1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · History · Novel Concepts

BR 212: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: A game changing book. It is long, dense and takes a while to get through. But, my oh my, it is worth it. I love books that look at all of human history through various lenses. This one tells the story of Homo Sapiens and beautifully weaves in all that is ugly, beautiful and miraculous all at once. It is the best book on history that I’ve read. A perspective changer.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Fiction. Thanks to language, we were able to speak about abstract concepts and/or fiction. It is one of the unique aspects of our language and mental ability. This enables us to create myths and stories (religion, nationalism) that enables us to cooperate flexibly in large groups. These creative myths and stories dominate our life today – countries, religions and businesses are all myths that we buy into. And, it is this fiction that enables us to cooperate with each other.

Human to ape, we don’t differ by much. However, in groups, the difference is massive thanks to this ability to believe. “In 2011, The UN asked Libya to adhere to human rights. Of course, the UN, Libya and Human rights are all fictional.” :)

2. Agricultural revolution. The agricultural revolution is the world’s greatest fraud story. We didn’t domesticate plants. Wheat, Maize and Rice domesticated us. Domesticated comes from the Latin word domus which means at home. It is humans who stayed at home. And, not just ate – began eating a diet that wasn’t anywhere as nutritious since it lacked variety, had to work very hard to keep these plants happy and suffer if pests or the weather attached them. But, it helped us with one metric – multiplication. More people could be supported by agriculture under much worse conditions.

3. Industrial revolution and energy. The industrial revolution has really been about our ability to convert energy into forms we can use. Steam engine then oil enabled us to mass produce and ship raw materials around the world. The prime example of this is farming – especially animal farming. We mass produce animals like never before, subjecting them to horrible conditions that deprive them of all emotion or sensory stimulation. Like slavery, such cruelty is borne, not out of hate, but out of indifference.

Book notes here

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 211: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Wonderful book. Trevor Noah has a fascinating story to tell and tells it artfully. It is a classic stand up comedian’s book in many ways – he tells his stories and follows them up with piercing insight into the human condition. The book gave me insight into life in the ghetto in a way no book, movie or video ever managed.

Top 3 Learnings: Instead of 3 learnings, I’ll share 3 of my favorite quotes from the book (it was hard picking just 3) –

  1. “People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu — the things of white people. So many people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom: ‘Why do this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?’
    ‘Because,’ she would say, ‘even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”
  2. “It’s easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world wealthy enough to be removed from it. But the hood taught me that everyone has different notions of right and wrong, different definitions of what constitutes crime, and what level of crime they’re willing to participate in. If a crackhead comes through and he’s got a crate of Corn Flakes boxes he’s stolen out of the back of a supermarket, the poor mom isn’t thinking, ‘I’m aiding and abetting a criminal by buying these Corn Flakes.’ No. She’s thinking, ‘My family needs food and this guy has Corn Flakes’, and she buys the Corn Flakes.”
  3. “When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

Book notes – quotes in this case – here

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · History · Technology

BR 209: The Master Switch by Tim Wu

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I debated about whether this should be category 1 or 2. On the one hand, this book is very focused on the history of information empires in the United States. But, on the other, information empires are THE dominant corporations in today’s world. So, this book become a must read. :)

Top 3 Learnings:

  1. Every information industry (phone, radio, film, tv, internet) has seen a struggle between open versus closed / decentralized versus centralized. Every one of these started out with hackers and hobbyists and then became the home of large monopolies.
  2. What we think is a by product of what we read and who listen to. Free speech and a marketplace of ideas are not as dependent on the values of a place as much as the structure of the information infrastructure.
  3. This isn’t as much a learning as much as a note that I remember so many stories from the book. The story of the creation of hollywood, the rise, fall and rise of AT&T, CBS, etc., still give me goosebumps. A hat tip to Tim Wu for a wonderfully written book.

