Short-Selling During the Coronavirus

Steve Eisman in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short – “In 2008, it was the entire financial system that was at risk. We were still short. But you don’t want the system to crash. It’s sort of like the flood’s about to happen and you’re Noah. You’re on the ark. Yeah, you’re okay. But you are not happy looking out at the flood. That’s not a happy moment for Noah.”

There’s a third type of investor during these times: the short-sellers.

I didn’t intend to become someone who makes money from suffering from others. It’s a mindset some people have, gained often through negative life experiences, a desire for truth, or just genetic skepticism. For me, it’s the first two.

That said, I’ve been having my most profitable month in the stock market at a time when many people have been panicking.

This is because, in January, I took short positions on four companies:

Continue reading “Short-Selling During the Coronavirus”

Books Read in the Second Half of 2019

As a reference, my grading scale is (without any one or two star books this time):

Two Stars: Not recommended, except for those very interested in the subject.

Three Stars: Recommended, may cover too niche a topic to get a stronger recommendation for a broad audience, is only high-level coverage of its theme, or just moderately interesting fiction.

Four Stars: Recommended, well-written, and covers material I think most people would find useful or interesting.

Five Stars: Strongly recommended to everyone.

Additionally, I pick one book every six months as the “best book I’ve read” during that time period.

Themes from these six months:

  • “Gig Economy” and Temporary Work: Since I’ve started working at Y Combinator alum Bluecrew moving industrial temp staffing to a tech platform, I’ve dived into the industry’s literature.
  • Accounting: Brushing up my knowledge on the field in which I’ve occasionally worked.
  • The Legal System: Between the current state of our politics and an increase in my own experiences with lawyers over the past year, both personally and professionally, I’ve got multiple books which cover how our legal system works.
  • Japanese Culture: Three books spent time covering Japan, two for a couple chapters and one entirely.
  • Books from Mad Men: The show is my favorite drama and features multiple books from the shows time period. I’ve now read a couple of them.

Two Stars (Not Recommended)

A Warning by Anonymous, A Senior Trump Administration Official

All the President’s Men this is not. Allegedly written by a member of the Trump administration, this insider account doesn’t really say anything new. The main news that came from Anonymous’s leaks was the idea of the “Steady State”, those in Trump’s team who stayed to work in the White House because they felt the world would be better with them filtering Trump than if they weren’t there. But, you know, anyone paying attention would’ve guessed this was happening. It’s short, but only worth reading if you can’t help your addiction to Trump stories.

Three Stars (Recommended)

Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara

“I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again.” – Don Draper quoting Frank O’Hara in Season 2

I don’t read a lot of poetry, but since this collection was featured in Mad Men season two and I’m dedicated in my fandom for the things I like, I picked this up. It’s a lot thinner than I expected. O’Hara has a sense of seriousness yet levity, so I can see why he was both popular and influential to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

Poems I liked: “To the Film Industry in Crisis”, “Les Etiquettes Jaunes”, and the final poem also featured in Mad Men, “Mayakovsky”.

Gigged – The End of the Job and the Future of Work by Sarah Kessler

The rise of Uber, Doordash, Instacart, Etsy, and the rest of the tech platforms of the past decade have created what’s commonly called the “gig economy”: what used to be called “temporary work” rebranded for the modern digital, app-driven world.

Specifically, Kessler tells stories from both sides of the “Gig economy”: the employers Uber, Gigster, Managed by Q, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and then people (not employees) who work for these services. She’s sympathetic to both sides without being preachy about perceived slights against workers that can be popular in the media.

Kessler concludes this compact book with an overview of the challenges and opportunities ahead: How can society ensure health benefits for these contractors? And a chance at retirement or support in old age? It’s still too early for anyone to know how it’ll play out.

Attempting Normal by Marc Maron (Audiobook):

I like Maron’s comedy and podcast, so I bought his audiobook. It delivered exactly what I expected. This biography covers the almost-cliched stories one would expect from a middle-aged standup comic: a dysfunctional childhood with borderline deadbeat parents leads to a quasi-directionless life and broken relationships. Some of the stories (such as The Legend of Frankie Bastille) have been retold by Maron elsewhere, yet he’s such an entertaining speaker that he really sells his own audiobook in a way no other author has. I’m not sure if Attempting Normal would be more or less funny if I didn’t find it so relatable.

On the Future – Prospects for Humanity by Martin Rees

Rees, the Astronomer Royal of the British Royal household, provides an overview of both ends of the spectrum on humanity’s prospects, contemplating our existential risks (such as our reliance on everything being a fragile electronically networked system and nuclear threats) through the opportunities of biotech and artificial intelligence to expand our capabilities. This segues nicely into projecting about a post-human future (which seems inevitable the way he describes it). Also unexpected is a section where Rees very seriously discusses how we might find alien life, which may seem unrelated to the book’s title if except that the collision of aliens and human descendants may be likelier on the cosmological timeline than people intuitively understand. He brings this short book back to Earth by recommending that the scientific establishment today could let loose a little by losing its ivory tower-ness and welcoming the amateurs, a message I support.

Four Stars (Highly recommended for those interested in topic, or generally recommended for anyone)

What You Do is Who You Are – How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz

Horowitz’s last book (The Hard Thing About Hard Things) is one of the best management and leadership books of the past decade. His latest books is shorter and is more focused on a specific organizational problem: culture.

It’s a slippery subject that Horowitz pins down with one overarching theme: culture is your “virtues” (what you’re willing to do) rather than your “values” (what you believe). It’s an applied stance on an old philosophical debate; what’s more important, intentions or actions?

He illustrates this idea with four historical, non-business examples: the Japanese samurai, the Genghis Khan military, the slave revolution of Haiti, and Detroit prisons. They may seem extreme, but often you’ve got to give extreme examples to get a point across.

The only passage I disliked is when Horowitz listed Google ex-Chief Lawyer as an example of someone who can thrive in a company as culture changes over time and called himself a “chameleon”. Drummond is a pretty well-known psychopath who was finally forced to resign a couple weeks ago after news of Drummond’s multiple affairs with employees, including having a kid with a staffer and then firing the mother, came to light. This had been industry news for a while before the recent firing and I found it odd that Horowitz would choose to leave the Drummond reference in the book.

Financial Shenanigans – How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks and Fraud in Financial Reports, Third Edition by Howard Schilit and Jeremy Perler

I am occasionally known for my intense dislike of fraud and white-collar crime. For this reason, it’s surprising it took me this long to read the definitive book on the methods for identifying corporate malfeasance. The authors go into gritty detail about the various nefarious methods used by immoral managers to deceive the public, investors, and media about how well (or not) their businesses are doing. This is a must-read for any investor.

My favorite fun fact learned from this book: recipients of Chief Financial Officer Magazine’s annual Excellence Award from 1998, 1999, and 2000 are all in jail (WorldCom’s Scott Sullivan, Enron’s Andy Fastow, and Tyco’s Mark Swartz, respectively) . Let this be a reminder to all that just because someone is rewarded for their work doesn’t mean they earned it.

I Like to Watch – Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum (Audiobook)

“How to write about a divisive show? Wait a decade.” – Nussbaum in her defense of Sex and the City

If all my Chuck Klosterman reading wasn’t a giveaway, I love following pop-culture. And especially television, as it’s an art form I’ve spent more time with and thought more about (than music or movies). Here, Emily Nussbaum, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has compiled an anthology of her TV criticism for The New Yorker (and reads them for her audiobook).

She has a bunch of pieces I love, opening with a comparison between TV and Poetry which explains why she focused her career on TV because, while she was working on her PhD in Literature, TV was not taken seriously as an art form until The Sopranos. This segues into my favorite analysis of The Sopranos, written by her immediately following its controversial finale aired. Following the Sopranos piece, she steps back and reflects on the origins of the TV anti-hero, tracing it back to the 70s Norman Lear-dominated era and (as she calls him) the original anti-hero Archie Bunker.

I won’t review every essay in this hefty collection, but a couple of the feminist essays I really enjoyed was her analysis of Sex and the City (a show I did binge from start-to-finish) where she gives it the commemoration it deserves for its role in history, and a two-hour epic speech on the Bill Cosby, Louis CK, and the arguments around separating art from artists. Her dissection of this complex issue is the most thorough I’ve heard.

Alchemy – The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland

Ever since David Ogilvy made it popular, every advertising executive writes a book. Sutherland, now the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK, has published his compendium of marketing ideas and lessons learned from his career in advertising.

Taking ideas from behavioral economics and Nassim Taleb, what Rory calls “alchemy” is really an arbitrage on the gap between what mid-century economics and business schools taught businesspeople to think about human behavior versus what people actually do.

Part philosophy and part sharp observations, I’d recommend this as a palatable way for practicing marketers or executives to think differently about how they approach problem-solving.

The End of Accounting – And the Path Forward for Investors and Managers by Baruch Lev and Feng Gu

The accounting industry has a problem: no one seems to care about accounting paperwork anymore!

