Jan 30, 2017

Books read Q4 2016

(See also: Q1 list, Q2 list, Q3 list)

Books I finished in the fourth quarter of 2016:

1. The Nix by Nathan Hill (audiobook)
Multigenerational novel centered around an English professor who is trying to finish his book but instead spends most of his free time playing World of Warcraft (well, "World of Elfscape" but it's very obviously WoW). It has a lot of memorable scenes, and the plot's many threads are cohesive, but it didn't have much staying power for me. I suspect I'll forget almost all of it in a year's time.

2. The Power of No by James Altucher & Claudia Azula Altucher (audiobook)
Very much a self-help book, but James Altucher is an interesting guy (a) and the audiobook is fun to listen to. I forget the conceptual framework outlining it, but the core concept is that if you say "no" to more things, you will have more space & energy to do the things you actually care about. This seems basically right to me – I'm getting better at saying "no" to stuff that feels vaguely worth doing but I don't actually want to do.

3. So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
A journalistic account of how social media (Twitter in particular) can destroy people's careers & social lives. I liked this a lot, somehow the tone is lighthearted despite the grim subject matter.

4. Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (audiobook)
The most personally affecting book I consumed in 2016. In fact, I recently reread it as part of my annual review process. You might think that a popular rehash of stoic philosophy written by a reformed hotshot twenty-something media exec would be terrible, but you'd be wrong. Very, very wrong.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read this again on a whim, mostly during a walk in Briones. It's really very good (I often worry with classic books that their high reputation destroys any chance of objective assessment, but in this case I hold that The Great Gatsby is a very good novel). One of its most admirable qualities is that Gatsby is a thoroughly ambiguous protagonist, and though I strongly sympathize with him I don't know if he's a good guy.

6. The Halo Effect by Philip M. Rosenzweig (audiobook)
An anti-business book. Thesis: most business books & journalism are heavily influenced by the halo effect, so that when a company is performing well, the good performance is causally attributed to its admirable qualities, and when a company performs poorly, the poor performance is attributed to its bad qualities. Seems reasonable. I'd be interested to read an apology for business journalism though I don't know if a good one exists.

7. Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe
Not really sure if this a book that can be "read", but I spent a couple weeks poring over it during my morning cereal. Munroe's language is delightful.

8. Managing to Change the World: the Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results by Alison Green & Jerry Hauser
Nothing really made this a nonprofit management book. It's more a "basic principles of management" book. Nothing radical here, everything seemed commonsensical though without much empirical backing.

9. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford (audiobook)
My regard for the Mongols greatly increased after listening to this (going from "roving bands of bloodthirsty marauders" to "principled cosmopolitan herdsmen that remade Eurasia"). Core idea: the Mongols under Genghis Khan were very effective at warfare & governance because they incorporated the cultural practices and technology of conquered peoples into their culture, rather than suppressing these practices and forcing their own culture onto the conquered.

10. Managing Humans by Michael Lopp
Sort of a half memoir, half management book by this guy (a). Fun and quick to read, but I didn't come away with any particularly valuable takeaways.

11. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Polemic against the current American eldercare industry. Very good, and sad.

12. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
J.D. Vance is getting a lot of play right now; I don't have much to add. It's a good book – many of the lives described are tragic. It boggles me that whole towns (indeed, whole swaths of America) are composed of lives like that.

13. Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices by Nitin Nohria & Paul Lawrence (audiobook)
Core idea: human behavior can be explained by following four distinct drives: (1) the drive to acquire, (2) the drive to bond, (3) the drive to learn, and (4) the drive to defend. I was unimpressed, the hypothesis is too sweeping and the evidence seemed cherry-picked. Interesting framework though.

Also in Q4 2016, this comment on the EA Forum convinced me that my two posts about giving now vs. later are basically wrong. I added a disclaimer to the top of each.

[rereads: 2, edits: fixed a link, prose tightening]