“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.” — Charles Baudelaire
When I was trying to compile the list of books that I read this year, I realized that my interests seemed to be getting focused exactly in the areas which I consider to be my primary interest areas. Normally, this should not be surprising at all. But I have observed far too many times that the human mind has a highly selective and favourable perception of actual reality. So, I may be thinking that I am studying certain kinds of books (ones that are important but harder to read) but I may actually be reading different kinds of books, the ones that are generally easier on the mind.
My focus areas continue to be on “making better decisions”, “personal investing” and “ethology” to an extent. Importantly, I did not stray from these areas at all — well, almost.
The biggest gains for me were adding two more, and perhaps the most powerful yet, mental models to my mind — “systems thinking” and “complexity theory”. Depending on how you view “systems thinking”, it is either a parallel framework to complexity theory or complexity theory is a higher evolution of systems thinking. This distinction is irrelevant when it comes to deriving maximum learning from these models of thinking.
Without any further ado, let me dive into the list. My hope is that this list ignites your own interest and encourages you to utilize the upcoming holiday season by reading a book or two.
Making Better Decisions: Cognition
“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” — Fran Lebowitz
Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition by Michael J. Mauboussin
This is an excellent book on improving decision making ability. It covers a range of cognitive themes with a focus on practical, relevant, relatable issues. If you have time for reading only one book on cognitive decision making, this could be among your best choices.
Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich
This book is essentially about often, how our cognitive heuristics come in the way of making right decisions in the matters of personal finance. I did not categorize this under “personal Investing” because the lessons from this book are fungible across other important aspects of life like careers, vocation etc and also because this book is more about cognition and less about investing.
Never Split the Difference Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss
This book is a masterclass on negotiation skills. It builds on cognitive heuristics and is replete with real world examples. The insights from this book are relevant if you are a parent, teacher, businessperson, professional or a corporate career seeker.
Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science by Jonathan Haidt
This book delves rather well on the slippery topic of happiness and by its end, made me much richer in knowledge and understanding of myself. It is an ambitious book in its scope and depth and does great justice to both. One of the most influential books for me this year. An absolute must read.
The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal
This book definitively changed my attitude towards stress. Its author, Kelly McGonigal, challenged one of my favourite authors, Robert Sapolsky, in the book and I did feel a little aggrieved at that. But, after completing the book, I can say that it provides such a perfect antidote to today’s stress laden lives. It also helped me meaningfully channel some of the stress that my daughter was going through as she came close to writing a highly consequential academic test recently.
Making Better Decisions: Systems Thinking
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” ― John Locke
The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization by Peter Senge
This book was for my first serious foray into the domain of systems thinking and I’m glad that it was. This book is written by a master. Now, I wonder why systems thinking is not introduced in the formal educational system. This kind of thinking has potential to elevate the benchmark of an entire society’s thinking.
The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life — Robert Fritz
Another gem of a book on systems thinking. Written by another master. The most powerful insight I carried away from this book is that the best way to solve problems is by making them irrelevant. Either we spend time solving problems or creating the life we desire — it is the essential choice of our life. For understanding how, go ahead and read this book.
Making Better Decisions: Complexity Theory
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labelled ‘This could change your life.’” — Helen Exley
Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin
I read books on complexity earlier too but they were dry, like textbooks and perhaps hence, the concepts did not quite stick. This book by John Gribbin hooked me to the world of complexity science. A few books and a number of podcasts thence, I’m still going at complexity theory with earnest enthusiasm. Gribbin introduces some real complex (no pun intended) topics in this book but dumbs them down sufficiently that a lay person like me was ultimately able to understand them, although not without stretching my mind strenuously on multiple occasions.
Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence — Jean G. Boulton, Peter M. Allen Cliff Bowman
As the title of this book suggests, it is an excellent attempt at helping the reader embrace complexity. Why is it important to embrace complexity? Because it has eminent practical relevance in helping us understand the forces that drive success in life. We have been told that studying at a good college will lead to a great life and investing in good stocks will lead to accumulation of wealth. But there is very little real evidence to back these claims up. No matter how great our education is or how well we invested, the expected results seem anything but assured. These things occasionally work but many times don’t. How can we make sense of this? What kind of principles can we employ so that we increase our chances of success in the complex world that we live in. Read this book to develop some solid understanding.
Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen by Mark Buchanan
It is a relatively short book with sharp focus on a particular feature of complex systems called “critical point”. It surveys in detail how various natural and social systems teeter on critical points and faithfully obey something called “power laws”. Examples include earthquakes, forest fires, extinctions of species, growth of cities, stock markets etc. I would say that careers and professional growth follow power law too. Read this book for an exhilarating excursion through a central theme of complexity science — one that holds enormous practical relevance to our everyday lives.
“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment by Guy Spier
This book reads like a personal story of redemption. I am grateful to the author, Guy Spier, for an honest autobiographical account of his story of transformation from a “wannabe” Wall Street maverick to a “quaint” master of wealth creation. A must read for all who want to succeed in financial markets particularly those who suffer from the baggage of education from elite academic schools.
Mastering the Market Cycle by Howard Marks
Howards Marks is a capital markets veteran of over 50 years. He generally shares his learned wisdom in the form of newsletters. This book is his own aggregation of most of his writings on how to master the capital market cycle. This book can help develop a “systems thinking” approach to investments in capital markets. It can help build understanding of structures that underlie the daily hapless events in the markets. It can help one in seeing forest for the woods.
