Reading List for May 2013

Here’s what I read in May of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Four Filters Invention of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger by Bud Labitan (audio):  You can get the abridged audio version by clicking here.  The mechano-Asian-businessman voice is amazingly bad. If you’ve read anything detailing Buffett’s strategies elsewhere, you can skip this one, as it offers nothing new.  If you were only going to read one, however, this might not be so bad for a 1-hour time investment.  It’s a decent summary, but godawful audio.

PS: Get ready for more Buffett books, this is just the beginning.

2 – Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker: This was actually much better than I expected. From my experience, when most of these success/business coaches/gurus/trainers writes a ‘book’ it’s really just a piece of marketing that builds leads (sends you to a website, put your email in for “extras”) and/or sells their more expensive seminars. Normally, there’s almost no real material in the ‘book’ – just hype and pitch. Well, in this one there was a fair amount of pitch, but more importantly – there was plenty of useful information. I would recommend you read this over most books in the category.

Side note: One thing I disliked about the pitch – this is the first time I’ve seen one of these guys say, “Hey if you don’t like me pitching stuff, there’s something wrong with you. You need to be open to new opportunities…” blah blah. Huge douche move, IMHO – it assumes, either naively or worse, that all marketers who use that tactic are well-meaning, and have basic morals. Unfortunately, that’s actually quite rare for these guys – just search google for FTC violations on most of them. But honestly, just skip that bit, and read the book because it was pretty good.

3 – The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook): Fun read for a nerd like me, but still readable for non-nerds.

The “Black Swan” concept is simple, and involves outliers and predictions. Whenever an extremely unlikely event happens, or an extremely likely event fails to happen, you have a Black Swan. All models that disregard extreme outliers (just about all of them) are, in reality, useless. Taleb, coming from a Wall Street background, gives a great analogy of stock traders who fail to see this as, “picking up pennies in front of a steam roller.”
The rest of the book I found a bit challenging to think about – not because it was written in equations like some bullshit textbook, but because the ideas themselves are really fucking immense.

Here’s the biggest mindfuck example in the book, about predicting the movement of balls on a billiard table: “If you know a set of basic parameters concerning the ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the table (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it is rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second impact becomes more complicated, but possible; and more precision is called for. The problem is that to correctly compute the ninth impact, you need to take account the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table (modestly, Berry’s computations use a weight of less than 150 pounds). And to compute the fifty-sixth impact, every single elementary particle in the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe, separated from us by 10 billion light-years, must figure in the calculations, since it exerts a meaningful effect on the outcome.”

He cites a study about Berry above, you can read it here: http://www.phy.bris.ac.uk/people/berry_mv/the_papers/Berry076.pdf

I recommend you read the book, if only to get a sense of the implications of the idea. It’s actually quite an enjoyable read, despite the sense of what you might get from the above quote.

4 – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (audiobook): A classic (published in 1932) that I never read before, but I saw it and decided to give it a whirl. Sci-fi classics never cease to amaze me about how accurately they predict certain technological advances – in this case cloning and test tube babies – while at the same time missing the small ones – here they hang up a telephone and “heard the click of the replaced receiver”. If Huxley had instead described how they hung up with the violent pressing of a button, now that would have been something to marvel at.

5 – Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life by Maxwell Maltz (audiobook): Possibly the best book I’ve ever read. No shit. I’m not sure because I was too busy being amazed at how awesome it was. Some of what is in this book I never realized I did before I read it. Some of it was new to me. I will probably revisit this in a month or two in actual written form, and give more detail then. For the record: I’ve never gone audiobook-to-text before, this will be a first.

I realize that there’s a lack of description here, and I apologize for that. Seriously though, look at the Amazon reviews. It’s an old book – those are not from some guy paying people to post fake reviews!

6 – Buffetology by Mary Buffett (audiobook): I have mixed feelings about this one. The book starts with the author telling you that she’s going to let you in on some amazing secret insider knowledge that Warren Buffett would never allow out of the family, and that she needed a co-author for the math involved in the book. Then she gives you common sense investing principles (which are, admittedly, very uncommon), and some high-tech Algebra-1 level math – while talking down to the reader the entire time.

This is my problem with the book. It reeks of sleaze. After getting a divorce and leaving the Buffett family she decides to write the books (there’s 4 different ones now) and expose these “secrets”, while conveniently keeping the Buffett name. That’s kind of sketchy, but what’s worse is that if she had these secrets, why not make millions (or billions) using them herself, instead of writing books? I’m just speculating (Do you see what I did there?), but probably because she’s not very good at the whole investing thing, and needs the money?

The timelessness of common sense principles applied to anything is worth the read. Some of the dated references, like awesome solar-powered calculators, and only having 67 TV channels is good for a chuckle as well. I am bothered by the sleaziness though, so my recommendation is that if you’re interested, buy a used copy, or – better yet borrow it from the library.