The title is purposefully hyperbolic as a physical-world equivalent to clickbait so people will read something much more subtle than they expect. The main argument of the book: the three major accounting statements (cash flow statement, balance sheet, income statement) are no longer used by investors (who use other data sources to make decisions) and is therefore a huge waste of time and money for the companies that have to produce all this paperwork. These professors have their own prescription.

Drs. Lev and Gu have published a unique book. It’s got the rigor and gravitas of an academic paper, sprinkled with the humor and levity of a couple of guys who feel like they’re tired of this shit.

I won’t give a full recount of their arguments and the subject matter because it would sound dense. But as good academics should, they’re trying to bring light to problems that are bigger and more systemic than they seem. Or, in the authors’ own words: “Our nightmare: that a student will ask us what this means and who cares about it.”

Temp – How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary by Louis Hyman

Temp work has been around a whole lot longer than what people think of as the modern “gig economy”, and it’s a whole lot more pervasive. Louis Hyman’s history of temporary work in America is a comprehensive retelling of the 20th century through the lens of increasing economic instability.

Starting from the decline of the pre-industrial revolution agricultural economy, Temp tells the story of three major types of temporary work: consultants (primarily of the white-collar, McKinsey type), industrial and office (the decline of unions and their on-call replacements), and immigrants (and how changes in legislation have paradoxically encouraged and discouraged migrants from working in agriculture and Silicon Valley factories).

Though Temp leans slightly liberal in framing increased liquidity in the labor market as a negative, he gives fair shake to the benefits it has for companies and the greater economy. He ends the book with optimism for a future where everyone can survive the automation age, earn a living wage by contributing their unique skills and passions into the economy, and receive the security of housing and healthcare. If the history he recounts is any indication, it will be easier written than done.

Double Entry – How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance by Jane Gleeson-White

Simultaneously concise and artistic, Gleeson-White has written a consumable history of accounting. With her unique background, having studied economics in undergrad before getting a Phd in Literature, she does a tremendous job intertwining the two subjects, starting with the role counting had in the creation of writing (early humans used speech and writing as much for quantifying as they did for other communications).

From there, she tells the story of renaissance Venice (with due credit to the numerical advances of Eastern societies) and Luca Pacioli, credited as the founder of accounting for his work standardizing the bookkeeping methods used throughout industrial Italy into the first accounting textbook. Accounting as a profession grows from there as a key component of capitalism and the modern world. A well-executed book that’s as informative as it is easy to read.

Raised in Captivity – Fictional Nonfiction by Chuck Klosterman

Do animals eat healthy? Would you still be friends with someone if they swore they only accidentally killed someone? What’s the greatest thing you could ever see, and how would your life change if you saw it?

Klosterman’s newest book is another experiment in form for the author known for his celebrity journalism, nonfictional music and sport criticism, and a couple long-form novels. Captivity is a fictional short story collection unlike anything I’ve read. The closest comparisons are The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, with premises are more grounded in the current state of the world. How you feel thinking about this review’s opening questions probably reflects on how you’ll like Raised in Captivity.

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Whether you agree or disagree with Snowden’s actions, he’s got an unbelievable and unusual story to tell.

What really strikes me is that this is the first millennial memoir I’ve read. I can relate to his early life spent playing videogames and learning computer programming when parents aren’t around.

From there the story forks into the distinctly Snowden life. Things I did not know going in: he came from a military family, decided to go into Army because of 9/11, eventually ends up back in military technology after an injury during Army training, and the rest is history as his information technology works leads him to discover the government capabilities the public was unaware of. If you’re reading this review and haven’t heard of this guy, google him. He leaked a lot of classified government documents on how they surveil citizens. The government was not thrilled.

He’s clearly a thoughtful, ideological guy. Although the book is a bit of a hagiography, he’s been so persecuted by the government you understand why he wants to defend himself.

This story ends with a final chapter published from his girlfriend’s diary about how she learned Snowden’s story. It’s a scenario no one can relate to, and her diary does its best to convey how utterly insane the story you just read is.

Five Stars (Highly Recommend to Everyone)

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword – Patterns of Japanese Culture by Ruth Benedict

I picked this book because it was used for the title of a Mad Men episode.

Published in 1946 (a mere five years after Pearl Harbor), Benedict explains Japanese culture to the Western world in the aftermath of World War Two. I imagine that what she accomplished here is what all aspiring anthropologists hope to achieve in their careers.

Since, for a modern reader, this may be more of a reflection on times past than on the Japan of today, I won’t try to summarize the book or the Japanese culture, except to say it was a revelatory contrast to America in the 1940s.

Fundamentally, the reason this will stick with me is because it’s probably the best book on how to appreciate and interpret alternative perspectives. That is a lesson everyone needs to learn.

The Billion Dollar Molecule: One Company’s Quest for the Perfect Drug by Barry Werth

Josh Boger is just barely on the right-side of crazy.

In the 1980s, the founder of a new biotech/pharmaceutical startup agreed to let journalist Barry Werth inside his nascent company and document its story. Having been an early employee at venture capital-backed companies, this is not something I would recommend.

The company is Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and its goal was to revolutionize the drug discovery process. Boger, a rising star at pharmaceutical powerhouse Merck, leaves to accomplish what he feels he cannot inside the corporate bureaucracy: build drugs atom-by-atom, a quantum leap from the Merck method of scouring nature for undiscovered molecules in plants and animals.

What ensues is the stuff of startup lore: Boger uses his power of persuasion and industry reputation to recruit a tight-knit team he can barely afford, fundraise from anyone who will write a decent check from Wall Street to Japanese ramen conglomerates, and race against time and science to revolutionize an industry.

Werth’s writing is phenomenal, knowing how to get just the right quotes from this set of brilliant minds. The emotional highs and lows of startup life may have never been depicted better, with chemists living in freezing labs, hoping to find the compounds that will make them legends of their field, and the executives feeling the strain where scientific excellence and capitalistic realities intersect.

It is nice to read such a stressful story (which concludes still early in the company’s life with its fate still uncertain), look up where Vertex is today, and see that it’s a $50 billion publicly traded company leading the world in the application of CRISPR. And presumably most of the early people who gave their sweat and blood to the business are now reasonably rich.

The Best Book I Read in the Second Half of 2019

The Lawyer Bubble – A Profession in Crisis by Steven Harper

All of the socioeconomic bubbles (college, corruption, and concentration of wealth) people are worried about are alive and well in the legal industry. Harper, now a law professor at Northwestern, does a precise job deconstructing his own profession and its constituents.

The law schools are charging too much and caring too little about students future career prospects. The media is using phony, game-able ranking systems to sell subscriptions and keep themselves relevant. The government continues to underwrite some of its largest student loans to prospective students who will never repay or discharge them, trapping them for life. And the big law firms exploit cheap recent-grad labor to generate profits for elderly owners who founded a firm forty years ago in simpler times and now sit atop empires.

Harper offers his solutions, attempting to stay pragmatic as opposed to idealistic, and he is optimistic that change is already underway as news of the industry’s unsustainability spreads. But this is another entry into the increasingly-long list of tear-downs of society where the allegedly-intelligent are making a lot of dumb decisions and refuse to act against their own interests.

Paul Graham Essays Categorized by Topic

Since I live in a different town from my family, the holidays are the majority of the time I get to spend with my twelve year-old brother (we have a 17 year age gap).

Now that he’s nearly a teenager, he’s almost the age I was when I started thinking independently from family and friends. For me, a big part of that was discovering Paul Graham’s essays. Hopefully one day my brother reads through them (but I won’t force him).

This got me thinking: if I were to recommend them to him, would I want him to read them chronologically? Or should I point him to specific essays based on his interests?

Alternatively, if one were to compile all of Paul’s essays into a collection or a Hackers and Painters sequel, how would it be organized?

So below is my attempt at tagging Paul Graham’s essays by subject matter.

Startups – General Lessons:

Startups – On Location:

Startups – On Ideas:

Startups – For Founders:

Startups – On Investors:

Philosophy

Wisdom and Knowledge

Charisma

Economics

Immigration

Inequality

Patents

Credentialism

Math

Writing

Tech Industry Trends

Computer Programming

Spam Filtering

Distractions and Addictions

Art and Design

Y Combinator

PG’s Life

Books Read in the First Half of 2019

As a reference, my grading scale is (without any one or two star books this time):

Three Stars: Recommended, may cover too niche a topic to get a stronger recommendation for a broad audience, is only high-level coverage of its theme, or just moderately interesting fiction.

Four Stars: Recommended, well-written, and covers material I think most people would find useful or interesting.

Five Stars: Strongly recommended to everyone.

Additionally, I pick one book every six months as the “best book I’ve read” during that time period.

Themes from these six months:

  • Chuck Klosterman: I’ve completed the Chuck Klosterman collection, including his two novels.
  • Alan Lightman: A physicist-novelist recommended by my good friend Ritoban Thakur has a unique voice which bridges spirituality with science.
  • Technology Company Growth and Management
  • Stripe Press: A new publishing company with the goal of advancing economic and technological ideas also puts great care into their uniquely designed and high quality physical book covers.

