Books I Read in 2015 & Recommend

In addition to a number of Rick Steves’ and Lonely Planet books for my summer-long travels across Europe, here are a few books that I read in 2015 and recommend.

  • Biography / Business: Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is an engrossing chronicle of the obsessive hard-driving personality of its founder-CEO and the company that has played the pivotal role in the shift from brick-and-mortar retail to online retail.
  • 'Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul' by Howard Schultz, Joanne Gordon (ISBN 1609613821)Biography / Leadership: Starbucks founder Howard Schultz’s Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul is an interesting depiction of Starbucks’ turnaround after Schultz returned as CEO in 2008. Read Onward for a case study of the founder’s syndrome in action and a self-congratulatory portrait of a charismatic entrepreneur and brilliant corporate cheerleader. Read my summary.
  • Biography / Business: Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is a biography of America’s current most audacious entrepreneur and Silicon Valley’s most prominent innovator. While the book details Musk’s bold leadership decisions, it also serves as a great reminder of how an extreme personality and intense success are not without their costs. Read my comments.
  • Decision-Making: Phil Rosenzweig’s Left Brain Right Stuff delineates distinct but complementary skills required for making winning decisions: logical analysis and calculation (left brain skills) and as well as the willingness to take risks, push boundaries, and go beyond what has been done before (right brain skills.)
  • 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' by Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton (ISBN 0393316041)Biographies / Mental Models: Physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s scientific curiosity knew no bounds. His academic life, acuity, life-philosophy, and ability to communicate science are inspirational to anyone pursuing his/her own life’s fulfillment. The following biographies capture his many scientific achievements, playfulness, varied interests and hobbies, and—perhaps most notably—his many eccentricities.
  • 'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835)Biography / Business: Sam Walton’s bestseller autobiography Made in America is very educational, insightful, and stimulating. Walton inspired legions of other entrepreneurs who thrive on managing costs and prices to gain competitive advantage. Read about an important lesson from this book about cost and price as a competitive advantage.
  • Decision-Making: Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 Rule advocates considering the potential positive and negative consequences of all decisions in the immediate present, the near term, and the distant future: or in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Read my summary.
  • Biography / Mental Models: Walter Isaacson’s A Benjamin Franklin Reader is an excellent collection of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s most beloved founding fathers. Franklin was a polymath renowned for his lifelong quest for self-improvement.
  • 'The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere' by Pico Iyer (ISBN 1476784728)Philosophy: Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness argues the importance of taking a timeout from busyness. Iyer contends, “In an age of speed … nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention.” Read my summary.
  • Biographies / Art / Philosophy: Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith’s Van Gogh: The Life and Michael Howard’s Van Gogh: His Life & Works in 500 Images paint a vivid picture of the artistic genius and the troubled personal life of Vincent van Gogh. Ever Yours is an absorbing anthology of correspondence between Vincent and his brother Theo. Ever Yours sheds light on Vincent’s shifting moods, turbulent life, and philosophical evolution as an artist.
  • Management: Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s One Minute Manager is a best-selling introductory business book about goal-setting and giving feedback. Read my summary.
  • Biographies: Tenzing Norgay’s autobiography Man of Everest and Yves Malartic’s Tenzing of Everest portray the personal triumph of a poor and illiterate but ambitious, deeply religious explorer.

On a related note, read my article about reading hacks: How to Process that Pile of Books You Can’t Seem to Finish. Also see books I read in 2014 & recommend.

Books I Read in 2014 & Recommend

Other than a number of Rick Steves’ books for my summer-long travels in Europe, here are a few books that I read in 2014 and recommend.

Even though I read few works of fiction, I read a number of Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” books, including the enthralling “Death on the Nile”. Christie describes her characters brilliantly with superb detail.