Reading List for April 2013

Holy moly I can’t believe April has already passed. I’ve been keeping pretty busy working on several different projects, but still managed to read quite a bit.  So without further ado…

Here’s what I read in April of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

 

1 – The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself, by Chris Guillebeau: Having read Chris’s blog in the past (it’s good, btw), I recognized his name next to this catchy title whilst I was some torrent site.  Then I checked if it was available on his website, and when I found that it wasn’t I grabbed the torrent.  It’s around 50 pages, and just touches on ways to make money online.  If you’re new to the internet this could be useful, but I’m pretty sure he has better products which are more worth your time now.

 

2 – Moonwalking With Einstein, by Josh Foer (audiobook version): I had heard Tim Ferriss mention this book at least thrice in interviews or articles, so it made it on my reading list.  Somehow I was under the impression that this was a book about how to improve your memory, with a little bit of narrative mixed in.  The actual ratio is just about the exact opposite.  I was, as you might expect, a little disappointed by this; it was nevertheless a compelling story.  Read it – you’ll like it.  Here’s a quote that made me smile (more for the prose than the idea): “Every sensation that we remember, every thought that we think, transforms our brains by altering the connections within that vast network. By the time you get to the end of this sentence, your brain will have physically changed.”

 

3 – The Ice Dragon, by George R.R. Martin:  This was fantastic.  Fast paced, no-nonsense prose that made the 100 or so pages fly by.  I’m not really a fan of his Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), because of his writing style in it, but here a younger Martin (this book was copyright 1980) is a different animal.  The Ice Dragon seems to be written for a younger audience, though – so keep that in mind.

 

4 – Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler (Free, Project Gutenberg):  When I was in high school, I noticed this book in my friend Nick’s backpack.  He said it contained some good ideas, and a different perspective, but didn’t really go into detail, nor did he sell me on bothering to look into it.  I don’t know if Nick failed to sell me on the book because of the stigma associated with Hitler, or because of the writing, but as it turned out, it made it onto my reading list anyway, more than a decade later.

As far as the book itself goes, I saw three distinct parts, which I will describe briefly.  The beginning of this book was wonderful – part history lesson, part narrative, part auto-biography of the making of a dictator.  You should read the first bit.

The next part was a long, spiteful tirade.  Actually, the spitefulness waxed and waned, but the rant was thorough.  Once you notice him ranting, it doesn’t get better until much later.  The summary is that he hated everyone and everything, but gave the Germans a pass because he felt they were victims of a Jewish conspiracy.  There were plenty of logical flaws in his thinking, but mostly, I think, he was just the kind of guy who went looking for negative things, and of course he found them everywhere.

Then there’s the end. It outlines several things that should be taught – organization, leadership, making decisions, taking action.  I don’t know remember at what point he started to get into this, but this last part was probably the best.

 

5 – The Waste Lands (Dark Tower book 3), by Stephen King:  This series continues to get better as it progresses.  In this book I definitely felt myself becoming fully committed to the story.  There are two oddities in this book, though, that I feel the need to mention, hopefully without giving anything away.

First off, the ending is weak.  The book just stops.  This turns out to be sort of fitting, in an ironic way.  Also, there’s an apology from King in a brief epilogue saying the story wasn’t coming anymore, and he didn’t want to fuck it up by trying too hard.  I applaud his honesty, and obviously he has the reputation to be able to get away with that sort of thing.

Second, I felt like I was being trolled during most of this book.  In fact, it might have been for the entire first half of the book I expected to see the next chapter title be, “Sorry I switched the ebook file, and this isn’t the real story.”  And, of course, the non-ending reinforced that.

Anyway, I enjoyed the hell out of this.  There are lots of questions, and few answers, and that makes for great reading.

On a side note, though Mr. King will never read this post I will address him here anyway:  Sir, I had an idea for a character in a story I may or may not ever sit down to write, that speaks much in the manner your Blaine does.  It seemed like a risky deal until I saw it being used.  Thanks for the reassurance, even if inadvertent.

 

6 – The Gunslinger (Dark Tower book 1), by Stephen King (audiobook version):  No, that’s not a typo – I read it again.  Well, listened actually.  After being wowed by book 3 I had to find out if my harshness of the first book was justified.  I’m still not sure.  I still didn’t much like this one, but at the same time there’s so much that makes sense once you know what happens later.  Whether this was written in originally, or was added as a part of his beefing it up and revising after the series was done, I don’t know.

PS:  I’m pretty sure this audio version ran considerably longer than it took me to read the print version, and I’m not a very fast reader.  Skip it and get the text.

Reading List for March 2013

Here’s what I read in March of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Gunslinger (Dark Tower book 1) by Stephen King:  The recently updated version of this series comes with new introductions, one of which is pretty apologetic for this first book in the series.  King pleads that the story “was written by an incredibly young man” and “really gets going in the second book.”  I have to admit his self-analysis was spot on, and I have to commend him for it.  It’s really hard to be so critical of your own work.

If I wasn’t told by a friend whose opinion I trust that this was a great series, and if I wasn’t familiar with King’s storytelling ability from his movies, there was zero chance I would have ever finished this book, let alone read further in the series. (See below for book 2 review.)

