What I’m Reading in 2018
The Death of Expertise — Tom Nichols shows us why the surge in narcissistic and intellectual egalitarianism has crippled informed debates. “All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.”
Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything — Your future won't be dictated by what you know today but rather by how fast you learn and adapt. While I read a lot on learning, most of it is incredibly dense. As an example, consider, “Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning.” If you're interested in learning more about learning, Learn Better is very approachable and full of helpful insights and tips. A teacher friend mentioned that it incorporates a decent chunk of what she's learned about learning.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus – Charles C. Mann – Amazing! Despite it's size and density, I read this cover to cover in a week. Mann is a good writer, especially because he injects his excitement and enthusiasm for his subjects right into his prose. His points are extremely well researched, and he is diligent about including and examining dissenting opinion. The suggestions in the book are mind-blowing to the extent that it reexamines everything most of us were taught about the pre-Columbus Americas and basically makes a great case for how most of it is wrong. At the same time, his analysis and conclusions are extremely logical for anyone who has read a lot of history and biology. I found myself many times thinking “of course, that makes perfect sense.” Well worth reading.
The Opposable Mind —An insightful read on how successful people think about problems. The most insightful mechanism of which is eliminating the false duality of doing either this or that and creating a new reality, which Roger Martin, the author, calls integrative thinking. This is “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas … and … produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” While the book is a quick read, the ideas will stay with you longer. Martin is an expert guide.
Skin in the Game — Of course I'm reading this. Love him or hate him (and no one I know is neutral), Taleb is generally worth reading even if you don't agree with what he's saying or how he's saying it. I loved the part on the reliability of knowledge, which triangulates well with our approach to using time-tested mental models. Taleb's arguments are not without their own biases. I recommend you read this negative review, which for some reason seemed to be pulled from Amazon at the time of this email.
Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue — There is an old Scottish motto that no one attacks me with impunity. You know that moment when someone slights you, and you decide that it's too much. The moment you decide that you're not going to take it anymore. You don't always respond like the boxer would, throwing an immediate counterpunch. No, sometimes you hold it in waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fights end quickly. Karma is not always as fast. Conspiracy offers a look at how one powerful man slighted another with a simple comment on the internet (see butterfly effect). Had this comment been about any other man, or perhaps on any other day, it would have been lost forever. But when Peter Theil read the comment, he decided to do something about it. Consider This book a manual in the art of executing strategic revenge against those that have wronged.
Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World — I hate the title of this book but love the content. The book tackles big questions like: How do we make sense of reality? How do we develop? How do we advance and get better? How do we understand our own growth or lack thereof? How do we understand reality? Jennifer Garvey Berger suggests we can learn something about the patterns of adult development not only to understand ourselves and move us forward but to better understand and support others. This book isn't something you read before bed when you're tired but it is something you read to push yourself forward and better understand the world.
The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling —Before you walk into a Casino you should read this book. Investors will love the section on pari-mutuel betting. Gambling attracts a lot of incredibly intelligent people — like Richard Feynman, Claude Shannon, and Ed Thorp — to see if they can gain an edge over the house. It strikes me that gamblers share a similar mindset with hackers — seeing gambling as a system with rules and probabilities where small advantages can be unearthed and exploited before the opponent catches on and closes the loophole.
Average is Over — There is a fundamental divide between workers, for some the computer will help and for others, it will cost them. This will increase the wage gap, however, it might not be as bad as you think. The future it working with technology, which is constantly adapting. The future will be owned by those with wonderful people skills and those that can rapidly adapt and use technology.
The Complacent Class — We're becoming more risk-averse, moving less, productivity is declining outside of tech, and more medicated. Individually we're settling, but collectively this has massive impacts like screwy politics and reduced competitiveness on an international level.
Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts, which comes out this week. I was lucky to have an advance copy. I read this in preparation for having Annie Duke on the podcast. Anyone interested in making better decisions can learn a lot from this book.
Fear City — A fascinating overview of New York's fiscal crisis and the rise of austerity politics. More than a financial thriller, Kim Phillips-Fein gives you a front-row seat into how seemingly small steps lead to unforeseen outcomes. Essential reading for anyone looking to understand New York's brush with bankruptcy and how it shaped politics.
A Beautiful Terrible Thing — For anyone that's ever dated psychopath, this incredibly powerful memoir will not only resonate but offer inspiration. The way the book was constructed is creative and engaging.
America's Bank by Roger Lowenstein — A legacy of the Jeffersonian era of small traditions and small government, Lowenstein tells the story of the creation of the Federal Reserve. Before the reserve, financial panics, bank runs, money shortages, and depressions were common. By the early twentieth century, it had become apparent the banking system was ill equipped to handle the rapid development of the industrial industry. The abandonment of the gold standard would have shocked the founders, who assumed money had to be more than pure paper. The challenge of organizations, including the Federal Reserve, is to adapt to a world for which it was not intended. This means organizations are created with flexibility that can accommodate a wide variety of scenarios, like the financial crisis. The Federal Reserve, no more guarantees sound banking policy more than Congress can guarantee the creation of good laws or the President can ensure good Policy.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers — Engaging and thoughtful, this book explores the many uses cadavers have. Done with both respect and a quirky curiosity, the author tells a fascinating story about what can happen to our bodies after we die. Reading this also provokes a lot of questions about what is life, and what really matters. The answers will be different for everyone, but this book certainly provides a unique perspective on how to consider the relationship between our biology and our ‘selves'.
Merchant Kings: When Companies Rule the World, 1600-1900 — It's not a part of history that many are fond of remembering, tied up as it is with exploitation and murder. So bizarre to us now, that a country could just ‘give' a monopoly on land that it didn't own thousands of miles away to a private corporation that wasn't required to obey national laws, completely disregarding the wishes of the land's inhabitants. The author manages to be honest about this history while providing a fresh perspective on the relationship between company and country, and why every single one of them were both moral and financial disasters.
Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More — A lot of practical advice in here on how to focus your energy to do more. The section on constrictive conflict and meetings dovetails well with Ray Dailo's notion of an idea meritocracy.