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2018’s Books

2018 is winding to an end. Here’s a review of some of the books I’ve read this year and my thoughts on them.

An extremely powerful narrative on how the beauty myth keeps women oppressed. Over 90% of the people who suffer from eating disorders are women. Women are bombarded with the message that they are only valuable so long as they are young and beautiful. Wolf elaborates on how patriarchal societies reduce women to their looks in order to knock them down a notch when they become too powerful, and how women are unable to win in a society in which no woman can be eternally young, or perfectly beautiful. I found the book very eye-opening. It puts into words the truths that all women know from living. I disagree with the author that the beauty industry deliberately peddles the beauty women to keep women oppressed… I believe that the beauty industry’s incentive is simply: money. However, the taunts that were and are used against powerful women or feminist activists every day, and the pressure that billions of women feel that men cannot even begin to fathom, that their worth is a ticking time bomb, reinforce the book’s truisms. I highly recommend this read to all women who have felt the pressure of the beauty myth, as it opened my eyes to the way I subconsciously behave because of society’s expectations, and to men so that they can even begin to understand the suffocating weight on women’s shoulders. I believe it is possible to extract ourselves from the beauty myth, and we will all be much better off once we have done so.

A blueprint on how to take a startup from an idea through the stages of an early to late stage startup to a Goliath. I thought this book provided a useful, comprehensive map on each step of a company’s growth. I recommend this to any aspiring tech entrepreneur, especially those thinking of making it in the app space. The book provides valuable insight and tips on the apps market.

Initially this book came off as a narcissistic and annoying list of Dalio’s achievements, but Ray Dalio is an accomplished investor who has gained valuable experience in his lifetime. It was fascinating to hear about how he developed his own algorithms while the computer was still a nascent technology, and hear his story on predicting the 2008 financial crisis, his claim to fame. I also enjoyed hearing his story on how he gave McDonalds the green light on a new food item they wanted to sell, the chicken nugget, because of his derivatives predictions on wheat and thus chicken prices. However, I found his techniques to running a company, such as radical transparency so extreme such that every employee had a ‘baseball card’ of their strengths and weaknesses, and  every meeting was video taped, to be too extreme to my liking. However, I can appreciate the principles he has embodied, including radical transparency, embracing failure to learn, and building your company culture around a meritocracy. I’ve seen how playing politics can rot a team’s morale and I believe Dalio offers valuable insight on how to avoid that, albeit I would not take his suggestions to the degree that he has.

Sapiens was an extremely enlightening read. In full disclosure, I did find the middle of the book to be a bit too long and boring. However, the beginning and the end of the book brought some very new insights on the development of the human race. I think the most impactful thing I learned was that when sapiens began to cultivate wheat, it was less that sapiens tamed wheat, than wheat tamed mankind. And that the “improvements” that man made, with the agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution, may have increased man’s productivity, but it decreased the happiness of the individual. The early sapiens who farmed wheat actually had a more painful lifestyle laboring in the fields and had a less diverse and healthy diet than their hunter-gatherer counterparts. I learned that the advancement of the human race has very often adversely affected the individual happiness, and that is a cost we have often paid without knowing, to this day.

A very short read, and very worthwhile. I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with the feeling that their life is going nowhere. The core of essentialism is that if we are pulled in too many conflicting directions, then we will not be able to achieve the things that are most important to us. Instead of spreading ourselves thin, we should happily sacrifice the things less important (at least until for a certain predetermined period of time) to concentrate on the things that matter most to us. This book has changed my paradigm on how to spend my time and energy, and now I happily do my best to live an essentialist lifestyle in which I put my time and effort behind the things that matter most to me.

Ironically, this book convinced me not to invest in Bitcoin. It was a great read for understanding the pros/cons to each different type of cryptocurrency and why Bitcoin could be irrelevant in the near future as other cryptocurrencies with faster transaction times and benefits dominate. The author overly relies on the past performance of Bitcoin to predict its future, which if you believe in Warren Buffett’s style of investing, is faulty logic. Past performance does not necessarily dictate the future. By the end of the book I was convinced that cryptocurrency has many benefits as a technology to offer, but the longevity of Bitcoin is dubious.

