I’ve decided to publish a list of books I’ve read in 2018 to remember a key point or two from each. Since this will be a living post, my hope is that it will be a resource for me and hopefully a few others along the way. Below is the list of books I’ve finished this year in reverse order.
23. 12 Rules for Life – Jordan B Peterson
This was a book I continually saw on lists as a must read, but it fell a bit flat for me. Some of the lessons were great, yet Peterson’s writing style and approach left me board and uninterested in how he arrived at the lesson. Unlike Sapiens, Peterson’s use of anthropology and evolution felt forced. My favorite line: “Dare, instead, to be dangerous. Dare to be truthful. Dare to articulate yourself, and express what would really justify your life.”
22. 7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy – Hamilton Helmer
Definitely one of the best books I read this year, 7 Powers provides a framework for evaluating strategy and power within an industry. The short formulas and organization of concepts made this one a must ready that I’ll continue coming back to in the future. The lesson: strategy is a route to continuing Power in a market and Power is the set of conditions creating the potential for persistent differential returns.
21. The Systems Thinker – Albert Rutherford
This was a quick read and a little less technical than I had originally hoped. My goal was to find a book that discussed Systems Thinking in practice instead of generalizing the major concepts. It’s a great primer for systems thinking but does little to go in-depth. The big lesson here: don’t focus too much on the little pieces, but instead the connections between them that create the bigger picture. (AKA seeing the forest through the trees)
20. Think Twice – Michael Mauboussin
I’m not a huge fan of Mauboussin like others seem to be. However, I enjoyed this book as I am reading on systemic thinking and biases right now. Each chapter is a different bias and how it works in practice in the real world. It’s worth the quick read and if anything will make you aware of the common biases that affect our everyday decision making.
19. Financial Intelligence – Karen Berman and Joe Knight
For one reason or another, I’ve always felt relatively weak when it comes to finance. I think it goes back disliking the subject in school and thus avoiding it and working with people who were absolutely great at the discipline. This book was a great if high-level, review of operational finance which is rare. It wasn’t too technical nor too academic and had real-world cases with a refreshing lack of numbers for the subject matter. Highly recommend if you are looking to brush up on finance.
18. The Truth Machine – Michael Casey and Paul Vigna
Much like all books that approach blockchain from a non-technical stand point, this book left me wanting more. While the major point in the book are correct – energy, finance, healthcare, government can all be great use cases for the technology – there’s no deeper dive other than the very high-level insights. I’m still waiting for the book that goes into the pros and cons of each proof of work, the scalability of each current technology platform, etc… that isn’t so technical I can’t comprehend it.
17. Regulatory Hacking – Evan Burfield
My favorite thing about this book is that it could have been formulaic, but Evan does a really nice job working anecdotal stories into the book to avoid falling into that trap. The biggest takeaway here comes early in the form of “The Power Map” concept, which I think any startup would benefit from reading. Other tips include selling into governments and other bureaucracies as well as navigating the different forms of influencers.
16. Thinking in Bets – Annie Duke
I was slightly disappointed by this book after it received a solid review by Marc Andreessen. The first few chapters are really good and then it tails off from there. The key ideas are great: thinking in terms of “Am I so sure about this I would put money on it?”, using confidence percentages over absolutes, and thinking more about the decision process than the outcome are all covered early. From there, the book goes on to suggest strategies for putting those insights into action and becomes repetitive.
15. Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
Two main concepts from this book to remember. SUCCESs (Simple, Unexpected, Credible, Concrete, Emotional, Stories) and Curse of Knowledge. The first concept is what makes ideas stick and the second focuses on why we don’t use each to make our ideas more sticky to others. This is a great read for those focused on marketing or sales: i.e. everyone.
14. Everybody Writes – Ann Handley
70+ tips for better writing for everyone. Because of social media and email, we are all writers rather we admit it or not. Handley offers tips for all writers and some tips that are specific to the different types of writing. Highly recommend for anyone looking to sharpen their writing skills.
13. A Guide to the Good Life – William B Irvine
I picked up A Guide to the Good Life after seeing it mentioned by several people on Twitter as a life-changing book. While that is TBD, I really liked the Stoic concepts discussed in this book. The biggest takeaway is splitting events into three categories: those we can’t control, those we can, and those we can impact but not control. Eg. focus on preparing the best you can and don’t be upset if the results are not completely in your control.
