Reading

Here’s a list of books that I’ve been reading. I’ll try to keep this updated as I go, send me an email if you think of one I might enjoy based on what you see below!

Queued: on my Amazon wishlist.


March 2020

  • Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review Classics) NOTES: I thought it was longer (only 55 small pages) and you can find it for free online (link) but a good read, especially given where I’m at in life. Quotes:
    • Page 3: “The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations…” Reminds me of the “Thinking in Bets” book I just read… Have been thinking a bunch about “resulting” and whether the decision was good or bad… or the result was good or bad (lots of luck involved in the second).
    • Page 34: “What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: 1) what does the situation require? 2) Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contributions to what needs to be done? And finally, what results have to be achieved to make a difference? Consider the experience of a newly appointed hospital administrator. The hospital was big and prestigious but it had been coasting on its reputation for 30 years. The new administrator decided that his contribution should be to establish a standard of excellent in one important area within two years. He chose to focus on the emergency room, which was big, visible, and sloppy. He decided that every patient who came into the ER had to be seen by a qualified nurse within 60 seconds. Within 12 months, the hospital’s emergency room had become a model for all hospitals in the United States, and within another 2 years, the whole hospital had been transformed.” Feels like a combination of a great OKR and a concrete / coherent strategy.
    • Page 46: “We hear a great deal of talk about the midlife crisis of the executive. It is mostly boredom. At 45, most executivees have reached the peak of their business careers and they know it. After 30 years of doing very much the same kind of work, they are very good at their jobs. But they are not learning or contributing or deriving challenge and satisfaction from the job. And yet they are still likely to face another 20 if not 25 years of work. That is why managing oneself increasingly leads one to begin a second career. There are three ways to start a second career. The first is actually to start one. Often this takes nothing more than moving from one kind of organization to another: the divisional controller in a large corporation, for instance, becomes the controller of a medium size hopsital. But there are also growing numbers of people who move into different lines of work altogether: the business executive or government official who enters the ministry at 45, for instance; or the midlevel manager who leaves corporate life after 20 years to attend law school and become a small-town attorney.” Sounds haltingly close to where I’m at…
    • Page 52: “… another reason to developer a second major interest, and to develop it early. No one can expect to live very long without experiencing a serious setback in his or her life work. There is the competent engineer who is passed over for promotion at age 45. There is the competent college professor who realizes at age 42 that she will never get a professorship at a big university, even though she may be fully qualified for it. There are tragedies in one’s family life: the breakup of one’s marriage or the loss of a child. At such times, a second major interest, not just a hobby, may make all the difference…. The overwhelming majority of people did not expect anything but to stay in their ‘proper station’ as an old English prayer has it. The only mobility was downward mobility.”
  • The Battle of Mogadishu: Firsthand Accounts from the Men of Task Force Ranger NOTES: Had the privilege to meet and get to know one of the men mentioned in the book, he let me borrow it from his bookshelf. Great read if you liked Black Hawk Down.
  • Why Honor Matters NOTES: not sure if I agree with the idea of honor cultures but the author does a good job of trying to persuade me… and there’s a lot of good that comes from tight community that I could learn from. Quotes:
    • Page 55: “Brown’s unspoken assumption is that we ought to live in a way that maximizes the probability of a long life, no matter the cost. An experience like bungee jumping or backcountry camping or skydiving is deemed ‘excessively’ or ‘irrationally’ risky because it marginally increases the probability of an early death. But what if the activities like backcountry camping and skydiving and scuba diving and others are part fo what makes life worth living in the first place? A sense of adventure is not a vice; it’s a virtue. Imagine how impoverished your life would be if you systematically excluded any behavior that carried the slightest threat of physical harm. No wonder stories about honor stirs the public imagination! Many of us recognize and connect with the spirit of adventure, even as we sense it receding in our own experience.”
    • Page 59: “… Ferdinand Tonnies distinguished between two types of social relations. The first – gemeinschaft – is sometimes translated as ‘community’, but like many German words has no good translation. People who relate in this way regard themselves as part of the community whose value can’t be reduced to its individual parts. They have common goals and values, and they don’t make a clean distinction between what’s good for them as individuals and what’s good for the group as a whole. Examples of gemeinschaft include the family, army units, sports teams, and religious communities. Within these groups, there is plenty of competition among individuals, but they are working for a common purpose and share some basic standards for how to evaluate people’s behavior and characters.”
    • Page 75: “A part of Boston Strong is pride in the inspired work of those involved in responding to the event – the bystanders, the other runners, the Boston Athletic Association volunteers, the first responders, the medical staff at the finish line, the doctors and nurses and support staff in the hospitals, police from all responding agencies, fire, National Guard; in short, everyone who helped. From their dedicated, selfless work springs inspiration. Another part of Boston Strong is an expression of resilience – that people, including those directly and indirectly injured, those involved in the response, and the community as a whole will come back, stronger than ever, going on with their lives and hopes and dreams. And a part of Boston Strong is an expression of unwillingness to be intimidated. This is a forward-looking form of resilience – the community refuses to cower, to be deterred or diverted from its ongoing work and life and hopes and dreams. Boston Strong is, thus, both about response and about recovery.”
    • Page 207, on BAM (“Becoming a Man”) and it’s six core values: “The values are integrity (‘My values equal my actions; I am a man of my word’), accountability ‘I am responsible for the consequences of my actions whether intended or unintended; I take ownership for what I do and avoid projecting blame’), positive anger expression (‘I learn that anger is a normal emotion that needs to be expressed; how I express my anger is a choice, whether as a savage or as a warrior’), self-determination (‘I pursue my goals in the face of adversity’), respect for womanhood (‘I am more mindful and respectful in how I interact with women; I strive to be a self-liberator and not an oppressor’), and visionary goal setting (‘I create a vision for myself, for who I am, and how I want to be seen in the world; I create a vision that is focused on making my community and the world a better place’)”
    • Page 217: “At the same time, there’s a smugness to the most triumphalist champions of liberalism, an elitist ‘let-them-eat-dignity’ quality, that ignores or undervalues, the serious problems of modern life, especially for the least educated and least fortunate. The resurgence of Far Right nationalism in the United States and Western Europe has exposed the inherent weaknesses and casinoluck vulnerabilities of our culture of dignity. These movements didn’t emerge out of nowhere. Human beings crave communal connections, they crave purpose and meaning and see to identify with movements, causes, and groups. This is a well-documented fact of human psychology. The policies and social structure of the dignity culture place all the moral emphasis on the individual, which, along with the depersonalizing forces of industrialization, has left many people feeling list, alienated, humiliated, and seething with resentment. That void, the lack meaning, community, and forms of identification, will get filled somehow. The question is how it gets filled, what we identify with, how we derive meaning and purpose from our lives.”

