reading

I’m finishing less books these days. Reading more and more textbooks, re-reading longer books and excerpts of old favourites. This last year tangibly taught me a lot about learning, so I’m thinking more about reading to learn and material that I’d struggle with – should write abt this soon.

Books I’ve read multiple times:

  • Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (3-4x)
  • Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (3x)
  • Rising Strong by Brene Brown (3x)
  • Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant (4x)
  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (2x)
  • Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (2x)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (2x)
  • The Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson (2x)
  • The Casual Vacancy (2x) (J. K. Rowling)
  • Laws of Human Nature (2x) by Robert Greene

Books I’ve read:

2020

March

  • Hard Drive by James Wallace – Not that insight-dense, and if I hadn’t read it, I wouldn’t read it. More of a time-killer when too tired to read something harder. In future, aiming to have a fiction stockpile or something to replace that. A few insights among others: seeing what it was like as a platform shift happened, what to ignore in getting a sense for what people thought mattered vs. actually mattered a few decades after writing. Surprised that Windows wasn’t initially a hit but took a couple iterations and persistence before becoming a mega-hit. Gates’ commitment to intellectual honesty re: how the business was performing, even/especially when poorly (ex. the leaked memo). That he and his friends had fun – “borrowing” + racing bulldozers, etc.

February

  • A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean – I read it to improve my own writing and get back into reading fiction. An author I respect said this book taught him about economy of writing. I can see how. Well written and poignant, though I skimmed parts. Don’t know that I’d re-read, but if I hadn’t yet read it, I would.
  • Mastery by Robert Greene. Interesting frameworks, asks great questions.

2019

December

  • The Man Who Invented the Market – book about Jim Simons. I probably could have done without reading this one.

November

  • Not Fade Away by Peter Barton – this was absolutely amazing. Spent a flight reading this instead of prepping for an interview. An exercise in contrast vs. When Breath Becomes Air – both pose good questions, but this one’s answers resonated with me where When Breath missed.

October

  • Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa – Even better on the 3rd read.
  • Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm – The other Seneca bio (Emily Wilson’s) is better, but I’m glad I read this too – it’s worth it. Learning about the man’s life  makes his writing so much more potent. The hypocrisies, the compromises, where he was uncertain – that he struggled as we do. Ex. setting out on the cursus honorum (literally, “course of honour” – by some lights, doublespeak if there ever was any – makes me think of the “rat race”), maybe for status reasons or because it was how the culture defined advancement, its canal for ambition. Recalls Thiel: “I look back on my younger self [and] I was insanely tracked, insanely competitive.” This lesson alone makes the book worth its weight in gold: that we can peel back thousands of years and see the cultural narrative of success led to dancing for one’s life at the whims of others (ex. Nero). Dancing with what might have been his will to power or influence burned him, because he’d been playing the wrong game for too long. Back to ourselves, examining what tracked success we ourselves are chasing, now with perspective. It’s not just that he struggled – it’s that he faced the same SPECIFIC choices & challenges as ours, and we can make wiser SPECIFIC choices – ex. what next job or project we take, or if we value external games, what the consequences might look like vs. a retreat – seeing a version of the feedback loop played out in his life. It’s that practical. That he wrote  Moral Letters at the end of his life, after decades of honing his skill as a writer, and, possibly, his will to truth as well. That when he finally tried to escape Nero, it was already too late. Rumi’s line comes to mind: ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’
  • Laws of Human Nature (re-read) – great one that you can extract specific chunks of and apply to improve your own life.
  • Fallen Leaves by Will Durant – the chapter on growing old was especially great. I dropped the book after that.

August

  • Damn Right by Janet Lowe – Munger bio, worth reading
  • Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald – narrative of the Enron scandal. A Munger recommendation.
  • House of Morgan by Ron Chernow – The paramount value of trust in finance and business. Drove home Naval’s point about Warren Buffett and credibility.
  • Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport – lol

July

  • The Double Helix by James D. Watson – I had a ton of highlights from this one re: the process of invention and discovery.
  • Lee Kwan Yew (Interviews and Selections by Graham Allison)  – to do what works, unconcerned with theories. Munger recommendation.
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

June

  • Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
  • The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags 

May

  • Three Uses of the Knife by David Mamet – notes incoming
  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (re-read)
  • Your Move by Ramit Sethi

April

  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – Could have done without reading. Humans are social animals, so we tend to conform, often becoming more average instead of becoming more ourselves (doubling down on what makes us uniquely us, our unique interests, intellectual curiosities, skills). Attempting Everest is a non-conventional, high risk activity – far outside the norm, with a high possibility of death. Reading about the people who went all in on themselves in committing to their non-conventional interest in the extreme is a good reminder. What a shame if we don’t even know what our own Everest  – per our unique interests, skills, etc. – actually is or could be, let alone that we don’t make the attempt.

