My aim is for this reading list to continually change as I am exposed to more materials and ways of thinking. I also recognize that I sometimes have a strong recency bias. Obviously, I am always open to your suggestions as I love recommendations. Below are books, essays, and podcasts.
- Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari | There are many things I loved about this book, especially the sweeping history Harari provides. His focus is on human beings, but not just any human beings, specifically Homo Sapiens. Us. We have existed for 2.4m years, but our species as we know it has only existed for 150,000 years. An immensely small portion of time as we understand time today. Why have Homo Sapiens been the humans to have thrived? Harari’s central message is language, cooperation, and storytelling. This is behind everything from religion to money. Harari doesn’t shy from sharing his opinions alongside the history and provides an entertaining and compelling read. You’ll grow smarter and be challenged with ideas throughout the book.
- Righteous Mind – Jonathan Haidt | People are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If there is anything Dan Ariely, Danny Kahneman, Amos Tversky and other behavioralists have taught us in the study of economics and choice, it is this. Haidt takes this to our political and value systems choices as well. “Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”
- Happiness Hypothesis – Jonathan Haidt | It may seem like self-help, and at the beginning does feel this way, but the book is a wonderful meditation on the science of happiness. I’ve come to believe you choose happiness and choose to practice it, or not. This book also gives those of us who need empirical evidence and logic as motivation for doing things. We may be subject to a genetically assigned baseline, but we can change our level of happiness by choosing optimism. Choosing to be positive in practice and internal dialog, by changing how your “rider” responds to your world will have a lasting change on your experience in this world.
- Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl | An assigned text in business school, Frankl’s book has been changing lives for decades. It shows how much we are all in control of how we perceive our world and how we can choose to interact with it. Choose meaning. Choose happiness. Embrace your suffering and find your meaning.
- The Lessons of History – Will and Ariel Durant | A brilliant and short overview of world history and the lessons it provides. You have to know the past to understand the present.” – Carl Sagan. This is a short and very condensed version of the Durant’s epic historical volumes The Story of Civilizations. The past will not predict the future, but it will certainly inform it.
- Impro – Keith Johnstone | A book for life. Just trust me, and all the other people who’ve recommended it.
- On Tyranny – Timothy Snyder | There is a feeling that the world is tilting towards populism, and with it, authoritarianism. Or, a certain attraction to the “strongman” or someone who can get things done as opposed to our slow bureaucratic system of democracy. On Tyranny is a short book of principles to resist tyranny. Time will tell if this book stands against the backdrop in which it was written, the Trump Administration. There is an amount that may not, regardless some of these principles are informative of living a good life. Reading apart from the Internet and screens, think up your own way of saying things, and many other antidotes to the blatant philistinism of current times.
- Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick | An extraordinary look inside North Korea. I’m of the feeling this should become required reading given the most recent developments of North Korean Olympic participation and continued strong-arming in Washington. I’m not much of a statesman, but I don’t see how anything other than soft power and negotiation solves this over a very long period of time. The entire nation has been brainwashed and will need to fall under its own pressure.
- When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi | I’ve never openly wept while reading a book before reading Paul’s memoir. As you can easily tell from the selection here I’m not often reading stories for the characters. I’m usually reading for knowledge, perspective, and understanding. Paul’s book brings all of these too. If you’re not moved, you may already be dead.
- The Practicing Mind – Thomas M. Sterner | A book I think I will return to with some frequency as a reminder of how we can best approach learning and mastering new skills.
- Shoe Dog – Phil Knight and Creativity Inc – Ed Catmull | I put these two together because they are both memoirs of business people. They are different from each other but are of the same cloth. Shoe Dog reads like an adventure tale that enthralls and engrosses, while not painting some overly fantastic picture of what it was like to build Nike. It felt like Knight was honest with his mistakes and regrets in life, and allowed the reader to enter into his world. While Catmull’s story is less of a consistent page turner, there are some great war stories from Pixar’s early days, along with so many lessons in managing knowledge and creative employees and processes.
- Never Split The Difference – Chris Voss | Along with books such as Influence and Difficult Conversations, NSTD is another read on negotiation and influence. Voss’s take and methods come from a long career of practicing in the field and also seem to be influenced by an Antifragile perspective.
- Meditations – Marcus Aurelius | My introduction to Stoic philosophy. This plugs in well with some of the Eastern philosophies you’ll see more of below, but may speak better to your own ways of thinking. The best way is whatever way ends up working for you. Aurelius is straightforward and simple to read, whereas some of the Eastern works are abstract. Either way, detach yourself, stop negative internal dialogs, stop concerning yourself with others so much, and other ways of cultivating a better self.