The best investment book I have ever read. I could not recommend this book more highly. I cannot possibly condense my review of this book into a paragraph; it deserves its own post. It contains not only investment advice but the wisdom of the wisest old, white men humanity has to offer. In all seriousness, I highly respect Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, and not just for their approaches on investing and business. Charlie is one of the best thinkers I have had the pleasure of coming across, and I have learned immeasurably from this book. His points on blending multidisciplinary mental models and his approach to everything from investing to his philosophies on how to live life have changed me permanently for the better. A long read, a heavy book, and absolutely worth it.

A fun read, smattered liberally with a healthy dollop of name-dropping and pleasantly vivid descriptions of how the uber powerful elite live and control the world. Altogether, it is not too surprising that most of the power in the world lies in the hands of a concentrated group of a few (men), usually in the military, government, or the top creme de la crop of business. Fun but perhaps not the most profound read. It did reinforce how most of us who are not in this superclass are at their whimsy, and how far removed the ordinary person is from true power.

 

Overall, I am pleased with the selection I made as each and every book taught me something different. Far fewer of the books I read this year were as fluffy or self-promoting as the ones I read last year, and in fact quite a few of them were deeply profound. I learned it is not just the quantity of the books you read. The quality is arguably more important. Choose great thinkers, and you will learn immeasurably more. I tried to set a goal to read a certain number of books per year, and I learned that that can discourage choosing longer, heavier books. After all, you only compete in what you measure. While reading a lot is always helpful, the number of books should not be the sole focus if it does not examine which books. Going forward, I’ll make a goal to read a list of specific books, not just a quantity.

I also now realize I have a tendency to read a lot of investment books, and I look forward to diversifying with more historical, philosophy, science, and fictional work next year. I feel like I notably understand far more in the topics I chose than last year, and it is so rewarding. It’s reflected in my maturity, in how I spend my time, and I’d like to think it’s stopped me from making some unwise mistakes. I look forward to reading more prolifically!

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Australia’s Shrinking Rainforests

If you know me, you know that I mostly shoot concrete jungles, but actual jungles are fascinating. Australia has some impressively weird flora and fauna. I was lucky enough to take a trip to the rainforest and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef! On the way, I saw green tree frogs, giant clams, sea turtles, a tree of fruit bats, and my personal favorite, several platypii.  The platypus is one of my favorite animals and I was so excited to finally see one in real life! (They don’t seem to notice humans if you stand still, which doesn’t bode well for their survival.) The most incredible part was that all of these lovely creatures were in the wild.

 

^ He’s so litto!

Australia has a reputation for being a place full of deadly creatures but it’s actually very safe. The most “dangerous” animal you’d be lucky to run across would be a jackal, but they avoid humans. Our wildlife tour guide, a Biology PhD with a gentle German accent, described how the only person who had died by snake bite in the past few years had essentially won himself a Darwin Award. He’d found a poisonous-looking snake in his yard, ignored its warning behavior, picked up the snake, and got bitten…. and then decided to pick it up again.

It’s amazing how much biodiversity exists in these small pockets of rainforest and coral. Before I visited Australia, I hadn’t seen many of the species that are native to the island, such as the cassowary and the wombat. It was a mind-bending experience seeing a wombat for the first time and realizing I had no idea what it was, or looking down through the clear water and appreciating just how massive giant clams really are.

It was a magical experience getting to see the wildlife in Australia’s rainforests and coral reefs. Even the plants there are incredibly diverse and different. Unfortunately the country’s small pockets of biodiversity are rapidly shrinking as the population of Australia explodes, and the animals’ habitats are threatened by the warmer climate change. For example, the derpy little platypus is now on the warning list for endangered species as Australia’s water pools shrink with the warming climate.

You hear about it all the time but it’s different to see the animals in front of you, right next to areas decimated by deforestation and covered in cows on dairy farms that are losing money. It’s tragic. If I ever get the chance to one day, I’d love to do more to help protect these creatures and the little remaining biodiversity on our earth.

If you are interested, please donate with me to protect the rainforest by purchasing land for conservation!

https://www.rainforesttrust.org/project/protection-australias-atherton-tablelands/

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^Fern or tree?

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Seneca on the Shortness of Life

Seneca’s writing induced a fundamental paradigm shift for me, especially in what to fret about. For most of my adult life, I have always been concerned that I wouldn’t achieve what I dreamed of. During a conversation with a friend over dinner in which I vented about my fears, my friend recommended that I read this book instead. According to Seneca, I shouldn’t worry about what he calls greatness. I should worry exclusively about wasting time.

