4+ books that might change your mind – 2020 Edition

It was hard to narrow the list down to 5 books this year. So, I thought I’d share my top 4 and a collection of books that share 5th place.

1) Debt by David Graeber (Amazon): An anthropological dive into 5,000 years of human history from the lens of debt. I wrote an ode to the book recently – so, I will minimize repetition. In sum, this is a special book thanks to the audacity of what it attempts and the elegance with which it delivers it.

2) Range by David Epstein (Amazon): An important read because it is an antidote to the “start early and specialize as quickly as possible” advice that is often peddled. While it might appear that David Epstein is against the notion of deliberate practice and specialization, I didn’t take it as such. Instead, his push is for us to appreciate breadth and the meandering path we might take to figure out what we want to specialize in. He makes the case (repeatedly – my only quibble with the book) that the meandering path gives us the range to make the specialization count.

3) The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner (Amazon): If you haven’t read much philosophy and are curious about great philosophers and their schools of thought, this is the book for you. Eric brings together a witty travelogue, stories about the lives of great philosophers, a summary of their work, and insights about his attempts at applying their lessons. It made philosophy accessible – thank you, Eric!

4) The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger (Amazon): This book is to corporate leaders what Shoe Dog is to sports entrepreneurs and The Hard Things About Hard Things is to tech entrepreneurs. Surprisingly candid, incisive, and insightful. A phenomenal read – the sort of book that should be mandatory reading in every graduate school of business.

I had a collection of books that all made it to 5th place.

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel (Amazon) was an insightful take on how to think about thinking about money.

Upstream by Dan Heath (Amazon) tackles an important subject – how to solve problems before they happen.

Reboot by Jerry Colonna (Amazon) is a book built on the idea that “better humans make better leaders.” Jerry notes on leadership, insecurities, and love make for a beautiful read.

Several short sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Amazon) is a masterpiece on writing. It also packs plenty of wisdom about skills, practice, and life.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (Amazon) – I was curious about Michelle Obama’s memoir thanks to her grace and charisma in her speeches and interviews. This was a fun narration of the Obama story from her perspective.

Past editions of “Books that might change your mind” –20192018201720162015201420122011

My reviews of these books (and more) are on RohanRajiv.blog

Reading non-fiction – breadth and depth

It is interesting how often new year resolutions involving non-fiction books focus on breadth (e.g. targeting x books to read per month) and how few, if any at all, focus on depth.

As I’ve come to realize, breadth targets with non-fiction books are the equivalent of vanity metrics. If the goal is learning and growth, there is often more to be gained by picking ONE great book on a topic that matters to us and seeking to simply master the concepts of that book over the course of the year.

That’s because the act of reading alone doesn’t result in learning. It is the synthesis, reflection, and action that follows that results in learning.

In books as in many other things, choosing depth points to wisdom and potential transformation.

Great book experiences and oh shit moments

The best leading indicator of a great non fiction book experience is not the source of the recommendation or its average rating on Amazon. It is the “oh shit – I really need to learn that” moment that precedes searching for it. The intensity of that desire to learn what the book is about is the best indicator I’ve found.

That is not how we normally look for books – the common approach I’ve observed is to ask externally and then check in internally to narrow the list down. For example, we might 1) ask around to see what folks we know recommend or skim some successful person’s reading list and 2) ask ourselves which of the books recommended sounds most interesting.

But, we get much better results when we flip the order. As is the case with many of life’s best experiences, the journey needs to start with an understanding of what we want to learn.

And, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

PS: I came across a great articulation of this by Naval Ravikant – “just in time” vs. just in case.”

The Art of Learning and other great books

I’ve updated my book reviews blog with reviews and notes from 8 books from the first half of the year. Of these, “The Art of Learning” was my absolute favorite. There were many lessons that stuck chords deep within.

But, “The Art of Learning” may not be the book you are seeking right now. And, if that’s the case, there are 226 other non fiction books that have been reviewed and categorized. I’ve attempted to provide a quick overview of the theme of the book, share my top takeaways, and in many cases, also shared notes I took along the way. These notes aren’t intended to be a sharing of learning – notes and summaries can’t do that as they are notes based on what resonated for the note taker. They’re simply intended to provide more color into what the book is about.

Great book experiences only become so when we are ready to soak the learning in them. Hopefully, this resource helps you find a book that you’re seeking right now.

Somewhere in there is a book that will likely change your life… I hope you find it.

5 books that might change your mind – 2016 edition

Here are 5 books I read this year that might change how you see the world –

1. The Accidental Superpower by Peter ZeihanIf you haven’t considered the world from a lens of geopolitics, The Accidental Superpower will likely blow your mind. I found the first half of the book particularly powerful. It included a view of the history of super powers from the eye of geopolitics. And, despite having read a similar view on history in another book, this was beautifully synthesized. Following that, Zheihan explains what’s going on by focusing on population demographics. Again, fascinating. The second half focuses on prediction. And, prediction is very hard. So, I took that bit with a helping of salt. After reading the book, I did wonder why we don’t teach geopolitics at school. I guess it flies against the face of our general narrative about what makes super powers. Geopolitics contends that it is all about geography.

