This is where I outline some of the books I've recently enjoyed.
Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any recommendations!
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
A great book for dealing with adversity, and definitely one of the most accessible stoic books I’ve read. It’s remarkable to think that these were just the journal writings of one of the most powerful men in the world at the time. Despite its age, the issues Aurelius writes to himself about are still very relatable today.
Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it is, stop complaining. If it isn’t, your destruction will mean its end as well so stop complaining.
Do less, better. Ask yourself at every moment, “is this necessary?”
Ray Dalio - Principles: Life and Work
Very dense with actionable information, to the point where it can be hard to keep up with all the content that you want to remember. Lots of insight on managing yourself and your teams in a proactive, honest and objective way to consistently get results. Especially enjoyed the section on managing companies or divisions as machines, but there are so many good sections that it’s hard to summarize.
When I started out, each and every twist and turn I encountered, whether in the markets or in my life in general, looked really big and dramatic up close, like unique life-or-death experiences that were coming at me fast. With time and experience, I came to see each encounter as “another one of those” that I could approach more calmly and analytically, like a biologist might approach an encounter with a threatening creature in the jungle: first identifying its species and then, drawing on his prior knowledge about its expected behaviors, reacting appropriately.
In gaining this perspective, I began to experience painful moments in a radically different way. Instead of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, I saw pain as nature’s reminder that there is something important for me to learn. Encountering pains and figuring out the lessons they were trying to give me became sort of a game to me. The more I played it, the better I got at it, the less painful those situations became, and the more rewarding the process of reflecting, developing principles, and then getting rewards for using those principles became.
Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle Is the Way
The Obstacle Is the Way is a book full of modern applications of all the principles outlined in Meditations (above) and other classic stoic philosophy books. It’s probably my favorite out of all the Ryan Holiday books, and one I think about frequently whenever I’m in a high-stress situation.
The more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.
The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation.
Ryan Holiday - Ego Is The Enemy
In Ego Is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday takes concepts from Aurelius, Seneca and other stoic philosophers and relates them to modern examples of success. It served as a much needed reality check on my own ego.
The ambition that fueled your effort? These begin as earnest drives but left unchecked become hubris and entitlement. The same goes for the instinct to take charge; now you’re addicted to control.
At any given time in the circle of life, we may be aspiring, succeeding, or failing—though right now we’re failing. With wisdom, we understand that these positions are transitory, not statements about your value as a human being.
Ed Catmull - Creativity Inc.
More wisdom than advice. Written by the president of Pixar and Disney animation, you can tell the insights in the book come from decades of experience.
When faced with a challenge, get smarter.
If we think data alone provides answers, then we have misapplied the tools. A large portion of what we manage can’t be measured, and not realizing this has unintended consequences. Measure what you can, evaluate what you can measure, and appreciate that you can’t measure the vast majority of what you do.
Walter Isaacson - Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Two main themes I enjoyed in this biography:
- Despite his public speaking/writing on humility, he consistently struggles between his desire for acclaim and his desire to stay humble, something you don’t see in most writing about him
- From his scientific experiments to his political career, there is a constant focus on pragmatism over theory, which I admire
Lots of good lessons on strategy in the chapters about his time in Paris as well.
Franklin, not understanding the exhortation, bumped his head on a low beam. As was his wont, Mather turned it into a homily: “Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high. Stoop, young man, stoop—as you go through this world—and you’ll miss many hard thumps.”
But just as he was not a profound religious or scientific theorist—no Aquinas or Newton—neither was he a profound political philosopher on the order of a Locke or even a Jefferson. His strength as a political thinker, as in other fields, was more practical than abstract.
Ryan Holiday - Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
It’s impressive just how thought out Peter Thiel’s strategy to take down Gawker was, and how patient he was throughout the process. It’s a great look into how Thiel thinks, but my main takeaway was the level of coordination and patience it takes to pull off a plan of this magnitude. Although the theme is conspiracy, there are a lot of lessons on strategy in general.
When you ask yourself, “Why can I not just catch a fucking break?” It is the nature of conspiracy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Fate rarely conspired to help conspirators—and if it was on their side, why were they forced to do all this sneaking around then? No, fate sends to the conspirators of the world the best of its Murphy’s Law and entropy and crises of confidence.
Clausewitz warned generals about the “culminating point of victory.” A point where, if blindly ridden past, flush with the momentum of winning and strength, you imperil everything you have achieved.
Ben Horowitz - The Hard Thing About Hard Things
One of the best books to read when things are not going well in a company. The theme of The Struggle is something I regularly revisit, and it’s always comforting to see just how bad it got for Horowitz before his success. Even if things are bad, at least I don’t have to IPO a dying company as the only means of survival.