Three Stars (Recommended)

Sales Engagement: How the World’s Fastest-Growing Companies are Modernizing Sales Through Humanization at Scale by Manny Medina, Max Altschuler, Mark Kosoglow:

Definitely better than Max Altschuler’s growth hacking because it focuses on tactics over tools. It’s still a not-subtle promotional book to sell their sales tool Outreach. To be fair, it does pretty comprehensively cover modern sales automation challenges and opportunities, so someone who hasn’t done sales beforehand would probably get some value out of this.

Let’s Go (So We Can Go Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discord by Jeff Tweedy (Audiobook):

My favorite childhood teacher got me this as part of an audiobook swap. I had never heard of the band Wilco before. For being a professional singer, Tweedy’s reading of his own biography started off flat until he seemed to audibly ease into it.

He’s got some reflective moments that I haven’t heard enough artists talk about, particularly that later in life he felt maybe he could’ve contributed more to the world, maybe become a scientist, if he had a different upbringing or gone to different schools as a kid. That’s the kind of thing I think non-artists suspect but don’t hear very often.

My favorite segments were near the end when both his wife and son get to read their own chapters about living with a rock-star (and all the drug abuse that comes with it). This audiobook was recorded in Chicago and for that it wins extra brownie points.

Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman

Killing Yourself to Live tells two stories: A request by his editor at Spin magazine sends Chuck on a road trip in a rented Ford Taurus to places around the country where rock musicians have died (sometimes by their choosing and mostly not) presumably as a way to help readers understand life. Layered on top of this premise is Chuck recounting his love for three women in his life who don’t exactly love him back.

It seems to be divisive among reviewers, depending on which of the two topics (rock ‘n roll or nostalgia for old romance) you care more about. The haters find this book to be a lot of white-dork navel-gazing, and I can’t say they’re wrong. I do wish it had more music history in it myself, although I still learned a fair amount about how many musicians have died in plane crashes and Seattle. I think a lot of those critics aren’t acknowledging a truth: a lot of guys in their late 20s and early 30s (possibly beyond) are probably nostalgic for the women who, five to ten years earlier, got away (probably with good reason). In this regard, Klosterman acknowledges his own narcissism.

If you only want the death-and-music story, there’s his original Spin Magazine story “6,557 Miles to Nowhere”.

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

The title is probably too obtuse too grab the casual reader (it’s loosely about the idea that time machines are too dangerous for anything more than finding out how dinosaur meat tastes).

However, the theme of this 2009 book is as important as ever. Klosterman himself describes the book as being about “What is reality, maybe? No, that’s not it. Not exactly. I get the sense that most of the core questions dwell on the way media perception constructs a fake reality that ends up becoming more meaningful than whatever actually happened.”

He uses the lenses of Lady Gaga’s award show outfits, the popularity of Mad Men, and the Unabomber’s anti-technology manifesto to view the construction of false realities from a myriad of perspectives. In the decade since this book was first published, this “fake reality” has grown. And it’s not clear if Chuck sees this as a “problem” per se. But it’s certainly the new normal, either for the time being or forever.

Four Stars (Highly recommended for those interested in topic, or generally recommended for anyone)

The Making of a Manager: What to do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo

Written by a design director with a decade of experience at Facebook, Making of a Manager provides good comprehensive coverage of management. Filled with examples from her experience, Zhuo discusses delegation, running meetings, and other topics core to the role of “manager”. I strongly agree with her throughline idea of applying the “growth mindset” to her team and surrounding organization. A lot of the material might feel obvious or common-sensical to anyone who has held a management role or put thought into the challenges of the role before. Even in those cases, this is a good book to keep on the shelf as a reference to revisit and make sure your own broader managerial bases are covered in case you are drowned in your day-to-day.

High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People by Elad Gil

Entrepreneur Elad Gil interviewed some of the technology and investment communities sharpest minds to compile this guide to growing a business. Chapters switch between the condensed interviews with experts on each topic with Elad’s own experience. Well-structured by concepts makes it useful for future reference.

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta by Chuck Klosterman

This was Klosterman’s first book, published at the turn of the century, and originally intended as an academic textbook on the history of 80s rock music, specifically heavy metal and hair/glam rock. I’m admittedly biased to liking this book; despite being a generation younger than Chuck, I also grew up on this music, heavily influenced by the music of my mom’s youth.

So as a self-identifying fan of glam-metal (Bon Jovi, Cheap Trick, Motley Crue to name a few), Klosterman does a tremendous job contemplating all the things I love and find fascinating about the genre. Many of the chapters are akin to the debates that high schoolers have about music (I mean this in a good way, as the book’s tone reminds me of youthful energy), including, but not limited to:

  • What’s the difference between “heavy” and “hard” rock?
  • Who is the greatest rock guitarist of all time (and is the typical answer of Jimi Hendrix the correct one)?
  • Does the sexism of 80s rock, with its Cherry Pie music videos and groupie culture, say more about the artists or the rest of American culture?
  • What are the greatest rock albums of the era?

In the end though, Klosterman concludes with the most important reason this book needed to exist and why I’m nostalgic for this material: For a generation of American kids, this was an artform that influenced them and briefly dominated American culture. That time should not be forgotten.

Downtown Owl: A Novel by Chuck Klosterman

Downtown Owl tells the story of the small, fictional North Dakota town Owl, not dissimilar from where Klosterman grew up. Clearly his youth informs his characters. The narrative is told in third-person, but follows three protagonists: an angsty teen who semi-subconsciously wants to escape his small town life, a twenty-something woman with the opposite experience of moving to Owl from the big city to start her teaching career, and an elderly man who has lived his life in a place where everybody knows your name. All three leads, and the surrounding supporting cast, are intimately developed, probably because Klosterman grew up around these archetypes.

More than just sharing the lives of these characters, Klosterman uses them as a vessel for understanding humanity. And this is what Klosterman excels at and has built his career. A lot of intellectuals and pseudo-philosophers take an Ivory Tower approach to thinking about people as aggregate abstractions. Klosterman understands individuals in all their strengths and weaknesses. And that’s how you begin to understand everybody.

An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management by Will Larson

Larson’s experienced a lot in his career across many popular software companies: Yahoo, Digg, Uber, Stripe. His essay collection on managing engineering teams covers so many important, under-analyzed professional issues I’ve encountered in my own career, particularly managing employees of different skill levels and thinking in trade-offs. The book is designed to sit on your desk for reference with its concise, topic-oriented articles.

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle

Bill Campbell is perhaps, alongside Andy Grove and Ron Conway, as the most important behind-the-scenes person in Silicon Valley history. Having recently passed, his proteges from the Google executive team have written a biography of Campbell’s life (including his former career as a high school football coach before becoming an executive coach) intertwined with stories from other noteworthy tech people (such as Steve Jobs and the Google founders) about how Bill changed their lives. It’s a book filled with love, admiration, and advice, and the kind of book we’d all probably wish someone would write about us once we’re gone.

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman

Lightman has had a unique career as the first professor at MIT to hold a joint position in both the physics and humanities departments at MIT. Searching for Stars merges both of his worlds into a memoir. From his small island off the coast of Maine, this is the story of one thinker’s attempt to reconcile science, religion, and philosophy in his own mind and on the page. He does this by interpreting past prolific thinkers and tracing the history of human thought. This is a great, thoughtful vacation read.

The Visible Man – A Novel by Chuck Klosterman

What would you do if you had invisibility? Probably not exactly what the villain “Y” does in Klosterman’s second novel. But maybe not as differently as you’d think. The Visible Man is the most horrifying story I’ve read since Lolita, and not as long.

A scientist only known to us as “Y” creates an invisibility suit out of the leftovers of an abandoned government project. The story is told by his therapist, who slowly realizes the implications of an invisible person’s capabilities. Most dangerously, the invisible person can know everything about you. Take the way Hannibal Lecter knows everything about Clarice’s life and personality just based on interacting with her, then remove the need for interaction. The story is a unique cross between The Sopranos and Silence of the Lambs. In a classically Klosterman way, it creates more questions, but the implications here are darker.

Five Stars (Highly Recommend to Everyone)

Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is, other than Dave Chappelle, my favorite comedian working today. Like Chappelle, his mix of wit, wisdom, and life experience gives him a searing insight into humanity. His insight that the language people speak creates more racism than skin color was uniquely educational. Where his stories are different from the typical middle-American life, other are more relatable. Specifically, his retelling of his mother’s relationships with different types of men, some absent and some psychopathically abusive, are universal.

Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor by Brian Keating

“Another year, another story for humanity” wrote physicist and friend Ritoban Thakur on the Amazon note he paired with this gifted book. Author and cosmologist Keating has written an important memoir on his time in modern academic physics. He explains the history of his research niche (the big bang and cosmic microwave background radiation) while telling his tale of the drama and politics of navigating the science-academia complex. Interspersed throughout the book are three interstitial teardowns of the modern Nobel Prize in Physics: it’s discouragement of collaborative groups, it’s lack of credit sharing across all the grad students and post-docs who contribute to major discoveries, and it’s negatively influential fame and cash incentives. Keating writes with clarity and humor in this teardown of culture’s arguably most famous prize.

Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen

After listening to Cowen for years as a guest on EconTalk and reading his books before it was cool, it’s been fascinating watching him rise in popularity the past couple years as a sort of economist-to-the-technologists. I say this as a compliment, as he deserves all the recognition he’s now receiving.

Stubborn Attachments is Cowen’s collection of loosely related ideas on how humanity should live, framed in the language of economics and philosophy. He presents many ideas that resonated with me and I suspect they would with most smart people: society shouldn’t be discounting the value of humanity’s future as much as it does, there’s more to value than what we currently measure, and we need better frameworks for being able to make any decisions at all under uncertainty. Better yet, he provides his own starting points for solutions to all of these issues. It is the economics book I wish I’d written.

Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science by Carey Gillam

I love a great corporate whistleblower story and this may be the biggest of modern times. Some people have vaguely heard about the company Monsanto and of genetically-modified foods. While this book is not a comprehensive cover of the GMO debate, it may be the best argument against GMOs.

Journalist Carey Gillam uncovers how agriculture technology behemoth Monsanto poisoned the international supply with its bug-killer “Roundup” chemical (scientifically known as glyphosate). The story exploded in the press a couple years ago as farmers who had been in close, consistent contact with the pesticide started developing similar, quickly-moving lethal cancers. Multiple families have successfully sued Monsanto, winning large financial settlements but leaving children without parents.

Gillam digs deeper into how these deaths were allowed to happen and unveils deep corruption at the Environmental Protection Agency, highlighting multiple regulators who had been paid off by Monsanto in the ugliest form of regulatory capture by a corporation. Both the government and company used fraudulent science and the firing of real critical scientists to protect Monsanto’s profitability. Anyone captivated by recent fraud stories such as the Fyre Festival or Theranos will be enthralled by this story. While it’s more technically complex, the stakes are higher as Monsanto and the EPA clearly killed Americans.

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall

One of the hardest problems for any organization is resolving the tension between creating the “next big idea” and not destroying itself in the process. It’s the kind of problem that I’ve put a lot of thought into but never formalized a solution. Bahcall has done it here. This is the kind of book where I think “he’s articulated my own thoughts better than I could have” on every page.

Without going into the details, Bahcall has created a model for structuring organizations so they can walk the fine line between innovation and sustainability. He explains how he’s come to his conclusions based on historical examples (the history of the American airline industry, Vannevar Bush’s influence on scientific research, and how England quickly surpassed China during the Industrial Revolution, to give a few samples) and by bringing his background in natural sciences to the field of management. This is one of the best books I’ve read for bringing together multiple fields of thought into a cohesive theory tackling one of the toughest problems in people management.

The Best Book I Read in the First Half of 2019

Einstein’s Dreams: A Novel by Alan Lightman

Not exactly a novel, not exactly a collection of essays; Einstein’s Dreams is a unique combination of both. This is a fictional recollection of Einstein’s life during his “miracle year”, with chapters alternating between Einstein discussing his new physics with friends over coffee and his dreams at night.

It’s these dream sequences that make this book memorable. Each dream is a short story of an alternate reality where humanity has a different relationship to time. How would people behave differently if our lives were longer? Were shorter? Were frozen in time? Were based on how much you loved those around you? These original physicist-turned–writer insights are half of the appeal, with the other half being Lightman’s remarkably poetic prose.

It is the ideal coffee shop people-watching book as it will make you think differently about everyone you see.

Books Read in the Second Half of 2018

As a reference, my grading scale is (without any one or two star books this time):

Three Stars: Recommended, may cover too niche a topic to get a stronger recommendation for a broad audience, is only high-level coverage of its theme, or just moderately interesting fiction.

Four Stars: Recommended, well-written, and covers material I think most people would find useful or interesting.

Five Stars: Strongly recommended to everyone.

Additionally, I pick one book every six months as the “best book I’ve read” during that time period.

I’ve also started marking themes of my reading for the time period. In these six months, some commonalities:

  • The Oil Industry: Three books on the history of the Oil industry, spanning from the early 1900s at Spindleto to the future of fracking.
  • Chuck Klosterman: In this period of time I read two books by Chuck Klosterman, who is now my second-most read author since 2012 (only behind Michael Lewis who also shows up in this post). And not just any two books, but compilations of his articles for other outlets. The two compilations were published a decade apart, giving insight into how Klosterman’s own focus has changed in the 2000s.
  • Physicist Carlo Rovelli: I randomly discovered this physicist in 2016 when I found his “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” in a New Orleans bookstore and spent this time period reading two more of his fantastic works.
  • Neuroscience and Psychopathy: Following up from my genetics research the prior six months, I’ve worked my way up from the foundations of biology to neuroscience and understanding the disorders that create so much destruction in society.
  • Jon Ronson: I followed up his first book on psychopathy with two more, including an exclusive audiobook he did for Audible.
  • Audiobooks: In a futile attempt to save bookshelf space, I coughed up for a paid Audible account. I was already an avid podcast listener and this isn’t much different.

Three Stars (Recommended)

The Last Days of August by Jon Ronson (Audiobook):

From the author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed comes this deep dive into the porn industry and the death of actress Mercedes “August Ames” Grabowski. What was a seven-episode podcast has been compiled into an audiobook. Ronson and his colleagues go to great lengths to get to the bottom of the question “Why was August hung from a tree in a public park?”

It’s an unexpected detective story which tackles every angle: Was it due to Twitter bullying from jealous actresses? Was she killed by her potentially abusive husband? Was it due to a broken childhood and being abandoned by her parents?

Regardless of what you think the answer is, it’s a grim story where everyone is an unreliable source. Despite the darkness, it’s well-told and is (of what I’ve heard and read thus far) Ronson’s best journalistic work.

I’ll Be There for You – The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller (Audiobook):

Friends has played an important part in my life. It was always on during dinner when I was a kid, my college friends had the DVDs playing in the background after classes in their apartment, and it’s 2010 Netflix debut put all that nostalgia back at our fingertips.

Kelsey Miller’s history and analysis of the show does a solid job chronologically retelling the show’s creation, starting with the friendship of creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman and running through biographies of the six ensemble members. From there, she traces the show’s growth season-by-season, pausing to cover the host of controversies along the way: backlash following Season Two’s over-exposure and media blitz, the progressively higher-stakes contract negotiations pitting the six friends against the network, September 11’s impact of extending the show’s run by serving as the country’s leading comedy after its period of grief, and its eventual conclusion, passing the baton to reality TV and HBO dramas as the top television shows.

Although there are some parts of Friends history that isn’t covered much (such as Matthew Perry’s widely-known substance problems), Miller provides a fair retrospective on the parts of Friends that modern woke bloggers tend to knock the show for: the homophobia, lack of ethnic diversity, and the sexual harassment lawsuit from a female writer regarding her time in the mostly-male writers room. All these subjects are used by Miller not to tear down the show, but to show Friends as a reflection of its time, yet its themes and warmth are timeless.

The Sociopath Next Door – The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us by Martha Stout, Ph.D.:

Unique from other books on psychopathy, Dr. Stout, formerly of the Harvard Medical School prior to going into private practice, brings a psychologists perspective to the subject. The book contains a compilation of anonymized stories from her clients who are mostly victims of psychopaths. The most memorable example for me was a woman whose father was a well-respected high school principal until he shot a drug dealer on their front lawn and it was revealed that her father, now in prison, had been hardcore drug-dealing in his evenings.

The analysis doesn’t seem as scientific as Professor Hare or Professor Kent Kiehl’s work, and the last chapter leaves the book on an oddly spiritual note. However, if your life has been impacted by psychopaths, it will feel good to know others have lived through the same experiences.

Without Conscience – The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare, Phd.:

Professor Hare was the worldwide leader in psychopath research. Hare got his start studying prison inmates in Canada as the sole psychologist at the British Columbia Penitentiary. His work there landed him a role as a Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columna.

Without Conscience is his guidebook to the subject, covering the range of violent serial killers to white-collar-criminal psychopaths he’s interviewed with his methods that became the industry standard (prior to wider proliferation of MRI machines).

Written in 1993, it’s more psychology than neuroscience since the latter field was still nascent compared to Hare’s experience speaking to psychopaths in prisons. The subtitle is accurate in labeling much of the content “disturbing”, but a must-read for anyone interested in the subject matter.

Blitzscaling – The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Businesses by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh:

As defined by the authors, Blitzscaling is “a strategy and set of techniques for driving and managing extremely rapid growth that prioritize speed over efficiency in an environment of uncertainty.”

For the laymen, this book is about the shared strategies Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn, and other big tech company brands used to take over the world in the past decade. One of the major themes being that these companies prioritize speed and experimentation over worrying about costs, with the idea that customer growth and the future monopoly position overcompensate for the losses along the way.