“Seneca on the Shortness of Life” is a foray into Stoicism and its belief in overcoming human nature. Some interesting notes:

  • The most powerful/highly-stationed men desire leisure above all else. In a society that worships the status and power of these men, they want nothing more than their own free time.
  • We squander time through “groundless sorrow, foolish joy… the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you.” This resonated with me, thinking about the countless hours I’ve spent in angst over problems made up in my own head.
  • “But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs nor fears the next day… [he has] enjoyed everything to repletion.” “Whatever time was available… none of it lay fallow and neglected, none of it under another’s control.”

According to Seneca, humans get enough time, but we squander most of it, and so long as we do that, it doesn’t matter if we live a thousand years, as that time will never be enough. In order to make the most of our time, we must guard and plan our time scrupulously.

Also according to Seneca, poor uses of time include drinking, lust, sports, obsessing over possessions, beauty, laziness, music, banquets, useless knowledge. He claims that only philosophy is truly alive. Time eradicates all other signs of greatness (monuments, wealth) but does not damage philosophy that is transferred like memes to future generations, and that through the studying philosophy, you can make the most of your own life and extract the greatest value from the time you are given.

I highly recommend this read, particularly for anyone who finds themselves preoccupied or worried about how to make the most of their life. It’s a short read. Just an hour with this book can alter your perspective on what matters.

 

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Deep Work by Cal Newport Notes

The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

This theory tells us that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicated significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work. If you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Such concentration hijacks your attention, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

This danger is especially pronounced in knowledge work, which due to its dependence of ubiquitous connectivity generates a devastatingly appealing buffet of distraction, which if given enough attention leaches meaning and importance from the world constructed by your mind. When you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right. A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.

“I’ll choose my targets with care… then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”

Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and more time in the hammock. But the results from Csikszentmihalyi’s ESM studies revel that most people have this wrong: Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flowing activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.

Any pursuit – be in physical or cognitive – that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.

Within the overall structure of a project there is always room for individuality and craftsmanship… One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, while our craftsmanship will still be honored.

You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.

A similar potential for craftsmanship can be found in most skilled jobs in the information economy. Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is your craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.

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Wisdom from Elon Musk

 

Work super hard. Instead of getting an apartment, he rented a small office and slept on the couch, showered at the YMCA. 7 days a week, all the time. Girlfriend slept in the office. Every waking hour if you’re starting a company. If you’re working 100, and someone else is working 50, you’ll get twice as much done.

Attract great people. Join a group you respect or gather great people. A company is just a group of people that are gathered together to create a product or service. Dependent on how talented and hard working that group is, and the degree to which they are focused cohesively, that will determine the success of the company.

Focus on signal over noise. Are these efforts resulting in a better product or service?

Don’t just follow the trend. Rather than reasoning by analogy, boil things down to the fundamental truths and reason up from there. Figure out if something really makes sense or if it’s just something everyone else is doing.

Now is the time to take risk. Once you have a family, you start taking risk for not just yourself but your family as well. Take risks before you have those obligations. Do something bold. You won’t regret it.

Be rigorous in your self analysis. Be extremely tenacious. Work like hell. Put in 80-100 hour weeks.

Starting a business is not for everyone. Have a high pain threshold. Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss. When you first start a company, there’s a lot of optimism and things are great. Happiness, at first, is high. Then you encounter all sorts of issues, and happiness will steadily decline, and then you will go through a whole world of hurt. Eventually, if you succeed, and in most cases you will not succeed, and Tesla almost didn’t succeed, came very close to failure. After a long time, you will finally get back to happiness.

Whatever you’re doing is a great product or service. If you’re a new company, unless you’re in a new industry or new market. If it’s an untapped market, the standard is lower for your product or service. But if you’re entering anything where there’s existing marketplace against large entrenched competitors, then your service must be much better than theirs. It can’t be a little bit better, because then you put yourselves in the shoes of the consumer. And they say why would you buy it as a consumer. You’re going to buy a trusted brand, unless there’s a big difference. It’s got to be a lot better.

Constantly seek out criticism. A well thought-out critique of what you’re doing is as valuable as gold. Usually your friends know what’s wrong, but they don’t want to tell you because they don’t want to hurt you.

Obsessive nature toward the quality of the product

Like what you’re doing. You think about it even when you’re not working