My goal for 2019 is to read 52 books, one book every week. I fell short of this goal, having only read 33 books. The books read are listed in reverse chronological order below.
December - 1 book
Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir (2015, Alan Cumming)
Alan Cumming narrates this audiobook in such a compelling fashion it is difficult to stop listening to. The journey he goes through as he discovers truths about his father and grandfather make you feel like you are with him every step of the way.
November - 0 books
October - 0 books
September - 1 book
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2012, Jonas Jonasson)
This book felt very reminiscent of the movie Forest Gump. Without going into any spoilers, Alan Carlson’s life goes through a lot of the major events of the 20th century. The story interweaves these flash backs in between the adventure Alan gets himself into on the day of his 100th birthday when he escapes out the window of his old folks home. The story truly has it all, from a runaway elephant, to an Einstein and a misprinted bible. I’d definitely recommend this book as a nice, light, feel good read.
August - 4 books
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (2013, Chris Hadfield)
Chris Hadfield leads you through his 3 trips into space with such detail that it feels like you were right beside him. On the way he imparts his personal philosophy that helped him become who he is today. What really resonated with me was taking pride in every little thing, and finding reasons to be happy every day. His perspective would best be described as an optimistic engineer who has trained enough to be confident in what he knows. A fantastic book to read if you want to learn about space travel.
Norse Mythology (2017, Neil Gaiman)
As a kid, I loved reading books on mythology. Greek was my favourite and norse myths confused me. They were harder to follow and more complicated, with characters that didn’t seem to fit into well defined boxes. Loki played both sides, and at the end everyone dies in Ragnarok (spoilers). Listening to Neil Gaiman read his interpretations of classic norse myths completely changed how I viewed them. It could also be that I’m now 23 and not 10 years old, but his words bring the stories to life.
The Art of Thinking Clearly (2013, Eric Conger)
A list of 99 ways we systematically do not think clearly. From commonly known biases like the Availability Bias to envy and social distortions. Not the best book to be listened to linearly as an audiobook, as the format encourages you to open at random and refresh yourself on another thinking error. A good book to inspire introspection and carry in your back pocket.
Can’t Hurt Me (2018, David Goggins)
I will recommend this book to everyone I know in a heartbeat, and if you do decide to read this, do yourself a favour and get the audiobook. Listening to the book is one thing, but Goggins and his ghost writer Adam Skolnick have a dialogue in between chapters in the book. They provide extra context and back story, and it almost feels like a podcast that happens in tandem with the book. Instead of even trying to touch upon details of the story, read it yourself. It’s not only inspirational but honest in a very raw and emotional way. I physically cringed during some chapters and wore a big goofy grin on my face during others. Please read this book.
July - 7 books
How Google Works (2014, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle)
This isn’t the origin story and saga of Google’s journey that I expected. Instead this book attempts to teach Google’s principles to you, the reader. It explains the philosophy of why Google operates the way it does, and then tries to use those lessons to help you in your career. It’s very much a self help guide using the model Google employs.
The Obstacle Is The Way (2014, Ryan Holiday)
I feel that stoicism is easier preached than practiced. This book gives countless examples from history of bold individuals choosing to practice stoicism in the face of adversity, and wow I’m not sure I would have been able to follow suit. That being said, this book resonated with me, as it put into words thoughts that I have yet to fully materialize. It’s a great read for a time in your life when there is turmoil, as the examples in the book can inspire you to act differently.
The Big Short (2010, Michael Lewis)
The Big Short does a great job at giving an introduction to the bond market through one of the most complicated financial instruments that eventually lead to the 2008 crash. At its core it’s the story of a collection of men who ended up betting against the entire market, after realizing how messed up CDOs were. I’d highly recommend it for anyone who has an interest in investing. Now all I need to do is watch the movie.
Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built (2016, Duncan Clark)
A fascinating look at the rise of Alibaba. Not only does it detail the history of how the company came to dominate its space, but also gives an illuminating account of how the internet came to and flourished in China.
Atomic Habits (2018, James Clear)
A really great dive into the science of forming and breaking habits. This book mostly focuses on strategies and principles that you can use in all aspects of your life. It really resonated with me as I have just moved across the country to start a new job, which means I have a ton of new habits to form.