The danger of a book like this is that, misinterpreted by the wrong founders and an issue I’ve seen first-hand at startups, it could encourage a lack of financial discipline, and its strategies only work for business or products that can inherently affect a lot of people; otherwise you’ll be burning money. But for anyone who wants to understand more about how big tech companies got to where they are, or aspire to build on themselves, Blitzscaling is a framework worth thinking about.

The Psychopath Test – A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson:

The first book I’ve read by Ronson, it’s more storytelling than journalism (compared to The Last Days of August), but it’s an addicting set of stories. Ronson explores a variety of psychopath stories, such as a man who talked himself into a mental institution as a way to avoid prison, cult leaders, and obviously murderers.

My favorite chapter covers “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, a man ranked by Time magazine as one of the top 10 worst bosses of all time, fired by companies for committing fraud, and was once accused in court by his ex-wife for holding her at knife point and asking what human flesh tastes like.

In between these stories, Ronson traces the history of psychopaths in the psychiatric literature, starting with early-1800s French psychiatrist Philippe Pinel identifying patients as “manie sans delire” (insane without delusion) and through the debates in the academic community about how to identify and classify these slippery assholes.

If you’re interested in psychopathy, there are more medically informative reads. If you want a captivating story about subversive evil in humanity, this is a fun one.

Snakes in Suits – When Psychopaths Go to Work by Robert D. Hare, Phd.:

Dr. Hare, after he had finished writing his first book Without Conscience, was quoted as saying, “I should never have done all my research in prisons. I should have spent my time inside the stock exchange as well…. Serial killers ruin families. Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.”

He spent the later part of his career working on studying functioning psychopaths, many of whom either commit while-collar crime or similar destroy business value but undermining their employers and pocketing company money for themselves instead of investing into growing the business.

The format for Snakes in Suits alternates between fiction and non-fiction: one chapter will cover specific behaviors or symptoms of psychopaths, followed by a story about how that might manifest itself in the workplace.

Hare concludes with a chapter on how colleagues can identify and manage working around people who seem to be destructive toward their business and others. Having worked with some in the past, I think more people would benefit from reading this guide, as they’ll instantly recognize someone from their life in these pages.

Four Stars (Highly recommended for those interested in topic, or generally recommended for anyone)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson:

I decided to read this after completing his earlier work The Psychopath Test in one weekend. Shamed is slightly longer, but didn’t take much more time for me to finish. Ronson’s unique take on public shaming is inspired by and inextricably tied to the rise of social media technology, particularly Twitter, which empower mob mentality at historically unprecedented scale. Much of the book is centered around Ronson tracking down victims of this new form of kangaroo courting in an effort to understand the history of public shaming, how it happens in modern context, and its fallout.

His sense of morality seems to drive him to empathize with the victims, who he (and I agree) have been the collateral damage of the new weaponized techno-social justice warriors. This book is a great siren call that, if we as a society don’t learn to apply the golden rule to the Internet, then the great tools used for giving voices to the marginalized will be turned into the fear-driven banality of universal silence.

Chuck Klosterman IV – A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas by Chuck Klosterman:

Published in 2006, this collection covers two types of articles Klosterman had previously written for outlets, especially Esquire. The first third of the book is Chuck’s interviews with a variety of celebrities, to whom he brings unique understanding: Britney Spears (at the time of writing in 2003, easily the most famous person he interviewed who dodges the subtext of his questions like a politician), actor Val Kilmer (giving readers a better understanding of why he got semi-exiled from Hollywood for being unintentionally loony), and basketball star Steve Nash (who comes across as incredibly likeable).

The second section is a collection of non-interview articles, some still journalistic and some pure opinion pieces. Most notable among these is “The Importance of Being Hated” about how all of us have an archenemy, a nemesis, and the important differences between the two. Also, Chuck Klosterman ate only Chicken McNuggets for a week well before Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me.

The books ends with a short story which was Klosterman’s first published work of fiction. The story is about a guy named Jack who would have a boring job as a newswriter if he didn’t start his mornings with phencyclidine, better known on the street as PCP or Angel Dust. It’s completely disconnected from the rest of the book, but has some great comedic observations that at least geeky men, if not everyone, will relate to.

Chuck Klosterman X – A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century (and its Audio Companion) by Chuck Klosterman:

Published in 2017, Klosterman’s most recent essay collection captures the changing American culture. The book is mostly features of specific people he’s written previously for outlets such as GQ and ESPN: Taylor Swift (whom he considered the most famous person he’s ever interviewed), Tom Brady (the seemingly least cooperative interview), Kobe Bryant (the most direct). There’s some general culture writing mixed in, including an insightful discussion on the “nostalgia problem” and the definitive analysis of the band KISS for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

X ends with celebrity obituaries written by Klosterman. My personal favorite is of Warrant’s Jani Lane. Klosterman ended his first book, Fargo Rock City, with a story about Jani Lane, the lead singer of Warrant, best known for their titillating music video Cherry Pie. Here was a man who was mocked for allegedly contributing to the downfall of his artistic genre due to reasons outside his control, and would spend the next couple decades trying to pursue his artistic aspirations before killing himself in a Comfort Inn motel. Klosterman is able to take this one man’s true tragic tale and extrapolate lessons for us all; we are much less in control of our stories and legacies than we’d like.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson:

The newest book from the creators of Basecamp and Ruby on Rails is a collection of short lessons learned from their experience running a successful, founder-owned, investor-less software business for over a decade. There’s a lot more I agree with here than disagree with, such as the arbitrary-ness of most goal-setting exercises and the compounding problems of productivity-death-by-meetings (very reminiscent of Paul Graham’s “Makers Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” essay). While I could write a whole separate essay on unifying the Basecamp school of thought with other startup and business canon, I’ll emphasize one here: If you know what’s important to do and efficiently focus on that, then work does not have to be hell.

The Big Rich – The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough:

In my youth, I didn’t realize that I was familiar with one of the people from The Big Rich; I just knew Lamar Hunt as the founder and owner of the Columbus Crew, probably the sports franchise whose games I’ve been to the most in my life.

Lamar got his money as a descendant of H.L. Hunt, one of four family patriarchs described in the mid-20th century press as “The Big Rich” of Texas, chronicled here by Bryan Burrough (who also co-authored one of my top five favorite business books and probably his most famous, Barbarians at the Gate).

Burrough tells the century-long story of the Texas oil business, starting with legendary Spindletop oil boom in 1901 and ending with the election of President George Bush, himself an heir from an oil empire, in 2001. In between, the story focuses on four families which became, at differing points in the century, the richest Americans in the world in an era that even pre-dated men like Warren Buffett. Men such as H.L. Hunt, Sid Richardson, and Roy Cullen are names lost to modern culture but were the moguls that bridge the timeline between the Rockefeller/Carnegie era and the electronics industry of the 70s.

Despite most not knowing their names, Americans have a stereotypical identity of Texas and Texans: cowboy boots with spurs, big hats, and flaunted wealth. Shows in the 80s such as Dynasty were inspired by The Big Rich families. The modern American political conservative movement, too, is told here, with the roots of Bush-era politics inspired and funded by these oil tycoons distrusting a US government who their parent’s generation hadn’t even been members of during Texas’s independent days.

Most Americans of my generation probably fail to realize how much of their lives descend from these men: Half of the NFL teams and Major League Soccer were initiated by the Hunt family and one descendant named Sid Bass became the savior and largest shareholder of the Disney Corporation until 2001. Love them or hate them, thanks to Burrough, the iconic Texas oil men of the mid-1900s will never be forgotten.

The Frackers – The Outrageous Inside Story of The New Billionaire Wildcatters by Gregory Zuckerman:

Zuckerman has written the canonical account of one of the great business and technology stories of our lifetimes.

The Frackers tells a classic American entrepreneurship tale: a group of unknown outsiders, many the children of poor immigrants and only armed with gusto, create a new technology that truly disrupts an industry. This generates newfound wealth for themselves and shakes the foundations of the rest of society and geopolitics, as countries and old industrialists question assumptions about the world’s available energy (a very fundamental thing to be questioning).

The two main technologies are “fracking” (shooting water and chemicals into rocks so they crack open like eggs and spill out oil and gas) and horizontal drilling (pretty self-explanatory but historically difficult to do thousands of feet below ground). Those bold enough to spend the major time and money upfront to test these techniques in America were richly rewarded. But once proven right on the availability of untapped energy in our backyards, these wildcatters conflict with Wall Street, ExxonMobil, and environmentalists, sometimes all at once. The environmental impacts of fracking are treated reasonably and evenly debated. Zuckerman has done a tremendous job documenting a historic period in American business and ultimately worldwide geopolitics around how humanity gets its energy.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

What happens when a new administration takes over the government, and then doesn’t put anyone in charge of running anything? This is the question Michael Lewis tries to answer in The Fifth Risk, which dives deeply into a very specific period of time. In the first couple months after Donald Trump was sworn in as President, he reportedly had nearly no one show up to actually run the departments of the Executive branch.

Lewis searches through the government underbelly where the sausage is made and asks the current and former government officials: What do all the agencies do? How are they managed? Most importantly, what happens if society forgets how they’re managed?

