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

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Creativity · Entrepreneurship · Novel Concepts · Psychology

BR 210: Hunch by Bernadette Jiwa

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

Comments: This is a really easy and fun read. Bernadette Jiwa makes the case that we all have it in us to be insightful. We just have to learn to notice more. It’s one of those positive books that you could just pick up and read on a Sunday afternoon and walk out feeling optimistic and better.

Top 3 Learnings: 

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the hunch in today’s data driven world. Noticing is the key to finding breakthrough ideas in everyday experiences.
  2. Cultivate curiosity, empathy and imagination to be in touch with your hunches.
  3. Empathy is feeling with someone. Sympathy is feeling for someone.
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

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Novel Concepts · Psychology

BR 208: Originals by Adam Grant

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

Comments: Interesting book with lots of anecdotes from various experiments. After a very compelling start, I felt the book lost its way a bit toward the middle.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Entrepreneurship is more about de-risking than taking risks. Keep testing the riskiest assumptions with simple experiments (We had interviewed Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker in business school. This was a repeat of what he shared but powerful nevertheless).

2. Child prodigies rarely live up to their potential as they rarely learn to be original. Creative kids can often be trouble makers.

3. Vu ja de. So much of creativity is combining old ideas into new combinations.

Book notes here

3. SHELF it · Bio/Autobiographies · Entrepreneurship · Technology

BR 207: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

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

Comments: Elon Musk’s book has a compelling narrative, a great inherent story and is very well written. It is not for everyone. However, if you are interested/intrigued by Elon Musk and/or have an interest in entrepreneurship, space or clean energy, this is a fascinating read.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. I found it fascinating to see how Musk kept buying himself career credit to do the next thing. His first tech company was a internet 1.0 version of Yelp meets Google Maps that exited for >$300M. This, then, gave him capital and credibility to work on X.com, which became PayPal. That, in turn, led to SpaceX.. And he chanced on Tesla because he was known to care a lot about clean energy.

2. Elon is a suitably weird/crazy, gifted person whose drive matches his considerable intellect. That said, he’s had to make some really big sacrifices to get to where he’s gotten to. He sees his mission as one that will save human kind (we care a lot about legacy as human beings) and his skills and experiences have positioned him beautifully for it. It isn’t for everyone. But, it is nevertheless inspiring to see him work toward what matters to him – even if his style occasionally is occasionally cold and un-empathetic.

3. I love Elon’s focus on first principles. His desire to understand the key drivers is phenomenal. The way he disaggregated the cost of a rocket’s components to get to understanding how over priced rockets are was, again, awe-inspiring.

No book notes. I treated this as a light read. :)

2. BUY it! · Creativity · Skills · Technology

BR 206: Don’t Make me Think by Steve Krug

Category: 2 – BUY it!* (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)
*A category 1 – Read ASAP book if you ever attempt to design a website. I still put it in category 2 because we’re all web design consumers (and, hopefully, creators?) now. :)

Comments: Awesome design book.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. Where possible, stick to design conventions. We are creatures of habit and design conventions go a long way in helping us understand what we should do next.

2. Always prioritize user testing. Simple, continuous, lightweight user testing beats heavy research done every once a while.

3. The question to ask isn’t – what does the average user like? There isn’t an average user.
The question to ask is – Does this feature with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?

Book notes here.