Answers to Questions You’ve Never Asked (2017, Joseph Pisenti)
After a long day at a new job, this was exactly the type of book I wanted to listen to on the way home from work. It comes up with near-absurd questions, and then rigorously answers them in ways that pose even more questions than are answered. If you want a truly eclectic listen, this is the book for you.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street, 12th Edition (2019, Burton G. Malkiel)
This book goes into detail on a wide variety of strategies, and the crux is that none can consistently outperform buying and holding a diversified portfolio of index funds. No matter how many greek letters (I’m looking at you beta) you bring into your analysis, or whether it’s a Castle in the Air or some Firm Foundations, index funds can’t really be beat.
June - 0 books
I was in Sweden for the first half of June, and completely distracted by friends and family for the second half in preparation of leaving Toronto. This is not an excuse to miss my target, so I’ll get back on track in a couple of months.
May - 3 books
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018, Steven Pinker)
This was a feel good read. With so much doom and gloom on the news and the general sense of the-world-is-going-to-shit, realizing that we actually have it much better than we used to is a good feeling. Not because it allows us to rest on our laurels, but because it allows us to view any current/future problem we have as what it is: a problem, and not an insurmountable obstacle. We’ve faced large problems before and using our ingenuity and compassion we have overcome so many. It paints an optimistic view of our future.
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (2018, Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
I forget who said it, but it is more profitable to sell advice than to take it. Viewing the world through the lens of who has and does not have skin in the game can very quickly give you an edge when making decisions. Taleb’s example of selecting a professional that doesn’t fit the stereotyped “look”, given that they have achieved a level of success in their field, goes against my knee-jerk intuition but seems to hold water upon further examination.
Human Happiness (1966, Blaise Pascal)
Thoughts come at random, and go at random. No device for holding on to them or for having them. A thought has escaped: I was trying to write it down: instead I write that it has escaped me.
All the good maxims already exist in the world: we just fail to apply them.
We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so wain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.
Let each of us examine his thoughts, he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our menans, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always panning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.
Pascal sets out many arguments on Human Happiness, from wagering on the existence of God to a discuss on the merits of distractions. One of my favourite passages is quoted above, specifically We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future.
April - 5 books
Why We Sleep (2017, Matthew Walker)
This books shows you, without any shadow of a doubt, that you need to be sleeping around 8 hours a night. I listened to this as an audiobook, and for 13 hours I heard convincing argument after convincing argument. There are so many reasons to prioritize sleep. I actually fell asleep twice while listening to this book, which the author made a note to encourage. It felt on-brand.
Tuesdays With Morrie (1997, Mitch Albom)
Giving is living. Of all the messages that Morrie is able to impart to Mitch before he died: this one resonated with me the most. I’ve often felt that a dollar spent on another person feels better than the same dollar spent on myself. As I sit here reflecting on the 16 books I’ve read so far in 2019, I’ve noticed that there are a significant number of books that feature someone dying. Instead of chalking this up to a morbid obsession, I prefer to use Morrie’s words: The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
The Four (2017, Scott Galloway)
Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are four of the most influential technology companies today. Scott Galloway explores how they achieved this status, and examines the advantages they each have created for themselves. Will there be a fifth? How do you, as an individual today, find success in a world shaped by the Four Horsemen? The Four answers these questions and many more in an insightful look at the tech behemoths of today.
The Richest Man in Babylon (1926 ,George S. Clason)
A simple and incredibly approachable book has an easy to remember lesson: save 10% of everything you earn. Of course there are others, but at its core: this is the main takeaway of the book. It also counsels what to do with the 10% you save and has advice for those in debt. Presented as a tale from ancient Babylon removes the minutia that other books dispensing advice usually get mired in.
The Black Swan (2007, Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
In an era where every book tries to tell you exactly what you need to do, The Black Swan is refreshing antidote as it does not prescribe a step by step solution. Instead it illustrates the shortcomings of believing that we live in a bell-curve determined world, and highlights the need to protect one’s self against ruinous unforeseen, catastrophic events. It really takes statistics out of the classroom and into the real world.
March - 4 books
Option B (2017, Sheryl Sandberg)
This book is all about facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. There has not been a recent event in my life that caused me to pick up this book. However, 4 years ago my parents decided to separate. Reading Option B after going through that really drives home how important the 3 Ps that Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant outline: Personalization, Pervasiveness and Permanence. Avoiding these three things encourages resilience and will allow you to “breathe again”.
