2016 was an excellent year for reading.
All of the books were great. Below are some brief summaries.
Unique and worthwhile: (these titles are excellent and don’t appear on many other lists)
Peripheral Visions, by Mary Catherine Bateson
A really great book by the daughter of the famous anthropologist, Gregory Bateson. She’s a brilliant researcher and writer in her own right, and in this work she examines many of the cultural norms across the world around learning, tolerance, and perspective. A few choice quotes:
“We reach for knowledge as an instrument of power, not as an instrument of delight, yet the preoccupation with power ultimately serves ignorance. The political scientist Karl Deutsch define power as ‘the ability not to have to learn,’ which is exemplified by the failure of empathy in a Marie Antoinette or the rejection of computer literacy by an executive. Ironically, in our society both the strongest, those who have already succeeded, and the weakest, those who feel destined for failure, defend themselves against new learning.”
“The pitfall of fundamentalism… is that when some item is held constant while the context varies, constancy is an illusion, and those who resist change often suffer themselves.”
“Sometimes you meet people who have learned their way around the culture of the ‘other’ well enough to have access to a second way of seeing the world. They then have a unique capacity to pick and choose among behaviors and assumptions that would otherwise have remained unquestioned, and even to invent new ones.”
The Sign of Three, edited by Umberto Eco and Thomas Sebeok
I have a private obsession with semiotics and in particular, Charles Sanders Peirce, one of its founders. This book is a collection of somewhat academic essays by scholars about the practice of abductive reasoning, something Peirce defined. Abductive reasoning is different from deductive or inductive reasoning, in that you’re required to make a leap from observations/data to a theory, with no guarantee that your hypothesis is correct. It’s the real process behind Sherlock Holmes’ methods, or any good hypothesis in the Scientific Method.
The discussions in the book range from detecting art forgeries, the methods of Sherlock Holmes and Dupin (the detective in Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue), Voltaire’s Zadig, and of course, Peirce himself. Much of it was used as inspiration for my post on Ribbonfarm.
Charles Sanders Peirce, by Joseph Brent
Peirce lived something of a tragic life. He was an early prodigy but had habits and a communicative style that put him at odds with many of his contemporaries, who often worked to block him from academic posts or opportunities. Thus, much of his work was left to relative obscurity, even though he was a very modern thinker with idease that are at the core of present day probability theory, psychology, physics, mathematics and logic.
The Systems Bible, by John Gall
Though it’s a bit quirky, this is a great book and summary of practical advice when dealing with systems of all kinds.
Great: (these are a little more esoteric, while still good)
Reasoning and the Logic of Things, by Charles Sanders Peirce
One of the few accessible compilations of Peirce’s work.
Everything and More, by David Foster Wallace
A fantastic guide to modern mathematics, tracing the story of infinity throughout the ages.
Thinking and Deciding, by Jonathan Baron
Worth pushing through.
The House of Morgan, by Ron Chernow
Awesome history of global finance. Chernow picked the perfect thread to follow in order to give maximum resolution to the big trends and shifts.
Charles Schwab, by John Kador
Good read on the history of Charles Schwab, the brokerage firm. Almost all of their struggles (capital needs, regulatory pressure, technology changes, etc.) rhyme with what the current fintech space struggles with. It can read at times like it came from the Schwab marketing department, but Kador pulls no punches when it comes to pointing out flaws in Schwab’s culture or decision making through its history.
Well covered elsewhere: (great books which you can find recommended practically everywhere)
The Snowball, by Alice Schroeder
Damn Right, by Janet Lowe
Both of the above are great biographies of two amazing individuals (Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger).
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
In talking about the ending for this book, Wallace said “it’s supposed to stop and then kind of hum and project.” I definitely felt that for days after I read this book. It’s deeply human, modern, and a fun read.
Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco
I wrote something about this.
The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Great fiction – sort of a cross between Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.
The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallway
Great book about performance. Fast read.
I also listened to some great audiobooks:
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Fun, fast bit of fiction. You may try to call it a kids book but it’s still great.
Caesar, by Adrian Goldsworthy
I’ll never forget the period I read/listened to this in: I rewatched HBO’s Rome and played Total War: Rome II, which has a “Caesar in Gaul” campaign you can play. Totally fun way to immerse oneself in a subject.
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
Funny, of course. Also a great story about hustle and working on one’s dream.
Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
More hustle. My favorite part is Bourdain’s story about how he got into food – out of childhood spite. During his childhood, on a family summer vacation in France, Bourdain and his brother acted like punks all the time. His parents got so fed up with it that when they went to eat at the world’s best restaurant at the time, they left Anthony and his brother in the car for the whole 2-3hr meal. That whole time Anthony stewed “what could be so good in there, that I can’t have it?!? I’ll show my parents, I’ll show everyone – I’ll be the best food-lover there is!”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
Great book, don’t let the title fool you. There’s more to Mark’s message than being carefree. I picked up a lot from this book.
The Power of Vulnerability, by Brene Brown
More great content for self work. This isn’t a book per se but a recording from one of her courses. It’s packed with a lot of wisdom and ways to become more emotionally intelligent. I intend to listen to this again someday.
The Upside of Your Dark Side, by Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan
Good focus on an issue that the two previous titles cover – how our weaknesses or “bad” emotions (like anger) can be better harnessed. You can skip this one if you were to read those others, but it’s still an important topic.
10% Happier, by Dan Harris
Really entertaining. Dan does a great job discussing his struggles and approaching meditation in a way that most of us (who might be skeptical) probably would. He’s a self described neurotic/worry-wart, and was afraid meditation and mindfulness would cause him to lose his “edge” he perceived he had from worrying.