About The Book Club:
Every year, I read 52+ books for my Book Club. The genres vary. The lengths vary. The difficulty varies. I learn something new about myself or the world with each new read. Now, with the power of the internet, it’s easier than ever to share your reads with others. Below are my reads for the 2018 Book Club. After each, I give a short blurb of what I thought about the book. Some will have have links to a full length review, while others will contain affiliate links, which is the predominant way this blog makes money and I put food in my belly.
If you’re looking for a more curated list, check out my Book of the Month list for 2018.
2018’s Book Club Reads
Adams, Douglas | Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
I listened to a full cast audio production of this book with British actors. Although the story was strange, the voice acting was excellent and I found myself being engaged the whole time. Fans of Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will have plenty to like here. The same offbeat, zany humor pervades this book, apparent from the very start. Anyone who’s interested in sci-fi humor in the slightest would be a fool to overlook Douglas Adams. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a definite read as far as I’m concerned.
Aurelius, Marcus | Mediations
Meditations came highly recommended by Tim Ferriss and a number of his interview subjects. A wartime emperor of Rome, Aurelius uses his stoic point of view to expound a branch of philosophy that is interesting to say the least. Logic is paramount to pleasure. Thinking above feeling. Regardless of what you may think of such a point of view, this short work is something every business leader and college graduate/student should read. Expose yourself to as many ways of thinking as possible. Your own reality will likely fall somewhere in between these extreme fringes.
Crabtree, Greg | Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!
Simple Numbers was recommended to me by a friend. It is extremely short but the tools you learn are worth far more than the price tag of the book. Particularly useful is the rolling P&L with rows for calculating salary cap and labor efficiency ratios. This is the kind of thing I never learned in business school but wish I had. Read the book, practice the various excel formulas, and get a grasp on the numbers that are really important in your business!
Erickson, Gary | Raising The Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business
Gary Erickson is the found of Clif Bar. Raising the Bar is his manifesto of business practices and an explanation of why he chose not to accept a hefty buyout offer from a major firm. While most of the content is fairly helpful, the formatting of the book was irksome. I think it would be better digitally, with flowing text. As it is there are strange white spaces that are distracting while reading. Ultimately, the book came off a little preachy, but with some stories and practices which are good lessons for entrepreneurs in every field.
Esselstyn Jr., Caldwell B. | Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease presents a different way of thinking about heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn advocates a strict whole foods plant-based diet which his research suggest will reduce cholesterol levels below 150 mg/dL. At those levels, coronary artery disease is practically unheard of. The actual book is only a little over 100 pages, with a couple hundred pages of recipes to help with the meal plan. If you are a person who wants to dabble with a vegan diet and don’t know what to eat, this could be a great start.
Ferriss, Tim | Tribe of Mentors
Tribe of Mentors is the followup to the well-received Tools of Titans. Having read both books, I have to say that Tools of Titans is better, both in content and in execution. However, Tribe of Mentors has a lot of good insights from several dozen prominent figures in as many fields. I will say that just about anyone will find most of the content helpful, and a small percentage spellbinding. It’s worth a read and looks great on the shelf with its substantial presence. Tim Ferriss, you’ve done it again!
Horsley, Kevin | Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster
I really wanted to like Kevin Horsley’s book. I bought it because the title suggested it was right up my alley of lifelong learning. It took until 30% of the way through the book to offer a single insight. When Horsley finally did offer useful memory tips, they were mostly helpful, but were buried under a mountain of fluff. Some people may find this short eBook helpful. I say power to you! I won’t remember it in…ah, already forgot.
Ishikawa, Masaji | A River In Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea
Masaji Ishikawa’s story of how his family was enticed to emigrate to North Korea from Japan in the early days of the Kim regime, and the horrors they saw there will forever color my impression of the hermit state. Although simple in its writing, likely due to the translation from the original Japanese, it packs a powerful emotional punch that sticks with you for long after you’re finished reading it.
