Zero Zero Zero
An excellent introduction to the global cocaine trade — production, distribution, logistics, and financing are all covered. The history and evolution of the cartels & mafias in Columbia, Mexico, Italy and Russia was fascinating, even the bits I already knew.
I was hoping for more details on the Italian/European organisations, beyond the ‘Ndragheta. The occasional diversions into reflections, poetry and minor characters added to the bulk. (I completely understand Roberto’s need for that reflection—his books have cost him a free life.)
User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play
A good book with lots of insights into the evolution, current state, and best practices of design and UX. The book loses a fair bit by just being too verbose, and often winding around minor characters and unrelated developments. The book would’ve been much improved by chopping 100 pages off the length.
The Biggest Bluff
A really good book about Poker, and a trained psychologist’s journey to learning it while interviewing some of the best players in the business. I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s weaving of Maria’s poker journey, the intro to Poker, and the exploration of behavioural and psychological aspects of the game.
Inverting the Pyramid
On motivation, intrinsic motivation.
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street
A Year in Provence
A lovely, slightly caricaturised, lightly humoured recollection of an Englishman’s year in Provence. Includes food, Provençal customs, wine, Provençal driving, normalmente, food, wine, English visitors, and a lot more.
I also enjoyed pronouncing and learning all the French words used, handy while I’m attempting to learn some French.
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance
Is the limit in the body’s physiology or in the mind, or in a combination of the two? (Mine is surely in the mind, I haven’t gone close to limits of my body for running, swimming or cycling.) An exploration of research on limits of endurance performance and how to stretch them. I really enjoyed the middle and last section of the book—covering various physiological elements affecting the body, and the research on identifying and stimulating areas of the brain to stretch performance.
This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor
A funny, poingnant, deep, breathless, touching travail of life of a Junior Doctor in the NHS. Left me with a lot of appreciation that the NHS staff does, and things they deal with. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Support the NHS. Support the people in it.
So Good They Can't Ignore You
Passion vs crafting. The craftsman mindset builds career capital by focusing on what value you’re offering to the world.
Invest the career capital to gain control over how you work and what you work on. Traps: 1> Going for control before earning enough career capital. 2> Once you have career capital, you are valuable so the employers don’t want you to have more control. Also law of financial viability: unless people are willing to pay you, it’s not an idea to go after.
Importance of mission. Exploring the adjacent possible for missions. Using little bets to explore specific projects within mission area. The law of remarkability to market the mission.
Running with Sherman
Another good book by Christopher—combines my love of animals with running. Covers… life in Amish country, burro racing, key characters in burro racing, mental health benefits of working with animals, impact on mental health of regular exercise (good and bad), Sherman, Flower and Matilda, training and working with donkeys.
I enjoyed it a lot.
A calendar of wisdom
Stillness is the key
A good collection of thoughts on living a calmer yet productive life in a time of distractions and hyperactivity. Brought together several ideas from many books I’ve read in last two years. The sections on mind and body were familiar, but useful to revisit. The section on spirit was, and is, unfamiliar and hard for me. I need to learn to accept a higher power.
We Are All Weird - The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal
Sometimes a long blog post, or two, may be better than a short book. This was one of them. It has one interesting insight repeated over and over, diced and sliced and mixed in with anecdotes plenty. I’m not even gonna write what is the insight. Read Seth’s Tribes or Chris’s Long tail for the actual insight.
A summary of early and growth years of Uber and Airbnb. Felt quite one-sided though—most attempts at addressing the criticisms felt muted. Wasn’t as in-depth as ‘The everything store’ either.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
A page turner introduction to Amazon’s history. Brad has had long and deep view of Amazon’s evolution and has used it to good effect. The crazy early years at Amazon seemed as exhilarating as scary for the people there. Reinforced my impression of Amazon as a good place to shop (customer centricity) but not to work (no respect of people or their lives). As a sign of how fast Amazon moves, this book already seems a bit outdated on the newer bits.
