Books I read this year
Welcome to this week’s blog. In this blog, I listed the books that I read in 2022, along with a quick contextual blurb against each book. It has been a great year of learning for me — mainly in deepening insights and these books have played a big role in that. I wish that this blog inspires you on the path of your own personal growth.
“Number of books completed is a vanity metric. As you know more, you leave more books unfinished. Focus on new concepts with predictive power.” — Naval Ravikant
This year, we moved cities which took away many weeks of my life– mostly in finding schools and securing admissions for my children, making our house in Hyderabad live-able and the actual and “painful” packing-moving-unpacking routine. I also took off one month preparing and writing couple of “Investment Advisory” related examinations required for registering myself as an Investment Advisor. All of this made a non-trivial dent on the amount of time I could have spent on reading.
One big difference between my reading in 2021 and this year is the large number of books that I read partially this year. Perhaps this is reflection of how I’m changing as a person. I had been definitely more mission-oriented this year than ever in the past. I devoured stuff that helped develop insights or perspectives on my interest areas and left alone stuff that did not. Few of the books I read taught me entirely new ways of looking at things and few other books gave clarity and depth to a few fuzzy notions in my mind.
I took a heavy hit on my financial portfolio (as of this writing, it seems like the bottom is yet to be found). I nursed a number of running injuries which forced a few months of layoff. With a strong desire to get off my Blood Pressure medication, in March this year, I started Intermitted Fasting. Also, all my runs have been during the fasting window — this enhances the effect of fasting hours. When we moved to Hyderabad, it was summer and consequently our house felt like an oven. Eventually AC was fixed and we were able to sleep in the nights but the whole experience left in me a strong yearning for cooling my house more naturally — I do find AC equipment as a classic symbol of unsustainable development.
Perhaps because of these experiences, most of my reading (and more importantly, learning) turned out to be in the areas of decision making and managing risk in the face of uncertainty (nothing is certain, anyway), financial investing, Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology and Running,
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss
Decision Making and Managing Risk
- Antifragile Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: A foundational book that introduced the “fragile-robust-antifragile” continuum to me. I believe that this book has fundamentally and (hopefully) irrevocably changed the way I approach everything in life.
- Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke: I found Annie highly articulate and quite earnest in everything she covered in this book. Essential premise of this book is to not let outcomes determine the quality of your decision making. Every outcome is a result of a combination of decision-making skill and luck. Separating out the proportional impact of these two factors and using the resulting observations to improve decision making ability is the core message of this book.
- The Goal A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt: What a gem of a book this is! It is a fictional account of a manufacturing plant manager who is tasked to save the plant from imminent closure. My friend and classmate, Seshadri Lakshminarayanan, suggested this book to me. This book is as much about operations research and theory of constraints as it is about problem solving — progressively uncovering the root cause — solving for layer after inner layer.
- Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions by Gerd Gigerenzer
- Reckoning with Risk by Gerd Gigerenzer
- Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer: It’s been a few months since I read Gerd’s books. Now I’m left with similar impressions from all his books. In direct contrast to the much more popular views of Kahneman and Tversky, Gerd holds that what are being touted as Cognitive biases are actually not biases but are heuristics that played critical role in our evolution and have a significant role to play in modern societal settings as well. In other words, discard your gut instincts at your own peril.
- Complexity — A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell — almost completely read: Wonderful introduction to the multi-disciplinary field of Complexity. If I am forced to find one fault with this book, it is that the book is a bit dry — most likely because it has a strong academic feel to it. I found it interesting enough, nevertheless and more importantly quite valuable.
- Complexity — The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop — partly read: This book is again an introduction to the emerging field of Complexity but written in a lot more engaging way. I’m halfway through the book right now and am finding it hard to put it down. Excellent book, this.
- Ergodicity by Luca Dellanna: This is a little booklet — simple and easy reading and explains the concept of ergodicity very well.
- Alchemy the dark art and curious science of creating magic in brands, business and life by Rory Sutherland: Rory differentiates between “logical” and “psycho-logical” thinking in this book. In our pursuit of rational and scientific answers and solutions, modern society seems to be solving either wrong problems or creating wrong solutions for right problems. We seem to be concerned with the value of items and not much in the perception of value of the same items.
- Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy Wilson — partly read: This book goes into depth on the two core segments of our mind — conscious and the adaptive subconscious and in this process, explains neatly how we are incapable of knowing our true selves.
- Systems Thinking for Curious Managers With 40 New Management f-Laws by Russell Ackoff: Every corporate employee should read this book. It is a collection of timeless epigrams by Russell Ackoff on the ails of corporate world.
