Books I Read in Q1 2017
My goal for this year is to keep a better log of what I read and I’ll be writing longer posts on certain books. This is just a high level summary of what I read in Q1 2017. Note: I read way too much in the first quarter and didn’t absorb nearly enough of it. I’m making a conscious effort to slow down and emphasize quality over quantity for the rest of the year.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
Surprisingly readable for a 200+ year-old book. Smith’s classic book on economics that laid the foundations for modern capitalism. Lots of great insights that are still relevant today.
Three Scientists and Their Gods by Robert Wright
Wright attempts to tackle some really big issues — the meaning of life, the meaning of information, etc. through biographies of three unique and creative thinkers. Really enjoyable, thought-provoking book that I’ll definitely revisit.
Filters Against Folly by Garrett Hardin
A lot of overlap with Living Within Limits. Hardin posits that good decisions must be based on literacy, numeracy, and what he terms ecolacy — considering the relationships between elements and secondary and tertiary impacts of decisions.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Had been meaning to get around to this one for a long time because I’m a big Pynchon fan and hear that Nabokov was one of his professor and a big influence. The prison diary of Humbert Humbert, a literary scholar who is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze, who he. The plot line is pretty messed up. Nabokov is a great writer.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Story of an English butler re-telling portions of his life while on a car trip to visit an old friend. I have to admit, I expected to be bored by this, but really enjoyed it. Very simple, but well-written look at an era and lifestyle I wasn’t familiar with.
Berkshire Hathaway: Letters to Shareholders 1965–2014 by Warren Buffett
A lot of great wisdom from Warren Buffett packed into these letters. The first decade or so aren’t terribly interesting, but once he starts imparting lessons in the letters, I found myself underlining and dog-earing a lot of pages.
The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
Very readable overview of cognitive biases and decision making errors. Dobelli breaks the field down into 100 different biases. Not much that hasn’t already been covered by Kahneman, Thaler, Munger, etc., but enjoyable refresher.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Not typically a big sci-fi fan, but found myself really enjoying this one. Funny and witty.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I really liked The Remains of the Day so I decided to check this one out. Interesting blend of sci-fi, coming of age story, and love story, that does an amazing job of transporting you to the world Ishiguro created.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Set in a future society where a new science called psychohistory allows historians to predict the future behavior of populations on macro scale. The historian Hari Seldon predicts a coming collapse of the galactic empire leading to a millenia-long dark age and forms a foundation to preserve human knowledge and help minimize the impact. This one is considered a classic, but I honestly didn’t enjoy it that much. I found it repetitive and found the characters to be one-dimensional.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
The author was finishing his neurosurgery residency when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. What follows is part autobiography and part meditations on life and purpose. Short but incredibly powerful book.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman
The history of Scotland over the last several centuries and how its most important thinkers and innovations impacted the world at large.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Diamond explores the progression of human civilization and some of the factors (guns, germs, and steel) that shaped the path. He explores questions like why Europeans reached and conquered the Americas and not vice versa, and provides compelling answers. The subject matter had a decent amount of overlap with The Third Chimpanzee, but I enjoyed it.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Really liked this one. Non-fiction, but presented in a narrative style that seems more like a novel. Larson tells the parallel stories of Daniel Burnham, the architects behind the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer in Chicago in the same era who built a hotel to prey on visitors to the Exposition.
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
I’m a big fan of both Michael Lewis and the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, so I was excited about this book. It didn’t disappoint. Lewis tells the story of Kahneman and Tversky — their early lives, their friendship, and their professional collaboration that reshaped the way we think about thinking.
A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals About the Past and Future of our Species, Planet and Universe by Gino Segre
Segre tackles the subject of temperature and its importance in a variety of domains including biology, cosmology, and ecology. Unique approach to the subject and a lot of interesting information.
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
A “how to” guide for starting a fulfilling lifestyle business with minimal upfront investment. Guillebeau profiles dozens of founders — often one man or woman operations — who have carved out interesting niches that allow them to make a good living with flexibility live life they way they want. Inspiring book.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Krakauer tells the history of the Mormon church in parallel with the story of two fundamentalist brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and niece in the name of God.
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
Story of the sinking of the Lusitania through the perspectives of both the passengers and crew of the Lusitania and the captain and crew of U20, the German U-boat that fired the fatal torpedo.
Principles by Ray Dalio
The founder of Bridgewater Associates discusses the importance of principles, key principles in his life, and over 200 of his management principles. A lot of insightful information — especially in the first 20–30 pages.
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
Chronicle of the events leading up to the Johnstown Flood of 1889 and its aftermath. Extremely well-researched and well-written account. I never realized the magnitude of the destruction before reading this book.
Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy by Simon Blackburn
High-level overview on some key questions in psychology including the ideas of self, consciousness, God, reasoning, and more. I found it to be a little bit dry, but offered some good suggestions for further reading.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Classic book on military strategy. Still has a lot of practical advice for business and other contexts. Note: I think I bought a really bad translation, so need to re-read a higher-quality copy of this sometime.
The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli’s classic volume of advice for Princes. This book gets a bad reputation because he advocates violence and some cold, calculating tactics in some situations, but actually has a lot of great advice. I wrote a blog post on it here.
A Field Guide to Lies by Daniel Levitin
Overview of how to be a discerning consumer of information and not be misled by statistical and other tricks. Admittedly, I didn’t finish this one. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it had a lot of overlap with similar books I’ve read like Standard Deviations and How to Lie With Statistics.
Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary
The history of the world told through Islamic eyes. Begins with the life of the prophet Muhammad and works through modern day. I really enjoyed this one, but have to re-read it at some point. It was very information-dense and I definitely didn’t absorb everything.