Chapter II: Another 24 Months, Another 24 Books

This is the part 2 following 33 Books I’ve Read and Reread in the Past 3 Years from March 2018 (2 years ago). I love to read and here are a few select picks from the past couple years. I drafted this article, didn’t finish it, and forgot about it for a couple months so I’m opting to hit publish because I want to get it out of my drafts folder and into the world, so please excuse the typos:

Books worth reading more than once:

Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss: As someone who was slow in youth to pick up on the emotional nuance of persuasion and how to communicate effectively, this has been incredibly helpful. For those not naturally gifted with EQ, this book is for you. It’s not the 80s tough sell type of negotiation training which doesn’t work.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger: Again, it helped me understand how to communicate effectively and viral marketing and makes it easy for an analytical mind to understand. Easy read, insightful, entertaining.

Books I read once and I’m glad I did:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Liked it. It’s an easy read. I almost never read fiction so when I do, it has to be set in the future and somewhat philosophical. This book interweaves a great story with a philosophical message. I’m writing this on April 8 2020 while the world is on lockdown from Covid-19 and I’m deeply hoping that this lockdown isn’t a preview of the future. Gets you thinking if art imitates life or life imitates art. And it’s written for teenage boys so you don’t have to exercise your mind much. If you’re into Audible, I recommend the Audible version — I loved their narrator.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance: I think this was very well-written. It’s balanced, unbiased, and I felt like I came off with a good understanding of who Elon Musk is and how he thinks. I did not come off with a good understanding of how he feels though. I don’t think this is an oversight on the author’s part, I just think Elon Musk’s feelings can best be characterized in most situations as…functional. He seems to be someone who wakes up everyday excited about the future and rarely experiences unwarranted negative emotions, who doesn’t look back often, doesn’t brood, has a nimble mind, and that makes him live a singular (and lonely — if he experienced loneliness as others do) life. I didn’t finish this book liking or disliking him per se, just seeing him as different and knowing I’d never want to work with him and I’d love to have him at a dinner party sometime.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: Liked it. Theranos is a weird and interesting story. Had it been software, she would have gotten away with it, but translating startup ethos of iteration/fake it til you make it to medical devices was never a good idea. I didn’t come away thinking Elizabeth Holmes was a bad person (although a lot of people who also read this book did, so I’m wondering why they had a different interpretation). She was ambitious, young, and an excellent communicator. The thing about situations like hers is they don’t go from 0 to fraud overnight — things gradually stack on top of each other until you’re too deep to recognize it. That’s what I believe happened with her. Also why I believe it is important to never end up in a life surrounded by sycophants.

Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins: Tony Robbins has been such a loved or despised figure for so long I wanted to understand. I was surprised how many loyalists he had in hiding when I came to San Francisco. I’d always associated him with middle America fans. It was pretty unexpected. Overall I’d say there’s common sense, good stuff there, nothing groundbreaking — but groundbreaking isn’t always necessary, people just need to be reminded of the basics until they become second nature. The basics are more important than the groundbreaking in self-improvement in most cases. If your life is spinning out of control and you have nothing to anchor to, I’d recommend it.

The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna: Good primer. Very informative. I tried a couple other crypto/blockchain books but didn’t get far because they were too surface level or too technical. This struck a good balance. Easy to understand. I read this at the height of the crypto bubble and it gave historical and macro context for cryptocurrrency which I appreciate. At the time I saw holes in the crypto-bro promise for utopia, but this idyllic Libertarian outcome had so thoroughly become the zeitgeist among the techie crowd that I thought I was losing my mind. I was not. Reminder here was that very few people really understand that any given technology has no mission or belief system, it just has use cases.

Power House: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artist’s Agency by James Andrew Miller: Super interesting to contrast the 70s/80s brash Hollywood hustler approach that built the empire that is CAA with the salesman-builder Silicon Valley approach of today. Underpinning both archetypes is a maniacal focus and desire to win. They both have sharp elbows and strong social skills harmonious — a mix of characteristic I’ve seen unique to the most successful people I know in life. I’ll admit I read half this book. As in life, I was more interested in the startup phase for CAA. It feels a little odd to be writing public reviews of biographies of people you’ve met in life (4/4 bio reviews so far), but life’s wacky ain’t it and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass.

