Books Read in 2017

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Huari

Like Sapiens, Huari’s previous book, Homo Deus changed my perspective on reality. Homo Deus breaks down the forces shaping our future. Though the book’s close left me in a nihialistic depression, Homo Deus goes in my “must-read-if-you’re-a-human” category.

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller

Reading Spent is like taking the red pill and awakening to our consumer society as it really is. Miller looks at consumer behavior through the lens of evolutionary psychology. He argues that purchases are driven by status seeking, social signaling, and sexual solicitation. While the book needs more judicious editing, it’s a must-read for marketers.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

There’s some great questions in this book. Here’s my thoughts on a few of them:

“What are the big companies of the future that don’t exist yet?”

Obviously, augmented reality will be a big player. Instead of looking at screens, we’ll have digital elements incorporated into our line of sight. Here’s a creative imagining on what a world with AR could be like:
I predict another large company of the future will be an AI service that helps you make life decisions. The AI-powered service would monitor your vitals as you respond to situations around you. It would then compare your data to the data from lifetimes of other users, and use that data to help you make deicions that optimize your happiness.

For example, I might think that taking a well-paying job in a big city is the right life choice. The AI might disagree, telling me that people like me who make that choice have a 20% higher risk of heart disease. Moreover, the service would remind me that there’s a 65% chance my commute would be longer than 40 minutes. It knows from its history of monitoring my vitals that a lengthy commute elevates my blood pressure. The service predicts I’ll be at least 4% happier and have 16% fewer medical bills in a small town.

While this type of service may sound like science fiction, I’m already dependent on Spotify to predict my next favorite songs. Spotify pays attention to every track I play, knows which music I’ve never heard, and delivers me a custom playlist every week. On average I like 30% of its recommendations, a better win rate than friends’ recommendations.

Zero to One also asks:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

I would say, “Buying X won’t make you happy.” While many people would agree with me on this one, few agree with it in action. Myself included.

One of my favorite passages in Zero to One:

If we already understand as much of the natural world as we ever will—if all of today’s conventional ideas are already enlightened, and if everything has already been done — then there are no good answers. Contrarian thinking doesn’t make any sense unless the world still has secrets left to give up.

Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster by Alistair Croll and Benjamin

This book lays the groundwork for a deep comprehension of business analytics. Dense and helpful, I highlighted every other paragraph.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This book manages to live up to its hype. Captivated, I devoured it in two days and felt I had lived Noah’s childhood myself. Go with the audiobook version to savor Noah’s knack for accents.

How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

This is a rare gem in the self-help world because it manages to be humble, funny, and… actually helpful. Throughout the book I kept thinking, “Huh. I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

Adams argues that you should create systems instead of goals. I used to try to build habits by doing sprints. E.g., “Meditate every day for thirty minutes for 30 days.” I would succeed, but the behavior wouldn’t stick around. Building a ‘forever system’ in your life is more effective, albeit a slower process.

Adams doesn’t think failing matters as long as you fail forward–that is, you create knowledge and contacts from each failure. He thinks as long as you keep trying and learning, you’re bound to find success someday. It worked for him, will it work for everyone?

Average is Over by Tyler Cowen

Average is Over is a fascinating read on where technology is taking jobs and the economy. Cowen uses computer-aided chess tournaments to extrapolate how humans will work with intelligent machines.

What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney

Someone finally explains why animals have no trouble in the cold, but I freak out the minute the temperature drops below 67. It turns out that animals have brown fat that they burn to keep warm. We too could develop and use this fat, if only we stopped confining ourselves to temperature-controlled boxes. Carney, like Wim Hoff, proposes we have the power to condition ourselves to embrace the elements. As someone who’s dabbled in Hoff’s methods, I appreciated getting a deeper understanding of the science behind them. I closed the book enamored by the cold, but it may take a few more reads before I can keep my hands off the thermostat.

The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

An entertaining book about where technology is going. Having adored Wired as a kid, I felt waves of nostalgia as Kelly described the evolution of the internet in the same excited tone as early Wired issues. I loved Kelly’s description of a future city where you basically own nothing — every gadget is provided on-demand through a seamless network. While I’m more concerned about AI’s problems than Kelly, I enjoyed the dose of optimism.

