Here’s what I read in February of 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.
1 – South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917 by Ernest Shackleton (audiobook): Fantastic read. This is Shackleton’s first-hand account of his expedition to traverse the Antarctic continent, written in an interesting style that reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Even in audio form, this wasn’t exactly a page turner, however, it’s impossible to resist the seductive romance of an adventure such as this; it speaks directly to the reader’s soul. (audio is available on Librivox)
2 – Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk (audiobook): Summary: “Work your face off to build your personal brand, because it will be more important than everything else going forward.”
3 – The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk (audiobook): Business will revert back to individuals who care, as opposed to giant, faceless corporations that don’t give a shit about their customers. However, Gary warns that big business will pick up on this, and “ruin it” by trying to out-care each other. Interesting problem, isn’t it?
4 – Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy book 2) by Robin Hobb (audiobook): Pretty good read, but the main character pisses me off. He’s supposed to be a trained assassin, but he’s a passive aggressive wuss and most of his killing is hand-to-hand combat.
5 – The Dark Tower (Dark Tower series book 7) by Stephen King: This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but it had its moments. Despite King’s addressing of complaints about the ending in the afterthought, I thought the ending was perfect. What I didn’t like was the bit just prior to the ending. As soon as the artist came into the picture, I knew exactly what was coming, and I hated it immediately. One more book in the series, but the timeline for it fits back in the middle somewhere.
6 – Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich (audiobook): This is the book that the movie “21” was based on. The book is very different from the movie. The plot of the book is also much more complicated, and much better. My major issue is that there are some introductions to people who don’t seem to matter at all, and I kept wondering if I missed something, or if the author was just trying to fill pages. I read another book of his (see below), and it turns out it’s just the author’s style (which sucks, IMHO – but that doesn’t ruin this book). Very entertaining, but don’t mistake this as a how-to.
7 – Good to Great by James C. Collins (audiobook): This is a back-fitting of what led to some companies outperforming the market average returns over a 15 year period. The problem is that this sort of reductionist thinking isn’t enough on its own – there are surely companies that fit the mold that did not produce superior returns, and also some of the “great” companies listed here ran into trouble in the years since this research was done. Yet, I was reminded constantly of Warren Buffett’s investing philosophies throughout this book. Compare Buffett’s “competitive moat” to Collins’ “figure out what you can be the best in the world at”, or compare what they think of as great management. Very similar, although radically different paths to get there. This is a book you need to read, just don’t mistake it for a success blueprint.
8 – Assassin’s Quest (Farseer Trilogy book 3) by Robin Hobb (audiobook): I didn’t really like the ending, and I found it interesting that the character-intensive narrative of the first two books was abandoned for a more event-driven third offering. Still, I would recommend this series to any fantasy fan. Also, without a doubt, the character known as “the Fool” in the series becomes, in this book in particular, one of the best-written characters in any story, ever.
9 – Ugly Americans by Ben Mezrich (audiobook): Another story of Wall Street excess, except the setting is in Japan (although the main players are still Americans), and it is based on a true story, except all the people are fictionalized to protect their identities. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of anything worth reading here. The only “excess” really detailed is some underground Japanese sex stuff, and even that is pretty tame. There are only 3 trades that you are given any facts about, and 2 of them are almost identical, featuring some arbitraging an index rebalancing. The third trade is a failed $10MM distressed loan bundle. As mentioned above, the author’s style comes into play again, as there are all sorts of intriguing narratives that are introduced, but never followed. Japanese mob connections? A boss with a sketchy past and a thirst for power who has an unknown financial backer and powerful connections? Those threads end almost as soon as they come up. I was thoroughly disappointed with this book and recommend you skip it.
10 – Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (audiobook): This one is pretty much the same as South! (above), but instead it’s written as a story-fied narrative. This was a much easier read, and most people would probably prefer it to South!. I recommend you read both, though – and if you do, read South! first.
11 – The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli (audiobook): This isn’t so much a book as it is a huge list post you’d find on some blog. It could very well be titled, “99 Ways You Think Fallaciously”. That title would be less misleading than the title of the book. You’d think “The Art of Thinking Clearly” would give you how-to information, but you’d be wrong. Instead, this is a decent overview of other people’s research. It doesn’t go into enough depth to get a good hold on the psychology, but that isn’t what bothers me because you can look up things you find interesting. What bothers me is that he gives you his interpretation of what happened in the research. This is the sort of narrative fallacy he outlines in the book. Also, related to this point, some of this book is clearly plagiarized (Google “dobelli plagiarize” to see for yourself). Hat tip to Amazon reviews for pointing this out. With that in mind, if you choose to read this one, you should probably pirate it. He did.
12 – Trading Bases by Joe Peta (audiobook): This was *exactly* the book I was looking for after reading Moneyball. How-to details on evaluating players, teams, win totals, and thinking about the overall system of betting on them, and a list of books and websites to find information. There is no blackbox here though. Keep this in mind – you’ll need to do some work on your own; probably a lot of work. In addition to the baseball, you get his Wall Street war stories, which are great. If there’s a negative here, it’s that he gets pretty technical in a few places (although mostly his writing is very friendly). Don’t let the technical stuff keep you from reading (or finishing) this one!
13 – The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (audiobook): This was good, but not what I wanted. The audio is heavily dramatized, and interspersed with clips of lectures from Campbell. I didn’t want a radio drama. I wanted the actual text. In audio format. According to the web, this is in the works, but THIS WAS NOT IT. I’ll have to get my hands on the print book for this one.
14 – Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell: This book, in places, clearly speaks to the author’s intense love for, and deep emotional investment in, the video games he’s played over the years. Those parts made me smile, because I can relate. Unfortunately, Bissell’s writing is horrible (check Amazon reviews for examples of his logorrhea). This bothered me doubly when I finally got to the end and saw the interview transcript, and you can see how different his writing is from the way he speaks. Additionally, the claim made in the title fails, as there is no cohesive argument as to why video games might matter, and instead most of this is just his reminiscences of certain games, an admission of a coke habit, and a few interviews with industry players. If there is any redemption here, it comes in the form of the interviews with Jonathan Blow and Clint Hocking, which were exceptional.