Category Archives: Book recommendations

The Books I Read in 2011

Following on from 2009 book recommendations and 2010 book recommendations, the books I read in 2011 included the following :

Business

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives  by Steven Levy – Excellent book that analyses the history of Google. Interviews with key staff and analysis of some of their greatest innovations. Read it.

The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor (Columbia Business School Publishing) by Howard Marks – Nice book on value investing strategies and how you need to think on higher levels than the masses to profit.

This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly  by Carmen M. Reinhart, Kenneth Rogoff – Whilst this isn’t easy reading, and I am still only 70% through it, there are some valuable lessons within.

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar – I remember enjoying this book but not huge amounts of it have stayed with me.

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein – Excellent book on how some very smart people miscalculated some very big bets on fixed income arbitrage.

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten – Strangely enough, I really enjoyed this. Little snippets of business wisdom here and there.

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins – Read 50% of this. Some good ideas in there but it didn’t hold my attention.

Thinking about Thinking

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – Like an almanac of behavioural economics / irrational decision making experiments. Read it.

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker – Only 20% through this one.

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker – This is an interesting read. It is a cross between psychoanalysis and existentialist though about how the ways we think (or don’t think) about death influence our minds and our society.

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton – 50% through this. Nice concept – take the best bits of religion and leave the rest.

Fiction

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde – Enjoyed it.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – Awesome.

Of Love and Other Demons (Vintage International) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Very good.

The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey by Stanley Lombardo – Only 20% through this.

Why a Kindle 3 is better than a “real book”

A few months on from buying my kindle 3 in Australia, I am very happy with the device. Before buying it, I was hesitant because I “liked reading real books” but now I am a converted kindle user.

kindle-australia-books

Explaining to a friend of mine (hi Sarah) the other day why she had to get a kindle instead of real books, my main points were:

  1. Highlights – The kindle 3 allows you to make highlights of text that you want to read again later. I used to do so using dog ears in books but unless I had a pen handy, it was always hard to know exactly which part of the page I was referring to when I went back to reread. Highlights allows me to go back after reading a book and read each of my highlights sequentially. It also let me upload them directly to my twitter and or facebook.
  2. Dictionary – I didn’t initially think i would use this feature very much. That said, whilst reading certain books, I have found that I don’t know the meanings of as many words as I thought I did. Being able to quickly highlight a word and have the meaning come up instantly has been quite useful.
  3. Read multiple books simultaneously -  This is one of the biggest features for me. Being able to decide on the bus in the morning what book I’d like to read (out of maybe 6-10 unread books on the device) is pretty cool. I used to take 2 or 3 books with me and now don’t have to carry as much around with me.
  4. Holds your place in the book – This is a bit of an obvious one but never having to think about where I am in the book is useful. No placeholders or dog ears required.
  5. Cost – So far, the most I have paid for a kindle book (out of maybe 15 purchased) is $15.99. This number used to average much higher than that buying real books.

Update September 2012 – Click here for the latest Kindle in Australia Buyers Guide.

The Books I Read in 2010

This year’s reading list includes fiction, psychology and decision making, online marketing and usability, business and investing and ‘life’. Following on from 2009’s reading list, take a look below for more and please post comments or recommendations. I’d also add that I probably read 6 of the books below on my Australian Kindle 3 which i’m really liking.

Fiction

The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo – This is an even quicker read and one I struggled to put down. Whilst it is a bit overly religous, it is a very well written and engaging story that leaves you wanting to do chase your dreams and believe in yourself. A good book for those considering quitting the corporate world and starting a nursery.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau – This is an extremely interesting though hard to read book. Written in the 19th century by a now famous American contrarian thinker, Walden is a story about a man’s trip away from the beaten path. Thoreau gave up his regular life, saved just enough to go squat in a farm and make it his own and set about documenting his experience. With strikingly similar recurrent themes throughout the book to those I think most about today, it is interesting to see that our biggest dilemnas may not have changed that much in the past 200 years. Read it.

Psychology / Decision Making

The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb – This book added a new dimension to the way I think about things. In parts articulating thoughts i’ve never been able to put together clearly, Taleb discusses the way extremely low possibility (and hence ‘unexpected’) events have shaped history and will continue to do so in the future. With a particular focus on stock markets, he outlines the importance of understanding that any attempt to model the world is likely to fall short of the unpredictable nature of the future. People should stop trying to find perfect models to fit the world and instead get used to living in a world that is inherently unpredictable.