Book notes here

1. Read ASAP! · History · Novel Concepts · Technology

BR 204: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is a book that takes 6 parts of modern life and shows you how they were fundamental in making modern life what it is. It changed how I saw the world.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Most innovations occur in the adjacent possible. Few make seemingly impossible leaps. The popular theory is the genius theory of innovation. But, there are plenty of high IQ individuals. If there is a common thread, it is that they worked at the intersection of multiple fields. Ada Lovelace could see the future of computers as she lived at the edge of science and art. Staying within the boundaries of your discipline can enable incremental improvements – which are critical to progress. But, to make leaps, we have to travel across borders – sometimes geographical to be in a different environment and sometimes conceptual. These time travelers often have hobbies and interests in varied fields. This is one of the reason “garages” have such a symbolic role in innovation as these are peripheral spaces.

2. The power of accurate measurement of time is that measuring time is key to measuring space. Every time we glance down at our phone to find our location, we’re triangulating between at least 3 of 24 atomic clocks that tell us our location based on the measurement. And, these clocks have been made possible by scientific advances that led us from astronomy (sundials) to dynamics (pendulums) to electromagnetics (quartz) to atomic physics (atomic clocks)

3. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. Instead, he invented something more powerful – a process of innovation. He brought together diverse teams, built the first global supply chain, mastered the art of public relations and product launches, embraced experimentation and incentivized his teams with stock options. This is a model that continues today.

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Leadership · Parenting · Philosophy · Psychology · Relationships · Self Improvement

BR 199: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I rarely re-read books but decided to re-read this during my end-of-year break as I’ve come to appreciate how wise this book is. It delivered, again. I’d spent most of my first reading in the first half/personal victories portion of the book. This time, I spent more time in the public victories. So much to learn, do and build.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. To know and not to do is not to learn. Beautifully drove home the point that I haven’t “learned” nearly as much I say I have.

2. Seek to understand and then to be understood. In the spirit of knowing and not doing, this has become an important part of “engagement” theme this year. I am still too impatient too often.

3. Seeking win-win requires a combination of courage and consideration.

Stephen Covey’s masterpiece is so good that it makes the “Read ASAP” list twice. :)

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Sports

BR 195: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: First, I hope you get the audible version. The narrator makes a special book feel extra special. In some ways, that’s what this book is all about – feelings. It is about the feelings that go into building something special. Nike founder Phil Knight takes us on a wonderful adventure. In doing so, he shares things he did well and things he wished he hadn’t done. For example, he does a couple of downright wrong stuff (ethically). But, somehow you forgive him. You forgive him because of his authenticity and because you feel you might have done the same in that situation.

This is a book about Nike. But, really, it is a book about spirit, care and the joy of the pursuit. Very heartfelt and beautifully written.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Businesses are about money just as a body is about blood. You need it to operate but life is so much more than that. And, business IS personal.

2. You measure yourself by the number of people who measure themselves by you.

3. The art of competing is forgetting that competition exists.

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · History · Novel Concepts

BR 193: The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zheihan

The accidental superpower, peter zheihan

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is a very powerful book. It is the sort of book that completely changes how you see the world. For example, I doubt I’ll ever look at a map of the world the same way again. It is also unlikely I’ll easily buy a story about how a country became a superpower. In this book, Peter Zheihan does a terrific job explaining why the world is the way it is from a geopolitics perspective. He, then, attempts to predict the future. You may not agree with his predictions. But, they are still worth listening to as they will likely help shape yours. In my case, I thought a lot of it was very prescient. I wish he’d been a bit more forthcoming about how we expected technology to change his assumptions though.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Geography is the primary reason superpowers become superpowers. Typically, it is some combination of access to arable land, presence of internal waterways, and a location that isn’t easy to access that makes places superpowers.

2. Demographics are an important driver of economic growth. Kids and retirees drain economic resources. On the other hand, young adults make it consumption driven. And, older adults infuse a lot of capital. Thus, the majority group in the population drives the sort of activity in the economy.

3. The last few decades have witnessed unprecedented peace. That’s a result of an unusual move by “the accidental superpower” – the United States – to govern the world via free trade. However, this period is ending since the biggest reason for that pact was to keep Russia at bay. Now, with the absence of a cold war and the sheer expense to maintain this pact, it is perhaps only a matter of time before we see this pact (from the meeting at Bretton Woods in 1945) called off.

Book notes here.