Tag: Book Recommendations

Charlie Munger: 20 Book Recommendations That will Make you Smarter

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads—and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
– Charlie Munger

That comment is what really kickstarted my own reading habits.

Munger, of course, is the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett and the Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.

Not only is Munger one of the smartest people on the planet—his lecture on The Psychology of Human Misjudgment is the best 45 minutes you might spend this year—but he’s put all of those brains to use in a practical way.

If you’re looking for a book to read, this list of books recommended by Munger is a great place to start.

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1. Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics

It’s a combination of scientific biography and explanation of the physics, particularly relating to electricity. It’s just the best book of its kind I have ever read, and I just hugely enjoyed it. Couldn’t put it down. It was a fabulous human achievement. And neither of the writers is a physicist.

2. Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity

… it’s pretty hard to understand everything, but if you can’t understand it, you can always give it to a more intelligent friend.

3. Fiasco: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader
I remember reading this shocking book and thinking, holy shit. This book will make you sick.

4. Ice Age
Of this book Munger said: “(The) best work of science exposition and history that I’ve read in many years!”

5. How the Scots Invented the Modern World
A lot of really important stuff like: the first modern nation, the first literate society, the ideas for (modern) democracy and free markets, all originated with the Scots.

6. Models of My Life
An autobiography of Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon, a remarkable polymath who more people should know about. In an age of increasing specialization, he’s a rare generalist — applying what he learned as a scientist to other aspects of his life. Crossing disciplines, he was at the intersection of “information sciences.” He won the Nobel for his theory of “bounded rationality,” and is perhaps best known for his insightful quote “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” (Also part of five books that will change your life.)

7. A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe

… a wide-ranging exploration of how the fundamental scientific concept of temperature is bound up with the very essence of both life and matter.

8. Andrew Carnegie
The definitive biography of an industrial genius, philanthropist, and enigma. At the meeting in May of this year, Munger also mentioned the Mellon Brothers as people to study.

9. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A book recommended by Bill Gates and Charlie Munger? Gates said, the book “had a profound effect on the way I think about history and why certain societies advance faster than others.”

10. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

What is it about that two percent difference in DNA that has created such a divergence between evolutionary cousins? … renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning author and scientist Jared Diamond explores how the extraordinary human animal, in a remarkably short time, developed the capacity to rule the world … and the means to irrevocably destroy it.

11. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
A frequent and persistent recommendation from Munger. I believe he’s given away more copies of this book than any other. Here is a quick overvie of influence.

12. Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos
While both books are exceptional, I actually prefer Hardin’s other book — Filters Against Folly.

13. The Selfish Gene

Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.

14. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
At 800 or so pages this is the perfect book for a week-long vacation. From humble beginnings to the height of great power Rockefeller did it all. I think you’ll find he has more in common with Marcus Aurelius than today’s billionaires.

Born the son of a flamboyant, bigamous snake-oil salesman and a pious, straitlaced mother, Rockefeller rose from rustic origins to become the world’s richest man by creating America’s most powerful and feared monopoly, Standard Oil. Branded “the Octopus” by legions of muckrakers, the trust refined and marketed nearly 90 percent of the oil produced in America.

15. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
A best-selling exploration of why some nations achieve economic success while others don’t. As you can imagine, it’s complicated.

16. The Warren Buffett Portfolio: Mastering the Power of the Focus Investment Strategy
This book has been recommended by both Buffett and Munger on a few occasions.

17. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
Science writer Matt Ridely unfolds the genome for us. Munger recommended in 2001.

18. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
The book is one of the primary business texts in North America. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I was first introduced to this as part of my MBA program.

19. Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information
What is the meaning of life? This book takes a look at the work and beliefs of three leading American scientists: Edward Fredkin, Edward O. Wilson and Kenneth Boulding.

20. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company
Grove gives us an inside account of how he, virtually overnight, changed the path of Intel forever.

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Of course this is a condensed list of his recommendations. Consider this a look at one of Munger’s many bookshelves. For another shelf, see 19 More Book Recommendations from Charlie Munger.

Two other books that might interest you are Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger and, one of my all time personal favorites, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger.

And before you email me to tell me how expensive some of these books are consider this: ignorance is more expensive.

Follow your curiosity to Adding Mental Models to Your Mind’s Toolbox.

5 Books That Will Change Your Life

Reading is important. Not only is it one way to fill in the gaps left by formal education but it is a meaningful way to better ourselves.

Reading alone, however, isn’t enough. What you read and how you apply it matters.

Reading what everyone else reads is good for conversation, perhaps, but it’s not going to help you to think differently. And if you can’t think differently, you’re always going to be a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

With that in mind, here are five books that will change your life and enable you to see things in a new light.

1. Collected Maxims and Other Reflectionsby La Rochefoucauld
La Rochefoucauld’s critical and pithy analysis of human behavior won’t soon be forgotten. A list of people influenced by his maxims include Nietzsche, Voltaire, Proust, de Gaulle, and Conan Doyle. “The reader’s best policy,” Rochefoucauld suggests, “is to assume that none of these maxims is directed at him, and that he is the sole exception. …. After that, I guarantee that he will be the first to subscribe to them.”

