This is a list of books that I have read recently and with short note on what it was about and whether or not I recommend it. It is in reverse order with the most recent books at the top. It is mostly complete and includes books that I have read in full as well as books that I am currently reading.
Current reading is in bold. There are quite a lot of books on the go. This is because I tend to read different things in different moods, places and times of day. Reading multiple books at once usually results in more ideas, creativity and cross fertilisation of thoughts. I hope that you enjoy the reading list and do suggest anything that you think is worthwhile reading in the comments
2018 Reading List (25)
This was a monster 750 page epic of dense writing. Initially I found it quite hard to get into and was confused by how quickly we skipped from the Iliad to Clausewitz and Jomini. The book was essentially three parts. Military strategy, political strategy and business strategy. Each was covered in a huge amount of details. I was gratified that I’d actually read a great number of the books he mentioned. From obvious ones like Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Clausewitz to more obscure authors like C Wright-Mills (who was far more famous and influential than I ever realised as an undergraduate).
The central problem for strategists is how to avoid the dichotomy between attrition and guile. Both have grievous flaws and neither they, nor re-statements seem to provide universal approaches that work consistently over time. By the end of the book Freedman was able to say that the best strategies are a blend of the rational and emotional. A statement of where we want to go and a story to motivate us in our journey and garner support. Totally fascinating and has inspired a bucketful of future reading and blog posts.
When the Past is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage our Relationships – David Richo
I read this in order to help figure out some of the issues that my wife and I had after over a decade of marriage. It was fascinating. I’ve never been into Freudian psychoanalysis and as a first exploration I learned a lot. Transference – remembering, through the subconscious, events from our childhood and replaying them in our current relationships seems a powerful idea.
Being an engineer I did want to see worked examples and evidence or scientific studies providing support for this psychological model. They weren’t included in the book so I feel unsure as to whether it is ‘real’ or not. That said it provides insight and an understanding into why we and our partners are the way we are. The support provided by loving kindness meditation in the text is great.
I first came across Mike when a friend recommended that I watch one of his videos “F*ck You! Pay Me!” which was an introduction to how to bullet proof your working practices so that you always get paid as a consultant. It was as good as the title suggested.
This short book is equally pithy and full of advice on how to manage a freelance design career. Mike thinks that designers are graphically orientated. A lot of them are. After 20 years of consultancy I still see myself as a designer, even though I have moved from designing electrical circuits to designing businesses. It applies just the same. Much was new, much was familiar. It was a refreshing surf through a lot of the practicalities that make a consultancy career so satisfying once you take out the risks (or mitigate them to an acceptable level)
I always enjoy Charles Duhigg books. I got this book to help me improve my productivity with the idea that it would help me do what it said on the cover. It was well written and researched. Much of it was familiar but the author failed to really translate his research into actionable trips. Thinking back ‘The Power of Habit’ suffered the same faults however the material there was so new that I immediately started experimenting. Here I didn’t. Great read, but not in the top 10 as it wasn’t transformative.
Principles: Life & Work – Ray Dalio
I’m not sure that this guy is not a computer masquerading as a human. He has certainly had huge results. So much of what he says is on the one hand totally transformational. It changes the way that you look at the world. on the other it just feels totally wired to even think about implementing some of his ideas. Baseball cards with peoples performance characteristics on them that every team member sees. And yeah, I am going to punder the book for good ideas and try them out to see what happens. Results are what matters. And love.
The Vor Game – Lois McMaster Bujold
This is a reread of the Vorkosigan fantasy series of novels. This was the 3rd or 4th in the series and I picked it up for bedtime reading and to fall asleep to. Miles Vorkosigan is portrayed as a master strategist and master manipulator. He is the sort of hero that inspires and motivates you. You cheer with his successes and feel for his real pain in the frequent disasters. And yet after reading Freedman’s History of Strategy it’s clear than a lot of Miles being Miles is the author’s contrivance of having him in the right place at the right time. Little of his actual genius is due to strategy. That said the stories are brilliant and will keep my dreams fantastical for the next year or so as I work through the rest of the series once more.