The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success
A well written primer of our understanding of specific genes and their impact on sports performance—from natural physical traits (height, strength, achilles, calf size, etc) to training ability to pain thresholds and more. David tries to balance the nature (genes) vs nurture (environmental) factors. He also points out, repeatedly, that our understanding of impact of specific genes, specially in combinations, is still very incomplete.
Another takeaway, for me, is that much of what our understanding of these genes reveals is what separates the (say) Olympians from everyday people. The performance differences amongst the people at the top is too small to be explained by our current understanding of genes.
Finally, even at the very top, there are multiple paths to get there. The story of two high jumpers illustrated this well.
Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
The Billionaire Raj
A really good book covering the state of money power and politics in India over the last decade. The title is a misnomer as the book looks way beyond just the growth and dominance of Billionaires. It covers, apart from the Billionaires, politicians, bureaucrats, media, cricket and more.
Anyone who has followed developments in India closely may already be aware of most of the facts in the book. But even for them, the description of interplay between various sections of the power set will be useful. The analysis of how things work in India, how they got to this state, the challenges ahead, and the potential paths forward are all interesting.
The author pulls his punches, specially when criticising the politicians. This could be to maintain access for himself and the media organisations he works with. This may also just be the journalistic prudence at play—presenting facts not judgements.
Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World
An easy-to-grasp version of David Allen’s GTD process. It’s titled ‘for teens’ but I’d recommend it to everyone. A comprehensive yet simple introduction to getting a handle on things to be done, improving productivity and freeing mental space. The processes and tactics are invaluable together, but extremely useful even if adopted in parts. I would recommend everyone to read this book, at least twice.
I enjoyed the book. It is packed with an understanding of, and tools for generalists. The topic, the research, the details felt like they’d been written for me. Read it for an understanding of the other view, opposing the early and hyper specialisation that rules the current social and business structures.
Yet, it was a slow, sluggish read. Shorter by a third, and it’d have been a crisp 5* book.
The art of running faster
Inspired: How to create products customers love
Food rules: An eater's manual
Messy: How to be creative and resilient in tidy-minded world
Among my favourite non-fiction books this year. Tim gives an interesting account of how messiness helps through variety, improvisation, flexibility, speed, and more. He covers a variety of areas and discusses the impact and understanding of messiness in them—from the current trend towards AI and automation to the humanity-old question of children and their play areas.
Combined with Range by David Epstein, this book has provided to me one set of perspectives and inputs. Another set is from Make Time by Jake and Jack, and Deep Work & Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Combining these—focus in the moment, and variety, improv and range in the themes—are a great direction for improvement.
The challenge though, as ever, is in the doing :)
The Miracle Of Mindfulness: The Classic Guide to Meditation by the World's Most Revered Master
A really good assessment of South Africa during years of Mbeki’s presidency (starts with transition from Mandela, ends with rise of Zuma). Uses a wealth of interviews, anecdotes, and historical perspective to cover all key areas of the society - the party, the violence, failure to deliver, Afrikaners, AIDS, BEE, Zimbabwe and more.
It had its slow moments, specially in the beginning, and a tiny bit of (Western?) proselytising, but they are rare.
The fifth risk
An assessment of a fundamental execution and institutional capability that’s under attack. By Trump and allies in the US, but also broadly across the world, and not just by the politicians. Good awakening book about the boring truths.
A good book about managing the overwhelming digital impact on our lives. Full of tips and tricks. I like Cal’s writing style. I enjoyed this book despite already reading Deep Work and Make Time in the last 6 months.
Full of tools and …
The Barcelona Legacy: Guardiola, Mourinho and the Fight For Football's Soul
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Do the work
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Amongst my favourite books of all time but, written by a researcher, it’s quite hard to read :)
How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed
Jake and JZ mix personal experience, academic studies and humour to deliver an excellent list of tactics to help focus, and improve energy and productivity.
Personally, it was good to see the changes I’ve made in my life in the last two years listed in the book. More comforting was that their reasoning was similar to mine in deciding at those changes.
The best bit was the list of more changes I can now experiment with to further improve focus, productivity and calmness.
Loved this book. This should be required reading for.. everyone.