Books Read in the Second Half of 2015

One Star

Wrestling for My Life by Shawn Michaels:
I’ve already written before about how Shawn Michaels is one of my personal influences, so it’s not a surprise I picked up his newest biography. Sadly, it’s not one I can widely recommend. Michaels, a born-again Christian, wrote this book primarily to demonstrate examples of how to integrate Christianity into one’s life, with him only using professional wrestling stories to demonstrate how his Christian values informed his work. If you’re a wrestling fan, you won’t find many new behind-the-scenes stories, and if you’re deeply religious, you probably won’t care about the wrestling content.

Three Star

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz:
I decided to read this on the recommendation of multiple friends. It’s not the kind of book I’d typically read. It’s fiction that very much feels like it was written to be read by humanities majors (flowery descriptions, written in the style of specific character voices instead of a distant narrator). “Oscar Wao” is the story of a Dominican family that moves to New York City, and a reflection of the family’s ancestry in their dictator-destroyed homeland. The first half lays a lot of the character groundwork. The second half of the book picks up the pace and visceral-ness. The flashbacks to the brutality of the Dominican Republic and the emotional scars left on those who escaped and their descendants did resonate with me by the end.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway:
I hadn’t read Hemingway before and probably won’t again, considering I was told that “The Sun Also Rises” was the place to start. The story, about a group of young, upper-middle class friends traveling Europe together in the 1920s, doesn’t feel like it goes anywhere. The characters don’t really feel deeply developed either, so what you’re mostly reading is a period piece about the post-World War One “Lost Generation”. I do like Hemingway’s writing style, which is succinct with dialogue that finely balances being timely and modern. Sadly, for an author and book touted as a classic, I did not find the writing style original enough or the message profound enough to earn its status.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari:
I got a Kindle for Christmas, so maybe my first foray into e-book reading influenced my enjoyment of this book. I zoomed through “Modern Romance” in a couple of nonstop, multi-hour sittings. Ansari uses a surprisingly large amount of academic research, combined with his own comedy material, to explain how dating works for the millennial generation. This includes the rise of texting, dating apps, and economic uncertainty. If you’re a fan of Aziz’s standup, his Netflix show “Master of None”, or Tinder, you’ll probably enjoy this.

Four Stars

What to Think About Machines That Think by Edge Magazine and edited by John Brockman:
The 2015 Edge magazine question: “What do you think about machines that think?”. In order to answer this question, I think you have to answer three derivative questions: One, how do you define what is a “machine”? Two, what does it mean for something “to think”? And three, is what you answered in question one capable of doing what you described in question two?

The hundreds of intelligentsia who provided Edge with essay responses gave a whole span of answers to all of these. There’s no specific conclusion, just a lot of food for thought about the future of machines, humanity, and our intertwined fates.

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg:
One of the better business books I’ve read, the former CEO of Google and one of its top leaders speak on a variety of topics based. Interestingly, and no surprise given Google’s numerous awards, the first chapter is on company culture and following chapters on hiring and communication emphasize that people management is a primary task of creating a great company. The other chapter subjects (strategy, decision-making, and innovation) are supported by having the right people and giving them support and room to do their jobs.

The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche and translated by Walter Kaufmann:
I’m generally not a reader of traditional “philosophy” books, especially the classics, because they seem unapproachable due to denseness, less-relevant due to time, or are a lot of fluff without meat. Nietzsche has some of these issues. Yet his phrasing and and logical framing of varied aspects of humanity are so thought-provoking as to make this book very readable and quotable. The Gay Science is organized as a collection of 350+ thought topics, each typically a couple paragraphs. It was written over the course of a decade and covers much ground, including many of the author’s major themes from his other works. I’m still not sure to what extent I agree with his philosophies (which are long, nuanced, and better summarized through his Wikipedia page as opposed to here) because many of the ideas still haven’t been worked through in my own mind.

Shaky Ground: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants by Bethany McLean:
McLean, one of the primary people whose reporting helped expose Enron, has produced third book, highlights our country’s ongoing struggle of managing the mortgage industry. Shaky Ground specifically focuses on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored business that were quasi-nationalized by the government during the 2008 financial crisis. Almost a decade later, the status of these companies hasn’t changed, but they are still operating as a central hub in the housing industry, which itself has thousands of economic spokes all connected to it. Ideological wars between private shareholders in these companies and the two major political parties have ultimately resulted in an unproductive stalemate, leaving our economy still hinged on large, old institutions. The history of these issues and the current quagmire are excellently and concisely reported in a quick 150 pages.

Five Stars and Best Book Read in the Second Half of 2015

High Output Management by Andy Grove:
My first reading of this book and writing about it are incredibly timely: the author and former CEO of Intel passed away a couple weeks ago. We all are lucky that what he left us is the best book on management.

I could describe the details of HOM, the specific tips and directions Grove gave us. However, there are so many great lessons, and the book is thin enough to knock out in a couple sittings, that I’d rather you order a copy and then read this excerpt on Andy Grove by venture capitalist Ben Horowitz:

“Andy himself was a legendary figure. He had grown up Jewish in Hungary during a time when the country was occupied by the Nazis and, later, by the Soviet Communists. Arriving in New York, he spoke no English and had almost no money. He enrolled himself at the City College of New York, overcame his language deficiency, and went on to get a PhD from UC Berkeley. This nonnative English speaker would then write an important textbook on semiconductors in English while working at Fairchild Semiconductor. As a result, he was considered a scientific pioneer even before helping to launch Intel in 1968, building it into the seminal technology company of the era. Later, in 1997, Time magazine would recognize his nearly impossible accomplishments and name him Man of the Year.

This is in part what made High Output Management so extraordinary. Andy Grove, who built himself from nothing to run Intel, stopped what he was doing to teach us his magic. And not through some ghostwriter either — Andy wrote this book himself. What an incredible gift.”

This books is so good, it actually depresses me thinking about how many managers have either not read the book or have read it and not internalized it, because there are so many managers still making preventable mistakes. If you want to ever be a manager, High Output Management is required reading.