Books on Business, Operations, & Finance

Books on Skills for Success

Four Timeless Books I Re-Read Every Year

'Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits' by Philip A. Fisher (ISBN 0471445509) Benjamin Graham’s “Security Analysis”, Benjamin Graham’s “The Intelligent Investor”, and Phil Fisher’s “Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits” discuss two complementary schools of investment analysis. Graham’s quantitative approach to value investing comprises of buying stocks below what they are worth and then selling them once they are fully priced. In contrast, Fisher’s qualitative approach to growth investing considers the intangibles (products and services, management, competition, growth prospects, etc.) and paying a premium for growth. Graham’s and Fisher’s viewpoints are a significant part of Warren Buffett’s approach to investments. He’s described himself as “85% Graham, 15% Fisher” (I think Buffett is more “15% Graham, 85% Fisher.”)

Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is the granddaddy of all self-help books that spawned the self-improvement industry. I discovered that the 2011 update, “How to Win Friends and Influence People Digital Age”, refers to my blog article on the art of remembering names.

Viktor Frankl on The Meaning of Suffering

Viktor Frankl, Austrian Existential Psychiatrist

The Austrian existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl suggested that, generally, the need for meaning is a crucial force in people, from the time we’re born until our last breath. He continued to feel this way when his family was murdered by the Nazis and he himself was sent to Auschwitz. Frankl frequently quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s remark that “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

In “Mans’ Search for Meaning”, Frankl describes suffering as a potential springboard both for having a need for meaning and for finding it:

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.

'Man's Search For Meaning' by Viktor Frankl (ISBN 0671023373) Frankl also suggests that the one freedom allowed in us, irrespective of our circumstances, including his horrid subjugation at a Nazi concentration camp, is the freedom to pick our way of thinking in accepting our suffering. This might mean that meaning can be found in becoming a role model for others dealing with similar problems, or utilizing our suffering as a channel for changing for the better in particular aspects of our lives:

It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

Frankl’s story is worth the read: (1) as a reminder of the depths and heights of human nature, and the nature of hopes and despairs that rule our existence, (2) for the idea that life is primarily about the search for meaning and the kinds of choices we can make to establish significance in our lives (logotherapy technique.)

What I’ve been reading: “Man’s Search for Meaning” (+ Book Summary)

Man's Search for Meaning » Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl makes the case that the primary motivation in one’s life is neither pleasure (as proposed by Sigmund Freud) nor power (as proposed by Alfred Adler), but meaning and purpose.

Viktor Frankl is the pioneer of “logotherapy,” a psychotherapy system that carries out an existential examination of a person and consequently helps him/her discover purpose and meaning in his/her life.

Principal ideas from “Man’s Search for Meaning”:

  • Based on his experience as an inmate at many Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, Viktor Frankl observed that those who survived the longest in the Nazi concentration camps were not those who were physically strong, but were those who maintained a sense of control over their environment by finding meaning in their existence and their torments.
  • Even in the toughest of circumstances, life can be given a meaning, and so too can suffering. A person can learn how to cope with suffering and move ahead with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.
  • Meaning in life can be discovered by taking responsibility and through “right conduct” by,
    • Contributing meaningfully to the world through self-expression and resourcefulness,
    • Experiencing the world by connecting meaningfully with others and with our environment, and
    • Probing our attitudes and changing our approach meaningfully when we face situations that we have little control over.

What I’ve been reading: “Fooled by Randomness” (+ Book Summary)

'Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (ISBN 1400067936) In “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets,” Lebanese American essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses cognitive biases and irrationalities that drive human behavior and decision-making.

Principal ideas:

  • Luck, chance, and randomness play a larger role in the happenings of the world than most people acknowledge.
  • People tend to justify random outcomes as non-random and rationalize chance outcomes as results of deliberate actions.
  • Correlation does not translate to causation.
  • People tend to assume patterns in their analysis even when such patterns do not exist.
  • Variations in performance and ability can cause disproportionate rewards, difficulties, punishments, or returns.

David Ogilvy on Why It Pays to Advertise

I’ve been reading Ogilvy on Advertising, written by David Ogilvy (1911–1999,) the founder of Ogilvy & Mather.

Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy (1911--1999) Ogilvy is one of the founding fathers of modern advertising and spent his life preaching the benefits of research in salesmanship, long informative copy, creative brilliance, and results for clients. Ogilvy famously said, “It is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

Ogilvy on Advertising provides excellent sage advice into the art of selling smart. Many of the principles in this book are dated, but the ideology and creative thought processes discussed are timeless.

Ogilvy cites this anonymous poem on why it pays to advertise.

The codfish lays ten thousand eggs,
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done—
And so we scorn the codfish
While the humble hen we prize.
It only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise!

John Bogle’s “Little Book of Common Sense Investing” [Leadership Reading #2]

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing, John Bogle “In investing, the winning strategy for reaping the rewards of capitalism depends on owning businesses, not trading stocks,” argues John Bogle in making a strong case for low-cost index funds in his text, “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.” With statistics and graphs, Bogle rationalizes that low-cost index funds outperform most investment professionals and offer better-than-average returns for investors over the long term.

John Bogle is the legendary founder of the investor-owned Vanguard Group, currently the world’s largest mutual fund company by total assets under management. Over the course of 25 years at the helm of Vanguard, until his retirement in 1999, he focused the efforts of Vanguard on offering cost-conscious investment choices to the masses. John Bogle is the bestselling author of many other books on investment advice.

Superiority of Low-Cost Index Funds

John C. Bogle, Founder of The Vanguard Group John Bogle founded the world’s first index mutual fund, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund in 1975. Since then, “Saint Jack” (as critics labeled Bogle mockingly) has untiringly promoted the virtues of low-fee, no-load, low-turnover, passively-managed index (or more precisely, index-tracking) mutual funds. Investing in such funds, he contends in “The Little Book,” is the simplest and most effective way to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, and profit from earnings growth of businesses and the dividends they yield.

John Bogle methodically discusses every theme relevant to successful investing: the myths of speculation and market timing, inflation, frictional costs (fees charged by brokers and investment advisors, costs of transactions, front-end and back-end loads,) and the effects of compounding and taxes. He then convincingly counters arguments against investing in total market index funds through easy-to-follow quantitative appraisals of investing in individual stocks and bonds, actively managed funds, hedge funds, and sector-specific funds. At the end of each chapter, Bogle reinforces his position with words of wisdom from some of the greatest minds in economics and investing: Ben Graham, Warren Buffet, John Maynard Keynes, Peter Lynch, and the like.

Invaluable Insights for Investors

The majority of people do not have the time, energy, determination, or aptitude for understanding economics, examining investments, managing risk, and building wealth for themselves. They are either overly cautious, or they invest heedlessly, submit to market trends, or engage in speculation. In reading John Bogle’s authoritative book, modest investors will recognize that low-cost index funds offer them broad diversification, reasonably good returns over the long-term, and the ability to outperform a majority of investment professionals.

Informed investors will find, notwithstanding many drawn-out discussions, a great reiteration of John Bogle’s now-familiar, commonsensical ideas on the merits of index investing.

Leadership Reader’s Bottom-line

Inspirational Quotations from the Holy Bible [#356]

In observance of Christmas, I present teachings from the Holy Bible, the principal scripture in the Christian faith.

Merry Christmas! May you all have a day filled with peace and joy.

Jesus Christ status in La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

Christmas and the Season of Goodwill

Christmas is widely celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, a Jewish couple in Palestine in the first century AD, was the Christ (from the Greek word Khristós meaning “the anointed,” or “the chosen one of God”.)

To be precise, in the Christian tradition, December 25 is the first of the twelve days of Christmas. Traditionally, this twelve-day Christmas celebration ends with the feast of “Epiphany,” held on January 6 or on the first Sunday after Christmas.

