Books

Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

-Albert Einstein

*Updated 9/28/2017

** Anyone interested an informal book club/meetup maybe once a month to discuss books and practical applications, please email me.

That said….a brief list of books and some general comments. Will be a continuing work in progress:

Currently Reading:

“How to Win Friends & Influence People”, Dale Carnegie – 2nd read

“The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Transforms Us , Body and Mind”, John Coates

“Insider Buy Superstocks”, Jesse Stine

Finished:

“Certain to Win”, Chet Wililams – A Boyd acolyte and proponent of OODA loops, this work focuses on Boyd’s teaching as it applies to business. Written a few years ago it cites Toyota manufacturing extensively but ultimately encourages companies to remain nimble, decentralize decision making, and constantly innovate to ward off competition. The real value comes from making uses of strengths and exploiting weaknesses of competitors, not an easy task.

“Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe, The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time”, J. Richard Gott – In the vein of ‘A Brief History of Time’ this is a physics explanatory book written in an accessible style with some interesting ideas. If you like the subject you’ll probably enjoy this.

“Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World”, Jane McGonigal – Despite being skeptical of the value of video games (especially since I gave them up to read more!) I actually found it convincing and wanted to run out and buy an PS4. Video games have no purpose, are difficult to master, rank order us, and expose us to constant failure, yet they are wildly popular! Why? It really defines the best part of humanity as crazy as it sounds, we have fun failing and try again, we build communities and connect isolated people, we get a little high every time we receive rewards, and to be human according to the ‘The Ascent of Man’ is to excel at something for no benefit other than to be be the best. If you think that is all hokey, read the book and let me know! Related to this I also read the fictional book ‘Ready Player One’ which I thought was OK but did present a thought provoking version of the future and the potential for Virtual Reality worlds.

“The Ascent of Man”, Jacob Bronowski – Good book and interesting mix of anthropology and history of mankind. The best part was the definition of what it means to be human, to excel in an endeavor for no benefit other than being the best (paraphrased).

“The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey Into Optimal Performance”, Josh Waitzkin- Interesting read by a National Chess Champion, Push Hand Champion and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. There are some interesting tidbits on how to improve performance in here such as Cardiovascular Interval Training to improve recovery time after intense concentration. It’s a bit long but nonetheless, interesting insight into the process and mind of someone who excelled in two very different avenues.

“Who Gets What  And Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design”, Alvin Roth – I thought I would enjoy it more but it’s not terribly insightful, sprinkled with a few interesting examples of matching engines in different venues from Kidney exchanges to public schools and of course public markets.

“Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation & Deception”, Robert Shiller & George Akerlof – This almost belongs in the Recommended section but falls short in its conclusions and recommendations. It is an important book about the excessive use of data, science, and technology to manipulate our consumption habits. Sometimes this manipulation can be borderline unethical if not a major annoyance. Think of all the money and brainpower devoted to getting you to buy things you don’t need. Google makes billions selling ads. It’s an important book to talk about and share to perhaps move society into a more productive path other than getting us to buy more crap.

“A More Beautiful Question”, Warren Berger – Simple, quick, I didn’t find anything groundbreaking but it does get the brain warmed up and working to look for interesting questions (See Quote above!)

“The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence”, Dacher Keltner – I personally found this very interesting but might not be for everyone. It presents an alternative to the Machiavellian/48 Laws of Power/Robert Greene version of power and emphasis helping others and backs up with research. Also see review for the Pfeffer book “Power”.

“Why We Talk: The Evolutionary Origin of Language”, Jean-Louis Dessalles – A deep dive into the source and evolution of language. I found the prose needlessly complex and a bit tedious, I ended up skipping large swaths of text however I did ultimately find the conclusions to be quite fascinating and counter to generally accepted theory. Good read if interested in social interaction but be prepared for a slog.

“The Like Switch: An FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over”, Jack Schafer – Another quick read on human interaction which emphasizes empathy and a couple new tactics that can be employed. If negotiation & interaction is a subject matter that interests you I recommended “Never Split the Difference” below.

“A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society”, John Miller – A simple and light introduction to complex systems with some interesting descriptions. I prefer Thinking in Systems but good option for those with a passing interest in the subject.

“Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking”, Christopher Hadnagy – Lots of similar content to the classic “Influence” by Cialdini although with more interesting ‘case studies’. The book is directed towards penetration testing or assessing weakness in corporate security with some minor crossover to general interactions as well.

“How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Sales”, Frank Bettger – I don’t work in sales but I’m very interested in the subject of persuasion and influence. This book seems like a continuation of Carnegie’s How to Win Friends.. with some additional ideas. The thread running through both books is listening to empathy, placing yourself in the shoes of the other person and understanding what motivates them. The first chapter on enthusiasm is likely one of those life lessons that is immensely important to embrace but many miss because it’s not something easy to teach or pass on.

“Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things No One Told you About Being Creative”, Austin Kleon – Quick read about allowing yourself to steal ideas from others but make them your own. Couple of interesting quotes and fun doodles.

