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 this era.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Huari – Like Sapiens, Homo Deus excelled in eroding my species-centric perspective. Great extrapolations on AI’s potential impact.

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 – Powerful. As everyone needs to influence others and will be influenced by others, it’s advantageous to be aware of the inner switches in our psyches. The best book on marketing I’ve read.

Book Read in 2017

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Huari – I wasn’t sure what to expect to a followup of one of my favorite books, Sapiens. But it similarly excelled in fundamentally changing one’s perspective. While it took me a few days to bounce back from a nihilistic depression after the book’s close, Homo Deus goes in my “must-read-if-you’re-a-human” category.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel – So many big ideas in this book. I love the question: “What are the big companies of the future that don’t exist yet?” Also, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

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 conventions secrets mysteries easy hard impossible 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.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – Wow this book is fantastic, lives up to its hype. I swallowed it in two days and afterward felt so close to the piece that I felt I had lived his childhood. I would go with the audiobook version to savor Noah’s gift for accents and languages. I also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about South Africa.

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. While I already think similarly to Adams on many subjects, I repeatedly found myself reflecting, “Huh. I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

While I have always thought that health should come first because the healthier you are the more effective and happier you will be, Adams puts it in terms of having more energy. I liked that perspective, as it’s more positive-oriented than a nagging “I must to be healthy or else,” orientation that will occasionally summon my psyche’s rebellious side.

A lot of the book is about creating systems instead of goals, which I also have been coming to realize in my own life. For a long time I would do 30-day or 60-day health goals and succeed, but sprints to a goal will not make you a winner. Creating a forever system in your life is far more effective, albeit a slower process.

I also appreciated Adams’ perspective on failing. His list of all the ways he’s failed is a nice change from reading authors whose success appears untouchable. His point is that failing doesn’t matter as long as you fail forward–that is, you create knowledge and contacts from the failed endeavor. His perspective is that as long as you keep trying and learning, you’re bound to find success someday. I liked this “slow success” mentality.

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields – I like the idea of minimalism in scraping away the excess and seeing what is truly important to you, and this was a fun read.

Average is Over by Tyler Cowen – A fantastic read on where technology is taking jobs and the economy — I can see why so many people reference it. Also a fascinating look into computer-aided chess tournaments. I’d put this book up there with Sapiens and The Power of Habit into the must-read-if-you’re-a-human category.

Lying by Sam Harris – Thought-provoking read that questions the harmlessness of white lies. I loved Harris’s portrayal of how 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 so easy but also do it every day, then you overcome your resistance and then a major habit builds based on a small change.

The Complete Guide to Fasting by by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Jason Fung – good overview on fasting. If you want to fast and are convinced of its health benefits, you probably don’t need to read a whole book on it, but I appreciated the depth of information.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts by Marshall Goldsmith – 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.

What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott CarneyFinally someone explains why animals have no trouble in the cold, but the minute it goes below 67 I freak out. I loved the idea that we’re not meant to be kept in temperature-controlled boxes and that we have the power to condition ourselves to embrace the elements. As someone who’s dabbled in Wim Hoff’s methods, I also 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 Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko presents the findings from studies of America’s multi-millionaires. The authors argue that the millionaires who keep their money are those who forego the status symbols of wealth. After all, the status symbols of wealth necessarily drain finances and keeps one from accumulating wealth. “I am not my car,” says one millionaire studied, reflecting the sentiment of many of the millionaires who drive regular trucks and sedans. While many of the millionaires studied made their fortunes due to being in profitable industries (e.g., attorney, doctor, etc.), many simply scrimped and saved their way to financial independence.

I loved this book because it made me critically reflect on my material desires and see if they were driven from a desire to appear in a certain way, versus coldly reflecting the functionality of the item. Does it really matter that my car is 16 years old, has balding paint, and rolls its windows down every time I unlock the door? There’s actually a lot of benefit from not worrying about it or paying expensive protective insurance on it. Does it matter that my phone is cracked, or does it only matter that it is completely functional and provides me with the same tremendous value as the day I got it three years ago? Will people think less of me if I never update my wardrobe, or will people appreciate me more if I focus my attention on matters more useful and helpful to others?

The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly – A fabulously 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 most loved Kelly’s description of a future city where you basically own nothing, and every gadget is provided on-demand through a seamless network. While I’m much more concerned about AI’s problems than Kelly, I enjoyed the dose of optimism.

Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf – In Wired to Eat, Wolf proposes you adapt a paleo diet with the addition of particular carbohydrates that you individually test to see how your body responds. I really love that we’re getting into the era of more personalized nutrition. Why are there so many conflicting opinions about what to eat? Probably because everyone’s body reacts to food differently.

A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson – While I have issues with numerous aspects of this book, I found its overall message inspiring and one that feels true. Somewhere in the book I decided that life is just a game we play to overcome fear.

