In 2016 I read 40 books, which is the lowest number in the last few years. It is probably a good thing. A few years ago, I read over 90 books in the year, and much of my year was spent enjoying good books. There is more to life than reading, and as a friend told me, “You should go from reading to doing.”
Here are a few of the more useful books I read.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport — One of the main problems for modern workers is the inability to focus on one task and concentrate. Multi-tasking is accepted as a way of life, and it drains our energy, increases our anxiety and hinders us from being creative and performing deep work. The book looks at great writers and thinkers. Almost all have ordered their lives to avoid distractions in order to produce their best work. The answer for us today is to turn off phones, disconnect from social media, and block off significant chunks of time to focus exclusively on one thing. This may seem obvious to most readers; it brings to mind a quote by Pascal, who said, “There is a vast difference between knowing God and loving him.” There is a big difference between knowing what the right thing to do is and doing it. I highly recommend this book.
- Capital Returns Edited by Edward Chancellor — This book is the best investment book I read in 2016. A few years ago, I used to work at SAC Capital, and my boss told me to ignore demand and focus on supply. Demand is difficult to gauge for most economies and sectors. It is volatile and subject to economic cycles. Supply on the other hand, is much easier to measure. It is easier to spot overcapacity. Industries tend to go through boom and bust cycles, primarily driven by lack of supply and then, as things improve, excess supply. It is counterintuitive, but for many industries, the worst time to invest is when pricing is high and conditions are benign. Good times induce more supply, which brings down margins and prices and leads to economic losses. The best time to invest is when pricing and margins are so poor players exit the industry and reduce the supply, which eventually leads to improved conditions.
- A Blueprint for Better Banking — Banks are generally black boxes. A few analysts who specialize in financials cover them, but otherwise, most people know very little about them. When the financial crisis hit in 2007, many commentators disagreed on the origins of the problem and consequently proposed different solutions. This book is an excellent overview of Handelsbanken, one of the few banks that never required public assistance or a bailout. It looks at the seven cardinal sins of banking and then proposes practical solutions to improve banking practices. This is a very good book for investors, analysts and those involved in public policy.
- In a Dark Wood by Joseph Luzzi — My father sent me this book because I love Dante. The Divine Comedy begins “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura…” You could translate it as, “In the middle of the journey of our lives, I found myself in a dark wood…” We have all been through dark woods in our lives. Joseph Luzzi is a professor of Italian literature at Bard University, and he lost his wife in a car accident. The book is beautiful and moving. I lost my youngest brother in a car accident in 1991, and, like Luzzi, one of my escapes was reading. Dante and Italian writers became my friends and guides. This is a story of love, loss and grief, but it is also a story of healing through reading. It is a highly enjoyable introduction to Dante and the Divine Comedy.
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferrriss — Tim Ferriss has become the high priest of Silicon Valley and yuppies everywhere. His books are best sellers and his podcasts have millions of listeners. That makes him sound very unappealing, but it is impossible not to like him. I don’t have the time or interest to listen to every single podcast he does, but this book summarizes all the key ideas and insights from his countless guests. There are loads of practical insights from successful writers, entrepreneurs and investors. Anyone interested in self-improvement and learning from others should read this book.
- Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz — Anyone who has started a business knows how hard it is to have a vision, create a company and manage employees, investors and customers. I’m not a very big Starbucks fan, as they represent a vast corporation, and I tend to prefer smaller, independent coffee shops. However, Starbucks started as a small, independent coffee shop, and Schultz’s love of coffee is infectious. There are loads of good lessons for entrepreneurs.
- The Golden Sayings of Epictetus — My father and mother read religious writings and philosophy to me and my brothers after dinner each night. (This may explain why my brothers and I are so strange, but I digress.) They read books like St Augustine’s City of God, Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, and others. One of the books they read was The Golden Sayings of Epictetus. The books is filled with wisdom and insight.