February

  • Letters from a Stoic by Seneca – Great. Letters I particularly liked:
  • Musashi (re-read) by Eiji Yoshikawa – “The world is always full of the sound of waves […] but who knows the heart of the sea, a hundred feet down? Who knows its depth?” && “He was grateful to Kojiro for what the man had given him. In strength, in the will to fight, he ranked higher than Musashi, and it was because of this that Musashi had been able to excel himself.”
  • Blackout by Sarah Hepola – ok, could have done without reading. The bits on doing things because they were glamorous – ex. moving to NYC, and underlying theme of living as performance for others in the parts of our sense of self we’re missing echoed Mike Tyson in The Undisputed Truth:
    • “I hadn’t turned over a new leaf and become humble overnight. I was quoting Fritzie Zivic, the great champion, who said that after he beat Henry Armstrong. You’ll notice that I’m always quoting my heroes, it’s never me talking.”

    • “Besides the great old fighters, I used to use the tough Jewish gangsters as role models. Guys like me who had no core identity would emulate other people’s lives. If I read that Joe Louis loved champagne, I started drinking champagne.”

  • Lord of Light (re-read) by Roger Zelazny. Love this one. Note incoming.
  • Hagakure (re-read) – live as if already dead. “In just refusing to retreat from something one gains the strength of two men.” Echoes Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind: “Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because our true nature wants us to. But actually whether or not it is possible is not the point.”
  • Why We Love by Helen Fisher – evolutionary psychology rules everything around me. Drives >> emotions was huge, citing Kanazawa was interesting; more notes to come.

January

  • Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene – Great.
  • The Defining Decade by Meg Jay – Great. s/o to Richard for sharing
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (re-read)
  • The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei – Worth reading the Paris Review interview. Standout themes: status envy, passion for craft.
  • Rome’s Last Citizen – Great. Bio of Cato. Well written (sentence/mechanical level and story-telling level); complex understanding of characters/personalities; deeply enjoyed the broader themes and morals. #TODO: collate my notes into a post at some point.

2018

November

  • What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg – This is a great book. A little painful to read for the same reason it’s great. A meditation on youth, ambition, and the self absorption that tends to complete that triad.) Don’t be a Sammy, don’t be a Julian – both broken things. Paired nicely with Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.
  • As One Is by Krishnamurti – note

October

  • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday – Brilliant. One of my favourites – if I had one, it’d be on the annual to-read list. Worth internalizing.
  • Awareness by Anthony De Mello – a note (more coming)
  • Rising Strong by Brene Brown – Excellent

September

  • Hagakure (re-read) (Yamamoto Tsunetomo) – my notes (three short passages from the book)
  • Lethal White (J. K. Rowling) – Few books (that I’ve read so far) capture the human capacity for self-deception like this one. The discursive thought, the self-obsession, the self-sabotage – that lead to second hand lives. Why I like this book & love The Casual Vacancy – it’s raw, unbleached, unvarnished. The books are mirrors, and echo the cracking of ego that Mike Tyson’s autobiography captures so well.
  • The Three Body Problem (Liu Cixin)

August

  • Atmamun (Kapil Gupta)

    “Understand that you have a finite number of breaths left in your lungs.
    And with each passing one, you come closer to death.”

  • Siddhartha (Herman Hesse) – my notes
  • Father Fiction (Donald Miller)
  • Skin in the Game (Nassim Taleb)

    “I am dumb when I don’t have skin in the game.”

  • The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion (Thich Nhat Hanh commentary)

July

  • Lord of Light (Roger Zelazny) – You can’t tell if it’s an epic, sci-fi, or fantasy – it’s all three. Brilliant, reads like epic mythology. I read it in 2 days. Aside: in a way, reminded me of Watchmen – chaos, pantheons, the dynamics of success and ruin across generations, how different generations interact with one another and the hierarchies therein, the wild, how clinging to the past only holds pain – rhyming with the structure of the myth of the tragic hero but not repeating it totally.
  • Flight of the Garuda (trans. Keith Dowman) – my notes
  • On Fear (Krishnamurti)

June

  • Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis)

May

  • Jesus’ Son (Denis Johnson)
  • Masters of Doom (David Kushner)
  • The Velvet Rage (Alan Downs) – my notes
  • Zafarnama (Guru Gobind Singh)