The title itself is an allusion to “project management”, or a complete lack thereof, being one of the major risks to political stability. The importance of consistent, capable management is the major takeaway from this story and applies to well outside the White House.

Reality is Not What it Seems – The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli:

Rovelli provides a foundational, understandable history of physics, from ancient Greece to the modern dilemma reconciling quantum mechanics and gravity. The last third of the book focuses on the sub-title, which is Rovelli’s specialty and a competitor to the more mainstream String Theory. Despite the latter chapters being a bit more technical and obtuse for the laymen, the first two thirds are such a well-written walkthrough of physics that I recommend it as an introduction to the field.

Five Stars (Highly Recommend to Everyone)

Saudi America – The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World by Bethany McLean:

Bethany McLean, most famous for breaking the Enron story almost two decades ago, is my favorite journalist-author. She continues to deliver with her latest short-form Columbia Global Reports book. True to form, she investigates a simple but globally important question: Is “fracking” really going to bolster American energy independence and upend the international oil and gas markets?

The answer is a complex one. She slowly unpacks the issue, starting small with a concise biography of fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy and its founder Aubrey McClendon. Companies such as Chesapeake have raised a lot of investor interest, but have they actually made any profits? An influx of new oil and gas from fracking may just mean a lot of new supply driving down energy prices; good for consumers but unprofitable and unsustainable for investors.

This segues into geopolitics: If America continues to flood the market with cheap energy and drop prices, what impact will this have on our biggest allies and enemies? Saudi Arabia’s dictatorship is sustained by its oil money. Russia will have even more reason to be militarily aggressive if it loses its control of Europe’s energy supplies. And if the USA can generate its own energy without Middle Eastern oil, does that provide hope for ending our endless warring in the region?

Lastly, the future of the energy industry could/should be renewables like solar and wind. With all the focus the past couple decades on fracking, have the short-term benefits come at the long-term cost of falling behind in the marathon to truly ubiquitous, free energy?

The Psychopath Whisperer – The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent Kiehl, Phd.:

The culmination of my deep-dive into psychopathy, this is the best book on the subject. Doctor Kiehl, whose thesis advisor was the aforementioned Doctor Robert Hare, is arguably the world’s leading expert on psychopathy. This book presents both the history of his professional research as well his personal experiences, which include non-strictly-academic endeavors such as innovating in mobile MRI hardware, the politics of navigating an academic career, and being inspired to devote his life to this subject after growing up down the street from renowned serial killer Ted Bundy.

What sets Professor Kiehl’s research on psychopaths apart from predecessors is his dedicated inquiry into neuroscience and biological-based causes for mental disorders. As someone without a neuroscience background, this book demonstrates how the functioning of the brain dictates human behavior far more than the vast majority of people comprehend. The Psychopath Whisperer is captivating, informative, and a must read for anyone who wants to understand the darkest, animalistic side of humanity.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson:

Ranked by Time Magazine as one of the all time top 100 English novels, this science fiction classic was inspiration for my greatest influence (programmer John Carmack) and many of his contemporaries in the videogame industry.

Snow Crash is an eccentric sci-fi action story starring the mafia’s futuristic pizza delivery boy whose computer hacking hobby entangles him in an underground criminal plot for world domination via mind control. The unfolding of the evil villain plans is an intelligent integration of religious and technological ideas, some such as the “avatar” have become so entrenched in culture that most people forget it originated here. Snow Crash is campy, fast-paced, and all-around the most fun I’ve ever had reading fiction.

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli:

This is the best book on physics I’ve read. I could also say it’s one of the best philosophy books, the two fields being so close together when it comes to thinking about time. Here, Rovelli explains, in simultaneously simple and complete as possible terms, what humanity currently understands about time. While many of us have had some exposure to ideas like time-travel through pop culture, once the limits of knowledge on time and entropy are explained, it’s hard to think about anything else. Rovelli’s writing is so eloquent, I completed it in a couple sittings. The time flew by.

The Best Book I Read in the Second Half of 2018

The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves by Dr. Eric Kandel:

This is the epitome of the type of book I love. It’s concise, written by a regarded expert in the field, tackles profound issues, and has pictures. Just published in 2018 by Dr. Eric Kandel, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on how memories are stored in our brain’s neurons, The Disordered Mind is a fantastic introductory guide to all the major mental disorders, with chapters on: Depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Dementia, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Post-Traumatic Stress, and Addiction. And it concludes with two chapters on the neuroscience of two important, universal human conditions: gender identity and consciousness.

While covering the foundation of how humans work, Kandle integrates the latest research from related fields into as cohesive a narrative as possible: psychology, biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and genomics. I can’t emphasize enough how important the topics covered here are, and how effectively and succinctly Kandel covers wide ground. This is the book I would highly recommend for non-scientists breaking into the study of the brain.

The Legacy of Jack Lambert

Everyone has had some hero, or at minimum an influencer, in their life at some point. For a lot of entrepreneurs and technologists of my generation, that inspiration has been Paul Graham. The follow-up question I ask, like reading source papers referenced in an author’s bibliography, is: who was my inspiration’s inspiration?

Graham documented his heroes in an essay in 2008. This was right around the time I first started getting interested in the NFL, primarily due to a ten hour video series NFL Films created documenting the Top 100 Football Players of All Time.

It’s interesting to me that, like many men, one of Graham’s earliest heroes was an athlete.

Jack Lambert, ranked 29th on the NFL Films list of the greatest players in football history, was the middle linebacker behind the 1970s “Steel Curtain” defensive line that won four Super Bowls in six years.

The impact that those 70s Steelers had on America is slowly receding from culture, which tends to happen over time. However, the spirit of players like Lambert influenced Paul Graham who in turn influenced the modern world in ways that are hard to overstate.

Graham wrote of Lambert:

“I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s. Unless you were there it’s hard to imagine how that town felt about the Steelers. Locally, all the news was bad. The steel industry was dying. But the Steelers were the best team in football—and moreover, in a way that seemed to reflect the personality of the city. They didn’t do anything fancy. They just got the job done.

Other players were more famous: Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann. But they played offense, and you always get more attention for that. It seemed to me as a twelve year old football expert that the best of them all was Jack Lambert. And what made him so good was that he was utterly relentless. He didn’t just care about playing well; he cared almost too much. He seemed to regard it as a personal insult when someone from the other team had possession of the ball on his side of the line of scrimmage.

The suburbs of Pittsburgh in the 1970s were a pretty dull place. School was boring. All the adults around were bored with their jobs working for big companies. Everything that came to us through the mass media was (a) blandly uniform and (b) produced elsewhere. Jack Lambert was the exception. He was like nothing else I’d seen.”

Fast forward a decade later. Readers of my book reviews will notice I’ve been on a Chuck Klosterman kick, reading through his collected works. Klosterman also happened to be the narrator for Lambert’s entry into the NFL’s Top 100 of All Time list.

I paired Graham’s and Klosterman’s thoughts on Lambert together because I find it exciting and a bit amazing when two people I consider great in their separate fields both took inspiration from a seemingly unrelated third forebearer.

Below is Chuck Klosterman’s commemoration of Lambert for the NFL Network:

“Over time now there’s kind of become this understanding that small running backs have an advantage because a lot of times linebackers can’t see into the backfield. His height at middle linebacker may have been a positive in the reverse. He may have had a better view of what the offense was doing and that might explain why he seemed to be one step ahead of things. He just seemed to make every tackle.

If the best player in the middle of the field is making all of the plays on the best team, maybe this is the best defender in the league?

On a “Team of the Decade”, I don’t know even who is number two for the idea of being the middle linebacker on that roster.

He was an extremely intellectual linebacker, which I don’t think was the association with him at the time probably because he was toothless, and probably because he looked kind of like a madman. His greatest strength was his mind, so he’s like John Rambo I guess.

He was certainly the most intimidating player on a pretty intimidating team.

It’s possible that Jack Hamm was a greater outside linebacker than Jack Lambert was as a middle linebacker. But I don’t imagine opponents fearing Jack Hamm the way they would fear Lambert. Pretty much every play, the quarterback was staring directly at Lambert, who had not only this very scary appearance, but this incredibly active appearance.

Pittsburgh likes to sort of perceive itself as having a certain kind of toughness, having a certain kind of team. Lambert really represents that, and there’s never going to be a guy that replaces that in Pittsburgh. He will always be perceived as the greatest personification of what Steeler football is supposed to be like. That’s what Lambert represents: the Steelers at their highest point.”

Books Read in the First Half of 2018

As a reference, my grading scale is (without any one or two star books this time):

Three Stars: Recommended, may cover too niche a topic to get a stronger recommendation for a broad audience, is only high-level coverage of its theme, or just moderately interesting fiction.

Four Stars: Recommended, well-written, and covers material I think most people would find useful or interesting.

Five Stars: Strongly recommended to everyone.

Additionally, I pick one book every six months as the “best book I’ve read” during that time period.