Quality Investing: Owning the best companies for the long term by Lawrence A. Cunningham, Torkell T. Eide and Patrick Hargreaves
What a fantastic book on building foundational basis for stock picking. It is definitely one of the best books I ever read on fundamentally valuing firms. It is among the highest quality books on stock investing.
Quality of Earnings by Thornton L. Oglove
A book with specialized focus on assessing quality of companies from their financial statements. It is not a generic book as in, basic knowledge of accounting rules is necessary to take advantage of this book. Slightly dated but still eminently relevant even in today’s world. While the names of companies in the examples provided in the book are not necessarily relatable, the concepts they bring out are anything but.
100 baggers stocks that return 100-to-1 and How to find them by Christopher W. Mayer
I have become a fan of Christopher Mayer after reading this book. By way of talking about identification of multi-bagger stocks, this book provides a basis for determining anchors of conviction. I would put this book on the top shelf in the annals of investing wisdom.
The Psychology of Wealth: Understand your relationship with Money and achieve Prosperity — Charles Richards
The author of this book, Charles Richards, is not a financial professional — he is a psychotherapist. His views on wealth and treatment of this subject lend such wonderful diversity to the otherwise crass topic of “money and wealth”. Read this book to expand (or reinforce) your perspective on wealth.
Making Better Decisions — Inspiration
“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” — Carl Sagan
Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger — Janet Lowe
This is a biographical account of the modern-day legend — Charlie Munger. Coincidentally, Charlie breathed his last earlier this week. He left behind a powerful body of pithy wisdom that is applicable to investments and life in general. This book brings out the real human being — the flesh and bones version of this great man.
The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh
An autobiographical account of Bill Walsh, a legendary Coach of American Football. He led a life of conviction. His conviction was tested time and again and he prevailed ultimately. This book is a captivating account of “success” that can inspire anyone desiring extraordinary life. I could not contain my excitement after reading this book and gifted a copy of this book to my son’s football coach.
The Art of being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking by Eli Broad
Another great autobiography on the value of personal conviction. Eli Broad bares his life in this book and provides inspirational account of conviction built on what he terms as “being unreasonable” — various facets being: taking risk, working hard, being steadfast, thinking why not, investing, result-orientation, discipline etc.
The Ten Commandments for Business Failure by Donald R. Keough
This book is a recommendation from Dr Satyanarayana Chava, the founder-leader of a Biotech Pharma firm in India called Laurus Labs. I came across this in one of his talks. The author of this book, Donald Keough, is a former president of The Coca Cola company. One of the most common refrains from Charlie Munger is “Invert, always invert” — first, see how things can go wrong and then avoid those things. In Charlie’s tradition, the author draws on his long, rich experience in arriving at ten crucial ways that businesses fail.
Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal
This is a book that chronicles stories of a number of people on overcoming adversity. Given the diversity of experiences and adversities covered in this book, it can serve as a virtual mentor to anyone seeking progress.
“Books may well be the only true magic.” — Alice Hoffman, Magic Lessons
Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration by Bert Hölldobler and Edward Wilson
This book is a fascinating account of the history and ethology of the omnipresent and versatile ants. Although diminutive, ants pack a punch in terms of the complexity of their living. They are ultra social and programmed for clear cut division of labour and as a colony, behave like a robust superorganism. Read this book to marvel at the ingenuity of nature.
Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A foundational book that introduced the “fragile-robust-antifragile” continuum to me. All durable phenomena in life and nature tend to constantly work on moving rightwards on the Fragility-Robustness-Antifragile scale. Is this the purpose of life?
Ergodicity by Luca Dellanna
This is a small book. It explains ergodicity in good detail and, I believe, is aimed at lay people. Interestingly, it alerts us to the incorrect assumptions that one makes in non-ergodic situations and their undesirable consequences. One way to determine ergodicity is to see if ensemble average is the same as the temporal average. Sounds technical? It is, but not very complicated. Read this book to get clarity.
Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky
Sapolsky is a great storyteller and makes reading complex science palatable and dare I say, even enjoyable. This book is about how our body’s hormonal mechanisms which evolved for living and surviving in the wild, are now causing havoc in the modern societal settings. A must read for all.
“What I love most about reading: It gives you the ability to reach higher ground. And keep climbing.” ― Oprah
One of the best ways to multiply knowledge is by reading books. Books are natural vehicles of conveying vicarious experiences. However, knowledge does not readily translate to wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience. So, it makes sense to be careful that reading, as powerful as it can be, should not crowd out opportunities to apply knowledge. With this pithy observation out of way, I wish you a happy reading time this Holiday season.
Thanks for taking time to read this. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals. I try to share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile and if you do not mind it, please do consider sharing it with others.
A bit on my background
I help people make better decisions.
I coach people on “Making Better Decisions”, “Financial Intuition” and “Building Great Careers”. I’m open to run sessions on these topics in institutions — this will help me create larger impact.
I’m also an Investment Advisor (RIA) registered with the Securities and the Exchange Board of India (SEBI). As an RIA, I analyze and prepare financial plans to help people achieve their financial goals.