The Everything Store (2013, Brad Stone)
In three months I will begin working for Amazon, so I feel it is fitting to get up to speed on the history of the company. After reading this book I more fully understand the divisive split in people I know that love and hate Amazon. With friends and family working in the book publishing industry, it’s not hard to see why. I believe that knowing the history of a company allows it to move forward by repeating its successes and avoiding past failures. I’m still very excited to work for Amazon and obsess over the customer experience while learning and innovating.
The Language Instinct (1994, Steven Pinker)
I have a distant memory of learning nouns, verbs and prepositions in grade school. In the Montessori system, nouns were black triangles and verbs were red circles. Language never particularly interested me, until I read The Language Instinct. Steven Pinker illustrates a compelling argument that language is truly an instinct that all humans posses, through a thoughtful and compelling dissection of a variety of case studies, like how deaf children acquire and create sign language.
Digital Minimalism (2019, Cal Newport)
I’ve found myself aimless scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Hacker News and even LinkedIn. I hate it, but I couldn’t stop. I clung to the “good” that each of these services brought to my life. So when I came across Digital Minimalism in an Indigo, something clicked. I bought it immediately and had finished all 250 pages before I went to bed that night.
February - 4 books
Radical Candor (2017, Kim Scott)
The two big ideas of Radical Candor is to care personally and challenge directly. Even though I’ve spent so little time in the world of business, I was able to related almost every chapter to something that I’ve faced personally. That being said, I won’t have an opportunity to apply any of these concepts concretely until I start working for Amazon in July. I’ll definitely review this book at that time to refresh myself on it’s main points.
That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together (2018, Joanne Lipman)
This book reopened my eyes to a variety of issues that currently exist in the workplace. It emphasized the fact that men need to be brought into the loop and included when discussing equality in the workplace. Championing women does not mean attacking men, as Iceland shows: everyone needs to be rowing the boat in the same direction. Finally, teams perform better and companies are more profitable when there are more women. Pushing for equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for the bottom line too.
The Last Lecture (2008, Jeffrey Zaslow and Randy Pausch)
I was in high school when I first watched Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. The lecture’s title was Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, and contains two of Randy’s “head fakes”. A head fake is a term taken from football, where a player moves their head to fake a change in direction and deceive opponents. Randy’s Last Lecture contains intellectual two head fakes. The first is that the lecture isn’t actually about how to achieve your dreams, but how to lead you life. The second head fake is even better and I’ll let you experience it for yourself. The book allows Randy to elaborate on his philosophy and talk about what was happening behind the scenes before, during, and after the last lecture.
When Breath Becomes Air (2016, Paul Kalanithi)
When Breath Becomes Air was independently recommended to me by three different friends. Suffice to say, I had high expectations before reading. After three days, I can say that my expectations were shattered as I was emotionally floored by its heartbreaking story. Breaking my heart is one thing, but to simultaneously provoke, inspire, and challenge is a feat few pieces of literature have done. I tend to reread very few books, but I have no doubt that I will continue to revisit these pages for many years.
January - 4 books
Bad Blood (2018, John Carreyrou)
Bad Blood is an amazing story to experience. The first part of the book sets the stage by identifying the key actors and telling the story of Theranos up to a point. Then the tone dramatically shifts to the first person as the author tells the story of how he first broke his investigative reporting piece about Theranos. This second half was a thriller and after one chapter into the second half I was hooked and had to finish the book that very night.
The Courage to be Disliked (2013, Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi)
The Courage to be Disliked is structured as a conversation between a Philosopher and a Youth. The Youth attacks the Philosophers beliefs throughout the novel and plays the role of the cynic that lives in our own heads. As it presents all sides of the argument, I feel the conclusions it draws quite convincing.
Wild (2012, Cheryl Strayed)
Wild was a wild ride. It was inspiring to see Cheryl face and overcome adversity. The most uncomfortable parts for me was in her interactions with predatory men. These moments emphasized her vulnerability doing this hike alone, and made me feel sick to my stomach while reading about it.
Bridge of Clay (2018, Markus Zusak)
The Bridge of Clay has a non-linear narrative that tugs on your heart strings time and time again. We learn about Clay, the second youngest of five boys, and the trials and tribulations that his family has gone through. It’s from the perspective of his eldest brother and that really puts you in the center of it all.