Three Stars (Recommended)

Things You Should Already Know About Dating, You F**king Idiot by Ben Schwartz and Laura Moses

I picked up this comic book off the shelf at some bookstore for two reasons. First, if I’m still going to buy any physical books, they might as well be comic books. Second, it recommendation from Justin Timberlake on the cover which reads: “This book is so funny. Read it and you’ll 100% find love–if you’re into that kinda thing…happiness or whatever.” These authors must have great agents to get a JT quote. If the title didn’t tip you off, this isn’t high-class literature, but it’s not bad for a $5 comic book satirizing millennials.

If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? Smart Quotes for Dumb Times by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson:

Like Oxymoronica reviewed in 2017, If Ignorance is Bliss is a book of quotes. They’re mostly comedic and organized alphabetically by theme, starting with “Acting” and ending with “Zen”. A few select favorites below:

“Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.” – Mignon McLaughlin, a writer for Vogue and Glamour whose two Neurotic’s Notebooks became bestsellers in the 1960s

“They say hard work never hurt anybody, but I figure why take the chance.” – Ronald Reagan

“An idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it.” – Don Marquis

The Curriculum – Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master of Business Arts by Gil “Stanley Bing” Schwartz

“Stanley Bing” just recently announced his resignation as the Head of Communications for CBS. The Curriculum is his most recent work of satire, formatted as a faux “curriculum” mocking business schools by offering the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction kind of advice people really talk about at work. Your personal rating for this book will probably correlate with how you feel about drinking during weekday lunches and Dr. Strangelove.

Go Figure – Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know by Tom Standage

Another pocket-sized airport book, Economist editor Tom Standage has compiled about 100 one-or-two page articles on random trivia, such as how modern tropical volcanoes are still creating new islands today and humanity’s opportunity cost from all the time spent watching Gangnam Style. Recommended if you want to learn ideas for Trivial Pursuit in the form of infographics.

Girl Logic – The Genius and the Absurdity by Iliza Schlesinger

Comedian Iliza Schlesinger has had a tremendous run the past couple years, starting with being the first woman to win the TV show Last Comic Standing, followed up with four stand-up comedy specials on Netflix and now her first book. This review is probably as much about her standup as it is about this book, but they’re pretty closely related. The content of Girl Logic is pretty similar to the topics covered in her shows Elder Millenial and Confirmed Kills, with more serious personal anecdotes and a bit less, but some, comedy.

If you’re unfamiliar with Iliza, I’d recommend any and all of her Netflix comedy specials and the below half an hour talk on her book:

Immortal Life – A Soon to be True Story by Gil “Stanley Bing” Schwartz

I’ve previously written about how great an influence Stanley Bing has been on my worldview. He recently wrote his third novel, Immortal Life, which tells the tale of a trillionaire tech executive using his wealth to discover a path to mental immortality. The novel has all has all the hallmarks of a Bing book, primarily his sophomoric (meant as a compliment) way of humanizing the rich and famous.

I did not enjoy it as much as his first two novels, which I think is because Immortal Life has more of a science-fiction bent than “You Look Nice Today” and “Lloyd: What Happened”, making it a little less relatable. I read “Lloyd: What Happened” in high school and it remains one of my favorite works of fiction, deserving of its own five-star review.

Who Reads Poetry – 50 Views from Poetry Magazine edited by Fred Sasaki and Don Share

To answer the title’s implied question, I don’t really read poetry (other than The Road Not Taken which I probably misinterpret). Who Reads Poetry is published by the University of Chicago Press and is therefore heavily influenced by the Chicago/midwestern community. It includes essays from authors of various walks of life and professions (writers, military, economists, et al.), including some celebrities (Christopher Hitchens, Roger Ebert, Roxane Gay).

Probably the most memorable segment for me was when Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour asked two cadets in military school about why poetry is taught to soldiers.

Cadet One: “Poetry is directly related to our function as a military officer because, at the bottom level, we’re all here training to take lives. And that’s a concept that you really can’t approach without art, without some sort of deeper understanding of the human condition, which is exactly what poetry is.”

Cadet Two: “That’s a clumsy way to say that. We’re not here to take lives and destroy things. Perhaps those are the tools of the army and the military, but really we’re here to learn how to be leaders. And…poetry has a direct influence on how I think about leadership and how people view leadership.”

Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump Whitehouse by Michael Wolff

Fire and Fury got a ton of press when it was released (google it to confirm for yourself). It’s not exactly All the President’s Men (a personal all-time favorite of mine) and Wolff isn’t exactly Bob Woodward. However, it is a fun read in the sense that I don’t usually read a lot of tabloid-esque salacious kind of material.

Not to say this isn’t good reporting. It clearly has one primary source, who seems to clearly be Steve Bannon given how much attention he gets in the book (and the story ends when Bannon’s tenure did).

There are a few insights into the Trump administration I didn’t know much about going in. First, the bulk of the book is about the dynamics of three warring camps vying for Trump’s attention: The traditional Republican establishment, the far-right populist extremists led by Steve Bannon, and Trump’s family members. Second, the very significant role the Mercer family plays as Republican power-players. For these perspectives alone, this book was worth reading, and probably more so if you like following the news as entertainment.

Brotopia – Breaking up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

Silicon Valley has not been immune to the #metoo wave upending industries over the past couple years. If anything, Emily Chang unveils ways in which the tech community is as bad as the entertainment industry, partially attributable to technologists’ increased wealth accumulation.

My favorite part of this story is the book’s early chapters that are very well researched histories of how computer programmers and academics self-selected people (white dorky men) to be the stereotype of what a computer programmer should be because of very flimsy science and general laziness. Chang’s first couple chapters explain how the implicit misogyny of mid-century academia created an inescapable cycle for women who couldn’t be taken seriously in computer science. This opening material of Brotopia was its most informative.

The the middle chunk of Brotopia covers either a lot of stories well-known in the tech media (like Uber’s sexual discrimination and harassment issues). Aside from the varying information levels between chapters, Chang has compiled a thorough, informative summary of the too-frequent sexism in the tech industry.

Four Stars (Highly recommended for those interested in topic, or generally recommended for anyone)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

I picked this up at an airport and the title lives up to its name. You can pretty much knock this short read in one cross-country flight. Beginning with the “Big Bang”, it expands out to the known limits of the universe, and concludes with an overview of humanity’s tools for understanding everything in between. It’s the perfect plane read: short, to-the-point with just the right amount non-academic commentary, and will leave you feeling just a little smarter than before you left.

At the Existentialist Cafe – Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Blakewell

“Existential” is one of those words that people abuse without knowing what it means, and only refer to when talking about when reflecting upon the insignificance of their own lives. So when Bakewell’s book got good press for being a welcoming introduction to philosophy without Wittgensteinian jargon, I had to pick it up if I wanted to pursue being an amateur philosopher myself.

At the Existentialist Cafe weaves together a story broader than I expected by putting the advancement of philosophical ideas in the 20th century against the backdrop of greater cultural history, primarily the impact World War Two had on European culture and thinking. In this way, this book is as much a biography of humanity in the 1900s as it is a textbook on existentialism. The biography part is emphasized by focusing chapters on specific individuals who led the existentialist movement, primarily lovers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. A touch of the author’s personal journey (because phenomenology is a personal philosophy) toward a life dedicated to studying philosophy supports a casual, welcoming tone. I recommend as a solid first book on philosophy.

Jim Brown – Last Man Standing by Dave Zirin

“We always lament in the superficial media culture that there are no heroes, but that presupposes that a hero is perfect. And what the Greeks have told us for millennia is that a hero isn’t perfect. Heroism is the negotiation between a person’s strengths and weaknesses… and sometimes it’s not a negotiation. It’s a war.” – Ken Burns quote to open the book

Jim Brown is the greatest football player of all time (I stand by this even with Tom Brady’s sixth Super Bowl ring and Jerry Rice’s records). And it is a name that, while fading from memory for new generations, still resounds in sports lore.

As NFL Films states in the above highlight video, in nine-record setting seasons, Jim Brown led the league in rushing yards eight times. Brown was a three-time league MVP. He is the only runner ever to average over 100 yards per game and over 5 yards per carry for a career.

“Jim thought on Sundays, and these are his words, that he was a god. That nobody could hurt him, that nobody could touch him, that nobody was better. And he proved it every Sunday…. That so called ‘macho’, which I hate that word, but he embodies it.” – Burt Reynolds

“I played nine seasons and never missed a game and I never laid out on the football field. I might not have the greatest ability of everybody, but the one thing that stands is that when it was time to play, I was there.“ – Jim Brown

I got to meet author David Zirin at the Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago’s Wicker Park district, where he spoke about his time interviewing Brown at his home. Zirin noted that even in his 80s, Brown is an imposing figure, still moving his gigantic frame with the help of a cane which resembles a tree trunk more than a stick.

What I really love about this biography is that it’s the perfect length, not an Odysseyian-sized epic like many biographies. It’s just long enough to devote efficient chapters to the many phases of Brown’s life: His fatherless youth, his career as the greatest football player ever and the last man to lead Cleveland to a major sports championship before Lebron James, his subsequent Hollywood film career, and his subsequent life promoting black rights alongside Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X and suppressing gang violence by encouraging black youth to compete economically, not violently.