(Note: There’s another geopolitics based book “The Next 100 Years” by George Friedman. Friedman was Peter Zheihan’s former manager.)

2. The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly: Kevin Kelly talks technology in a way only he can. He takes twelve verbs that technology has impacted (cognifying, sharing, updating, etc.) and takes them to their logical end. In that process, he gives us a view into what our future might be. It is powerful.

3. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: One of the most beautiful books about entrepreneurship I’ve read. It isn’t a manual in the way “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” is. Instead, it is a story from the heart of Nike’s legendary founder. It feels authentic and real while also being It is not just about the fact that it is beautifully written (it is), it feels authentic and real. Phil Knight takes us on a journey where he impresses upon us the strength of his belief that the world is a better place when we run with great shoes.

He makes mistakes and a couple of very questionable ethical decisions. Yet, we find it in our heart to forgive him. Somehow, he makes us feel the desperation that drove him in that moment. And, he then goes onto teach us how mission driven businesses are built. He explains that a business is about money just as living is about pumping blood. You need both. But, life and business are about a lot more than that.

And, while you are at it, I’d recommend picking the Audible version. Norbert Leo Butz does a fantastic job.

4. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias. An oldie, but a goodie. At its heart, it is really simple. Andrew Tobias explains that a penny saved is actually a lot more valuable than a penny earned since Ben Franklin didn’t have to deal with taxes in his time. So, save a lot more than you earn. And, once you do that, develop a simple approach to investing. Of course, he patiently lays out all the ways we can do that. But, this book isn’t so much about investing as it is about a mindset.

5. Daring Greatly by Brene BrownBrene Brown brings her research on shame and vulnerability together in this beautiful book. It is fascinating to learn that women have about 10 shame triggers. And, appearance and body image top the list followed by parenting. Men, on the other hand, have one very powerful trigger – showing weakness, or in her research’s terms, “being a pussy.” She also inspired my theme for 2017 – engagement. She wisely pointed out that we spend too much time asking questions like – “Am I being good/perfect?” Instead, we should ask – “Am I being engaged? Am I paying attention?” No good comes from seeking perfection. ”
(Quick note: The audio book narration didn’t work for me in this case.)

Here’s the Amazon list.

Books that almost made this list:
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck is a classic. The first half of the book was incredibly impactful. I especially loved his definition of love.
Peak by Anders Ericsson is the ultimate guide to deliberate practice research from the master himself.
Deep Work by Cal Newport rails against our distraction filled work environments and presses us to think deeper about depth in our work.
Persuadable by Al Pitampalli beautifully explains why it is important that we change our mind.
And, finally, Einstein by Walter Isaacson has a life lesson about not taking ourselves and our world seriously in addition to the expected lessons on curiosity and perseverance.

Other resources: Past lists of “5 books” – 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011. Book reviews here and book notes here.

Happy reading!

Drinking enough water

Are you drinking enough water? A friend went down the path and stumbled onto something insightful – the more you drink water, the quicker you feel thirsty. Suddenly, drinking enough water becomes very easy.

I think this is the case with most things in life – both good and bad. It is how you’d describe addiction.

Sadly, the moment I said addiction – you probably pictured one of tobacco, drugs or alcohol. But, it need not be the case. Here are 5 alternative worthwhile addictions –

1. Enough sleep
2. Healthy food
3. Exercise
4. Journaling
4. Reading books

Somehow, we’ve come to associate the items with the list with that experience of eating greens as a child. But, all you need to do is give one of these a shot. For example, just try reading a great non-fiction book that you’d like to read this week. I’d be surprised if you aren’t already excited about the next.

When I started reading regularly a few years ago, I did it to check a box – read 30 minutes at least on 4 weekdays. But, then, a couple of books in, I could feel myself getting excited about the insights I was picking up. Suddenly, the world didn’t look or feel the same again. I wanted more. Years later, books still continue to deliver and continue to keep shaping how I think of the world. I just finished listening to “The Accidental Superpower” – a gripping book on Geopolitics. It has changed how I think about the world. I am also listening to “Shoe Dog” by Nike founder Phil Knight. It is as beautifully written, authentic and inspiring a listen as they come.

I can say this for every one of these addictions.

The friend who shared her water insight wondered why people don’t share that drinking enough water gets easier over time.

So, I thought I’d take a cue from her and do just that with you today. Doing the good stuff may feel hard at first. But, it gets easier. It also gets better. And, most importantly, it feels great.

And, if someone ever tells you otherwise, send me an email on rohan at rohanrajiv.com and I’ll help set that right.