All the mental energy you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one seemingly impossible way out of your current mess. Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do. Because in the end, nobody cares; just run your company.
Even if you know what you are doing, things go wrong. Things go wrong because building a multifaceted human organization to compete and win in a dynamic, highly competitive market turns out to be really hard.
Jonah Berger - Contagious: Why Things Catch On
A great book on how to cultivate virality and word of mouth. Berger breaks down the main elements of what makes people share a product – social currency, triggers, emotion, public visibility, practical value, and stories.
What people talk about also affects what others think of them. Telling a funny joke at a party makes people think we’re witty. Knowing all the info about last night’s big game or celebrity dance-off makes us seem cool or in the know. So, not surprisingly, people prefer sharing things that make them seem entertaining rather than boring, clever rather than dumb, and hip rather than dull.
When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action. On the positive side, excite people or inspire them by showing them how they can make a difference. On the negative side, make people mad, not sad.
Elad Gil - High Growth Handbook
Very practical and dense with actionable tips. Especially enjoyed the sections on managing employees and executives while you scale, as it helped me become a better team member during growth phases.
Some early employees will stick with a breakout company for decades and their personal story arc mirrors that of the company. These employees tend to be hungry to learn from others, understand that the company, their role, and its culture will inevitably evolve, and are open to change. A common sign that an old-timer will work out is their eventual acceptance that their role and influence at the company will shrink in the short- to medium-term as the team scales, but that it will expand with time as they continue to learn and the company continues to scale.
The hard part of being a good CEO is that you have to be willing to let some things fall apart. You don’t have enough time to do everything well. And in practice, what that means is that there are some urgent things that you just don’t do. Getting comfortable with that takes a long time. It’s hard.
Annie Duke - Thinking in Bets
A great book on decision making in situations with incomplete information, which in practice represents most decisions you have to make. Thinking in bets allows you to look at decisions more honestly, forces you to take into account luck and uncertainty, but also helps separate the result of the decision from the quality of the decision making process.
Chess contains no hidden information and very little luck.
Poker, in contrast, is a game of incomplete information. It is a game of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty over time. Valuable information remains hidden. There is also an element of luck in any outcome. You could make the best possible decision at every point and still lose the hand, because you don’t know what new cards will be dealt and revealed. Once the game is finished and you try to learn from the results, separating the quality of your decisions from the influence of luck is difficult.
A good outcome could signal that we made a good decision. It could also mean that we got lucky, in which case we would be making a mistake to use that outcome as a signal to repeat that decision in the future
Cal Newport - Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
I bought this book when I started to feel that my attention span and ability to focus was decreasing. There’s 2 key lessons I got:
- The ability to focus for long periods of time is getting more and more rare and having that ability is a competitive advantage.
- Distracting yourself and switching tasks constantly not only hurt your focus in the moment, but reduce your brain’s ability to focus over time.
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.
If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.
Scott Adams - How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Scott Adams is known for being the creator of Dilbert, but it turns out he went through a million other things before succeeding as a comic strip writer. Although the book gets a little weird at times (hypnosis, affirmations), there’s useful advice from career and fitness to storytelling and conversation. Just don’t read his Twitter because it will ruin your perception of him.
The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavors. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.
Once you optimize your personal energy, all you need for success is luck. You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from strategies with bad odds to strategies with good odds.
David Ogilvy - Ogilvy on Advertising
I’ve noticed there’s a tendency in digital marketing to look down on classic advertising, as if it’s an old, inefficient way of promoting a product and we’ve now found a better way to do it. The reality is that a lot of the principles in this book still hold true, and if they’re relevant 30 years after publishing they’ll probably still be relevant 30 years from now.
In the past, just about every advertiser has assumed that in order to sell his goods he has to convince consumers that his product is superior to his competitor’s. ‘This may not be necessary. It may be sufficient to convince consumers that your product is positively good. If the consumer feels certain that your product is good and feels uncertain about your competitor’s, he will buy yours.
When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’
Yuval Noah Harari - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
I have yet to meet a person who read this book and didn’t like it. By going through an overview of human history, the book provides a lot of context to the way we think about society, government and how that could change in the future.
Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in peoples collective imagination.
But the most important finding of all is that happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.
Mark Manson - The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
There were a lot of parallels in this book to The Obstacle Is the Way (above). The main message Manson gives in this book is that the less you care about unimportant, trivial matters, the more you can care about what will bring you success/happiness.
There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.
A question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?”
William Zinsser - On Writing Well
This book reads like a modernized version of The Elements of Style, and provides very specific advice on how to improve your writing both technically and artistically. Surprisingly fun to read as well.