As the opening Ken Burns quote foreshadows, there is another side to all the great things Brown accomplished. Zirin devotes a chapter to Brown’s history of under-reported domestic violence against the women in his life. Sociologists today could easily say that someone like Brown is the epitome of the modern term “toxic masculinity”.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum on judging Brown, in a today’s time where Malcolm X and Ali are gone, there remains gravitas to Jim Brown still standing.

Powerful – Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord

How did the DVD-by-mail startup bankrupt Blockbuster and become (as of publishing this post) a $100 billion entertainment behemoth? It’s largely attributed to the innovative culture the company developed, led by Patty McCord.

This book pairs really well with Ray Dalio’s Principles because they both pull no punches. They attribute the success of their organizations to honesty, the removing of pretense, and saying what others won’t. Powerful’s chapter titles reflect this (“Human Beings Hate Being Lied To” and “The Art of Good Good-Byes: Make Needed Changes Fast and Be a Great Place to be From”). I personally believe that if more companies should follow something closer to the Netflix model explained in Powerful, the business world would be a better place.

To get a feel for Netflix’s perspective, you can revisit the original “Culture Deck” presentation Patty created at Netflix which helped inspire this book.

The Phoenix Project – A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

So many companies have moved from the “IT” department from being a cost-center to business-critical. And yet the horror stories of software products taking too long to ship and always breaking is still the norm.

In 2013, developer operations (“DevOps”) pioneers Kim, Behr, and Spafford codified what they had learned about integrating business deadlines, agile software development, and software-infrastructure-as-code into a novel. The Phoenix Project’s story and structure are based on Eli Goldratt’s The Goal (which I previously reviewed), which translated his own Theory of Constraints mixed with Toyota’s legendary manufacturing philosophies into a story that generalized to many businesses.

As I followed our protagonist Bill and his IT team at “Parts Unlimited” drowning in deadlines and marketing team demands, it reminded me of all numerous project and process failures I’ve seen in my own career. Optimistically, the happy ending and how Bill arrives there provides a generally useful template more companies should try to learn from when trying to figure out how to move faster with increased effectiveness.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr

Doerr, a legendary venture capitalist involved in Google and Twitter, has written the guide to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), the performance management process used by many of the top technology companies (and increasingly outside computers). Measure What Matters interweaves chapters written by entrepreneurs who have used the system to success with Doerr’s practical and specific advice for how to align all employees in an organization to achieve collective goals via individual contribution.

This absolutely earns a spot in the canon of handbooks aspiring business-people must read. Without avoiding replicating the entire book here, I’d just recommend that every company without a performance management system send a copy to every employee.

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Skin in the game is about honor as an existential commitment, and risk taking (a certain class of risks) as a separation between a man and machine.”

That’s the description of the book’s core concept (from page 35 of the hardcover). Primarily, Skin in the Game thoroughly explains the philosophical and tangible importance of personal risk-taking to humanity. From bankers and wantrepreneurs losing others people money and going back to their taxpayer funded beach houses or the nefariousness of wage-slavery, Taleb uncovers “asymmetries” throughout society. In other words, areas of life where people are taking more than they’re giving, and how to not be one of them.

Taleb extends this study of social asymmetry to other areas, including a fascinating chapter on minority rule (relevant for liberals who were astounded by Donald Trump’s presidential win, which Taleb essentially predicted and explains). Antifragile is still my favorite of Taleb’s books since I find its ideas even more insightful, but this is still a must-read. Taleb’s insights are still well-understood in culture, and they should be.

Five Stars (Highly Recommend to Everyone)

Bad Blood – Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou

This book comes at an important time in American culture when journalism and media is under attack. Journalist John Carreyou has given the field its best defense by uncovering the most blatant and diabolical American corporate fraud since either Bernie Madoff or Enron. The various financial institutions may have done more damage in the 2000s, but you’d be hard pressed to find a much clearer link between knowingly putting people’s health at risk for the sake of greed and fame as what happened here.

Carreyou tells the inside story of Theranos, a much-lauded biotech startup started by the psychopathic founder Elizabeth Holmes. The psychiatric accusation may seem strong until you read what she did in verbally abusing employees, hiring private investigators to watch employees at their homes, and ultimately risking people’s lives by faking and lying about blood test results from her company’s products.

It’s the kind of story I imagine splits a journalist’s psyche: it’s the kind of criminal story that makes a journalist’s career, but wouldn’t be possible without others having suffered from the crimes. Carreyou has done a tremendous humanitarian service by telling this story.

The Best Books Read in the First Half of 2018

For the first time on this blog, I am giving this nod to two books that were both so supremely written and whose stories are so intertwined that it made sense to give them both the honor.

The Gene – An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Gene Cover

Siddhartha Mukherjee, a Pulitzer Prize winner, cancer physician, and professor at Columbia University, has written the canonical history of the gene. The concept of the “gene”, along with related ideas of “heredity” and “evolution”, is one of those ideas that most people are vaguely familiar with but don’t know much beyond what they can recall from high school.

Mukherjee has written the most readable and still comprehensive history of evolutionary science, focusing on the gene as its core.

Forget the science, which is taught with clarity I’ve only encountered in Feynman’s stories. The Gene is as intellectually inspiring as it is emotionally energizing. The author went into medical research and genomics to uncover the root of his family’s dark secret: everyone in his family and their local Indian village knew his family was cursed with schizophrenia, which consumed the life of his two uncles and a cousin.

The book opens with this powerful prologue:

“My father is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his first-born nephew–the eldest brother’s son. Since 2004, when he was forty, Moni has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill…with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept densely medicated–awash in a sea of a sorted antipsychotics and sedatives–and has an attendant watch, bathe, and feed him through the day….

Moni is not the only member of my father’s family with mental illness. Of my father’s four brothers, two–not Moni’s father, but two of Moni’s uncles–suffered from various unravelings of the mind. Madness, it turns out, has been among the Mukherjees for at least two generations, and at least part of my father’s reluctance to accept Moni’s diagnosis lies in my father’s grim recognition that some kernel of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself….

In 2009, Swedish researchers published an enormous international study, involving thousands of families and tens of thousands of men and women. By analyzing families that possessed intergenerational histories of mental illness, the study found striking evidence that bipolar disease and schizophrenia shared a strong genetic link. Some of the families described in the study possessed a crisscrossing history of mental illness achingly similar to my own: one sibling affected with schizophrenia, another with bipolar disease, an a nephew or niece who was also schizophrenic….

The study provided a strange interior solace–answering some of the questions that had so haunted my father and grandmother. But it also provoked a volley of new questions: If Moni’s illness was genetic, then why had his father and sister been spared? What “triggers” had unveiled these predispositions? How much of [Moni’s] illness arose from “nature” (i.e., genes that predisposed to mental illness) versus “nurture” (environmental triggers such as upheaval, discord, and trauma)? Might my father carry the susceptibility? Was I a carrier as well? What if I could know the precise nature of this genetic flaw? Would I test myself, or my two daughters? Would I inform them of the results? What if only one of them turned out to carry that mark?

This book is the story of the birth, growth, and future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the ‘gene,’ the fundamental unit of heredity, and the basic unit of all biological information.”

Modern Prometheus – Editing the Human Genome with CRISPR-Cas9 by Jim Kozubek

Modern Prometheus Crispr-Cas9 Cover

For those who have heard the term “gene editing” but don’t really know much biochemistry, CRISPR-Cas9 is the technology behind one of the most important scientific revolutions of our time. Author Kozubek not only explains this innovative tool with readable scientific precision, he elevates its significance. His unique background of journalist-turned-scientist gives him the perfect skillset to tell this story.

CRISPR is an important inflection point in human evolution, enabling us to change who we are at our most fundamental genetic level. Modern Prometheus impresses this importance upon the reader by spending as much time on the political and capitalistic implications of the technology as the underlying science.

Kozubek acknowledges, with great respect, the tough choices that have been and will continue to be made by the brilliant scientists who have increasingly dangerous power over everyone not seen since the creation of the atom bomb:

“Heroism, at least as I use it in my own text, does not emphasize scientific valor as a series of achievements by right-minded people. Rather, to be a hero means to be immersed in a life-world, or lebenswelt, as the philosophers call it, to navigate complicated social, cultural and biological strata where there are no fundamentally right actions. Whereas we once had the archetype of the ‘Greek hero,’ who confronted binary decisions of whether to adhere or break with authority, the ‘Western Hero’ evolved into a pragmatic model. He knows his own moral character is not higher than his peers, but that does not stop him from enforcing justice or an ethic through a policy of pragmatism.

“In effect, to be a hero means to pursue one course of action at the expense of another course. Every ‘scientific hero’ knows he was just following one of many hypotheses and lines of thought. And, just like the valiant hero who steps into traffic to save a child, he denies it was a special act, because he is not entirely confident that he would have done it again. A genuine hero knows full well he could have easily acted otherwise.”