Last year I was challenged to read a hundred books in 2019 in order to broaden the types of books I read.
At the time one hundred books didn’t feel that much higher than the sixty books I read in 2018. I ended up at a final count of 102 books and while I did broaden the types of books I read, I won’t be setting a specific target for next year.
My favorite books
I mostly focused on a few genres, namely Science Fiction, Finance, Biographies, and Technology History. Here were some of my favorites from each genre.
Science Fiction (Short Stories)
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
An anthology of many short stories. This is probably my favorite collection of short stories that I’ve read. There are a lot of stories bundled here are and if you enjoy speculative science fiction, you’ll enjoy this book.
Arrival is based off of one of Ted Chiang’s short stories. Exhalation is a new anthology from Chiang and contains commentary from Chiang after each story.
The Greatest Trade Ever
A story of how a hedge fund manager (John Paulson) saw the 2008 financial crisis coming and managed to bag a $15 billion profit for his firm.
You can be right but it doesn’t matter if your timing is off.
Past performance (as an individual and as an asset class) is not a good predictor of future performance. Instead you should measure process/fundamentals.
The Man Who Solved The Market
A lot of interesting tidbits about the founding of Renaissance Technologies, the managers of one of the best performing funds ever. It doesn’t add much new information about how they trade, but it does go into the personalities of key team members.
- Company culture is inherited, not created
- The best way to shift industry norms is to force others to copy you
On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System
This is a detailed recounting of the 2008 Financial Crisis told through Henry Paulson’s eyes, who at that point was the Treasury Secretary. A tendency of autobiographies is that they tend to paint a fairly rosy picture of the author, and that’s certainly true here but it was still interesting.
- Under the hood, crises are more complex than they appear
- At the end of the day, things often still boil down to personal relationships
The Power Broker
This is a dense 1200+ page biography of a New York City park commissioner (Robert Moses) by one of the greatest biographers of all time, Robert Caro (who won a Pulitzer Prize for this book). If you’ve lived in NYC, you’ll probably appreciate the impact (for better or worse) of Moses, who managed to wield power to sculpt New York despite not holding elected office. Though it is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read, it is long; I started reading this with a friend in early June and finished in mid July. My friend still has not finished.
The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Books 1-4)
The Power Broker, I proceeded to read everything else Robert Caro had written. His other famed biography series was focused on Lyndon Johnson, planned as a five part volume (of which only four have been published as of now). The four books span around 3,400 pages and detail Lyndon Johnson’s path from a school teacher in Texas to President of the United States. The quality of Caro’s writing and the depth of his research comes across and makes it an interesting read. Again, it’s hard to summarize the book but one thing that came across in both of these books is how Caro’s subjects chased power and how they changed through the process of obtaining it.
A powerful memoir about Bryan Stevenson, a public defender fighting for the voiceless who have been wrongfully trapped by the criminal justice system.
- How a noble cause can transform those who carry the torch
- My favorite quote from the book “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice”
I’m fascinated by the history of Silicon Valley and technology so I love reading books about the early days of technology innovation. The following books all went into detail about the people, technological milieu of the time, and the race to push the frontier of technology forward. A common theme from each book was how much the authors focused on the people, rather than the technology, because ultimately the technology was just a product of their creator’s mind and support from their investors or managers.
The Dream Machine
A dive into one of the pioneers of the personal computing revolution, J.C.R. Licklider and many of those he closely worked with. This is an expansive book and worth a read if you’re interested in the history of Silicon Valley and the individuals involved.
The value of good management/support.
How important ambition is for innovations. Many may not have happened were it not for the single minded pursuit from their creators
Dealers of Lightning
Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center was where many computing innovations were brought into reality. How those innovations happened and why Xerox failed to capitalize on that are detailed in this book. This book also focuses on the egos and ideas behind the innovations.
- How deeply environment/culture/management impacts creative work.
- The tradeoff between independence and integration in large companies
Reading two books a week
I “read” most of these as audiobooks. I mostly listened using combination of Scribd and Audible. Your local public library can also be a good source of eBooks and audiobooks, though you might have to wait for a while to get a copy. If this reading pace sounds like something you want to try, you should certainly check out Scribd, which is basically Netflix for books ($9/month for “unlimited” audiobooks). Audible would cost you between $10-$15/book so Scribd has a lot of value if you read more than one book a month. Here’s my Scribd referral link which you can use to get two free months when you signup.
I usually speed up the narration by between 2x and 3x depending on the pace of the narrator and how dense the content is.
But do you retain anything at 2-3x?
While there’s some scientific doubt around the value of speed reading, I think you can train yourself to comprehend faster speech. That being said, I don’t usually read books to extract specific details or for some kind of test, instead I’m looking for big ideas. If there are interesting sections, it’s easy to bookmark it and replay it.
I believe most non-fiction books are too long anyway, so speeding those ones up to find the core points strikes me as a valid reading strategy.
Some learnings from this challenge
1) Publicly sharing what you’re reading can spark interesting conversations
A lot of interesting conversations have been sparked from sharing what I’m reading. Now I publish what I’m reading on the homepage of my website and have made my Goodreads profile public.