- Influence by Robert Cialdini — partly read: This is a pretty popular book By Cialdini that talks about the seven principles of “influence” in our complex world of social interactions and relationships
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” — Rene Descartes
- Margin of Safety Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor by Seth Klarman: One could say this book is about value investing which it is, but it is lot more about the philosophy of margin of safety in everything we do — the same principle that can help you progress rightwards on Taleb’s fragility-robustness-antifagility continuum.
- The Four Pillars of Investing Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio by William Bernstein: It is hard to believe that William is a physician. His clarity of thought and thorough practicality is so refreshing. I would say this is a must read for all — even if you are not interested in finance.
- Fortune’s Formula by William Poundstone: This book is a hidden gem. It chronicles the history of Kelly Criterion. As to what Kelly criterion is — well, in order to maximize gain while reducing (eliminating, actually) your chances of ruin, Kelly criterion is a measure of the proportion of your wealth that you can bet/invest, given the odds of winning/gaining and your edge.
- Capital Returns Investing Through the Capital Cycle A Money Manager’s Reports 2002–15 by Edward Chancellor: This book is about the influence of capital cycle in investing in equities. It helped me develop somewhat strategic and broad-based understanding of economy and investing opportunities.
- The Aspirational Investor Taming the Markets to Achieve Your Lifes Goals by Ashvin Chhabra — partly read: I liked this book for the way the author, Ashwin, classifies our financial needs into Safety, Market and Aspirational buckets. I also liked that he classified them as risk buckets. Focus moves away from managing returns and onto to the kind of risks we (need to) take in personal investing and how they impact our ability to achieve our goals.
- The five competitive forces that shape strategy by Michael Porter — quick review: Anyone who did MBA would have read this book and perhaps many who did not do MBA too. It is a classic book on competitive forces that affects any firm’s long-term fortunes. Gives excellent and timeless insights to all equity investors in aiding them analyse business.
- Poor Charlie’s Almanac by Charlie Munger — partly read: All of Charlie’s wisdom gathered at one place.
“Read a lot. Expect something big, something exalting or deepening from a book. No book is worth reading that isn’t worth re-reading.” — Susan Sontag
Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology
- Guns, Germs, and Steel The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond — partly read: If you liked the book “Sapiens”, you may like this book too. While Sapiens reads like a story in a magazine at the dentist’s or the barber’s, this book has a lot more rigour to it. This book is lot more grounded and, in my mind, it is a classic. Read it to get a sense of how we may have domesticated nature (to the extent that we did, anyway).
- Metabolical The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine by Robert Lustig — partly read: Hard hitting and sharp-tongued tirade on processed food and medicine and they perpetuate most modern diseases. It contains valuable suggestions on how to stop and reverse modern lifestyle diseases. Importantly it does not just talk about the “what” but also gives you the “why” and the “how”
- Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky — partly read again: I made umpteen attempts at reading this book. In every successive attempt, I was able to go a little further along but still fall massively short. While Sapolsky did dumb down complex science for lay readers, I still find it hard to assimilate the concepts while still maintaining work-able pace.
- Why Zebras Dont Get Ulcers The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert Sapolsky: This year, to compensate for not completing “Behave”, I decided to read this book by Sapolsky instead. 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.
- You (Only Faster) by Greg Macmillan: This is a somewhat technical book on running that explains how various training techniques (like intervals, tempos, slow runs, strides etc) work and helps a runner develop their own training plan using essential building blocks.
- Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt — partly read: A book on the principles of an erstwhile football coach who ended up coaching technocrats and business tycoons who created some the largest companies in the world today.
- The war of art — Steven Pressfield — partly read: It is a hard to describe book. It is a call to action to overcome the deep resistance within us that holds us back from going after our life’s callings.
- 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick: Succinct and endearing book on architectural principles one should consider while building a house.
- Structures: Or Why things don’t fall down by J.E.Gordon: The author, Gordon, explains how various structures that we see around us, like bridges, buildings, aeroplanes, eggshells, spiders etc support the loads that they do without breaking down. An essential civil engineering books for engineers and non-engineers. My interest in reading this book was triggered not just by my innate fascination for big structures but also to see if principles behind their strength and robustness can be carried over into my other areas of interest like personal finance and running.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” — Frederick Douglass
PS: I did not read anything concerning spirituality this year. I fully appreciate the potential cost of not balancing life with deep reflection on spirituality. I am sure it is just a matter of time that this imbalance will force me to resort to spirituality.
Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.
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