What I’ve been reading

21 Lessons for the 21st Century  by Yuval Harari (author of Sapiens)

I tend to learn from Harari the most when he’s looking backwards, not forwards. This book is no different. His historical analysis on war, terrorism, religion, tribes, etc. is always informative. His forward looking speculations tend to vividly follow one logic path forward rather than consider a broader spread of possibilities. Many times throughout this book I found myself thinking, “well, that could be true, but I can think of another dozen ways this could plausibly turnout.” This was especially true on the future of inequality and the economy. But I’m happy reading any book that is even 10% insightful and thought provoking, and this surely beats that mark.

High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil

Another book that easily meets the 10% insightful and thought provoking bar, though on a different subject matter. The book covers what it takes to scale a tech company, with very specific sections on building out necessary verticals (engineering, communications, finance, etc.) – as well as general management lessons on managing team and culture through explosive growth. Each section includes an interview with a top tier CEO who reflects on their own experience. Think of this book as covering a bunch of management topics and prizing earned experience over research. So many great nuggets, but at times careless with causation.

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler

The books serves as very good primer on Robin’s quest (mostly on his blog) to show that so much of what people do is driven by motivations that we don’t talk about; i.e., we care about healthcare both because we want people to be healthy *and* we want to show that we’re the kind of people who care about others. From this thesis, the authors do a good job at showing how policy is distorted by these hidden motives, likely resulting in the waste of trillions of dollars.

Measure What Matters by John Doer

A history and overview of Doer’s OKR system. I’m already converted (we use a modified version of this at The City Fund) so this book was a bit less useful to me, though a quick skim was good reenforcement.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrant

Alcohol is so deeply intertwined with modern life – how is it possible that our country went so far as to pass a constitutional amendment against it? I’ve always been baffled by this question and wanted to learn more. This book was a good primer, especially with how connected prohibition was to how much men used to drink and how little power woman had at home. This was clearly a terrible combination that led to an extreme policy solution.

Skin in the Game by Taleb

Another book that easily meets the 10% insightful and thought provoking bar, though one has to deal with Taleb’s grating personality. The wisdom in the book comes from a rethinking of who should deserve status and praise, with a push toward giving status to people who take real risks for the benefit of us all. The foolishness of the book is how extreme Taleb is in his judgments.

 

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