April

  • Tiger Woods (Jeff Benedict, Armen Keteyian) – it falls short of Mike Tyson’s autobiography, The Undisputed Truth. What do so many of these dilutions of great stories miss that the latter captures? I think it’s the hero’s journey, related with uncompromising honesty. Tyson hit rock bottom – all seven levels of it – and kept going. He had to grow, he kept slamming into walls and his own self deception – and time and time again, he got up. He had to see how he was the architect of his own destruction, that he was lying to himself. Articulations of Krishnamurti on suffering: it’s the moment of clarity when you can no longer deny reality, the truth, as it is. And the theme that we are the authors of our own suffering and lacking – be it lacking of achievement, or lacking internally. Maybe not our fault, certainly our responsibility. Warts and all, confusion and all, honesty and all. I’ve heard that on writing: all you have to do is tell the truth. Which everyone is afraid to. All these other lukewarm, diluted biographies – Tiger Woods, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane – could have been real accounts of achievement, what it’s like to hit rock bottom, suffer, and transmute that experience into freedom and growth.
  • Hagakure (Yamamoto Tsunemoto)
  • Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble (Daniel Lyons)
  • Watchmen (Alan Moore)
  • The Undisputed Truth (re-read) (Mike Tyson, Larry Sloman) – one of my favourite books, ever. What does it really take to become the best? What does it feel like to lose everything and suffer, and in that suffering, attain clarity? Most of all, what is it to look at oneself with total honesty and tell that truth without holding back?
  • The Godfather (Mario Puzo)

March

  • The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion (sutra, not commentary)
  • Vivid Awareness: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar (Khenchen Thrangu)
  • Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)
  • My Fellow Prisoners (Mikhail Khodorkovsky)
  • Under Saturn’s Shadow (James Hollis)
  • Freedom from the Known (Krishnamurti)
  • Musashi (Eiji Yoshikawa) – my notes
  • Pimp (Iceberg Slim) – 1/ the real wins in life come from long term games. They compound your ability and intelligence. Short term games? Legal or not, respectable or not, high status or not, this is how they leave you: “slick but not smart.”

    “I had spent more than half a lifetime in a worthless, dangerous profession. If I had stayed in school, in eight years of study I could have been an M.D. or lawyer. Now here I was, slick but not smart, in a cell.”

  • Dreaming Yourself Awake: Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and
  • Transformation (B. Alan Wallace)
  • What Makes You Not A Buddhist (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse) – Uncompromising, clear writing on Buddhism and Buddhist psychology. “All emotions are pain.” Worth reading especially for those who have already studied Buddhism/mindfulness/etc.
  • The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (David Nasaw)

February

  • Conspiracy (Ryan Holiday)
  • Maxims (Francois de la Rochefoucauld)
  • Fragments (Heraclitus)
  • The Practicing Mind (Thomas M. Sterner)
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Bessel van der Kolk)
  • The New New Thing (Michael Lewis)
  • Is It Love or Is It Addiction? (Pia Mellody)
  • Khushwantanama (Khushwant Singh)
  • Essentialism (Greg McKeown)
  • Managing Oneself (Peter Drucker)
  • Titan (Ron Chernow) – long bio of Rockefeller. Didn’t resonate with me, but I like how Tobi Lutke (Shopify CEO) handles these books (bios of greats) – read to identify where they solved a specific kind of problem or made a particular class of decision. Then use these as jumping off points to read several more books/sources on them making those specific solutions/decisions. One book and a brief description from a bio won’t be enough. Reminds of Tyler Cowen reading a stacks of books on a subject to really understand it. One is just not enough.
  • Elephant in the Brain (Robin Hanson, Kevin Simler)
  • Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It (re-read) (Kamal Ravikant)
  • Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist (Robert Trivers)
  • 10% Happier (Dan Harris)
  • The Fish that Ate the Whale (Rich Cohen)

January

  • Blazing Splendor (Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche) – note in the last section of this post
  • Average is Over (Tyler Cowen) – note at the end of this post
  • Never Split the Difference (Chris Voss)
  • Braving the Wilderness (Brene Brown)
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
  • The Buy Side (Turney Duff) – Wish it had dug deeper. His podcast with James Altucher was great.
  • Waking Up (re-read) (Sam Harris)
  • The First 20 Hours (Josh Kaufman)

2017

December

  • The Way of the Superior Man (David Deida)
  • The Last Black Unicorn (Tiffany Hadish)
  • Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got (Jay Abraham) – Faster to watch this video of him coaching. I like keeping track of questions that are fundamental business primitives, applicable regardless of scale – ex. “Does {{group}} actually want this?” & variations. Jay Abraham yields another fundamental for distribution – “Who owns the relationship?” i.e. with those you’re trying to reach. The video’s a great instance of it in action. Worth reading, though.
  • Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart (Gordon Livingston)
  • The Autobiography of Gucci Mane (Gucci Mane) – disappointing. Incredible story of resilience and uncompromising drive in the face of adversity, but poor writing and storytelling. Hope he gets his bio redone with a better writer. “80 chains going and they ain’t took one yet

