Everything I read in Q2 2017
A Man for All Markets by Edward O. Thorp
Autobiography of Edward O. Thorp, the mathematician who literally wrote the book on card counting in blackjack. Thorp has led a fascinating life and applied mathematics to a variety of disciplines with great success. He developed one of the first card counting systems for blackjack, collaborated with Claude Shannon to build a wearable computer to gain an edge in roulette, and formed one of the pioneering quantitative hedge funds. Read my blog post and review here.
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
Working through this over the course of the year. Each day includes a quote from a different Stoic philosopher (usually Marcu Aurelius, Epictetus, or Seneca) and a paragraph or two of discussion and how to apply to modern life. Has helped keep me more grounded, rational, and level-headed.
Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman
Six short sections from the Feynman Lecture of Physics covering topics like gravity, conservation of energy, and basic quantum effects. Feynman has a great way of describing things and using vivid examples to describe complicated points. After reading this, I intend to purchase a full copy of the Feynman Lectures on Physics.
The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Will and Ariel Durant spent their careers writing The Story of Civilization — a 10,000-page chronicle of western history. This short (100-page) book of essays condenses everything their learned about the patterns that repeat throughout history and the impact of a variety of disciplines (economics, biology, government, religion, character, etc.) on history. Thought provoking quotes on every page. Here’s a link to my blog post on this one.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Had been meaning to read this for a long time and finally got around to it. It didn’t disappoint. Isaacson’s biography tells the story of Steve Jobs’ life from childhood until shortly before his death. It paints a picture of a brilliant, but difficult, designer and CEO and is written in a really readable, entertaining manner. Definitely want to read more from Isaacson after this.
Competition Demystified by Bruce C. Greenwald and Judd Kahn
Admittedly, I skimmed through this one, but think I captured the main points. The authors argue that Michael Porter’s five forces model for competitive strategy is too complicated. Rather, we should focus on a single force: competitive advantage. Competitive advantages come in three forms: supply, demand, and economies of scale. The book provides lots of real-life examples of the application of these concepts. Here’s a link to my blog post on this one.
The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behvaior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith
Another one of my recent favorites. The authors make the (cynical) argument that all leaders make decisions based solely on remaining in power. The more people the leader is dependent on to stay in power, the more egalitarian he/she will appear. They offer numerous real life examples in politics and corporate governance and make a compelling case for their argument. Even if all leaders aren’t 100% self-interested, the authors provide a useful framework for thinking about power and governance. Here’s a link to my blog post on this one.
The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
Isaacson chronicles the history of the information age and the collaborative innovation that drove it. Starting with Babbage’s analytical engine through the creation of the internet and pursuit of artificial intelligence. Profiles of most of the pioneers of information technology: Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Claude Shannon, William Shockley, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, etc. I’d already read many of these stories in other books and articles, but Isaacson’s writing is great and he does a great job of tying everything together.
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver
One of my few forays into fiction recently. The Mandibles is the story of several generations of a wealthy family surviving in an economically depressed future version of America where the dollar is worthless; unemployment is rampant; and future prospects are bleak. Scary and oddly believable story.
FIASCO by Frank Partnoy
The author’s chronicle of his experience as a derivatives trader at Morgan Stanley in the early 90’s. Entertaining and funny until you realize it’s a true story. Reminded me a lot of Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
This is a good companion to The Daily Stoic. Holiday breaks the book up into three segments for readers who are still trying to achieve success, those who have succeeded, and those whose careers have had a fall from grace.
An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi
This was a good intro to a bunch of different logical fallacies, and motivated me to read more on the subject, but a little light in substance overall. Nonetheless, a quick, entertaining read.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
The memoirs of the Founder of Nike. He focuses on the story from the founding of the company through the IPO. This book was entertaining and the early Nike team’s grit and determination is inspiring. One of the better books I’ve read recently.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Frankl shares his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner then details the concepts of “logotheraphy” — his therapy method. The underlying thesis is that people can survive any situation as long as they have a reason to keep going. It’s critical to have a meaning in your life. Short, but inspiring book worth revisiting every now and then.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman
I enjoy reading anything from Feynman. This is a collection of a few of his short writings including a commencement speech, stories of his time on the Manhattan Project, his testimony on the Challenger explosion, and more.
The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation by David Ricardo
Great as a companion to The Wealth of Nations (Ricardo makes numerous references to Adam Smith’s work), but a shorter more digestible read. Ricardo begins with the concept that value is dictated by the amount of labor (man-hours) required to produce a product and expands his theory to describe the rules dictating trade, taxation, and more. Some of the material is dated, but the underlying concepts like comparative advantage as the driving force behind trade are still relevant.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Their dedication to their craft is insane. Countless hours refining and improving their designs not to mention risking their lives on a daily basis for multiple years. Inspiring story.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
The story of William Dodd, the Ambassador to Germany in the 1930’s, and his family’s time in Berlin. I’m a big fan or Larson’s writing and this one didn’t disappoint. Haunting inside view of Hitler’s ascent to power and the precursors to WW2.
Getting to Yes by Bruce Patton, Roger Fisher, and William Ury
Classic guide to principled negotiation. In a sentence, the authors promote the idea of negotiation as a cooperative problem-solving session. It’s important to focus on interests, not positions, and work together to develop creative, objectively score-able, solutions that optimally address the interests of both sides. Quick, easy read with some useful tactical tips and memorable examples.
Narrative and Numbers by Aswath Damodaran
Damodaran provides a practical, compelling book on business valuation for managers and investors. The core argument is that narratives without numbers can lose their grounding in reality, but numbers without narratives are dull and offer only the illusion of objectivity. Combining narratives and numbers in an iterative process combines the strengths of both approaches. Lots of real-life examples to illustrate the concepts.
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
Bostrom explores the idea of superintelligent (i.e. substantially more intelligent than human-level) AI and the potential consequences. He begins with the potential paths from the current state of technology to achieving superintelligent AI and explores the potential consequences and strategies we should employ to protect ourselves. While I don’t agree with all of Bostrom’s conclusions, this was an incredibly thought-provoking book and definitely worth the read.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Read this after seeing Keith Rabois recommend it on Twitter. Duckworth, a professor from Penn, outlines her research into the importance of grit (i.e. passion and perseverance) and suggestions for cultivating grit as individuals, cultivating grit in our children, and building gritty organizations. I’d encountered quite a bit of the research in other contexts, but this was an enjoyable overview with lots of memorable anecdotes. Inspired me to think more deeply about my purpose and passions. Great companion to Deep Work (below).
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Read this as a companion to Grit. Explores the idea that the ability to quickly learn complicated topics and perform concentrated, “deep work”, is critical to success in the modern economy. Newport offers a lot of tactical advice for enhancing our abilities to think deeply and complete meaningful work. Key takeaway: take ownership of your schedule and be very deliberate with how you use your time. Position yourself to avoid distractions and maximize the amount of deep work you complete.
Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System that Beat the Casinos and Wall Street by William Poundstone
Inspired to read this one after finishing Ed Thorp’s book, A Man for All Markets. This book has a decent amount of overlap in subject matter, but in my opinion is better written, and layers in a number of other compelling narratives including the story of John Kelly, the Bell Labs scientist who re-purposed Claude Shannon’s work on information theory to create a formula for optimal betting (investing) when the gambler (investor) has an edge. Very entertaining read.