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

Lots of good ideas for productivity experimentation in here. My favorites:

  • Keep track of your productivity. As with everything, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  • Use caffeine strategically. Use it only when you want your brain at full capacity, not as a daily routine that your brain will normalize.
  • Write down each distraction as it arises and then ignore it.

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields

Minimalism is scraping away the excess to live what is truly important to you. This is a good book to get started on minimalism, though reading a few minimalism blogs would suffice.

Lying by Sam Harris

Thought-provoking read that questions the harmlessness of white lies. Lies separate the liar from those around him.

Mini Habits by Stephen Guise

The premise of Mini Habits is that you do one super-easy thing every day to build lasting change. Guise argues that if you make your habit super easy and do it every day, you overcome your resistance and a major habit builds. It sounds good in theory, but so far my attempt at using mini habits has not yielded success.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts by Marshall Goldsmith

I wasn’t impressed with this book, but I liked the idea of doing daily ratings for values every evening. Such as, “Did I treat everyone with kindness today?” and then rate that from a 1-10. Or, “Did I make the best choices for my health today?” or “Did I make the wisest decisions for how to invest my time today?” You can set up this type of daily review and scoring system with the HabitBull app.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

The Millionaire Next Door presents the findings from studies of America’s multi-millionaires. The authors found that the millionaires who keep their money are those who forego the status symbols of wealth. After all, expensive status symbols drain finances. “I am not my car,” says one millionaire studied, reflecting the sentiment of the many millionaires who drive regular trucks and sedans. While many of the millionaires studied made their fortunes from being in profitable industries (e.g., attorney, doctor), many simply scrimped and saved their way to financial independence.

This book made me reflect on my material desires and see if they originated from a desire to appear a certain way. For example, will people think less of me if I never update my wardrobe? Or will I get the societal belonging I crave if I focus that energy on helping others?

Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf

In Wired to Eat, Wolf recommends a paleo diet with the addition of select carbohydates. Wolf provides evidence that everyone processes carbohydrates differently. Thus he recommends that you test your own body with different carbohydrates to see which work best with your body. This idea made sense to me. Why are there so many conflicting opinions about what to eat? Perhaps because everyone’s body reacts to food differently.

The Complete Guide to Fasting by by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Jason Fung

Good overview on fasting. If you are already convinced of fasting’s health benefits, skip it unless you want more information.

Your Money or Your Life

Robin looks at money through the eyes of life energy. It takes you X number of hours to afford Y. Using this perspective, you get a better sense of the value of your money.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Women have difficulty negotiating in a society where both women and men expect women to be “nice.”

IF WE CLOSED THE GENDER PAY GAP… the average Hispanic woman would earn $1,000,000 more over the course of her career. –

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes

Fascinating book on the history and ramifications of sugar. So many things I didn’t know, such as how the British Empire was built on the sugar, coffee, tea, and cacao trade. “Sugar is a drug to make the suffering of every day bearable.”

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Light, artful read with a strong message. To live a good story and have a consequential life, you have to go beyond comfort and seek a meaningful challenge filled with risk and obstacles. You can also choose to solve problems by choosing a different story. A family became concerned that their daughter was dating a troublemaker. They realized that she was doing that because she didn’t have any better story to live than the story he brought to her life. So the dad decided that they were, as a family, going to build an orphanage. This meant a lot of work and sacrifice in everyone’s lives, but the family became engaged with the meaning it provided in their lives. The girl lost interest in the guy.

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic by Esther Perel

To keep the spark alive in long-term relationships, introduce mystery. For most couples, this means spending more time apart. I’ve found Perel’s well-produced podcast similarly entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

This was a perfect book for me as I tried to figure out where to travel and where to call home. Weiner chronicles his thoughts on what makes places and cultures happy, such as Icelanders’ freedom to reinvent their career without society’s disapproval.

Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

A fun read on one man’s experiments with rejection. Jing argues that our fear of rejection stems from an evolutionary reliance on staying included in a tribe. Now that being rejected by someone has little impact on our survival, our fear of being rejected causes more harm than good. I loved how Jiang opened his life to adventure and connection by asking unusual questions.

