Favorite Reads of 2017
I heard somewhere that the average CEO reads about a book a week. So I set an ambitious goal of twice that, or reading 100 books in 2017. I began fairly late into the year (August) so I knew I was going to fail. I made it to 74 (possibly more since I think I forgot to track some or possibly less since I binged a bunch of Sherlock Holmes short stories the week after Christmas to speedily inflate that number). That’s a solid “C” if we were grading, but it’s a passing grade nonetheless. Here’s a few of the best books I read by category
Sometimes you hear about something enough that you figure you know the gist of it. That’s how it was for me with The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. When I actually sat down and started reading, I was blown away with how good it was. It’s a least in my top 3 favorite books, possibly the favorite at this point. What’s crazy is that the author spends entire volumes (plural) describing the architecture of cities or cathedrals, something seemingly so drab that could make you want to give up…and yet I was still hooked for every word.
Bel Canto is a fantastic juxtaposition between the high-stakes emotions of a hostage situation and the refined art of Opera. If you would have asked me if I would read a book about Opera, I would have told you no, but I can’t say enough good about Ann Patchett. Everything she writes is like poetry and she distills her stories down so that every word in the sentence carries the maximum meaning. Commonwealth was a great read too, but that book is getting such rave reviews elsewhere so I won’t expound here.
The Lost City of the Monkey God is basically a real life Nicolas Cage movie. It had maps, treasure hunters, and hidden cities. My wife and I both stayed up late for several nights finishing it together. It is an interesting and fun read that wrapped up in a more profound way than I expected
Dark Matter is a science-based thriller done right. The author took on a complex subject in a way that was profound but not overly complicated or contrived. I’m not a huge science fiction fan but he did it so well that anyone would be crazy not to get hooked on this story.
Is God A Moral Monster does such a great job of explaining the complex topic of Old Testament law in the Bible. I think the author’s take on it was probably the first unique opinion I’ve heard over how to make sense of something so mired in debate.
Walden was another one of those books that had the potential to be a dry but wasn’t in the least. There were entire chapters about walking around in the snow, taking a boat ride, watching ants fight, or the economics of farming beans. Still I was hooked through and through. There’s a crazy juxtaposition between the simplicity of life and the profundity & value of one.
Requiem for the American Dream was a great take on the current state of inequality in America. I can’t recall learning anything new from it, just an excellent summary of the current status quo in America. I wouldn’t say I agree with 100% of his arguments or conclusions, but there’s enough right in there that it should haunt any American thinking that this country’s greatness is equally distributed.
I was a little bit late (half a decade) to discovering a viral video on YouTube about how to handle yourself if you ever have to interact with the police. You Have the Right to Remain Innocent is a must-read for anyone who might ever set foot on American soil. Highly eye-opening and fantastically important to understand in what ways the deck is stacked against you before you find yourself in a potentially life-altering situation.
Both Eat People and The Hard Thing About Hard Things are slightly crass takes on the technology businesses by men who have paid their dues in the field. If you’re looking for some good rule-of-thumb principles for divining businesses that will succeed (Eat People) or how to navigate the chaos of managing a tech company (The Hard Thing About Hard Things), both books have invaluable insights and solid principles that seem like fantastic compasses in areas where few (if any) maps even exist. What I liked about both is that they read like playbooks (or maybe modern day versions of The Art of War) instead of just conceptual self-improvement texts.
I started reading Play Anything because I thought it was going to be about how to use Game Theory to make customers engage more with products or delighting employees by making work seem like a game. It ended up being a pretty philosophical take on gaming and much deeper than I expected.
Big Data is an excellent read about a word that I figured was just a buzzword. It gave such a wide breadth of the entire picture that I could clearly see the importance and felt immediately more capable to start picking off related sub-disciplines and taking action. The stories were amazing and it helped illustrate that it’s not just a buzzword but a huge driver behind why most of the biggest tech giants you can name are dominating the market.
I included these because I’ve been taking them down as audio-books through the Great Courses series. Thinking About Capitalism was ironically one of the most helpful courses I’ve ever taken in dissecting human emotion and decisions. I took it on a whim but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see things from the vantage point the instructor provided. Initially I decided to take the course because I thought to myself, “I live in America so I should have some sort of opinion about capitalism.” However, I came out with such a fuller perspective about the influence of commerce on interpersonal interactions and societal mindsets that I feel like I have a more complete picture of the underpinnings and motivations culminating in the current American milieu.
Exploring Metaphysics was a course that I put off for a while because Metaphysics felt so irrelevant to the day-to-day, rubber-hits-the-road of life. Unexpectedly, actually sitting down and chewing on it for a couple hours helped me reevaluate life in deeper ways. I’m glad for the perspective it provided and it was relevant the whole way through.
If you feel like watching me fail (again) in real time, you can follow along with my 2018 Reading Challenge. I’m going to double down and shoot for 200. Better yet, start your own challenge. We can be CEOs together one day.