2017 Book Shorts
It’s typical for me to have a half-dozen books going at once, so I took advantage of a relaxed holiday week to finish up a handful (and start some new ones!). In no particular order:
Originals by Adam Grant
A quick read, and an interesting collection of “anecdata” regarding the traits and habits of some successful individuals. I appreciated that the stories Grant told tended to be backed up by (or at least explainable in the context of) academic research, although I was left with questions about the validity of that research given the past few years’ of upheaval in the social sciences. Cf. Andrew Gelman’s Garden of Forking Paths, Amy Cuddy - NYTimes. But Grant succeeds in providing an actionable source of inspiration and self-confidence for voicing one’s views and pushing organizations in the right direction.
Inspired by Marty Cagan (2nd Edition)
Cagan’s writing remains a guiding light for my work and career. Revised and substantially expanded with a focus on product management at scale (dozens and hundreds of teams), Inspired lays out a powerful set of frameworks, techniques, and stories. To the extent that technology product management is becoming less of a niche (see HBS’s PM101), Inspired is a must-read for aspiring product managers.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
This was a fascinating overview of sleep and sleep science - broad and thorough, without requiring any background in the subject. I read Brad Feld’s discussion of the book, and picked up a copy. Walker presents strong evidence of the cumulative (positive!) impact that sufficient high-quality sleep has on health, on memory, on creativity. The most surprising elements of the book are that the science of sleep isn’t more broadly discussed, and that so many American institutions and habits are set up in stark contrast with the recommendations provided by the research. I’ve started an experiment to drink chiefly decaffeinated coffee, and am interested to see how it progresses in conjunction with a more strict sleep schedule.
Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales
Nearly incredible stories of human survival in the face dire circumstances, interspersed with a discussion of the physiology of our instincts. This isn’t exactly a training manual, with the exception of one overarching rule: don’t underestimate the power of Nature.
Spark by John Ratey & Eric Hagerman
This was one of the most compelling books I’ve read. Well-researched and clearly articulated (although entirely lacking in references!), Ratey illustrates the positive impact that daily aerobic exercise can have on a range of “diseases of civilization.” From depression to anxiety to addiction, quotidian movement is as or more effective than the most powerful pharmaceuticals - and the side effects are all good ones! The message of the book came to me at a good time: after a good winter 2016-2017 training for a May 2017 marathon, I focused more on strength training for the rest of 2017. By November / December, I began to lean towards my predisposition for ADHD and depression. I need to reverse that slide, and am excited to do so. This book is a call to action.
Go Wild by John Ratey & Richard Manning
I followed Spark up with Go Wild - a similar set of findings, also with little in the way of bibliography. I hope I’m not falling victim to too much confirmatory bias in my physiology book selection. The focus of Go Wild is more on diet, sleep, nature, and community. Treat sugar as poison, get 8.5 hours of sleep per night, spend time on the trails, and develop connections with your “tribe.” There’s no silver bullet, but it takes a lot of work to institute your own systems - to fight against the defaults set for most Western civilizations.
Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink
If you need a kick in the rear, this might be a good one for you. Every day presents a set of choices. Make the right choices. I appreciated his re-framing of willpower: there may be some social science research indicating that we have finite amount of willpower on a daily basis. Willnik’s take is essentially: Screw that. Even if it’s true, train yourself to increase that reservoir by facing and making tough choices.