The secret of writing is so strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be short, every adverb that carries the same meaning as the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what.
If what you write is ornate, pompous, or fuzzy, that’s how you’ll be perceived. Be yourself when you write. You will stand out as a real person among the robots.
Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz - Lean Analytics
I wouldn’t say this was a fun read but I use what I learned in this book almost every day at work. Understanding how to setup and leverage analytics is so important for digital marketing that I don’t know how I got by before reading this.
Leading metrics give you a predictive understanding of the future; lagging metrics explain the past. Leading metrics are better because you still have time to act on them — the horse hasn’t left the barn yet.
Don’t just look at the “obvious” flaws of the incumbents (like an outdated design) and assume that’s what needs fixing. You’ll have to dig far deeper in order to find the real customer pain points and make sure you address them quickly and successfully.
Edward Tufte - The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
I reluctantly bought this book to learn more about data visualization while working at Plotly, and it ended up becoming one of my favorite books. It covers the fundamentals of data visualization, but the design concepts in the book are applicable to all types of graphic design. Only downside is that you’ll start over-analyzing every graph you see once you’ve read this.
It is all right to decorate construction but never construct decoration.
Graphical elegance is often found in the simplicity of design and complexity of data.
Alain de Botton - The Art of Travel
I read this on a plane to Europe where I would spend the next 4 months, and I thought about it a lot while there. There is a lot of expectation (and even pressure) to have the most fun possible while traveling. This book looks at why it doesn’t always live up to expectations, and what to do about it.
It is easy for us to forget ourselves when we contemplate pictorial and verbal descriptions of places. At home, as my eyes had panned over photographs of Barbados, there were no reminders that those eyes were intimately tied to a body and mind that would travel with me wherever I went and that might, over time, assert their presence in ways that would threaten or even negate the purpose of what the eyes had come there to see.
Tim Ferriss - The Four-Hour Work Week
Although the title makes it sound like something you’d buy from an infomercial, the Four-Hour Work Week is probably the book that really got me into reading non-fiction in the first place. So much quality advice, but it also serves as an intro to Tim Ferriss’ blog and podcast, which have some of the best content I’ve found online. My close friends can attest to how obsessed I am with Tim Ferriss.
Focus on being productive instead of busy.
The fishing is best where the fewest go and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone is aiming for base hits.
Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends and Influence People
I really think everyone should read this book at least once in their lives. The concepts are so simple but make such a big difference in the way you interact with people. There’s a reason it’s been popular for 75+ years.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
Micheal E. Gerber - The E-Myth Revisited
I’ve used the lessons from this book a lot when building Movekit. Although some of the details are dated, the core lessons are still very relevant today. I recommend this one a lot to friends who haven’t gone through business school and who want to start a business.
The Fatal Assumption: if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work
Every extraordinary business knows that when you intentionally build your business around the skills of ordinary people, you will be forced to ask the difficult questions about how to produce a result without the extraordinary ones.
Tony Hsieh - Delivering Happiness
This book documents the rise of Zappos with a very personal perspective from the founder/CEO. Although it has a lot of lessons related to building a business, the biggest takeaway I got from this book is just how much grit, passion and luck it takes to make a business succeed.
We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to embrace it enthusiastically and, perhaps even more important, encourage and drive it.
My advice is to stop trying to “network” in the traditional business sense, and instead just try to build up the number and depth of your friendships, where the friendship itself is its own reward.
Josh Waitzkin - The Art of Learning
The cover/title make it look cheesy, but I’ve learned a lot from this book. As a chess master/Tai Chi world champion, Josh Waitzkin outlines the techniques and processes he used to become world-class at two very different skills.
There will be nothing learned from any challenge in which we don’t try our hardest. Growth comes at the point of resistance.
Use your passion to your advantage. The best competitors are so far beyond shakable that opponents, instead of playing mental games, cower for fear of inspiring them.
Cal Newport - So Good They Can't Ignore You
Very good advice on making career decisions and building valuable skills. Focuses on the idea that 20-somethings should build valuable skills that will allow them to get the jobs they want, rather than blindly doing things to “follow your passion”.
The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world. The passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you.
Great work is rare and valuable. If you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return.
Roger Fisher & William Ury - Getting to Yes
I picked up this book shortly after starting my work with Busbud to make me more confident stepping into partnership negotiations. It serves as a really good intro to negotiation, the biggest takeaway being that a good negotiation is collaborative more than it is adversarial.
Focus on interests, not positions: behind opposed positions lie shared interests.
Hard on the problem, soft on the people.