- What If? – Randall Munroe | Munroe’s ability to explain things is captivating. Through his webcomic, XKCD, or either of his two books What If? and Thing Explainer, he takes on challenging ideas, emotions, and methods and brings them to life.
- Radical Candor – Kim Scott | Scott is another practitioner who chose to write a lot of good ideas down and share them with us. She brings a wealth of experience in managing teams, ideas, and businesses. In needing to scale herself, she found fixes to her problems, which centered around being a great boss for her many direct reports. The title of the book sums up the idea, but goes onto illustrate and explain her concepts and thinking around radical candor as a practice. After reading the book, I think her ideas are useful when dealing with humans in almost any regard, not just within the realm of business or work relationships.
- The Outsiders – William Thorndike | A book on eight unconventional CEOs and how they each achieved success in their respective organizations. On the whole, we learn that it is not intellect that made them successful, but temperament. These eight had exceptional cost controls and investment/capital allocation strategies. Outside of that, they were largely decentralized and pushed day-to-day management down the org chart.
- Quiet – Susan Cain | This book was a breath of fresh air for me, as I think it was for many other introverts. It was as if I learned it was okay to be me, but also gave me lessons in how to better succeed in an extroverted world. This book is not just for my fellow introverts, but also for all the extraverts and everything in between. A professor of mine declared that after decades running teams at Goldman Sachs he wished he had read this book early in his career. It would have given him so many more tools and understanding to work with and motivate the many brilliant introverts he interfaced with during his long career. Much of the book rings true and has been confirmed by my own experience. I’ve worked in an office where I had my own space, and also on an open floor plan. It was the open floor plan that left me exhausted each day with no discernable reason why, but Cain explained it to me.
- Managing Oneself – Peter Drucker | I loved this book as a guide for figuring yourself out. After that, help others figure yourself out and write a guide for working with you. I think you’ll learn something about yourself, find problems you would like to fix, and help everyone else that spends so much time with you each day working.
- Superforcasting – Philip Tetlock | Along with Kahneman, Tversky, and Ariely, Tetlock is advancing the research of our decision making and forecasting. This book follows a select few, referred to as superforcasters, and examines their ability to see the future with more clarity and accuracy than others. It is not one of sheer mental strength or gifts, but one of practice and methods. Much like Outsiders above, we learn that there are methods that we can practice to become better. Practice, however, is hard and creating new habits even harder, see The Practicing Mind.
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryū Suzuki | An introduction to Zen, and a reminder of approaching everything with a new and fresh perspective and inform your questions. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” This perspective is frequently practiced by the superforcasters above.
- Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu (Stephen Miller) | Filled with timeless writings. A few to help illustrate: “You can’t know it, but you can be it / at ease in your own life” Studying only takes you so far, to master something you must practice it. And: “Because he is content with himself / he doesn’t need others’ approval / Because he accepts himself / the whole world accepts him” Exhibit who you are, don’t preach who you are.
- As One Is – Jiddu Krishnamurti | “And do you know how difficult it is to understand oneself? It is difficult because we are dilettantes; we are not really that interested. But if you are really aware, if you give your attention to understanding yourself, then you will find an indestructible treasure.” Observe yourself as you are, it may be the most difficult thing you ever do.
Posts and Articles
- Hunter S. Thompson – Letter to Hume Logan | I love this letter, and this paragraph is central to the takeaways: “As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).”
- David Foster Wallace – This Is Water | Perspective, awareness, practice, default-settings, wrapped into a commencement speech. Parts of it may be preachy, but we get to see him wrestle with his own thoughts and perspectives that he sees as bringing him and others down.
- Morgan Housel – The Greatest Story Ever Told | A riff off of Yuval’s thesis in Sapiens around storytelling,
- Paul Graham – What You Can’t Say | An essay on thinking, and a warning on groupthink. Another exercise in perspective. Graham ends the essay asking “How can you see the wave, when you’re the water?” –
- Paul Graham – The Age of the Essay | I’m trying to use this now as a way of informing my future writing, published here or not. And I’m also using it as a way of thinking about the best podcasts…Age of the Podcast?
- Paul Graham – Keep Your Identity Small | Assigning yourself labels, or identities, fixes you into one place. Rather than approaching problems, challenges, new ideas, and so forth with an open mind, we can use much less brain power to use our identity to figure out where we need to stand on an issue. If you consider yourself a conservative or a liberal, you can more easily know you are for or against something because of how others have aligned. Instead, remove the identity from yourself, remove the baggage, and use a beginners mind to approach the question at hand. Using this perspective and being open to the evidence and arguments, you may find a better answer.