2) Setting metrics leads to optimizing that metric at the expense of others. Just read as much (or as little) as you want
I started reading shorter books that I had set aside and used a faster pace in December to hit my goal. I got a fortune cookie this year that said, “No One Cares How Many Books You’ve Read” and I think it’s true.
3) To broaden my reading I should focus on the author’s background, not the genre of the book
I tried a lot of categories of books, but next year instead of changing up the genres of books I read, I’m going to seek out more diverse authors (for example: authors I haven’t read before or have a different perspective).
Full List of Books
In sequential order:
|Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood||Noah, Trevor|
|Tao of Charlie Munger: A Compilation of Quotes from Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman on Life, Business, and the Pursuit of Wealth With Commentary by David Clark||Clark, David|
|Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco||Burrough, Bryan|
|Fear Less: Real Truth About Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism||Becker, Gavin de|
|Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World||Newport, Cal|
|Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation||Cowen, Tyler|
|The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1; Rincewind, #1)||Pratchett, Terry|
|Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less||McKeown, Greg|
|Who Is Michael Ovitz?||Ovitz, Michael|
|Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries||Bahcall, Safi|
|Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell||Schmidt, Eric|
|The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts||Parrish, Shane|
|Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing||Caro, Robert A.|
|The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder||Zeihan, Peter|
|How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays||Catron, Mandy Len|
|How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, More Joy, and What Matters Most to You||Breitman, Patti|
|The Dream Machine||Waldrop, M. Mitchell|
|The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium||Gurri, Martin|
|Ghachar Ghochar||Shanbhag, Vivek|
|Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City||Desmond, Matthew|
|The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You||Zhuo, Julie|
|Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits||Roose, Kevin|
|Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life||Lewis, Michael|
|I Am Legend||Matheson, Richard|
|The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself||Singer, Michael A.|
|Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law||Bharara, Preet|
|The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable||Lencioni, Patrick|
|Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals||Cowen, Tyler|
|The Art of War||Sun Tzu|
|Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)||Herbert, Frank|
|Evil Eye||Shekar, Madhuri|
|Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World||Epstein, David|
|Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones||Clear, James|
|Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion||Cialdini, Robert B.|
|House Of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time||Kihn, Martin|
|Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up||Colonna, Jerry|
|Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It||Kupor, Scott|
|Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity||Scott, Kim Malone|
|Leadership: In Turbulent Times||Goodwin, Doris Kearns|
|Law School for Everyone||Cheng, Edward K.|
|Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future||Morris, Ian|
|The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York||Caro, Robert A.|
|The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance||Gallwey, W. Timothy|
|Exhalation: Stories||Chiang, Ted|
|How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories||Rosenberg, Alex|
|The Man Who Knew The Way to the Moon||Zwillich, Todd|
|Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters||Rumelt, Richard P.|
|King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone||Carey, David|
|The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters||Parker, Priya|
|The Path to Power||Caro, Robert A.|
|100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying||Cooper, Sarah|
|On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System||Paulson, Henry M. Jr.|
|An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management||Larson, Will|
|Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #2)||Caro, Robert A.|
|Emotional Intelligence 2.0||Bradberry, Travis|
|The Education of a Coach||Halberstam, David|
|The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich||Bach, David|
|Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power||Dallek, Robert|
|Master of the Senate||Caro, Robert A.|
|World Order||Kissinger, Henry|
|Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age||Hiltzik, Michael A.|
|Reincarnation Blues||Poore, Michael|
|Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption||Stevenson, Bryan|
|The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4)||Caro, Robert A.|
|A Gentleman in Moscow||Towles, Amor|
|The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win||Kim, Gene|
|The Right Stuff||Wolfe, Tom|
|That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea||Randolph, Marc|
|Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups||Burfield, Evan|
|Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber||Isaac, Mike|
|Next: The Future Just Happened||Lewis, Michael|
|The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears||Katz, Donald R.|
|What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture||Horowitz, Ben|
|The Players Ball: A Genius, a Con Man, and the Secret History of the Internet’s Rise||Kushner, David|
|The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story||Lewis, Michael|
|The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution||Zuckerman, Gregory|
|The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully||Weinberg, Gerald M.|
|Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets||Taleb, Nassim Nicholas|
|Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed||Gottlieb, Lori|
|Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations||Ariely, Dan|
|Irrational Exuberance||Shiller, Robert J.|
|Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds||Goggins, David|
|Mindset: The New Psychology of Success||Dweck, Carol S.|
|How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships||Lowndes, Leil|
|The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History||Zuckerman, Gregory|
|Markets Never Forget (But People Do): How Your Memory Is Costing You Money–And Why This Time Isn’t Different||Fisher, Kenneth L.|
|What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence||Schwarzman, Stephen A.|
|Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators||Lencioni, Patrick|
|One Up On Wall Street: How to Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market||Lynch, Peter|
|The Money Culture||Lewis, Michael|
|Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great||Collins, Jim|
|The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008||Krugman, Paul|
|Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career||Scott H. Young|
|Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love||Cagan, Marty|
|The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories||Liu, Ken|
|The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile||Lukeman, Noah|
|Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)||Gibson, William|
|The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency||Whipple, Chris|
Special thanks to everyone who recommended a book to me this year!