2 – Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (dramatic audio version):  If you want to know what the word classic means in science fiction, this is it.  There are 3 short books here: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation.  There are 4 more short stories written by Asimov to join this, and many more offshoots by other prominent authors.  In 1965 it won a special one-time Hugo aware for “Best All-Time Series” beating out Lord of the Rings – that’s how monumental this work was.  This is well worth your time.  PS: You can get the audio version I listened to for free from archive.org

3 – The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower book 2) by Stephen King:  As I said above, if not for a solid recommendation by someone I trust I would never have made it to the second book.  With that said, here’s a message I sent to a friend telling her what I thought of book 2: “Just finished – literally, at 5:30am – Dark Tower #2… good. Really good. Makes up for the lack of fuck I gave about the first one.”

 

That’s all for this month.  3 books? 5 books?  All of them are short reads, too.  I’ve been pretty busy, and March has flown by.  I feel like a slacker.

Reading List for February 2013

Here’s what I read in February of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – 17 Lies That Are Holding You Back and the Truth That Will Set You Free, by Steve Chandler (audiobook version):  This and the next book were on my iPod forever, and I decided to finally listen to them.  Why put them off so long?  Because the author has the most boring monotone voice I’ve heard since 9th grade Algebra.  If you can get past that, this book was actually really good.  The author’s advice is spot on.  Do yourself a favor and find a clip before buying the audio though; if you can’t tolerate it, just get the paperback.

2 – 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself, by Steve Chandler (audiobook version):  Same author as above.  This one reminded me of a list post on a popular blog:  too many bullet points, and not enough depth.  It’s redeeming quality (and I do recommend you check it out), is that it’s really short.  If you pick up any ideas from it, you can always explore them on your own.

3 – Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook version):  This book is perhaps best known for its 10,000 hour rule that has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere on the net.  The concept I like the most, however, is what he describes as “cumulative advantage” – a small initial handicap snowballs over time to become a huge advantage.  I feel this concept is greatly overlooked, because we as humans seek shortcuts instead of a slight advantage we might have to work for day after day.  Anyway, this is a good book, and Gladwell’s storytelling ability has a way to keep you interested in a lot of shit you otherwise wouldn’t give a fuck about.

4 – Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday:  This book is really two different books combined.  One outlines the game of media coverage, and how to play it.  The other is a pained, reluctant account of having a hand in that game, and a regret that the game even exists.  I wish there was more of the former, and less of the latter.  Regardless, this should almost be considered a must-read for anyone with a cause to promote, whether they are a charity org or an entrepreneur.

5 – 1987 Century Plaza Seminar, by Gary Halbert:  Okay, this one isn’t actually a book.  I listen to lots of audio programs that aren’t books, and I won’t normally list them here.  But, in this case, I want to give this one an honorable mention.  I’m just starting to dig into marketing a little bit, and I found this to be very helpful personally.  As far as I can tell, this is not for sale anywhere – you’ll have to pick up a used copy somewhere, or torrent it.

Reading List for January 2013

Here’s what I read in January of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

 

1 – The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (audiobook version):  I read this for my 8th grade English class, but in order to prep for the movies I thought I could use a refresher.  I love Tolkien’s writing style; it’s crisp and to the point.  What I found most interesting in this read through was that the audiobook clocks in at 3.5 hours, and somehow they turned it into a trilogy of movies.  And the first movie is around 2 hours and 45 minutes alone…

2 – The 33 Strategies of War, by Robert Greene:  All of Greene’s books are of a similar tract, “Here’s a pile of information, have fun storming the castle.”  Not recommended for casual reading.  However, if strategy interests you, another solid book by the author.

3 – The Secret Code of Success, by Noah St. John:  The author might have a point with his “afformations” concept, but the rest of the book is highly repetitive and dull.  The last third of the book was pitch for other products.  Skip it.

4 – I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi (audiobook version):  I read Ramit’s blog from time to time, and I finally figured I’d man up and read the book.  If you’ve dabbled in personal finance reading, most of this is not new information – just a refresher of all the stuff you know, but aren’t doing.  If you haven’t read any personal finance stuff before, I would recommend this as a, “If you only read one book about…” book.  It condenses the topic really well while giving you a clear action plan.  The scripts to get fees waived will save you a multiple of the price of the book the first time you use them.

5 – The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield:  Great book.  Short read.  Wish I read it sooner. Recommended for anyone who does creative work, or wants to in the future.

6 – The 80/20 Principle, by Richard Koch (audiobook version):  Pareto’s law seems to be mentioned everywhere now, so if you have a grasp of it already you can probably skip this one unless you’re really interested in the topic.  Good coverage of different applications though.  Wasn’t a fan of the voice actor for the audio.

7 – Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely (audiobook version):  Fantastic book.  If you are interested in human behavior, this is a great read.  Very readable; not textbook-like at all.  And the audio is done by Simon Jones, whose voice you may recognize from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Double score.

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