Angel: How to Invest in Technology Companies by Jason Calacanis: This was a good foil to Angel Investing by David Rose. Angel Investing is strategic and systematic. i.e. it breaks down different methodologies for determining valuation. The different parts of an IM. It could be a textbook (an entertaining one). Angel: How to Invest in Technology Companies is tactical and colloquial. i.e. it breaks down how to write an email to potential co-investors. If he thinks rich or poor founders do better. It’s anecdotal. I think both should be read so you can figure out what kind of angel you want to be knowing the 2 extremes through their writing.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: Finally, an academically sound argument on why I need to sleep in. Honestly though it is well-written, well-researched, and his odd passion for sleep study shines through the book. I wish that educated society didn’t need 300 pages of scientific studies and arguments to change the way we think about something that should be obviously true, that sleep is absolutely critical and getting enough sleep is a huge edge, but whaddaya gonna do.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl: Not for the faint of heart. He details his life in the concentration camps for the first half and offers his take on the psychology behind it in the second half. Big takeaway: humans get through life and find joy by finding meaning in things. Humans are meaning makers. I find this to be true. But again, not for the faint of heart. There were a few times when I thought of stopping because it was too heavy or at least had to take a break.

Books you can skip:

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday: I am not a Stoic, I’ve decided. I applaud him for being able to turn his catharsis into income.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger: Wrong about so many things. I get really sick of books that with arguments predicated on the gospel of evolutionary psychology, an infant science and in some ways a pseudoscience. Didn’t do it for me.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Good as an audiobook. Short. I’m not a big fiction reader and can’t remember why I decided to read this. Mildly entertaining.

Books I read some of and got the gist and you can probably skip:

Don’t waste your time on bad books. Your time is precious.

Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber: Too politically biased. Doesn’t read well. A lot of his conclusions just didn’t add up logically to me. Made it through 50 or so odd pages.

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramovic: Marina, you sure are an interesting lady but man was your childhood depressing. I was getting depressed listening to the Audiobook. I’m sorry. Still admire her.

Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Know All The Facts by Annie Duke: The book is pretty much the title — the ultimate book that could have been a blog post. Think probabilistically. The end. Love fellow lady poker players and still admire her though.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham: One of those books I feel like I should be in my charming country lodge with my Golden Retriever and pipe-smoking husband sitting next to me, reading glasses on and 50, and somehow everything is plaid. I just felt like a statesman reading about it. I feel like Dubai gave me a unique view into country formation and power in the hands of a small elite with a large lower class — there are enough parallels that the rose-colored writing didn’t resonate, but I enjoyed that it was rose-colored. Where’s my country lodge and golden dog

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell: Common sense, straight to the point. I didn’t finish it because I did study economics, so it’s not too new. He doesn’t take it beyond principles. I would recommend for something wanting principles but I wasn’t going to get more out of it. It’s kinda funny actually he seems enraged that people are not getting the basics and keeps giving examples and a loving tone of “don’t you see? Idiotttts!” comes through.

Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers by Philip Stokes: My takeaway is that understanding a philosophy requires you to go deep and think with it, so it was a mistake trying to get a crash course. A lot of philosophies seem kinda dumb when you’re listening to a surface level as a summary and it isn’t contextualized to history. I learned.

A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna: I really wish I had enough of a foundation in bio to get through more than 40 pages but I tapped out. Too technical.

The Big Four: The Hidden DNA of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple by Scott Galloway: Biased incomplete view. Cherry picks stats as supporting evidence. I appreciate his wit and believe his intent is good — he’s been very right about some things — and I like business books that tell stories, but this leans too much to stories/surface-level arguments rather than knowledge transmission.

The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton: Interesting ideas. Wasn’t scientifically sound enough or actionable enough to hold me but he’s onto something.

Still reading:

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza: Tangent — I feel like he should clarify he is a chiropractor. I’m about 50 pages in. I’m into woo-woo ideas about mind over matter and I like the way he thinks about it through the lens of quantum physics. Although as scientifically unsound as The Biology of Belief he structures arguments in a way that make sense experientially. He’s onto something. How inexact or exact, can’t say, future will, but interesting

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