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 lif