Books from 2015

In 2015 I read 49 books.  They were varied, and some were of personal hobbies and interests and not worth writing about here.  However, the more universally interesting ones that I think almost anyone can enjoy are presented below.

  1. Structures by J.E. Gordon — Elon Musk recommended this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not an engineer or scientist, but I could not put the book down and learned a lot.  If you’ve ever had questions about how long bridges can support thousands of cars, or how very tall skyscrapers don’t bend, crack and fall over, this book is for you.
  2. The Big Deal by Bruce Wasserstein — This book is the Bible of M&A history, and it was recommended by Warren Buffett.  If you are interested in investing and corporate strategy, this book is ideal. It chronicles M&A waves over the decades, how deals have changed and gives background on what deals worked and which ones didn’t.  Every investor should read this book.
  3. Dead Companies Walking by Scott Fearon — If you’re an investor, particularly an investor who can short, you should read this book. It has a lot of war stories of companies that went bust, but each story has a key lesson on red flags to find shorts as well as lessons you can learn about dying companies and industries.  I highly recommend it to investment professionals.
  4. A Life Decoded by Craig Ventner — Biotechnology stocks were in a bubble last year, so I read loads of books on biotechnology.  One of the key books was about sequencing DNA.  Craig Ventner’s books is an extraordinary read. I have the greatest admiration for the Ventner.  He is a force of nature, and the world can be grateful for his almost superhuman efforts to decode DNA.
  5. Genentech: The Beginning of Biotechnology — I read this book as well when I was getting up to speed on biotechnology.  Many people have read about Apple, Intel and Microsoft, but not many have read about Genentech.  In the short run, IT firms may change the way we live, but in the very long term Genentech and others may do more to change the human race.  Genentech was the first company to produce a human protein in a microorganism. They also cloned insulin and produced human growth hormone.  The world would never be the same after Genentech was founded.
  6. The Big Fix: How the Pharmaceutical Industry Rips Off American Consumers — This book is a must read for doctors and patients.  Many medicines are not much better than placebos, and patients are treated like consumers who need to be sold more and more drugs, whether they need them or not.  I think patients are vastly over-medicated, and this book should be read by anyone receiving medical care. The book pointed out that most anti-depressants are no better than placebos, yet anti-depressants have horrible side effects (particularly SSRIs, which can cause suicidal thoughts and violent episodes).
  7. The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee — If you’re interested in how the world is changing and will change in unrecognizable ways, you should read this book.  The Industrial Revolution changed the way we worked by mechanizing many previous manual tasks and providing engines and furnaces to make things we couldn’t previous make at scale.  However, today’s new machine age is one that is driven by computers, artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Just as machines led to workers’ riots in the Industrial Revolution as Luddites rejected change, today we will likely see revolts by the unemployed as machines take over more and more tasks. However, it is likely that we’ll find new uses for human labor, even as many jobs are replaced.
  8. My Promised Land by Ari Shavit — My friend Zvi Limon recommended this book, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in Israel and Israel’s history.  The book is captivating and you will not be able to put it down. It looks at big rifts in Israeli society between Arabs and Jews and between secular and religious Jews and does so through key characters and events.
  9. Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect — The first part of the book is fascinating, while the second half is forgettable and worth skipping.  The key idea beyond Social was fascinating to me.  Humans are wired to connect with others, and many studies show that we experience physical pain when we’re rejected, even if it is by strangers.  This is a critical insight. When people reject us socially or when break ups happen, it is natural to be hurt. There is no way around it. We can accept this will happen, feel pain and move on.  Once you realize that, it is a liberating idea.
  10. The E-Myth — This book is an absolute must-read for any entrepreneur or anyone thinking of starting a company. Too many people think that because they’re good at something they should start a company or even small business.  Most businesses don’t scale and most people get burned out. This book offers principles that will help entrepreneurs scale their business and manage growth.  It is invaluable for a small business owner.
  11. Freeman Dyson, Maverick Genius — My father recommended this book, and it was one of the most enjoyable books I read this year.  I hope I can meet Freeman Dyson one year.  His life is like a history book of 20th Century physics.  He was good friends with Richard Feynman and contributed to Feynman’s work that won him a Nobel, but Dyson didn’t receive the prize. He’s touched almost every area of physics and math, yet he writes frequently for the New York Review of Books and has served on many government panels. He’s a man of the world and is an original thinker.
  12. Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer — Every American who cares about politics should read this book.  People think companies and the rich buy politicians. In fact, there is a strong element of extortion and racketeering involved in politics where politicians extort money from the wealthy and from companies.  Excessive power in government and regulation is what allows for an almost mafia-like ability to extort.
  13. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman — Steve Jobs said taking LSD was one of the most important things he did in his life.  Many scientific discoveries have happened due to LSD.  This is the best book to read on psychedelic drugs.  Here is a podcast with him from Tim Ferris’s show. Fadiman explains that hallucinogens are very powerful and should be respected, not treated lightly. He says the most important elements are: 1) the set, or mindset, 2) the setting, as in the physical setting and 3) the guide who looks after you while you do it.  All three can be very bad and augment fears and personality problems if you’re in a bad mindset. But they can all be extremely positive if you have the right set and setting.  Here are two excellent articles here and here. They’re very long, but they’re excellent reads on LSD and mushrooms. They’re long, so get a cup of coffee or glass of wine and enjoy.  They might change how you look at life.
  14. Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales — This book is a must read if you engage in any activities that are dangerous or spend time in the wilderness.  The book examines why most people panic and die in difficult circumstances and why a small number of people survive being lots in the wilderness, being lost at sea, or surviving the impact of a plane crash.  Too many people die near help or civilization, and many die even though their friends survive.  Survivors always keep track of where they are and orient themselves, and they stay cool in a crisis and get away from the danger immediately Surprisingly, most people die after plane crashes from smoke inhalation because they are glued to their seats and afraid to unbuckle their seat belts and get out of a plane. Also, many people have died at sea on small boats when their friends have survived because they gave up, drank sea water and then tried to swim away.  Survivors stay cool and work to survive. A friend who is in the US special forces told me this book is very popular in his community.
  15. Endurance Training by Phil Maffetone — My goal is to do a marathon in the next year and then an ultra-marathon. If you’ve ever wondered why the average person can’t run more than 10 minutes without panting and feeling like they’ll vomit, but some people can run 24 hours straight almost without problems, this book has the answer.  If you don’t believe me, watch this video of Kilian Jornet finishing the Western States 100 smiling and answering questions after almost 24 hours of running video. Great endurance athletes train their body so that they rely almost entirely on fat for energy, and they do this by running at a fairly low heart rate. It takes a lot of training to be able to run at a low heart rate, but once you can do it, you can run for hours and hours. One pound of fat gives you about 3,000 calories and running for an hour is about 600 calories.  So one pound of fat gives you a lot of miles.