiting to tell you about it since the first draft that Mike sent me so many months ago. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Mike takes us behind the scenes and tells us how Bill Belichick and Bill Wash built such great teams and details how they lead, how they decide and many practical mental models. While this will appeal more to NFL fans given the title and positioning, it’s one of the best leadership books you’ll read. You’ll laugh, you’ll think, and all along you’ll learn what it takes to win.
We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter — I read this to prepare for my interview with public radio journalist Celeste Headlee. (In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s a bit unnerving having a conversation with someone who has conversations for a living.) The book deep dives into the conversations we have and offers research-backed approaches to improving them. We didn’t get into all the ways on the upcoming podcast so if you’re interested in improving your conversations, check out the book.
In addition to that, I did some intelligent skimming. The Quotable Darwin, which is full of context around some of Darwin’s famous quotes. I also picked up Observation and Ecology, but decided to pass as I found the book largely impenetrable.
Kids Are Worth It — I read this book as research for an upcoming episode of The Knowledge Project with author Barbara Coloroso. It’s unlikely you could read this book and not walk away a better parent, partner, or colleague. The book is full of useful tools and scripts you can use with your kids today. Equally important, like a good coach, the book offers feedback, not only showing you where you fall short and equipping you with the tools you need to move forward but inspiring you to do so because kids are worth it. I’m certainly not in parenting for the money.
The Uses and Abuses of History — This book examines the ways history has been appropriated to support or promote a particular narrative and points out the caution we must exercise when we look to the past in order to understand the present or predict the future. There are so many fascinating stories in history, but it’s often difficult to sort through exactly what we should be learning from them. Our own biases influence not only how we interpret things, but what we choose to even look back on. In this book, author Margaret MacMillan does a masterful job of telling the story of history in a way that gives us tools to learn from it. (This is the next book we’re reading together in the FS Learning Community. If you’re not a member and want to read it with us, you can join here. We start reading September 10th, 2018.)
Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street — If you’ve ever wondered who and what you could be up against as an individual investor, this book is a good primer. On the outside, it’s a book about the pursuit of Steven Cohen for insider trading. On the inside, however, we explore the intersection of leverage, money, and power. Unfortunately, the enforcement agencies (FBI and SEC) end up looking like they are out of their league when it comes to Wall Street. Of course, not all investors or big firms use insider information to gain and edge, but what becomes apparent reading this book is that the incentives are present and growing, the odds of getting caught are low, and the expected consequences if you are caught are negligible. This book might convert you to index funds.
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice — Three things about this book. 1) Whoever ghost wrote this with Browder is a genius. Not only is the story crazy but the writing is exceptional — this is Michael Lewis like. 2) It was hard to actually put this book down. 3) If you like politics, financial crime, thrillers or conspiracies …. read it.
Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle – Super interesting, this book explores not how natural selection acts on mutations, but how those mutations arrive in the first place. We seem to default to it being random, but apparently even Darwin himself used ‘random’ only as a placeholder for lack of anything more concrete to offer. The theory here is that it isn’t random, but instead, the way genomes and proteins innovate. Nature has multiple solutions to the same problem, which is both reassuring and changes a bit the way we understand evolution. (I have a few questions provoked by the material, so if there are any evolutionary biologists out there, I would love it if you felt like trying to answer them!)
Evolution’s Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins. Honestly, I thought I was going to skim through this one, as I expected it to be a lot of molar measurements. But this is by far one of the most interesting and accessible books I have read on human evolution. It’s a total page turner. The writing is superb, and the details added make it a sweeping, multi-disciplined story that I found exciting and informative. Even though we knew the end of the story (being a homo sapien!), the book piqued my curiosity about how we got here.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup — This book is incredibly well done. What do you get when you mix reality distortion, charisma, a noble aim, poor governance, healthcare, a desire to be rich, narcism, and a lot of people (partners/investors) who failed to do even basic diligence? Theranos. Not only was it hard to put down, but it’s full of lessons which are frequently repeated. For example, when people’s response to probing questions is anger and frustration, you’re more likely to be dealing with someone who doesn’t know what they are doing than you are a genius. Another example was how things go from vision to small promises to large promises.
Many of you have written in to ask what the kids (8 and 9) are reading and loving this summer. They responded to being asked what they would recommend for other kids their age with: Horrid Henry, 39 Clues, Way of the Warrior Kid and Marc’s Mission. Way of the Warrior Kid and Marc’s Mission have given us an important framework for talking about how we control ourselves and how we respond that seems to have resonated. 39 Clues is great for reading but the audio book is also captivating for train and plane rides. But what really kept them occupied this summer was this game, which not only had adults thinking deeply but was small enough to bring to dinners and keep them entertained for hours.
Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty— This book looks at beauty from an evolutionary perspective. The arguments for the role that beauty plays in our life are both fascinating and a bit discouraging. What was most interesting was the research that demonstrates that although beauty is hard to define specifically, we all know it when we see it.
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 August 15th 2018 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.