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann

Cute parable on achieving success through a giving mindset. I have experienced this principle in my life. I’ve been successful when I aimed to do my best to help others succeed. When I didn’t worry about compensation; when I didn’t try to keep score.

Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

It’s a good book. But instead of reading it, consider meditating on your impending death.

The Wizard of Ads by Roy H. Williams

A little gem of a copywriting book.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Why X would go viral: people look good by sharing X, a routine event prompts people to share about X, there’s emotion involved in sharing X, people can be helpful by sharing X, there’s a good story behind X.

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

What you do today matters because it adds onto what you did yesterday and builds the foundation for what you do tomorrow. Make it count.

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

I’ve savored this one slowly and picked it up in hard times. Chodron’s writing is a gift.

What your prospect is thinking while reading your advertisement

I picked up “The Wizard of Ads” by Roy H. Williams at Ryan Deiss’s recommendation, and I was delighted to find several marketing truisms eloquently portrayed.

Here Williams intersperses average ad copy with a prospect’s thoughts.

For more than fifty years, hundreds of families have trusted their insurance needs to the caring professionals at Parkins and Maddock


because competitive pricing is a Parkins and Maddock specialty

(“Competitive?” Doesn’t that mean “about the same price as everyone else”?)

and they are known for their fast, fair, and friendly service.

(Yeah, until you have a claim.)

So when you need auto, home, healthy, life, or any other type of insurance

(I just love talking about insurance.)

find out how much Parkins and Maddock can save you by calling them

(Is that softball game tonight or tomorrow night?)

at 862-3791.

(I think I’ll stop and get a Coke.)

That number again is 862-3791.

(And maybe some fries. I love french fries.)

Parkins and Maddock is open weekdays till seven for your convenience

(I think that game is tomorrow night.)

and until four on Saturdays, but closed on Sundays.

(But I’d better call and check on it.)

Find out for yourself why hundreds of families

(Should I take a burger home for Bobby?)

trust Parkins and Maddock, year after year.

(Yeah, a burger with cheese.)

Call Parkins and Maddock today at 862-3791.

(I’ll get myself one, too.)

You’ll be glad you did.

Granted, advertising looks a bit different in a Facebook ads world. But the principle is the same: in a world where attention is the scarcest resource, say something worth paying attention to.

Write as if your prospect is thinking, “Why should I pay attention? What’s in it for me? Why should I trust you? Why should I take action?”

Write while imagining your prospect with their phone dinging, their TV blaring, their child yelling from down the hall, their stomach grumbling.

Why You Need Ratio KPIs

“Ratios are easier to act on. Think about driving a car. Distance traveled is informational. But speed – distance per hour – is something you can act on, because it tells you about your current state, and whether you need to go faster or slower to get to your destination on time. Ratios are inherently comparative. If you compare a daily metric to the same metric over a month, you’ll see whether you’re looking at a sudden spike or a long-term trend. In a car, speed is one metric, but speed right now over average speed this hour shows you a lot about whether you’re accelerating or slowing down.”

– Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz, Lean Analytics

Books I think everyone should read

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

There’s a reason why everyone recommends this book. Sapiens peels away the frame of reference that comes from waking up a homo sapien in modernity.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

If you aspire to create meaningful work, read this. If you wonder why you can’t concentrate or get things done, read this. If you use social media or a smartphone, read this.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

I never understood stoicism until this book. Stoicism, it turns out, is a philosophy that’s actually helpful. A strong medicine, stoicism is really helpful and really hard.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Habits are the operating system of our lives. By gaining conscious control over our habits, we become empowered to re-engineer our lives.

Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

Because others are always seeking to influence us, it’s important to be aware of the levers and pulleys in our psyches.

Books read in 2016, from most to least highly recommended

Deep Work by Cal Newport

If you want your career to survive technology, I recommend reading this book. Since reading it I have drastically cut out notifications, social media, interruptions, and multitasking, but there’s still far more to go. Reading the book is really just the beginning to shifting your life and training your brain so you can achieve meaningful work. Required reading for anyone who designs an office or says, “Let’s make work chat required!”