PS: If you are ever wondering about whether you are drinking enough water, simply take a look at your pee.

Our body and science. Crazy awesome. I agree.

Books that made an impact – 2015

I’ve shared my favorite books in 3 of the last 4 years. I generally manage to read ~25 books per year. This number has effectively halved while at school given all the reading I get through for coursework. So, I’d predicted I’d read 12 books this year during my end of year review of books that made an impact last year. I managed 14 (woohoo!) and I thought I’d pick out 4 fantastic books.

Books, 2015, impact,

1. Mastery by Robert Greene. I read half this book in 2014 and half in 2015. Many of the lessons from this stuck resonated deeply. While I didn’t necessarily find many of the topics around deliberate practice and effort new, I thought Greene’s take on emotional intelligence and managing mentorship enlightening. The most powerful lesson for me was – “Don’t listen to what people say, pay careful attention to what people do.” This sounds pretty obvious. But, it came to me at a time when I really needed this advice.

Great book. A must read.

2. How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. Another book that receives my highest recommendation. Scott Adams is smart, savvy and lives his life as an experimenter. I love and relate to his approach to life and I think he’s gotten the skill of living well down pat. He has plenty of practical advice about success and day-to-day living. There are many favorite lessons from the book. However, his theory on collecting many mediocre skills versus mastery in just one and his insistence of designing systems versus setting goals are my favorites.

3. The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. This book is a history of technology from the times of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. I found this book both interesting and inspiring. It definitely helped solidify some of my thinking around the power of teams while also helping me understand the nature of innovation.

4. High Output Management by Andy Grove. I’ve written about this book in the past few weeks. A good part of this book wasn’t completely new to me as the wonderful Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” was clearly inspired by Andy’s style. But, Andy’s “tell-it-as-it-is” style combined with his piercing insight on the science of management make this a management classic.

As always, book reviews from all books this year and before are on my book reviews blog. The books are categorized into 4 priorities based on the strength of their impact in my life.

Here’s to more reading in 2015. And, just for fun, I’ll continue the trend of making predictions and predict 18 books read next year as I expect the number to go up once I’m out of school.

Happy reading!

5 books that made an impact – from 2014

I generally do a “Book of the year” feature at the end of the year and realized I didn’t do it during the holiday season.

So, here’s a belated version of the 5 books that made a huge impact on me in 2014.

1. Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Decisive has been the single biggest influence on my decision making. I was so inspired by the book that I created this learnographic with a talented friend, shared around 20 posts on decision making learnings from Decisive on this blog and even carry a small pocket card summarizing the framework.

It is an outstanding book and is one I’d recommend to every person interested in leading a better life. The quality of our decisions play a big role in the quality of our lives. This book helps improve the quality of those decisions.

2. The Hard thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. The Hard Thing about Hard Things isn’t for everyone. That said, if you have an interest in technology, start-ups, building companies or leading teams, it is the closest a book comes to an instruction manual. Ben’s thinking on the topic of building a company is profound. And, I expect to read this book many times over in the next few years.

3. How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes. One of my favorite parts about graduate school is learning how many of the building blocks of the world we live in actually work. And, this book provided me a great crash course in economics and the economy. It is a fun read. The book definitely has a political agenda and there are a few things about the theory espoused that aren’t perfect. However, it makes for a great read and is almost guaranteed to pique your interest in the working of the global economy.

4. The Everything Store by Brad Stone. I shared this book with a close friend who has been working in the tech industry for the past 3 years. He said he was so blown away by this book’s take on Amazon and Jeff Bezos that he’s started buying everything on Amazon.com. I wasn’t surprised.

For those interested in technology, entrepreneurship, retail, e-commerce, the phenomenon called Amazon.com or simply learning more about one of the greatest entrepreneur of this generation, this book is a must-read.

5. What To Do When It Is Your Turn by Seth Godin. Super biased recommendation here as I’ve shared before. But, hey, I’m talking about books that had an impact on me. :)

Other great books that almost made the list that I’d recommend in a heart beat – Give and Take by Adam Grant, In The Plex by Steven Levy (Google), The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt (Operations Management), and Flash Boys/Boomerang/Moneyball by Michael Lewis. As for 2015, I have many books queued on my Audible – some of these are How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Dilbert creator Scott Adams, The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson, The Art of Thinking Clealy by Rolf Dobelli among others. And, I’m reading Mastery by Robert Greene and The Innovators by Walter Isaacson now.

Thanks to tons of interesting reading in graduate school, I’ve been reading less than usual. I think I only read 19 books last year (I average 24 usually) and I expect a low yield year this year too (12 good books would be a big win). But, every few months, I share reviews on all books I’ve read on RohanRajiv.com and also share a summary of my notes on The BookBytes Project Tumblog – that will not change. Many of these make their way here. The tumblog is just the unedited version straight out of the Notes app on my phone.

Hope this helps. And, happy reading!