Outliers by Malcomn Gladwell – I gave this book a go somewhere near Iguazu Falls in Argentina based on two of his other books. A good read that explained a few interesting concepts well. Becoming an expert at something takes time (10,000 hours he discussed) and those that we believe are brilliant in a particular area have often, if not always spent this time. Though simiplified, if you want to do something, devote time to it and you can do it. Another interesting topic he discusses is the effect of streaming children in high schools, the self fulfilling prophecies it creates and the long ranging effects it can have.

Predictably Irrational – by Dan Ariely – A painful to read book but very interesting nonetheless. Dan is a pioneer int he field fo behavioural economics and in this book and the next one below, he describes a number of experiments that outline some of the many irrational decisions that humans are wired to make in their lives. Compelling read and it changes the way you look at the world. You’ll start noticing yourself doing stupid things more often.

The upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely – This is Dan’s second book and is not as good a read as the first but is still interesting.

Priceless by William Poundstone – Again, I think this book could have been written better and in many less words but it is a good read. A great look at pricing theory, why things are priced the way they are, how people make decisions and how businesses and consumers can benefit from it. Another book designed to help you get to know your rational shortcomings a bit better. A must for marketing / business people in my opinion.

Fooled by Randomness by Nicholas Nassim Taleb – Written before The Black Swan, this was Taleb’s first book on his theories of randomness, fat tails and the occurence of low probability events. Filled with interesting examples and again thought provoking ideas, i found it easier to read than the Black Swan.

Online Marketing and Usability

Landing page optimisation by Tim Ash – A good introductory book for those interested in online marketing through landing page optimisation.

Don’t make me think by Steve Krug – A great but again introductory book on web usability. If you want a quick run through on web standards (many of which have not changed since it was written), this is a good book.

Business and Investing

Rework by Fried and Hansson – A quick read about the business strategies and tips (especially for start ups) written by the people at 37 Signals. Simple, interesting and worthwhile.

The new buffettology by Mary Buffett – A slightly annoying read but one that nonetheless gave a range of insights into Warren Buffett’s different investments over the years.

Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Phil Fisher – Fantasic read. Need to reread it. All about business quality, the importance of management and competitive advantage (+what leads to it). Really enjoyed this one.

The Zeroes by Randall Lane – A story about a high flying Wall Street Magazine creator and owner during the zeroes and the GFC. Written very well and like a novel, it gives a good insight into Wall street, excess and how not to run a small business. Or how to run one that is ready to fail in a crash.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis – A book about those who bet against the continual rise in the Us housing market and made a small fortune. Focusing on Michael Burry, the man credited as the first to bet against the market, this book is well written, easy to read and hard to put down.

Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin – Excellent book. The best i’ve read about the financial crisis. Whilst long, it is easy to read and gives a play by play account fo the fall of bear sterns, Lehman Brothers, the fed bailout of the banks and their conversion to bank holding companies. Highly recommended.

Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis – Didn’t love this book to be honest but I can see how it would have been great in its time.

Life

Superfreakonomics by Steven Levit and Stephen Dubner – Again, didn’t love this but it had some interesting arguments about contrarian climate change theories. Also it was quick so not too harmful.

Voltaires bastards by John raulston Saul – A great recommendaiton from my trusty second hand bookshop owner. Suggested after enjoying An Intimate History of Humanity, this book is about reason in the West. Specifically, about how reason was initially used as a method to avoid tyranny and has since been used as a reason to wield power. Very hard to read but rewarding.

Marching Powder by Rusty Young – I read this one early in the year before a trip to Brazil and Argentina. It is a quick read about an Australian spending time with an convicted cocaine smuggler in a prison in Bolivia. It is an interesting look into the very different world of Bolivia and its prisons.

The Bed of Procrustes by Nicholas Nassim Taleb – This is a collection of aphorisms that clearly demonstrate Taleb’s views on a number of matters. As he is clearly well read and has had plenty of time to think, I enjoyed a range of the aphorisms in this book. Will read again.

Too Soon Old Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston – Highly recommended book. Really enjoyed it. Whilst a little fatalistic, this book is written by a psychiartrist with years of experience and who has also lost both of his children. It is written as 30 chapters aimed as little lessons about life. Quick and easy to read, again hard to put down.

And Never Stop Dancing by Gordon Livingston – A follow up on his book above. Again, didn’t enjoy it as much but still worthwhile reading.

What Books did I read in 2009?

Preparing for our yearly book club at The Intelligent Investor, I decided to write a list of the books that I read in 2009.