12. Talent Wins – Ram Charan, et al.
I recommend this book on the “Critical 2 Percent” tactic alone. Identifying the highest leverage employees is a no-brainer, but Charan and his co-authors take it to a new level by reframing who the 2 percent are. (hint: it doesn’t involve titles or salaries) The book is mostly focused on issues that affect larger organizations however, there are more than a few takeaways for any CEO regardless of company size.
11. Bad Blood – John Carreyrou
I really enjoyed “Hatching Twitter” so I wasn’t shocked that this book had me hooked from the first few pages. I was amazed at the amount of dysfunction and incompetence that was displayed not only by Theranos but also by executives at publicly traded companies like Walgreens and Safeway. To say the least, it was shocking.
10. Elements of Eloquence – Mark Forsyth
I was a bit disappointed by this one. I expected a book that would be a guide to better writing and communication. Instead, the book is a collection of several figures of speech. I suspect they will be helpful as a reference moving forward and I will keep the book handy for future writing. One great thing about the book, Forsyth is a great writer who kept a potentially boring subject from being dull.
9. Skin in the Game – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My reading slowed down a bit in March & early April, but I did get to finish SITG. For me, this was NNT’s most readable book yet. I particularly enjoyed the Intellectual Yet Idiot (IYI) chapter, though I’m now very concerned with avoiding becoming one myself. One of the more memorable insights from the book was that rigorous, well-executed research that is contradictory should be given special consideration, especially when the person conducting it has skin in the game. This feels like a great analogy for venture capital, especially at the seed-stage.
8. The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I re-read The Black Swan due to the fact that I didn’t think I fully appreciated the thinking behind it and in preperation for Skin in the Game also written by NNT. I won’t spend too much time reviewing since this book has been thoroughly discussed online. However, I encourage everyone to read this and other books that shed light on our biases and provide the reader with new huersitics for problem solving.
7. Blockchain Revolution – Don and Alex Tapscott
This book is probably a great read for those just starting to learn about blockchain, but if you know anything about the technology it’s likely too much of a beginner’s read. I was already familiar with how the technology works at a very high level and the potential use cases. Something I’ll likely write about later on that comes from a concept in this book is how will blockchain impact our workforce, particularly middle management.
6. Reset – Ellen Pao
It’s impossible not to feel for Ellen’s journey in Reset, and her passion for inclusion and lasting change is evident. I also couldn’t read this book and take a side since it is from one perspective but I do recommend everyone read it. We could all do better by learning about our conscious and unconscious behaviors which prevent the very best employees from rising to the top regardless of gender, race, or religion.
5. Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
It’s hard to classify this as the best book I’ve read this year because they’ve all been fairly different, but in terms of writing style and readability, Sapiens is hard to top. I likened Harari’s writing style to that of Carolo Rovelli but for social anthropology. He takes an incredibly complex subject and makes it extremely enjoyable. The book is exactly what it says, “a brief history of mankind” and puts into perspective just how insignificant we really are as individuals.
4. Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility – Patty McCord
Patty McCord is best known for her role as head of HR at Netflix and the corresponding Netflix Culture Deck. The book does a great job of highlighting the counter-productive nature of today’s HR and examines why companies don’t treat HR problem-solving in the same way they would product or marketing despite how well those strategies work. My favorite insight from the book came in the form of resource allocation when it comes to salaries. Most companies are either competitive with compensation or not, regardless of position. Compensation doesn’t have to be a zero or one problem, startups can compensate the positions they most need well, while paying close to market rates in positions where top-level skill is not needed.
3. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
A powerful book that I was convinced to read after seeing so many successful people recommend it in Tribe of Mentors. I won’t spoil the one true freedom every man has, but needless to say, it had a big impact on the way I think about things. I’m not sure there’s a book I’ve read that packs more punch in just a few short pages.
2. Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferriss
A quick and skimmable read. Tim asked the same 10 or so questions to a variety of extremely successful people and then put the best answers here. I read most of the interviews but certainly skipped over about 1/3. The format of the book makes it quite easy for the reader to determine which interviews are worth reading and which may not be applicable. This book will be a resource over time, especially when it comes to skills like being more diligent with my schedule and for exploring new books.
1. Principles – Ray Dalio
A must-read for any business professional. While most of us probably have a loosely defined set of values and norms, Ray has codified his after 30+ years in the investing business. He encourages the reader to only take the principles they feel apply to them and create their own set of principles. We could all heed Ray’s advice to be more cognizant and accepting of what we don’t know while being more focused on achieving success rather than appearing successful.