The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting – Brene Brown
Brene Brown is one of my favourite authors when it comes to understanding myself and how I relate to the world. In this short book she talks about some important aspects of parenting which have been identified by her research. The one that stands out is that it is critically important to avoid shaming children. it causes lots of children. It is far better to make them feel guilty. Shaming is when you tell them they they are a bad child. Guilting is when you tell them that their behaviour is bad. The long term impact of this on life chances is profound. The rest of the conversation is equally informative and actionable.
A Second Chance – Catherine Hoke
This is an amazing book that really gave me great insights into hope and forgiveness. The first hour or so was a bit flaky and I was wondering why Seth Godin had recommended it. She told so many transformational and emotional stories of how men who had gone to prison for murder and worse had rebuilt themselves from the ground up. No long were they a ‘good for nothing piece of shit’ in their own eyes but a valuable human who could provide great value to society once they had served their sentence. Awesome read.
A Memory of Light – Robert Jordan
I finally reached the end of this 14 book series. The message that came through strongest was that whatever the world throws at you, and it threw a lot at the protagonist, there is always a choice to let yourself be broken. When you realise that this is a choice then so much of everything else becomes relatively simple. Letting go of your fears is an amazing path to take
The Towers of Midnight – Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan’s penultimate book. The tension in the story arc finally reached it’s peak as the hero redeemed himself. From now on we knew that he was not on the path to the dark side. We all make choices, often for excellent reasons. Here the hero had to deeply consider the nature of the choice he had made and change it before it was too late. Uplifting
Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People – Marc Gobe
This had been recommended. I don’t recommend it. I made it through 100+ pages and gave up. The core idea of emotional branding is really good and totally valid. There were lots of problems and these included
- Endless description of the demographic characteristics of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y that is now 10 years out of date
- The examples were superficial and came across as facile generalisations
- There was no underlying theory. Learning was from reading examples whose success may or may not have be related to emotional branding
Obviously I didn’t finish the book but faced with thisdense, boring and useless fare I moved on. Even Daniel Dennett was more fun 🙂
The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger – Greg Steinmetz (current)
Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari (Current)
The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle
The first few chapters were incredibly interesting as the author sets out the benefits of staying present and living in the now, at the cusp of past and future. As it went on I got increasingly less value from his writing. Super useful.
Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
This was eye opening and probably the most important book I read during the year. The biggest insight was that we create meaning. This is obvious and difficult to grasp at the same time. As I create meaning I, or humanity, decides what is important and what is not. By changing how and what I ascribe meaning to I change the world.
The Four Hour Body – Tim Ferriss
This was disappointing. It had a load of hacks. Some of them were great. Some less so. The result was an disorganised smorgasbord that only provided ephemeral benefit.
Edit: Kettlebells do hurt your back. Straight up informational failure there. That was a few days off work.
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
This was a wonderful read. I’m not a great fiction reader. I avoid literature almost entirely. Yet, in a spiritual crisis over Christmas I picked it up. It was a wonderful book that was a pleasure to read both aloud and silently. The magic was in the rhythm, the pictures and the smells that came wafting out of the books pages. I found it in the spiritual department of the bookshop and it did inspire me. 5 Months later I know that it had a good effect and changed me. It changed me for the better and made me gentler and more thoughtful. Much more than that I cannot say.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos – Jordan Peterson
I was alternately fascinated and lost as I read this book. It wasn’t boring. It was enlightening. I have, however, no idea what the rules are. That’s because the author took each rule and wrote a lengthy essay that touched many points before coming back to the essence and the benefit of the rule.
Often the essays were far more religious than I expected or was comfortable with. That was a good thing. There were a lot of powerful insights. It was a lot harder reading that most pop psychology books and one that I will return to again and again to get more depth and wisdom from it.
