2016 Book Review

Here are some of the books I read in 2016 along with my brief opinions and recommendations.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — Phil Knight

Great story of entrepreneurship told by the founder himself. It was incredible to hear how long it took Nike to get off the ground properly and become a full-time job for Phil Knight. It’s a great example of patience and tenacity getting rewarded.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon — Brad Stone

I read this just as Soylent was starting to sell our products on Amazon. It gives a great overview of the corporate history, but I suspect that because it wasn’t written with Bezos’ blessing, it doesn’t have the same positive gusto of Shoe Dog.

Seveneves: A Novel — Neal Stephenson

A truly epic sci-fi saga. This could have easily been split into a trilogy, but I love that the format keeps you hooked all the way through. It really reaffirmed the fact that hard sci-fi is one of my favorite genres.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance — David Epstein

Very interesting overview of the genetic changes that have been occurring in athletics over the past century (mostly). It does a great job of deeply explaining the classic nature vs. nurture debate and reframing it as less of a trade-off and more as two compounding forces.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions — Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths

Fun read for anyone with even a passing interest in algorithms, this book reads a lot like the “Freakonomics” of Computer Science. This book would be a great gift for any high-school junior or senior on the cusp of picking a major.

Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization — Iain Gately

A detailed account of Tobacco through the ages. Not a gripping narrative but filled with interesting vignettes about the pervasiveness of tobacco throughout human history. The book gets stronger at the end as it starts discussing 20th century American tobacco and cigarette culture and the surgeon general’s response. One interesting story centered around the fact that after the government banned the paid product placement of cigarettes in movies, filmmakers wound up using just as many cigarettes as when they were getting paid because smoking was critical to character development.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln — Doris Kearns Goodwin

This book was honestly a little overwhelming for me. I find it hard to follow historical accounts that take place before World War 2 because of the lack of visuals available for association. One quote I did love though was from one of Lincoln’s detractors and really shows how poor the political discourse was at the time:

Lincoln is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs arms and hatchet face ever strung upon a single frame. He has most unwarrantedly abused the privilege that all politicians have of being ugly.

It serves as a nice reminder that mudslinging and ad hominem attacks are nothing new.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold — John le Carré

The plot is incredible, I can’t recommend this enough if you like spy novels at all. I read this shortly after watching The Night Manager (which I also recommend) and was impressed by how creative le Carré is with each story.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — Yuval Noah Harari

Interesting in a “big picture” kind of way. I liked the concept of the myth as the foundational construct of humanity and as the basis for everything from religion to corporations. Lots of interesting tidbits throughout.

World Order — Henry Kissinger

This book does of a great job of explaining the significance of the Peace of Westphalia in a modern context. If you’re looking for a good overview of how we arrived at our current geopolitical situation, this is a great read.

Nexus (Nexus #1) — Ramez Naam

Somewhat interesting sci-fi novel about a future in which drugs allow software to be run in human brains to allow Matrix-like skills to develop overnight and a few other neat tricks to enable a fairly engaging plot line. It’s a trilogy, but I doubt I’ll get around to finishing it.

Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality — Max Tegmark

Great as a primer on how astronomers and physicists actually work, also good at explaining the currently leading theories on multiple universes and the mathematical principles that provide evidence of a more complex world. Not sure I totally buy the conclusion, but served as a good introduction.

On China — Henry Kissinger

On China is essentially just a deep dive into China from the same perspective and analytical framework as World Order. A great history lesson on the origins of the Chinese government married with some great anecdotes about Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. It gives a really personal perspective on Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to the point where I felt very sad when reading the story of Zhou’s battle with cancer and ultimate death.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed — Jared Diamond

This books has a bunch of interesting stories about failed societies but is ultimately pretty depressing. Not highly recommended unless you like that sort of thing.

Simulacron-3 — Daniel F. Galouye

This book was the basis for one of my favorite movies as a kid, The Thirteenth Floor. I recently rewatched the move and it’s sadly not very good when watched with a critical eye, but the core story is extremely thought provoking and feels especially relevant given all the recent chatter online about simulation theory.

My Life — Bill Clinton

I find that presidential autobiographies always make for the most inspiring and uplifting reads, my goal is to read them all eventually. On of my favorite Clinton moments comes while he was seeking employment during college and was offered “a part-time job for $3,500 or a full-time job for $5,000" to which he replies: “How about two part-time jobs?”

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream — Barack Obama

Even though it doesn’t cover his presidency, it’s an insightful read. Does a good job of showing what the job of a politician requires and how Barack balances work-life and home-life.

The Gene: An Intimate History — Siddhartha Mukherjee

A very detailed history of genetics. Great read if you don’t remember biology class or haven’t kept up with current trends. Nothing in here is controversial in my mind, but it’s great to have a clear narrative to tie key developments together.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice — Bill Browder

This book takes an interesting left turn that I should have expected from the subtitle but forgot about. It’s an interesting story of investing in Russia in the 90s followed by a harrowing tale of brutal Russian prisons and the development of US government legislation to try and punish a group of international criminals.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany — William L. Shirer

This was an truly epic read. It’s such an incredibly detailed work that there are multiple sections that could be broken out into entire separate books and stand on their own just fine. I can’t recommend this book enough for a host of reasons, but perhaps my favorite is that it will make Godwin’s Law seem all the more ridiculous.

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1" — Godwin’s Law

Looking forward to more great books ahead in 2017. Please comment or message me if you have books that you think I would like.

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