November

  • The Bed of Procrustes (Nassim Taleb)
  • Shoe Dog (Phil Knight)
  • I Can’t Make This Up (Kevin Hart) – A theme with the books listed here, what does it take, day in and day out, to do great work? And this gem.
  • The Bassoon King (Rainn Wilson) – Few takeaways for me, but worth the slog for this gem.
  • Hitch-22 (Christopher Hitchens) – I learned how to write in part by reading Hitchens, but his autobiography was a bore.
  • Quarantine (Gren Egan) – Hard sci-fi at its best. Mind bending towards the end. You can read it as a meditation on the nature of self if so inclined.
  • Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
  • The Tiger (John Vaillant)
  • The Book of Life (Krishnamurti)
  • Adultery (Paulo Coelho)
  • Chaos Monkeys (Antonio García Marquez)
  • Once Upon A Time in Russia (Ben Mezrich)
  • American War (Omar El Akkad) – dreadfully boring.
  • Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Harari)

October

  • The Vanishing American Adult (Ben Sasse)
  • The Hobbit (re-read) (J. R. R. Tolkien)
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy (Robert A. Glover)
  • Rebirth (Kamal Ravikant)
  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Shunryu Suzuki)

September

  • Reinvent Yourself (James Altucher)

August

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X)
  • Gratitude (Oliver Sacks) – bored me
  • Zero to One (Peter Thiel)

July

  • When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi) – my note
  • Extreme Ownership (Jock Willink, Leif Babin)
  • The Sellout (Paul Beatty)

June

  • Anything You Want (Derek Sivers)
  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Derek Sivers)
  • All Marketers Are Liars (Seth Godin)
  • The 4 Hour Work Week (Tim Ferriss)
  • Black Privilege (Charlamagne tha God)
  • Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy (Judd Apatow) – I would have internalized the lessons from this had it been a long form podcast.

May

  • Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)
  • Tools of Titans (Tim Ferriss)
  • The Lessons of History (Will Durant, Ariel Durant) – my fellow Canadian put it better than me (Farnam St / Shane).
  • The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt)
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson)

April

  • The Power of Eye Contact (Michael Ellsberg)
  • The Truth (Neil Strauss)
  • Lying (Sam Harris)
  • Living Dhamma (Ajahn Chah)
  • Meditation (Ajahn Chah)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole) – We are all Ignatius J. Reilly. Loved this one for the writing and apparent absurdity. Most of us carry on internal monologues just as ridiculous as the one Ignatius vocalizes, just that ours fit the tribe’s prescriptions and advance us less than Reilly’s did him on our deepest goals.
  • The Trauma of Everyday Life (Mark Epstein) – fundamental concept communicated in a short phrase: “conceptual appreciation to experiential understanding.” Knowing the difference makes all the difference.
  • The Attention Merchants (Tim Wu) – Should have been 1-4 great blog posts.

March

  • Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)
  • Live Your Truth (Kamal Ravikant)
  • The Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi)
  • Peak (Anders Ericsson)
  • Waking Up (Sam Harris)
  • Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It (Kamal Ravikant)
  • Money (Martin Amis) – The man can write.
  • Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)
  • The Casual Vacancy (re-read) (J. K. Rowling)

February

  • Six Four (Hideo Yokoyama)
  • Emotional Agility (Susan David)
  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Steven Pinker) – Chapter 5 on “Arcs of Coherence” – aka how to order and connect your ideas – is a great deep dive into how to structure writing, from the sentence level to the chapter level. The rest was OK – there’s a Seneca quote that sums up the first chapter (which felt altogether too academic, but the fifth chapter forgives this), but it escapes me.
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hanh)
  • Tribe (Sebastian Junger)
  • Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Joby Warrick) – boring, should have stopped reading a chapter in. No insight, just a series of facts – like the news. Not my thing.
  • Rising Strong (Brene Brown) – brilliant. Note to come.
  • Mortality (Christopher Hitchens) – Hitch on dying, as he died. Great writing, great anecdote on how he learned to write as he did – learning to write as he spoke. It ends with the notes he died before being able to compose into proper, full length articles – giving further insight into his writing process.

    “The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. Think of your own favorite authors and see if that isn’t precisely one of the things that engages you, often at first without your noticing it.”

  • How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Scott Adams)

January

  • Hillbilly Elegy (J. D. Vance)
  • Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Sam Quinones)
  • Sex Object (Jessica Valenti)
  • The Art of Learning (Josh Waitzkin)