Towers of Midnight – Robert Jordan
The Gathering Storm – Robert Jordan
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity – Andrew Solomon
Finally I finished it! It seemed like a good idea when I bought it. I was a single dad looking for insight. It took me on a trip through the damaged, disabled, deranged and depraved and how their parents survived and flourished. Invariably the stories in this book, often horrible or tear jerking, elicited such sympathy and live that it was a transformative experience. One of those left field books which had made my lodge so much richer.
Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson
The Bulletproof Diet: Lose Up To a Pound a Day, Reclaim Your Energy and Focus and Upgrade your Life – Dave Asprey (Current)
Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire – Peter Wilson
Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
Getting Things Done – David Allen
The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing and Take Action – Bernard Roth
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (current)
This was a beautiful book. I’d never heard of Maya Angelou but quotes from her suddenly started popping up in my life frequently. I mentioned her to my wife and she was “Wow, Maya Angelou is awesome!” So I grabbed this biography and read it.
I rarely read biographies and reading a biography of a young black woman growing up in the South, under segregation and with Jim Crow laws in full effect, was an eye opener. It was uncomfortable and I squirmed when I read of her rape as a young child. She, though, had no sorrow for herself. She was always looking upwards and onwards. Further up and further in as CS Lewis would have said. I wish I could have been as positive about the disasters in my life as she was in hers. I will be for the remainder of my life. A great book and worth reading for everyone.
2017 Reading List (49)
The Code of the Extraordinary Mind – Vishen Lakhiani
The Art of War – Steven Pressfield
Braving the Wilderness – Brene Brown
And Still I Rise – Maya Angelou
Knife of Dreams – Robert Jordan
How to Be Fucking Awesome – Dan Meredith
Crossroads of Twilight – Robert Jordan
Art of Seduction: An Indispensable Primer on the Ultimate Form of Power – Robert Greene
Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
Do the Work – Steven Pressfield
Winters Heart – Robert Jordan
Crown of Swords – Robert Jordan
Path of Daggers – Robert Jordan
Lord of Chaos – Robert Jordan
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini
Civilisation: The West and the Rest – Niall Ferguson
Contagious: Why Things Catch On – Jonah Berger
Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts – Ryan Holiday
The Four Hour Work Week – Time Ferriss
The Fires of Heaven – Robert Jordan
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
The Second World War – Anthony Beevor
Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan
Mindfulness in Plain English – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman
The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness – Zindel Seagal and lots of others
Napoleon the Great – Andrew Roberts
The 22 Immutable Laws of BRanding – Laura Res and Al Ries
The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence – Gavin de Becker
The Shadow Rising – Robert Jordan
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind – Jack Trout and Al Ries
This is an old book but such a good one. It has some very powerful insight on the power of goal setting, masterminds and visualisations. Th language is a bit dated but like all great perennial sellers the lessons that you learn reading it apply equally to the digital age as well as the industrial age. The insights are as mch about human nature and how we find greatness in us as to any particular aspect of business or personal life. Read it.
The New Psycho-Cybernetics – Dan Kennedy
The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph – Ryan Holiday
Ego is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday
From Bacteria to Bach and Bach: The Evolution of Minds – Daniel Dennett
I did a philosophy degree and I studied Dan Dennett then. After 25 years I struggled to follow what he was saying. This book was interesting in that he spent much of it talking about Memes, as popularised by Richard Dawkins. It was no accessible for most readers. Yuval Noah Harari managed to get the essential point across much more effectively in Sapiens
The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan
All Marketers are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories – Seth Godin
A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics – A Neuroscientist in How to Make Sense of a Complex World
Empire of Things – How we Became a World of Consumers from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty First
The Great Hunt – Robert Jordan
Flow: Living at the Peak of Your Abilities – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Persuading, Convincing and Influencing Others
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be – Brene Brown
Mastery – Robert Greene
Key Person of Influence – Daniel Priestley
48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene
An Economic History of the World Since 1400 – Donald Harreld
Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a 5 Star Customer Service Organisation – Leonardo Inghillri and Micah Solomon
The Hard Thing about Hard Things – Ben Horowitz