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

I never understood stoicism until I read this book. Stoicism, it turns out, is philosophy that’s actually helpful. It’s a strong medicine. Really helpful and really hard.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

There’s a reason why everyone recommends this book. Sapiens peels away the frame of reference that comes from waking up a homo sapien in this 100-year timespan.

Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

This book is powerful. Like scarily so. Just like Sapiens, this is a must-read for being a homo sapien. The best book on marketing I’ve read.

The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

Presents mindfulness in a unique and approachable way. There’s something about the writing style that opened up the experience for me. I found the book more impactful in text than audio.

Waking Up by Sam Harris

Gives a compelling argument for the importance of mindfulness practices. This book is particularly useful for someone skeptical of Buddhism and ‘gurus’ but who wants to reap the benefits of meditation. I found Harris’s argument against the existence of a self particularly enlightening.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

One of those books that made me lose sleep because I had to finish it in one sitting. So rich with the pain, majesty, and beauty that is life. Also written in the second person! Who pulls that off? This guy, Mohsin Hamid. Excerpt here — go read it!

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Not sure why it took me until 2016 to read this classic. I love Eckhart Tolle’s story and message. However, I would agree with Dan Harris (author of 10% Happier, below) when he says that Tolle’s message can be a little tricky to apply. Still, reading this is useful as it gives a window to a way of being where every moment is enough.

Grit by Angela Ducksworth

Don’t attribute talent to people who succeed; attribute perseverance. Another book I wish I’d read at 15 instead of 30.

Superhuman by Habit by Tynan

This is a great quick read for those who have read The Power of Habit but want more ideas and inspiration for growing their habits. I loved being reminded of how much you can consciously shape your life and your thoughts, words, and actions if you just take the time to ‘load’ the habit. I also appreciated Tynan’s conviction that habits must be done daily in order to stick. This made me reevaluate the habits I’m working on and critically examine if they were important enough to do daily.

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Key takeaway: Elon Musk is a superhuman who eats ice cream. I was surprised to learn how much Elon Musk had to lose at one point. Speaks to the power of sitting with tension. Hoping for a live action version of this sometime. 🙂

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani

I feel like this is “The Universe Has Your Back” but with actual depth and substance. A treasure trove of interesting and unconventional ideas.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Hilarious read on why meditation is the answer. Also made me realize that reporters are people, too.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain by John J. Ratey

High schoolers were trained to exercise to hit their target heart rate. These kids started doing really well in school without any different instruction. The point? Exercise makes your brain work. I read 1/4 of this and put it down because I was like “I get it! Important! Will do!” I then proceeded to do the bare minimum amount of exercise for the next six months while avoiding the part of my head that had absorbed the ideas in this book. Then I started running every day and BAM! it turns out this book is right: exercise is the key to peak brain performance. I can’t believe I’ve spent most of my life *not* exercising. What a waste of mental productivity.

Mindset – the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

There’s nothing you inherently can’t do or aren’t good at — you just haven’t gotten good at it yet. By adopting this mindset you can do far more. A must-read for parents, teachers, and managers.

The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach

Correct your thinking, habits, and attitudes to solve your business problems.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Biggest takeaway: neurosurgery is WAY harder than my job. Also, you’re alive and it’s precious so enjoy it before you get cancer and don’t finish writing a book. This book didn’t quite live up to its hype for me, but that says more about the hype than anything.

The Power of Full Enagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr

My takeaway from this book is that YES, there is something necessary about time with loved ones, time in nature, time restoring. By filling your batteries you’re able to work more effectively. There’s way more to the book than that, but that was what I hadn’t fully heard until that time.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

I wish I had had this book when I was 16, 18, 21, and 27. It argues that finding your passion is poor advice, as job satisfaction comes from mastery and craftsmanship.

Essentialism by Grego McKeown

Think you can do everything? Well you’re wrong. Cutting things and focusing on only what is truly essential is the path to success.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

You can’t give a fuck about everything, so be selective. This is a fun, light read that’s a little bit helpful but mostly entertaining. As someone who cares way too much about most things, Manson’s message was appreciated.