- Jonathan Haidt – What Makes People Vote Republican? | There is a fundamental difference in the outlook on life that underlies this question. I found it fascinating.
- Invest Like The Best – Hands down my favorite show. It may, at times, be difficult to follow as there will be finance jargon to sift through. Factors, EBITDA, P/E, debt ratios, and so forth. Don’t let that stop you, as there are many episodes that have nothing to do with finance or investing, directly. More importantly, some of those finance-centric episodes actually contain the best nuggets of perspective applicable to all our lives. Patrick is focused, well read, insatiably curious, and well spoken, he leaves ample room for his guests to meander around their expertise and share their story. He ends each episode with the same question: “What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?” Which yields some really amazing answers. Some of my favorite episodes have been: Josh Wolfe, Ali Hamed, The Hash Power Series (on crypto), Rishi Ganti, and for one off the beaten track: Boyd Varty.
- The Knowledge Project – I have a soft spot for Shane Parrish, of Farnam Street, due to his computer nerd background and love for all things learning. I’ve found his website to be immensely valuable and refer to it often. His podcast, while not a regular occurrence, is one of certain high quality. Some of my favorites have been Naval Ravikant (worth listening to multiple times) and Susan Cain.
- The Reboot Podcast – Jerry has a way of making strong people cry. In my opinion, that’s all you need to know in order to compel you to listen. As a warm-up, listen to the episode with Al Doan #59. In my own classes on entrepreneurship, we had many entrepreneurs of varying success come and talk with us. One negative aspect to the leading life is common among them all: it’s quite lonely. Maybe you’ll find Doan’s episode lacking on the surface, or you might be able to bring yourself into his world and understand where his pain is coming from. Jerry’s podcast is not only chock full of lessons but also shows us what therapy can do. It really doesn’t matter who you are, having someone to talk through problems with is central to mental health, love, and friendship. Sometimes professional help can be even more meaningful or helpful.
- Capital Allocators – Ted brings a lot of expertise to this show, but he also doesn’t let that stand in the way of his guests. This show is more finely focused on finance but does bring in people practicing in areas applicable to many areas of life. Capital allocation has a lot of application for any CEO and manager, not to mention those working closely with CEOs and managers. A favorite episode of mine happens to be one with a favorite professor of mine from CBS, Paul Johnson, along with his co-author Paul Sonkin. I also really enjoyed Thomas DeLong whose work is on the organization of people.
- Animal Spirits – Why listen to or read the financial news? Most the time it will only move you towards making wrong decisions in the long run, which is the only horizon most of us should be looking to. Listen to these guys once and week and get the full scoop on what is going down in the markets with a lot of candid opinions and laughs along the way. Then with all the time you saved read a book or some other long form.
- EconTalk – A long-running show with a serious wealth and depth of knowledge and subjects available. One thing I have loved about podcasts is that the good ones are how interviews should be, long and open-ended, not sound bites. Here is an excellent example.
- Exponent – Ben Thomson’s Stratechery is a worthy read on tech strategy. The Exponent keeps you up to date with how Ben is thinking and how things are going in tech. Lots of analysis applicable to FAANG stocks, and I would recommend understanding his aggregation theory.
- Stay Tuned with Preet – After Preet’s firing at the hands of Trump, he went on to start a podcast where he’s had some great guests. I also find his irreverent attitude on it honest and hilarious. When asked if podcasting is more rewarding than being a US Attorney he quickly responded, “NO! Of course, it’s not.” He loved his job and clearly loves his country. I’m continually warmed by how often I feel this from immigrants and first-generation Americans.
- Why CBS – A new podcast was launched last year to focus on Columbia Business School, and is hosted by my classmate Fahad Ahmed. Fahad is one of the nicest and most genuine people you’ll meet, and I’m certain my entire class would heartily agree. He’s well spoken and delivered the address for our graduating class as well as several panels and interviews during our two years at CBS. I couldn’t think of a better person to be hosting this. I’m excited that Season 2 will shortly be upon us and features one of my favorite professors Hitendra Wadhwa.
I know there are so many other great podcasts out there, please send them my way. I continually wish there was a way for particular episodes to be found and rated rather than the podcast itself.
In The Hopper
- The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli | A suggestion of Fred Wilson’s for first-time managers.
- Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig |
- The General vs. the President – H.W. Brands |