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

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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.

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BR 198: Einstein by Walter Isaacson

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

Comments: I understand this book wouldn’t be for everyone. However, if you have any interest in science and the life and works of Albert Einstein, I’d suggest taking your time reading this one. The middle portion might get a bit boring. But, the end is worth it. Walter Isaacson takes his time to develop Einstein’s character. And, by the end, you realize that the time taken was completely worth it.

I began reading to understand Einstein the genius. And, I finished understanding Einstein, the wise human being. :)

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Einstein’s genius wasn’t about his brain but how his mind works. He was the true example of endless curiosity. You can imagine him as a kid lying sick and wondering about how the compass works and then wondering what it might be like to travel alongside a wave.

2. The most striking thing about Einstein was his wry detachment and equanimity. He never took himself or his work seriously. He may have blown hot or cold with his family when he felt confined. But, otherwise, he was a passionate and caring man who was adored by his colleagues. They hosted a wonderful 70th birthday ceremony where they spoke more about his character than his work.

He used his old age to defend the rights of those who were young and to use the luxury of his reputation to pursue his field theory. However, over the years, he relied more on complex math than the physics that had made him great. A part of his resistance was his now quaint refusal to accept quantum mechanics.

3.Is everything alright? “Everything is alright. I am not.” – he said to his secretary on his last day at the institute. :) His “wry detachment” is evident.

Book notes here.

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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.

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BR 179: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

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

Comments: Malcolm Gladwell is a masterful writer and weaves together many stories into a compelling book that asks us to rethink our traditional ideas of what constitutes an advantage.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. You may be better off being a big fish in a small pond. More people get discouraged and depressed being average at a top institution.

2. David and Goliath was a mismatched battle. As a slinger, Goliath actually stood no chance.

3. There is such a thing as a desired level of adversity. That’s how character is built.

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Creativity · History · Psychology · Self Improvement · Skills

BR 168: Mastery by Robert Greene

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

Comments: A Robert Greene masterclass. Lovely mix of biographical stories wrapped within a compelling framework. A lot of the stuff isn’t new. But, the combination is potent.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Mastery is a culmination of years of intense deep work. There is no easy way.

2. Apprenticeship is both awesome and dangerous. On the one hand, your learning curve speeds up with great mentors. However, very few mentors turn out to be large minded enough to “let go” – it is the typical bad parent problem all over again

3. Developing emotional intelligence is a useful tool to make sure your mastery gets the credit it deserves. This section spoke to me. I assumed I had high EI but had learnt from a relationship that that wasn’t the case. This chapter taught me one simple but critical lesson – stop listening to what people say. Instead, listen to what they do.

Book notes here