2. The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene
I’ve never read this book in a cover-to-cover sense but I’ve read each of the laws. More than that, I’ve broken each of the laws. I’ll give you an example. The first law is “Never outshine the master.” Once I worked directly for a CEO. I worked as hard as I ever have to show off my talents and skills, and at every turn, it backfired over and over again. The lesson — “make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.” I wish I read this book earlier in my career, it certainly would have been helpful.

3. Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War by Xenophon
This book sat on my shelf for a year before I picked it up recently. This is the biography of Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, who made the oldest known declaration of human rights. The book is full of leadership lessons. Here’s an example. “Brevity is the soul of command. Too much talking suggests desperation on the part of the leader. Speak shortly, decisively and to the point–and couch your desires in such natural logic that no one can raise objections. Then move on.”

4. Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
This no-nonsense collection of 20 letters from a self-made man to his son is nothing short of brilliant as far as I’m concerned. This is a great example of timeless wisdom. The broad theme is how to raise your children in a world where they have plenty, but the lessons apply to parents and non-parents alike.

5. Models of my Life by Herbert Simon
An autobiography of Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon, a remarkable polymath who more people should know about. In an age of increasing specializing, he’s a rare generalist — applying what he learned as a scientist to other aspects of his life. Crossing disciplines, he was at the intersection of “information sciences.” He won the Nobel for his theory of “bounded rationality” and is perhaps best known for his insightful quote “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

And one more… just for good luck.

6. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Ok, this is a bonus pick as I figured a many of you might have read this already. The best way to sum up this book is: A simple and powerful guide to life. This book was never intended for publication it was for himself. How many people write a book of epigrams to themselves? Get it. Read it. Live it.

Bill Gates — The Seven Best Books I Read in 2013

Bill Gates presents his 7 top reads in 2013.

Commenting on the lack of novels on the list, Gates writes:

It’s not that I don’t enjoy fiction. I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye a bunch of times—it’s one of my favorite books ever (and I enjoyed Salinger, the documentary that came out this year). I did read Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, which was entertaining though it didn’t have as much science fiction as I expected.

But I read mostly nonfiction because I always want to learn more about how the world works. And reading is how I learn best.

That’s an interesting statement coming from Gates, especially in light of recent posts on using literature to study decision making under ignorance.

With that said, Gates is an excellent source of reading material for me. His top reads of 2012 led me to order Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book I added to my antilibrary. And his summer reading list, along with the recommendations of readers, encouraged me to read The Box, a surprisingly enjoyable read on the history of the shipping container. This book shows up again on the end of year list of his top reads.

Here are his picks, in no particular order:

The Box, by Marc Levinson

“You might think you don’t want to read a whole book about shipping containers… But he makes a good case that the move to containerized shipping had an enormous impact on the global economy and changed the way the world does business. And he turns it into a very readable narrative. I won’t look at a cargo ship in quite the same way again.”

The Most Powerful Idea in the World, by William Rosen

“A bit like The Box, except it’s about steam engines… I’d wanted to know more about steam engines since the summer of 2009, when my son and I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Science Museum in London.”

Harvesting the Biosphere, by Vaclav Smil

“Here he gives as clear and as numeric a picture as is possible of how humans have altered the biosphere. The book is a bit dry and I had to look up a number of terms that were unfamiliar to me, but it tells a critical story if you care about the impact we’re having on the planet.”

The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond

“Diamond finds fascinating anecdotes about what life is like for hunter-gatherers and asks which ones might apply to our modern lifestyles. He doesn’t make some grand pronouncement or romanticize tribal life. He just wants to find the best practices and share them.”

Poor Numbers, by Morten Jerven

“Jerven, an economist, spent four years digging into how African nations get their statistics and the challenges they face in turning them into GDP estimates. He makes a strong case that a lot of GDP measurements we thought were accurate are far from it.”

Why Does College Cost So Much?, by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman

“The authors are good about not pointing fingers but instead talking about how America’s labor market affects the cost of college. My view is that as long as there’s a scarcity of college graduates, a college degree will be quite valuable. So people will pay more to get one. And if they will pay more, then colleges and universities — whose labor is provided mostly by people who paid a lot for their own degrees — can ask for more. Until you get an excess supply of graduates, then you don’t really get any price competition.”

The Bet, by Paul Sabin

“Sabin chronicles the public debate about whether the world is headed for an environmental catastrophe. He centers the story on Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, who wagered $1,000 on whether human welfare would improve or get worse over time. Without ridiculing either proponent, Sabin shows how their extreme views contributed to the polarized debate over climate change and other issues that continues today.”

Gates’ list is a happy addition to the 2013 collection of reading lists.

The best non-fiction books of 2013

Economist Tyler Cowen, who was named one of the top 100 influential thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, offers some interesting picks:

Nothing that caught your eye? Try his 2012 list.

Books that Changed My Life

Here is a short list of books that literally changed the way I see the world.

1. Man’s Search For Meaning
A gift from a friend. As hard as you think your life is, it pales in comparison to Auschwitz. I took two big things away from this book: (1) the ultimate freedom is the ability to choose your attitude in the face of any circumstance and (2) the more you target success, the more you will miss it.

2. Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist
By pure luck I came across this book and it introduced me to the thinking of Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger. These two have influenced my thinking more than any.

3. Meditations and Montaigne’s Essay’s
Reading these guys, along with Seneca, has really helped foster my interest in philosophy. So much of what they say speaks to me that I’m often left with entire pages underlined and margins filled with thoughts.

4. Letters to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders and Poor Charlie’s Almanack
Because I have an MBA a lot of people inevitably ask me if they should pursue one. If it’s knowledge and not credentials you’re after, save your money and read these two. The letters are freely available on Berkshire’s website but I find the paperback collection works best for me. If you’re scared to start with the full letters, check out the distilled version: The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America.

5. Sam Walton: Made In America
The big lesson I took away from Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, is that you don’t need to come up with all the ideas yourself. Instead, you can look around and copy the best of what other people are doing. That attitude aligns with the tagline of this website: Mastering the best of what other people have already figured out.

6. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
This book changed how I see the world. As if that wasn’t enough, it also introduced me to iatrogenics, fragilistas, and connected inversion and via negativa (something I should have connected much sooner).

7. Rework
This book showed me that I wasn’t alone or crazy. Other people think about the workplace like I do too.

8. Seeking Wisdom
Peter Bevelin is one smart dude. Inspired by Munger, he’s put together a book of the big ideas that carry a lot of weight in life. Finding this book new is difficult, just buy a used copy.

9. The Great Mental Models Volume One: General Thinking Concepts I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this collection of wisdom that we put together. You can learn more about the project here.

10. 50 Shades of Grey
Just kidding ;)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the first book I ever read cover to cover for pleasure: The Stopwatch Gang. The book, about some of the greatest Canadian bank robbers, opened my eyes to reading.

Jeff Bezos’s Reading List

The back of Brad Stone’s excellent new book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, contains a list of a dozen books “widely read by executives and employees that are integral to understanding” Amazon. We can now add Bezos’s reading list to similar ones from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

The Remains of the day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Jeff Bezos’s favorite novel, about a butler who wistfully recalls his career in service during wartime Great Britain. Bezos has said he learns more from novels than nonfiction.

Sam Walton: Made in America, by Sam Walton

In his autobiography, Walmart’s founder expounds on the principles of discount retailing and discusses his core values of frugality and a bias for action—a willingness to try a lot of things and make many mistakes. Bezos included both in Amazon’s corporate values.

Memos from the Chairman, by Alan Greenberg

A collection of memos to employees by the chairman of the now defunct investment bank Bear Stearns. In his memos, Greenberg is constantly restating the bank’s core values, especially modesty and frugality. His repetition of wisdom from a fictional philosopher presages Amazon’s annual recycling of its original 1997 letter to shareholders.

The Mythical Man-Month, by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.

An influential computer scientist makes the counter-intuitive argument that small groups of engineers are more effective than larger ones at handling complex software projects. The book lays out the theory behind Amazon’s two pizza teams.

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins

The famous management book about why certain companies succeed over time. A core ideology guides these firms, and only those employees who embrace the central mission flourish; others are “expunged like a virus” from the companies.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins

Collins briefed Amazon executives on his seminal management book before its publication. Companies must confront the brutal facts of their business, find out what they are uniquely good at, and master their fly wheel, in which each part of the business reinforces and accelerates the other parts.

Creation: Life and How to make it, By Steve Grand

A video-game designer argues that intelligent systems can be created from the bottom up if one devises a set of primitive building blocks. The book was influential in the creation of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the service that popularized the notion of the cloud.

The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

An enormously influential business book whose principles Amazon acted on and that facilitated the creation of the Kindle and AWS. Some companies are reluctant to embrace disruptive technology because it might alienate customers and undermine their core business, but Christensen argues that ignoring potential disruption is even costlier.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvements, by Eliyahu Goldratt

An exposition of the science of manufacturing written in the guise of the novel, the book encourages companies to identify the biggest constraints in their operations and then structure their organizations to get the most out of those constraints. The Goal was a bible for Jeff Wilke and the team that fixed Amazon’s fulfillment network.

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, by James Womanck

The production philosophy pioneered by Toyota calls for a focus on those activities that create value for the customer and the systematic eradication of everything else.

Data-Driven Marketing: The 15 Metrics Everyone in Marketing Should Know, by Mark Jeffery

A guide to using data to measure everything from customer satisfaction to the effectiveness of marketing. Amazon employees must support all assertions with data, and if the data has a weakness, they must point it out or their colleagues will do it for them.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Taleb

The scholar argues that people are wired to see patterns in chaos while remaining blind to unpredictable events, with massive consequences. Experimentation and empiricism trumps the easy and obvious narrative.