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey – Fun read with lots of great ideas. My favorites:

  • keep track of your productivity (you can’t manage what’s not measured)
  • use caffeine strategically (use it only when you want to power on, not as just a daily routine that your brain gets accustomed to)
  • write down each distraction as it arises and then ignore it

Your Money or Your Life. Apparently 2017 is the year for me to read bestseller cheesy self-help finance books. But, like the others, this book was pretty much as good as everyone says. What I loved about it was that it looks at money through the eyes of your life energy. It takes you X number of hours to afford Y, and once you see that then you can start to make more conscious choices about your spending habits. I also loved the notion of being careful with one’s resources as a way to be careful with the Earth’s resources.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – Powerful book on gender inequality. I appreciated Sandberg’s perspective on the difficulties negotiating as a woman 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. – LeanIn.org

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes – Truly fascinating book on the 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. I also loved the descriptions of how 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. Humans like to be comfortable, but to live a good story and have a consequential life, you have to go beyond that and seek a meaningful challenge filled with risk and obstacles. My favorite example of this was a family was concerned because their daughter was hanging out with a guy who was getting her into trouble. 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 she was seeing.

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic by Esther Perel – Great read on how to keep the spark alive in long-term relationships. I’ve found Perel’s well-produced podcast equally 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. I enjoyed Weiner’s observations about 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. I appreciated Jiang’s take that the fear of rejection is based on an evolutionary need to stay with 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 fun adventures and connections just by asking unusual questions.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger – Fun read on why some things get talked about.

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; my successes have stemmed from aiming to do my best to help others succeed and not worrying about compensation.

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 – Holy shit 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, fun 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 for gamer geeks. 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 – Fun read about a guy who decided 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 (maybe I should read it again), but everyone else seems to love it.

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.

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

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

Deep Work

deep-work-cal-newport Though I had heard most of the ideas in Deep Work before (e.g., distractions destroy your ability to do anything of consequence, Facebook notifications are rewiring your brain to mush), Newport presented the ideas in a way where doing the deep work and cutting out the distractions and focusing for long stretches of time became the shiny toy.

The general idea is that deep work (that is, work of significant consequence or value) requires periods of deep concentration and no distractions. Newport says it requires about 90 minutes to fully become engaged in the level of focus required. The reason why there can’t be any distractions (e.g., text messages, email notifications) is that, to think deeply, neural networks need to make new deep connections–and if you use more surface, habitual neural networks (say, to reply to an email), you will block yourself from being able to forge the deeper connections.

One of the reasons I was excited about Deep Work was because I was finding I would work long weeks, feeling ultra-busy and doing a seeming mountain of tasks, but in the end would feel dissatisfied with the lasting significance of what I had accomplished. Here Newport offers a lot of advice for saying no to trivial tasks and commitments, as they won’t amount to much. He quotes Neal Stephenson, who says:

If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, and that will, with luck, be read by many people, there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.

Obviously, not everyone is a novelist who can shut out the world, but for those whose work inherently needs both deep work and shallow work (e.g., correspondence, meetings), Newport suggests the following methods to integrate regular periods of deep work into your life:

  • Taking a day or longer to dive completely in. He references Bill Gates and his famous “think weeks” where he would spend a week in a cabin in the woods, just reading and contemplating
  • A rhythmic approach, such as a daily routine to do 2 hours of deep work at 7am every weekday.
  • The “journalist approach,” where you do deep work whenever you can find it. Newport says he uses this approach because his schedule is so unpredictable, but he tries to plan out his week for when he will have deep work time and schedule it

What I have also found is that, although I love the idea of deep work, getting myself to do it consistently is harder than reading a book extolling its virtues. Here Newport also offers helpful advice–he tracks his hours of deep work by logging a tick for every deep work hour each week, and circles the ticks when he makes a breakthrough (photo and blog about this). This helps him gauge how much deep work it takes to reach goals, and motivates him to be consistent in getting the hours in.

Deep Work TL;DR:

High quality work produced = (time spent) x (intensity of focus)

And if you’re a nerd like me, you may be interested in a desktop background of the formula.

All Marketers Are Liars

All Marketers Are Liars“All Marketers Are Liars” extrapolates the idea that a story of a product adds value to it. For example, a company who produces wine glasses claims that wine tastes better in their pricey glasses. Their customers who believe it really do think that the wine tastes better in those glasses. So the pricey glasses become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Godin argues that consumers want to be told stories so that they can use them to tell themselves the same stories. For instance, SUVs are far more dangerous than minivans, yet consumers prefer choosing to tell themselves stories that they’re safer.

Godin pleads that marketers must not use stories destructively, like when producers of infant formula told mothers that their formula was better than breastmilk.

“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better–and look cooler–than $20 no names. . . and believing it makes it true.”

One of my favorite parts of the books is when Godin shows the value of story in the book itself. He jokes that the book is actually being written by a ghostwriter. Now how does that make you feel about the value of the book? It’s still the same content, but the story of Seth Godin as a prominent thought leader is no longer associated with that content.

“All Marketers Are Liars” also gives clues to how to deconstruct the worlds that marketers have created:

While marketers tell us the story that we need a new car to impress our fellows, we can believe the story that our clunker car has endearing character.

While marketers tell us the story that we need to appear more attractive to be accepted, we can believe the story that our appearance has always been enough for the relationships we cherish.

While marketers tell us that we need their gizmo, training, or service to be happy, we can tell ourselves the story that happiness comes from our own thought habits.

Let’s audit the stories that are told to us, and tell our customers stories that create a better world.