Books I read in 2017

My wife got me a kindle at the end of the year and what a rewarding gift it was. Bought tons of books to read on it. In chronological order:

Flow. Much of modern life is spent pondering on the meaning of life. Flow is an interesting viewpoint that posits that one can find meaning even if the worst of places (e.g as a prisoner of war or in a dead-end job). The secret lies in engaging in activities that produce what he calls “flow”. Similar to what athletes feel when they are “in the zone”. It’s something that has help change my perspective on my view on work as a means to an end versus being an end in itself. And made me a happier person overall.

Influence. I took a psychology module in university and many of the behavioural biases that recur in everyday life are referenced in this book. These “click-whirr” reactions that help us make decisions quickly are actually the things that us cognitive misers may need to evaluate with more thought as they can be used against us. Being wary of these tools of influence allows us not only to use them but to also be aware when they are used on us.

Insanely Simple. A short and entertaining read. For those who can’t get enough of Steve Jobs, this book is a third person viewpoint on how he ran Apple from the inside and while I don’t think Jobs explicitly had these rules in mind, he certainly practiced them. Big useless meetings and largely useless business jargon and over complicated jargon are the enemies of the book. Keep it simple.

Letters from Seneca. I first listened to a Guide to the Good Life last year and subsequently purchased this book after. Lots of great advice from one of the all time underrated philosophers of ancient time. I enjoyed the first part of the book more so than towards the end where the letters tended to ramble and become more incoherent but still, full of insight and actionable advice. If you haven’t heard of Stoicism, the latter book will help correct any preconceived notions of what it is to be “Stoic” and gives a good introduction to what the philosophy is about.

How to Grow Rich. An in your face read from Felix Dennis. Contrary to what the title suggests, he actually has a very different take on the pointlessness of money — and actually suggests that the path to riches is actually a different path to the path to happiness. Most of us are actually better off being “wage slaves” if you think about it that way.

48 Laws of Power. A controversial book. Some people say its evil. But I like the examples he gives to prove his point. Think of Sun Tzu’s art of war mixed with real life historical examples. Some parts of it are more military strategy and not all the advice are actually things that I would consider honourable or ethical but definitely there are hints of it in the corporate world and it is useful to know what you’re up against.

Brave New World. Not the book by Aldous Huxley but rather the biography of Mauricio Pochettino. I’m a Spurs fan so it was a light and easy read. The book doesn’t really have a thematic structure though so it felt at times quite disorganised. Though I would say that the major theme throughout was on the philosophy of the coach and his beliefs in bravery, passion and the team over the individual. Probably something only Spurs fans can appreciate.

Never Split the Difference. A contrarian take on the negotiation standard that they teach in business schools. In the eyes of this hostage negotiator turned author, he explains what’s wrong with the give and take style or win-win theory of textbooks today. Some of the advice may or may not be useful but he is pretty on the dot when he suggests that negotiation is an emotional activity and to actually think of humans as rational negotiator is already a faulty premise. Worth a read even as he recounts some of the real-life hostage negotiation successes and failures.

The Richest Man in Babylon. Think of it as a collection of parables told in a biblical setting that can be applied to how we grow and preserve our wealth. While the rules don’t necessarily teach one how to grow rich, it does have some useful nuggets on how to keep oneself from spiralling into debt or making foolish financial decisions. No new ideas but I did enjoy the storytelling execution.

Unconditional Parenting. Alfie Kohn debunks the old carrot and stick method that is the de-facto standard not just in corporates and schools, but even in the home today. He argues that our love towards our kids should be unconditional. And by using rewards and punishments, we are implying to our children that our love is conditional upon their good behaviour or grades or their meeting of our expectations. A thought-provoking read and while I may not entirely agree with everything he says, it is a worthwhile reflection on how we should reconsider the way we raise our kids.

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