Fiction
  1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    1. I loved this book. It was very difficult to put down and was very enjoyable to read. Whilst “not alot happens” in the book, it got me thinking about a bunch of things that I found interesting. Set in a world post some sort of world destruction event, the story is about a boy and his father walking towards the West coast of the US.Search for The Road on amazon
  2. The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde
    1. Super witty. I had my highlighter / pen out on almost every page. It offered some great insights into early 20th century thinking (perhaps not too different to today’s), human nature and greed. Really enjoyed it.Search for The Picture of Dorian Grey on amazon
  3. 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    1. This is my favourite fiction book of the year, recommended by my favourite second hand bookstore owner. It is the first book to make me think about generational differences and similarities. It is very nicely written and great for long plane trips and strangely enough, solitude.Search for 100 Years of Solitude on Amazon
  4. Love in the time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    1. I read this after a recommendation from a friend and after reading 100 Years of Solitude. This book feels as if it were written by someone who has lived 10 lives and is now sitting down above them all looking back over them with maturity, wisdom and hindsight. Again, highly recommended.Search for Love in the time of Cholera on amazon
  5. Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky
    1. A very quick little read that was hard to put down and very enjoyable.Search for Notes from the Underground on amazon
  6. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
    1. I really enjoyed how this book was written. Highly recommended again.Search for Lolita on amazon

Non Fiction

  1. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
    1. The first of my NY Times bestsellers this year, this book takes you through a range of social psychology experiments to draw some conclusions about the key drivers of epidemics. It attempts to analyse why certain crazes spread. It was a quick read (though somewhat repetitive and aggravating).Search for The Tipping Point on amazon
  2. Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
    1. Similarly to The Tipping Point, the book presents a large amount of other psychologists’ research to draw some interesting conclusions; this time about the decisions we make in an instant. Again, it was a very quick and repetitive read but I am very glad I read it as it gives some very interesting insights into how we are wired.Search for Blink on amazon
  3. The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton
    1. This was very close to my favourite book of the year. One of the first books to make reading about philosophy appeal to me, it takes you through the works of several ancient and more recent philosophers (Socrates, Seneca, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Epicurus from memory). But he manages to do it very interestingly by addressing general questions that we all think about from time to time (unpopularity, love, fear, inadeqaucy, frustration, difficulty). I didn’t find his consolations particularly persuasive but I enjoyed learning about the philosophers themselves. Highly recommended.Search for The Consolations of Philosophy on amazon
  4. An Intimate History of Humanity, Theodore Zeldin
    1. This is again very close to my favourite non-fiction book for the year. Over 500 or so pages, Zeldin takes you through at least 30 individuals he has interviewed and explains their lives, desires, personal philosophies, issues, dramas, likes, hates and loves. Split into 30 chapters, each about a different aspect of life (e.g. losing hope, toleration, compassion, curiosity), he then explores how various civilisations and individuals of history have dealt with exactly the same issues. A very very original and highly researched book.Search for An Intimate History of Humanity on amazon
  5. The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
    1. I didn’t love this book and still have 25 pages left to read but it still offered some interesting insights into why people travel. It also encouraged me to get out amongst nature a little more.Search for the Art of Travel on amazon
  6. The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton
    1. This book changed the way I look at architecture. I think. Didn’t love it but it was quick and I’m glad I read it.Search for The Architecture of Happiness on amazon
  7. Influence, Robert Cialdini
    1. This is a must read for all people in sales and marketing. Again, a collation of social psychology experiments targeted at improving how persuasive you can be. It looks at 8 different factors that he believes are crucial to improve your persuasiveness.Search for Influence on amazon
  8. The Accidental Investment Banker, Jonathan Knee
    1. I bought this from a market in Singapore not expecting much when I was considering going into banking. It gave me a decent insight into what it might be like to work in banking in New York and provided a good history of the industry.Search for The Accidental Investment Banker on amazon
  9. The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means, George Soros
    1. This book reads like Mr Soros has a chip on his shoulder from being told he is wrong by critics for so long. He has however been told he is right by the Stock Market though to the tune of 7 billion dollars. That said, except when it became far too hard to understand without really thinking about it, I enjoyed the book.Search for this book on amazon
  10. Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson
    1. Absolute must read for all people interested in why everything is free on the internet, whether newspapers will survive and how best to profit from charging nothing for products. Highly recommended.Search for FREE on amazon
  11. The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham
  12. My Life in Advertising, Claude C Hopkins
    1. It includes some great insights into marketing techniques and copy writing.
  13. Scientific Advertising, Claude C Hopkins
  14. The Language of Mathematics, Keith Devlin
    1. This book is an excellent combined history and summary of a range of mathematical principles. I skimmed it but still enjoyed it.
  15. The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki