Reading Period: January 1 - February 28
1. The Black Swan, by Nicholas Nassim Taleb
This book took me quite a long time to finish. I read it in spurts, usually running out of motivation every fifty pages or so. I hate single-idea books that are four hundred pages, I think it is a crime against the reading community to write such a book. Nicholas has committed this crime, creating an absolute slog of a book filled with incoherent thoughts and random attacks on imaginary critics. A clever reader can grasp the surprisingly novel and truly insightful ideas underlying the book, but it is quite the chore to do so. Here is the summary, you need nothing else: everything has fatty tails, there are no linear relationships in life, prediction is extremely hard if not impossible. I really, really wish Nicholas was a better writer, as his other books look interesting.
2. Deep Work, by Cal Newport
In order to succeed in your career, you need to focus intensely for long periods of time without distraction. That is a summary of this book, and really the only take away. I think that this lesson is actually very important, and Cal guides the reader with many steps they can take to fulfill this goal of working deeply. Sort of like So Good They Can't Ignore you, the main point of the book is extremely useful, even if the actual execution is a bit lackluster. Still, worth the read.
3. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
"The Horror! The Horror!"
I really enjoyed the last twenty pages of this book. The rest was garbage.
4. End the Fed, by Ron Paul
"The Federal Reserve should be abolished because it is immoral, unconstitutional, impractical, promotes bad economics, and undermines liberty. Its destructive nature makes it a tool of tyrannical government. Nothing good can come from the Federal Reserve. It is the biggest taxer of them all. Diluting the value of the dollar by increasing its supply is a vicious, sinister tax on the poor and middle class"
Ron is quite the firecracker. He comes off as a bit unhinged in this book, especially with statements like the one above, but I learned quite a bit about what the Fed does and how it is potentially harmful. Ron has "old man yells at cloud" energy for sure, as he advocates for the gold standard and declares that fiat currency is unconstitutional. Some of his arguments are not good. He argues that wars require inflation (true), and that we would have less war if we were on the gold standard (also true). He misses the obvious fact that other countries would not follow suit. He also spends a surprising amount of time explaining why his ideas wouldn't work in practice. Regardless, The Fed is an extremely powerful institution that is not very transparent. Inflation is a massive tax on the poor and a major contributor to wealth inequality. These are both important takeaways.
5. Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
A bit too similar to Deep Work, a lot of the ideas and even some of the text is an exact copy and paste. However, like all of Cal's books, the underlying message is very useful. In this book, Cal argues for unplugging from technology. Delete social media, stop using email, and be extremely intentional about what technologies you use and for how long. This is all obvious advice, but the reminder is important and Cal provides specific steps for how to declutter your digital world. Well worth the read.
6. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North
Thinking about this book makes me angry. Such a half-baked, uninspired, frustrating novel. All the characters speak in empty platitudes, and it is jarring how unrealistic the conversations are. Also, Claire managed to leave the reader completely unsatisfied, not a single interesting plot point was explained or resolved. This is actually so impressive, that I wonder if that was the actual goal. Why is Harry in a time loop? How are small changes in one period not drastically changing the future? What the hell is a quantum mirror? It is obvious that Claire does not know the answer to any of these questions.
7. Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
Unique. That is the word that best describes this reading experience. Given how unconventional this story is, I am still not quite sure what to think about it. This was my first audiobook of the year, and I don't think I would have managed to get through the print version. The beginning is really slow, in fact, the pacing for the entire book is really slow. I think this book is for a very particular type of reader, and I don't think it fits me entirely well. But I think a more whimsical and unquestioning reader could truly appreciate this book for what it is.
8. The Trouble with Being Born, by Emil Corian
This is not a traditional book, but rather a collection of observations and musings made by Emil. He is a pessimistic, anti-natalist nihilist who is completely and absolutely hilarious. I have highlighted more in this book than every other book I've read, combined! I wonder how much his outlook would change if he just managed a decent night's sleep. His takedown of Nietzsche is one of the funniest, most accurate roasts I have ever heard:
"He observed men only from a distance. Had he come closer, he could have neither conceived nor promulgated the superman, that preposterous, laughable, even grotesque chimera, a crotchet which could occur only to a mind without time to age, to know the serene disgust of detachment."
Almost every aphorism is hilarious and depressing. Here are some of my favorites:
"He who hates himself is not humble"
"It's not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late"
"I pride myself on my capacity to perceive the transitory character of everything. An odd gift which has spoiled all my joys"
"If we could see ourselves as others see us, we would vanish on the spot"
9. The Buy Side, by Turney Duff
Remarkable book. The first 75% chronicles the exuberant tales of the author, a young wall street trader. It is glamorous, full of drugs, women, money, and more drugs. Turney makes millions of dollars a year, throws legendary parties, and trades stocks. Quite the fun read for a finance bro, but if this was the entire story it would be worthy of the shredder. I'm always amazed at how much money one can make providing absolutely no value to society. Turney works at Raj Rajaratnam's notorious Galleon Group as an execution trader. Millions of dollars a year for simply executing orders? Ridiculous, all of it. The relationships and exploits in some sense make me sick to my stomach. Especially a throwaway line about Turney's horrific manipulation of women (that will be lost on the target audience). Thankfully, this book turns out to be not a glamorous autobiography, but a cautionary tale. The last 25% of the book chronicles Turney's fall from grace.
Turney cannot overcome his addiction to cocaine. He ruins his relationship with his wife and daughter, has mental breakdowns, and completely falls apart. He becomes a shell of a man, leaving his child alone at home in order to snort cocaine in a hotel for six hours. He goes through financial ruin and loses the respect of everyone who ever knew him. He loses his job. He goes to rehab. He relapses. He cannot remain stable, he cannot take it all back. The story ends with Turney turning down a job offer. That's it, that's the only bright side. He realizes money will not solve his problems. Yet, his problems remain unsolved. He and his wife are separated, his relationship with his daughter is in tatters, he is still in a financial hole. Then the book ends.
This is a realistic story, an unexpected realism, refreshing. This story is about addiction and the unfortunate fact that it usually lasts for life. A good read for someone working in finance. Not the book I expected, but in a good way.
10. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
I love the controversy within and surrounding this book. There are two opinions that you can come away with after reading this story. The first is that Christopher McCandless is a introspective genius; a wise and charismatic embodiment of youthful adventure. The second opinion is that Chris is a tremendously arrogant loon who deserves plenty of scorn. Jon is of the first opinion, but he does a decent job at remaining objective throughout. Most readers are of the second opinion. I agree with them. Chris ghosts his entire family, throwing them into years of anxiety and anguish. He supposedly loves his sister, yet he vanishes without a trace, unwilling to even give her the comfort of knowing that he is safe. Given the amount of pain and suffering Chris caused those around him, it is hard to become emotionally attached to the book. I really just spent the whole time feeling bad for his parents.
Still, it is funny to watch Jon portray this idealized character. A tremendous piano player (later said to be not very musically talented), a great programmer (apparently the first program he wrote as an intern was so useful that his company still can't figure out how it works), and an avid reader of Tolstoy (reading popular Russian literature = smart). This book reads with some heavy "and then everyone clapped" energy. Regardless, it is a pretty easy story and it's always fun to pick up the sticks and start beating the drum of controversy. Would be a fun book club book just for the discussions alone.