February 2020

  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts NOTES: …
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less NOTES: …
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly NOTES: very late to the party with Anthony Bourdain but I loved this book and especially his attitude about cooking, hard work, and artists. Quotes:
    • Page 62-63: on the types of line cooks in the world: “… Finally, there are mercenaries, people who do it for cash and do it well. Cooks who, though they have little love or natural proclivity for cuisine, do it a high level because they are paid well to do it – and because they are professionals. Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman – not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen – though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying. And I’ll generally take a stand-up mercenary who takes pride in his professionalism over an artist any day. When I hear ‘artist’, I think of someone who doesn’t think it necessary to show up at work on time. More often than not artists efforts, convinced as they are of their own genius, are geared more to giving themselves a hard-on than satisfying the great majority fo dinner customers. Personally I’d rather eat food that tastes good and is an honest reflection of its ingredients than a three-foot-tall caprice constructed from lemongrass, lawn trimmings, coconuts, and red curry… When a job applicant starts telling me how Pacific Rim cuisine turns him on and inspires him, I see trouble coming. send me another Mexican dishwasher anytime. I can teach him to cook. I can’t teach character. Show up at work on time six months in a row and we’ll talk about red curry paste and lemongrass. Until then, I have four words for you: ‘Shut the fuck up.'”
    • Page 96… again on hard work: “… If Bigfoot (the name of a guy he was working for at the time) asked you a question and you didn’t know the answer, he always preferred an ‘I dunno’ to a long-winded series of qualified statements, speculation and half-truth. You kept Bigfoot informed of your movements. He would never allow himself to fall victim to a ‘managers syndrome’ – constantly watching the clock, wondering if and when his employees were going to show up. Where Bigfoot ruled, he knew when they were going to show up; fifteen minutes before start of shift. That’s when. Bigfoot understood – as I came to understand – that character is far more important than skills or employment history. And he recognized character – good and bad – brilliantly. He understood, and taught me, that a guy who shows up every day on time, never calls in sick and does what he said he was going to do is less likely to fuck you in the end than a guy who has an incredible resume but is less than reliable about arrival time. Skills can be taught. Character you either have or don’t have. Bigfoot understood that there are two types of people in the world: those who do what they say they’re going to do – and everyone else.”
    • Page 132: on learning to recognize failure, something that I’ve learned in 2019 and 2020, boht in myself (should have resigned / realized that I wasn’t going to make it and then I learned what negligence in a software company looks like): “… What I learned at Tom’s was a sad lession that has served me well in decades since: I learned to recognize failure. I saw, for the first time, how two beowed, funny an dpopuarl guys can end up less beloved, not so funny and much less poular after trying to do nothing more than what their friends told them they were good at… I found a job in the Post and jumped ship at the first opportunity.”
    • Page 256, story / chapter about Scott Bryan, which apparently inspired more than just me and mirrors some of the mistakes I’ve made / am making: “… Scott had some chops now. He was good on the line. He had a resume, some notable names and recommendations, working experience, exposure to France and French food. So did I, at that point in my career. I was good kiwi gambling! I’d been to France! I had a CIA diploma – at a time when that was a pretty rare and impressive credential. So, what the hell happened? How come I’m not a three-star chef? Why don’t I have four sommeliers? Well, there are lots of reasons, but one reasons is that I went for the money. The first chef’s job that came long I grabbed. And the one after that and the one after that. Used to a certain quality of life – as divorcees like to call it, living in the style to which I’d grown accustomed – I was unwilling to take a step back and maybe learn a thing or two.
      Scott was smarter and more serious. He was more singleminded about what he wanted to do, and how well he wanted to do it. He began a sort of wandering apprenticeship, sensibly designed to build experience over a bank account… He went to work for Brendan Walsh… And for Scott, it was his version of the ‘the happy time’, a period when ‘everyone knew what we were doing was important. It was a team of cooks.'”

January 2020

Previous Years

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