“Captivate:  The Science of Succeeding with People”, Vanessa Van Edwards – Another pop psychology book on “hacking” human interaction. If you’re going to read a quick book on the subject this one is relatively more in depth than many others but touches on many points similar to “Win Friends..”. I think there is a certain aspect of interaction that is missing which revolves around social value and signaling which is only briefly touched upon which was my intent when I picked up this book so I’ll keep searching.

“The Craft of Power”, R.G.H.Siu – A rare book I had to search for and as you can see, quite expensive on Amazon. It feels like the precursor to 48 Laws of Power as much of the structure and content is similar. Perhaps at the time of this writing it would have been more impactful but seems like everything in hear is in the Greene book.

“The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson V.1”, Robert A. Caro – My fascination with LBJ continues. After reading Master of the Senate, and adding to my Recommended section, I devoured this book on his early years in Texas. The story of an unknown, poor, unliked, man and his rise to power before the Senate. How do you compete with the cool kids on college campus if you are on the outside, how to distinguish yourself from your colleagues when you are a face in the crowd? Great stuff, can write and think about LBJ for longer than would keep your attention.

Recommended:

“Master of The Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson”, Robert A. Caro – I didn’t think I would like this book, especially at 1,000+ pages, but end up loving it and found it relevant to today’s’ political climate. LBJ was a fascinating character, one of the most ruthless, self-serving, back-stabbing, brown nosers who did more for Civil Rights than any President since Lincoln. The Senate of the United States successfully blocked Civil Rights bills for over 80 years! until his self interest and ambition lined up with a worthy cause. Caro’s writing is excellent, he includes actual quotes and conversations which I find even more insightful than the usual generalizations most books stop at, he repeats himself which I actually found helpful as it helped with the complicated people and timelines involved. I am now reading the precursor to this one, “Path to Power”.

“Body by Science”, John Little & Doug McGuff   – Walk into a gym in America and compare the bodies of those in the weight room and those on ‘cardio’ and you will likely see a striking difference. I read the book years ago and at the time, it offered a very controversial theory on the benefits of weight training over cardio. In a nutshell, muscle is more metabolically taxing requiring greater calories to sustain. Therefore building muscles through high intensity, high weight training is a greater way to burn calories which ultimately is the cause of weight gain (calories in versus calories out) It also introduced methods of training, primarily Time under Load versus a specific number of sets or reps. I have adopted the workout suggested in the book for years and quite satisfied.

“Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre”, Keith Johnstone – This book standouts in the list and I see is making it’s way into the finance blogosphere but is very highly recommended on human interaction. Review.

“Around the World in 80 Trades”, Conor Woodman – I really enjoyed this book! Perfect for the financier on vacation or leisure read. Conor is a laid off economist who sells his house and travels across the world trading camels in Sudan for coffee in Kenya to wine in South Africa and porcelain in Shanghai. The book was a lot of fun 🙂

“What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course On Making Your Place In The World”, Tina Seelig – I wish I HAD read this in my 20s. I probably would have dropped out of Hopkins and transferred to Stanford. Even in my mid 30’s it’s a very insightful book with lots of good advice. I found myself taking lots of notes which is usually the hallmark of any good book. In particular, Dr Seelig describes her classes on entrepreneurship and creativity. The first story begins with a class exercise to take an envelope with $5 in cash and maximize the return in a week. The most likely answer are the default conclusions, start a lemonade stand or car wash etc. The amazing thing was the winning teams just completely ignored the cash and provided a service that required no startup capital. One started a restaurant reservation business and another filling up bike tires for a donation. This is the essence of seeing things creatively or in a new light and starts innovation.

“Power: Why Some  People Have it And Others Don’t”, Joseph Pfeffer – Written by a Stanford MBA professor, it was one of the first, honest books about organizational dynamics and power plays that I’ve read. Any book that reveals the difference between perception and reality are very powerful. I consider this one of the most important books I’ve read. Further review here.

“Thinking in Systems: A Primer”, Donella Meadows – An introductory text in systems engineering which is a method for understanding the underlying rules of a process. A simple example is central air conditioning and the temperature regulation feedback loop. A more complex one might be how to get ahead in your organization or job hunting. Why can’t a job hunter offer a potential employer a bounty for a job but the employer can? Systems thinking gets into the 2nd, 3rd+ order effects, how incentives work or don’t work, and human behaviour. It’s not perfect by any means and I wish there were more concrete examples but an excellent introductory text.

“Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As if Your Life Depended on it”, Chris Voss – A good book from another FBI hostage negotiator with some useful tips that can be applied in many situations. A common theme, in this and many other books on human interaction, is empathy and mirroring. Of the books on here that deal with the subject, this is one of the better ones IMHO along with “Impro”.

“Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World”, Liaquat Ahmed – Highly recommended if you are interested in finance or history of central banking. Review

Biographies (all are good):

*“The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life & Times of America’s Banana King”, Rich Cohen

“The First American: The Life & Times of Benjamin Franklin”, HW Brands

“Bernard Baruch: The Adventures of a Wall Street Legend”, James Grant

“Churchill: A Study in Greatness”, George Best

*“Boyd: The Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War”, Robert Coram – Review

*“The Great Depression: A Diary”, Benjamin Roth – Review

“The Autobiography of Charles Darwin”, Charles Darwin

 

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