As 2018 winds down, here are my top five books for the year. These are the most insightful books I’ve read this year; they are listed in no particular order.
Principles: Life and Work
This book is a brain dump of Ray Dalio’s principles on running his company. It can be a bit dry at times, as Ray Dalio goes through his various principles, listing and describing them one at a time. I found his principles on life, earlier in the book, and his principles on management, later in the book to be the most insightful.
He started Bridgewater Associates in 1975 in his own home. As he grew the company to be one of the top five hedge funds in the U.S, he has been through many failures in business, including a period where he had to fire many of his employees. These failures helped him develop various principles to hold him and everyone in his company accountable, and to prevent them from repeating the same mistakes.
As he begins to step down from his role as CEO, he wanted to leave his employees with his vision for running Bridgewater, and the reasoning behind his principles. Hence, he wrote this book with his employees in mind, but also as a way to share his ideas with the world.
The book mainly contains the principles, and rules that Ray developed to guide him through his personal life while running his hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. He delves into his financial principles briefly, i.e on investing in markets, but has another book dedicated entirely to understanding the economy.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
This book gives a really good framework to understand the way the human mind works. It starts with the story of two psychologists who questioned the conventional wisdom at the time: primarily the belief that professionals with a lot of experience are infallible and can completely be trusted. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman developed many experiments that shed light on the various biases that the human mind is susceptible to (even in people with thousands of hours of experience in a certain field).
By describing the human mind’s behavior, and going through various experiments these psychologists subjected their grad students to, they provide a really good framework for understanding how our mind works. However, it is always a lot easier to see these biases in others.
Furthermore, by providing terms such as the “recency effect”, “framing bias”, “availability bias” (and many, many more), they allow us to grasp these behaviors through language by labeling them and being able to better spot them.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
I think it is important to understand how we evolved, the various evolutions humanity has been through, and our various cultures, peoples and how these fit and influence our society today. It’s impossible to do justice to this 443-page book on our evolution. Yuval goes through our early evolution, when we migrated out of Africa and settled various lands. He then describes history as it developed in Empires throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East. There is a lot the author goes through and it is fascinating to see how these early cultures and beliefs are still similar to our modern world
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
This is the most interesting story, I read this year, I couldn’t put it down, and finished more than half of it, in one sitting. This book is both an action-adventure, and a model on leadership. Shackleton’s leadership is cited in many articles on business and leadership. Alfred Lansing narrates the story of these men that decided to explore Antarctica. Lansing spoke with the expedition’s members and read through their various journals and writings.
Without spoiling much of the story, these groups of explorers took their ship, called the Endurance, and sailed towards the Weddell Sea. For ten months their ship drifted through the ice until it finally got crushed, and the crew had to journey for 800 or so miles through the South Atlantic’s coldest environment, attempting to reach civilization. This occurred during 1915 when technology was still very limited, they had to navigate with maps and compasses, on land, water, and giant blocks of ice in the middle of the ocean. There is a lot to be learned from Shackleton’s leadership. Alfred Lansing’s narrative had me glued to this book, as the story unfolded, and I got to learn about the different characters.
This is a series of writings Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself, as thoughts, and private notes, most likely around 160-180 AD. It is amazing how such an ancient text can be still very relevant today (this is described today as Stoic philosophy).
There is a lot of principles that Marcus discusses in his writings: to accept fate, to shoulder his burdens of public service. He refused to be miserable during life’s difficulties: as he squashed rebellions, and fought wars in ancient Greece.
Stoic philosophy believes in the unity of all things in the universe while being able to see the world objectively. This is very similar to Buddhism’s belief in unity.
Survey the circling stars, as though you yourself were mid-course with them.
Other Books I Really Enjoyed This Year
Brave New World
A dystopian story written by Aldous Huxley describes a world where society is established by eugenics, strict class separation, and the conditioning of humans for the benefit of everyone.
How to Change Your Mind
This is Michael Pollan’s research into the history and science of psychedelics: how they started in ancient societies and their use today in cancer research and depression. It is a fascinating read.
Anthony Bourdain describes in detail his experience from culinary school to executive chef, and the various characters he encountered in this world. He’s done a great job describing his story, in a funny and engaging way. This is written by a slightly younger Bourdain, a bit different from the one he was on CNN before his death.
Quite a fascinating story, this describes the story of Gawker, and how Peter Thiel created a conspiracy to bring down Gawker Media by funding Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit.