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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.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is 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 as valuable and relevant as they are young and beautiful by corporations whose business depends on their consumers feeling inadequate. Wolf elaborates on how patriarchal societies reduce women to their looks when they threaten the existing power structure, and how women are unable to win in a society in which no woman can be eternally young, or without flaws. I found the book very eye-opening. It puts into words many of the truths that all women know from living. I disagree with the author that the beauty industry deliberately peddles an unrealistic beauty standard 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 cut-throat mobile phone app space. The book provides valuable insight and tips on the app market, and I will certainly be revisiting it in the future.

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 his derivatives predictions on wheat and thus chicken prices indicated that the product would be profitable. In essence, he is indirectly responsible for the creation of the chicken nugget. For all his strengths, I found some of Dalio’s methods too Draconian. Some of his techniques to run a company, such as radical transparency so extreme that every employee had a ‘baseball card’ of their strengths and weaknesses, and requiring every meeting to be video taped, were too severe 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 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 fact I learned was that when sapiens began to cultivate wheat, it was less that sapiens tamed wheat, than wheat tamed mankind. The technological improvements that man made in the agricultural revolution and then industrial revolution may have increased man’s productivity, but decreased the happiness of the individual. The early sapiens who farmed wheat had an unhappier, less healthy, disease-ridden lifestyle laboring in the fields and had a less diverse and nutritionally-rich 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, despite its purpose to convince the reader to invest in Bitcoin, this book convinced me to do the opposite. 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 dominate. The author relies overly 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 future performance. By the end of the book I was convinced that cryptocurrency has many benefits as a technology to offer, but the longevity of Bitcoin as a currency itself is dubious.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack is 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 lengthy, considered post. In my opinion it is more accessible in practical advice than Graham’s The Intelligent Investor and yet more erudite in its classical teachings. It contains not only investment advice but the wisdom of a few 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 my mental paradigms permanently. A long read, a heavy book (5.1 pounds), and absolutely worth it.

A fun read, smattered liberally with 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 businesses. At times it felt like junk food, fun to experience vicariously, but not the most focused. The book did reinforce how most of us who are not in this superclass are at the whimsy of those who are, how far removed the ordinary person is from true power, and how the decisions of the world are made in rooms where only a select few are invited.

 

Overall, I am satisfied with the selection I made as each as each book taught me something different. Fewer of the books I read this year were as fluffy or self-promoting as the ones I read last year, and a couple of them were 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. Last year, I tried to set a goal to read a certain number of books, and I learned that that can discourage choosing longer, heavier books. You only compete in what you measure. While reading a lot is always helpful, the number of books should not be the main criteria 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, philosophical, scientific, and fictional work next year. I feel like I notably understand far more in the topics I chose than last year, and that is rewarding. What I’ve learned is 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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