I've made an effort to rebuild by reading muscle. To get back to 1-3 books/week rhythm, I needed to work out my attention span. Luckily, I had some time off for the holidays. It is amazing what a week without internet on a farm will do for you.
Three keys to education via reading:
1. Choosing the right books .. Your peer group, Amazon, Good Reads, blogs, bibliographies of books you love, etc.
2. Active analysis and reflection of the books you are reading. I save notes from every book I read in a series of Google Docs. After a while, the first doc got too big and had to start a new one.
3. Mixing theory and practice. Integrate learnings into work/life projects. Balance learning, practicing, and doing.
This list covers food, history, physical goods trading , business development, social psychology, and a few fiction classics.
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky: Just like the title says, it is a history of the world through the lens of salt. Ancient civilizations were strategically located near sources of salt. While we have sufficient salt in our modern diet, it wasn't always the case. Did you know that Gandhi lead a march to the ocean protesting Britain's law against Indians being allowed to use their own salt? Highly recommended.
Mastering the Grain Markets: How Profits Are Really Made by Elaine Kub: This book gives a brief overview of the commodities market from a farmers perspective. It focuses on corn, soy, and wheat but many lessons can be applied to other commodities. There are two main types of analysis: technical (traders, day traders) and fundamental (those who follow and understand the farming industry). Kub, who grew up on a small farm in South Dakota advocates for fundamental analysis, paying attention to a few key technical metrics.
McDonald's Behind the Arches by John F. Love: I have to give credit to the author, because it is one of the best business books I have ever read. Ray Kroc, as many romanticize him, didn't suddenly become a high-performer in his 50's. While he may not have been rich, he had a lot of experience in the food service industry before he took McDonalds and turned into the successful real estate (Not hamburgers, but real estate) company it is today. Another reminder on the power of systems and win-win agreements.
The Honourable Company by John Keay: I didn't finish this book. It is about the East India Company. In the beginning, they fought off the Dutch for control of the spice islands in the South Pacific and ended up as the largest corporation in world history. Honourable is supposed to be ironic because they were anything but honorable. A lot of 48 Laws of Power exampls. If I had to summarize it in one sentence: the British took control of India, farmed opium, and traded it to China for tea.
The Life of Charlemagne by Ein Hard: It was only 72 pages and no depth at all. The author, Ein Hard, had a hard-on for Charlemagne. Was looking for some insight into Charlemagne as a ruler and didn't get it. May have to try a longer biography of the Franco ruler.
Explaining Social Behavior by Jon Elster: This is more of a university textbook type read. I got a LOT out of this. Email me if you want my notes for this one. I hope to revisit some more social behavior books. It is so important. Humans are animals and observing how our species interact with one another, how they think is helpful in any field. A few of my favorite quotes:
P. 87 - "..It is a commonplace among moralists and novelists that intentional hedonism is self-defeating, and that nothing engraves an experience so deeply in memory as the attempt to forget it. Although we may wish for these states to realized we should beware of wanting to realize them."
P. 100 - "..on the other hand, there are so many plausible-sounding normative conceptions of justice, fairness, or the common good that a person would have to be unlucky or incompetent if she failed to locate one that coincided with her self-interest. "
P. 126 - "..Montaigne said that “many of this world’s abuses are engendered - or to put it more rashly, all of this world’s abuses are engendered, by our being schooled to be afraid to admit our ignorance because we are required to accept anything which we cannot refute.”
P. 157 - "We easily believe what we fear; we naturally tend to give excessive importance to low-probability risks."
How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men and Women Told by Themselves by Orison Sweet Marden: A meta-learning of successful people. Instead of reading a biography of one person, how about a book that devotes a chapter to 21 different people? My favorite part of this book was the contrasting philosophy and methodology of the various subjects. Helps engrave that there are many ways to achieve success. Don't feel compelled to absolutely emulate great men and women.
Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares: I'm really glad I picked this book up. Tons of immediate action items to my business. A few mistakes that many startups make are only focusing on product and ignoring distribution. And be careful of "dogmatically" discounting marketing channels without testing them ... maybe trade shows and radio advertising are exactly where you want to be...
What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul: The rise and fall of a hotshot commodities trader. The third part of the book is the most valuable; it talks about all of the psychological biases that haunt traders into making bad decisions. And how to avoid them. The biases are universal to all types of business. I will revisit the third part a few months from now.
Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck: Some classic American fiction. A two book series on a small community in Monterrey, California. Beautiful losers. Mack is the leader of the bums who wants to help his buddy Doc, a Marine Biologist. My description doesn't do it justice. A light-hearted, literary treat.
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block: I have read just about every Elmore Leonard novel and was searching for a new crime writer. I found one in Block. This book is part of a series on Matthew Scudder, an unlicensed private detective with a drinking problem. Highly, highly recommended if you are into the crime/murder-mystery genre.
Mad Outta Me Head by Colin Post: Colin is a buddy of mine and many of us who followed his blog and writing were waiting for this book to be published; it didn't disappoint. From the streets of Dublin, the I.R.A. to the crooks and junkies in Bogota .. a fascinating tail of an Irishman immersed in the underworld.
I hope to revist some of these books again this year, or a few years from now. As Paul Graham states in How You Know, ".. reading and experience are usually "compiled" at the time they happen, using the state of your brain at that time. The same book would get compiled differently at different points in your life. Which means it is very much worth reading important books multiple times".