Kaku, Michio | The Future of Humanity
Michio Kaku’s most recent book was a twirl future possibilities, from terraforming Mars to sending the humanity consciousness across the cosmos to inhabit automatons. It’s wide in its scope but offers cogent arguments for each of these future technologies’ probabilities. Dr. Kaku has a way of expressing complex subject matter that makes it easy for anyone to understand. For those with a background in science, the text allows some further understanding which I enjoyed. I came across a signed copy on Barnes & Noble’s website for a dollar or two more so I jumped on it. Highly recommend the book.
Kelly, Scott | Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
Scott Kelly’s intriguing memoir was a window into a profession many dream about and few actually get to live. Additionally, his detailed descriptions of the International Space Station augment what little video footage the average person sees of life in space. More than this, he provides examples of the differences between U.S. and Russian launches. Nuances of this strange relationship between the space agencies are seldom talked about in the other books I’ve read on the subject. Kelly’s account of how he was driven to the space program inspire the reader to pursue whatever moonshot goal that’s on their list. With a bit of audacity and hard work, he makes anything feel possible.
Levy, Jaime | UX Strategy
UX Strategy was a brief book which tried to do a lot. Much of the book was dedicated to trying to give the reader many of the basics a business degree would give a person. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries was probably the most cited book, and is a much better read. When the book finally did get to UX Strategy, the material was light. Out of about 280 pages, probably 80 pages dealt directly with UX Strategy and some of those pages where whole page screenshots which often didn’t add much to the book. When I find a better book on the subject I will link it here.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha | The Gene: An Intimate History
I attended a talk by Siddhartha Mukherjee at the University of Nevada, Reno and was very impressed by his ability to convey complex information to an audience. The Gene is his followup to the Pulizer Prize winning The Emperor of All Maladies, which is also on my bookshelf for this year’s Book Club. His writing is gripping and he makes otherwise dry information pop off the page. There has never been a more cogent history of genetics and epigenetics, and it will likely be some time before someone can top him. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who is remotely interested in the history of science!
O’Reilly, Bill and Dugard, Martin | Killing Lincoln
I’m 90% sure that everything but the introduction to this book was written by Martin Dugard, and I have to say that he’s an excellent storyteller. I’ve read several other books he’s been credited on and each was well-researched and read like a thriller. The entire book takes place during April 1865, and it’s amazing how much history was crammed into that one month. The conspiracy theories involving the Lincoln assassination are touched on to varying degrees, some of them more convincingly than others.
Thiel, Peter | Zero To One: Notes on Startups, Or How to Build the Future
Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One contains moments that are profound and imminently helpful in every entrepreneurial sense. However, it comes across a bit braggadocious for my taste, never missing a chance to pat himself or one of his friends on the back. To be sure, Thiel has made many important marks on a number of startups which have grown to become powerhouses in business. For that reason listening to this audiobook was worth my time, but it left me with no sense of idolatry of the man behind it.
The framework for thinking that the book presents is an interesting one, but not always useful in every industry and with every entrepreneur. It tends to neglect the fact that incremental improvements in products or systems are sometimes as important as great leaps forward. For instance, the internet was a giant leap forward, and many of the early companies that harnessed it went from zero to one (i.e. Google). However, think about every incremental improvement to the internet that has happened since Google’s search engine debuted. New algorithms, cleaner look, faster load times, more relevant results, and so on. Thiel seems to believe the only reason to get into business is to do something that’s never been done at all, rather than to do something that’s already being done, better. I think both are relevant and both should be pursued. Even if your product is just a better-tasting version of another food product, that innovation builds on the innovations before it.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton
Wickman, Gino | Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business
Gino Wickman introduces his entrepreneurship system in Traction. EOS, as he calls it, seems like a combination of multiple approaches I was taught in business school. Still, it is simple, powerful, and something I will definitely want to implement in my workplace. Wickman helps the reader dial down to their key values and teaches how to make crucial hiring and firing decisions to help grow your business. The sheer logic of the tools he introduces are worth the entry price of buying the book. I would highly recommend this book to business owners and key decision makers within any business.