The End of Jobs by Taylor Pearson

The era of you stay at a job for your whole life is over. Also, don’t expect to be able to find a job. Instead, become an entrepreneur—not the crazy, unsafe bet it’s made out to be in contrast to the shrinking job market.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Art, or any creative activity, is suuuuuper hard. So just do it.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

Open a Roth IRA and invest in a lifecycle fund. Limit investment fees to the minimum. Have your savings be deducted automatically before you get paid.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Inspired me to be more like Derek Sivers, quirky and 100% willing to think beyond the collective thinking.

The Dip by Seth Godin

Good advice on when to keep with it vs. when to pull out.

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

Good introduction to growth hacking.

Ready Player One

Fun science fiction. I appreciated the ongoing plotline of VR vs. real life.

Algorithms to Live By

I appreciated the introduction to interesting computer science ideas, but it wasn’t as applicable as I expected. What I found most interesting was the “explore/exploit” problem. I have thought a lot about this myself—do I go visit cities around the world to find the best place to live, or should I settle down where I am because, from what I’ve seen so far, it’s pretty damn good? It turns out this is a computer science problem.

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

Wake up early and do everything you know you should do (exercise, meditate, read, etc). Instead of reading the book, you could just put the idea into practice.

The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer

A story of what happens if you decide to just keep surrendering to whatever was happening in his life.

Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown

Be vulnerable, it’s how to be happy. I was hoping for more in this book, as everyone else seems to love it. Maybe I should read it again?

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson

If things change, change with them. Don’t keep looking for the same reward when times have changed; get looking for new rewards. Seems like common sense, but this parable is useful.

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

This is a business classic. I found it a overly drawn out to make one point: Make your business franchise-able, meaning that every role and training process is replicable.

The New One Minute Manager by Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard

If your employees know their priorities and then you don’t have to manage them much.

It Starts with Food by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig

Some good information on paleo thinking. I did a Whole 30 and it was helpful, though not life-changing (probably because my eating habits are already pretty good — I can imagine if you’re on the Standard American Diet this would be life-changing). Instead of doing more of these “I’ll eat perfect for X number of days” things, I’m working on iterative eating habits to slowly improve my diet habits in lasting ways.

Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter

Eating grains and sugars causes dementia. Put that in your sandwich.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

I liked the descriptions of the SF rave scene back in the day. Other than nostalgia for a party scene I missed, I didn’t find this book as inspiring as I had hoped.

The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey

Drink coffee (well the coffee sold by Asprey) blended with butter and coconut oil (well the coconut oil sold by Asprey) for breakfast. Eat paleo with products sold by Asprey.

The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

Eat paleo with beans.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

Not a remarkable book, but fun to learn about the history of Toms.

The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson

Eat paleo. Live as caveman-like as possible.

The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein

At first I loved this book. Then I started questioning its feel-good message. I’m spiritual enough to believe there’s some truth to it, but it felt way too sugary and sweet. Maybe my cynicism is just blocking the light.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I got halfway through before giving up on my hopes it would live up to its praise. I didn’t care about the characters or where the story was going, and the VR part failed to captivate. Maybe I’m missing something here?

The Goal by Jeff Cox and Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Maybe this book’s just for people in manufacturing, but I found it to have one point drawn out over too many pages.


Grit by Angela Duckworth

I expected Grit to be a pop-psychology book that reiterates one point (persist and succeed) over and over. While that is an apt summary of Grit, I was delighted to find the book entertaining, inspiring, and insightful.

Duckworth convincingly argues that everyone loves the idea of a “genius” or someone with “inborn talent,” but what actually makes up the amazing skill and achievement of remarkable people ultimately comes down to tons of hard work.

My biggest takeaway is that, according to Duckworth, someone of average talent who persists in their goal over time will achieve far greater accomplishments than someone of great talent who gives up more quickly or who diverts their energy to other pursuits. As you can see in Duckworth’s formulas, effort is a far greater predictor of achievement than talent:

Talent x effort = skill
Skill x effort = achievement