Over the years, Christmas has transformed into a secular holiday. Historians and religious scholars believe that the December date for the birth of Christ was set around the time of the winter solstice to fit in with pre-Christian pagan traditions of feasting during the occasion of the sun’s annual rebirth, in late December. Besides, the Church of Rome (now the Vatican) did not establish the festival as Christian until the middle of the fourth century.

Christmas Spirit in Action

Christmas Spirit in Action No other holiday boasts a richer variety of rituals, traditions, and customs. Christmas celebrations vary around the world in length and style. The Christians attend midnight or Christmas day Church services and set up a Tyrolean crib at home featuring the town of Bethlehem and the manger to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The season of good will is marked by exchange of gifts and greeting cards, sumptuous dinners, familiar hymns and songs, brightly lit trees, red-ribboned wreaths, ornaments and decorations, Santa Claus, and stockings. During the last few decades, the “Christmas shopping season” has become economically imperative as the time of new product introduction and hectic shopping.

The Holy Bible

The Bible (from the Greek word ta biblia, for “the books”) is a compilation of scripture in Judaism and the Christian faiths. It is the most widely read literature in the world.

The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contains nearly all of the same writings as the Hebrew Bible; the New Testament is a collection of writings dating from after the life of Jesus. The New Testament includes the Gospels (the central message of Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation for the faithful,) the Acts of the Apostles (the stories of the few years after Jesus’ death,) the Epistles (details of the Christian faith), and the book of Revelation (a vision for the end of time.)

Inspirational Quotations from the Christian Bible

Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
The Holy Bible

God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
The Holy Bible

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.
The Holy Bible

The entire law is summed up in a single command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Holy Bible

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
The Holy Bible

You cannot serve God and Mammon.
The Holy Bible

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
The Holy Bible

Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
The Holy Bible

He who attempts to resist the wave is swept away, but he who bends before it abides.
The Holy Bible

The waters wear the stones.
The Holy Bible

The kingdom of God is within you.
The Holy Bible

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
The Holy Bible

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
The Holy Bible

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
The Holy Bible

Wisdom from The Talmud (Inspirational Quotations #353)

Hanukkah, Jewish 'Festival of Lights', 'Festival of Dedication'

In observance of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, I present wisdom from the Talmud, a sacred text of the Jewish faith.

Hanukkah, “Festival of Lights”

This year, the eight-day Hanukkah festival began at sunset on December 1 and concludes on December 9. Hanukkah was established in 165 BCE by the warrior-leader Judah Maccabee to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following a past desecration of the temple by invaders. Hanukkah (‘Dedication’ in Hebrew) is also known as the “Festival of Dedication,” or the “Festival of Lights.”

Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah by kindling the lights of a nine-branched candlestick called the ‘Menorah‘. They kindle one light on the first night, two on the second night and so on. Each night, they also kindle the ninth light, the ‘Shamash‘, for kindling the others. The Shamash is usually higher or lower than the other eight in the Menorah.

The Talmud

Wisdom from the Talmud, Inspirational Quotations The word Talmud is short for ‘Talmud Torah,’ which means “study of the Torah” in Hebrew. The Torah is the Hebrew term for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) The Talmud is composed of several volumes of rabbinical discussions about the interpretation of the Biblical text related to Jewish history, philosophy, ethics, and customs — the meaning and conduct of life, in general.

The central part of the Talmud is the Mishnah, a record of the core teachings of Jewish faith that were previously preserved only orally. Surrounding the Mishnah is the Gemara, the interpretation and commentaries of the Mishnah. The Talmud has no single author. Rather, it is a collection of several volumes, to which Jewish scholars have added their accumulated knowledge over the course of time since about 220 CE.

For an introduction to the significance and the development of the Talmud, I recommend the excellent video documentary, “The Talmud” (available on NetFlix.)

The world’s most recognized dictum, the “golden rule,” is based in the Talmud: “Do not unto others that which you would not have them do unto you. That is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”

29 Inspirational Teachings from The Talmud

Silence is consent.
The Talmud

He who lives by the work of his hands is greater than he who indulges in idle piety.
The Talmud

Even for the rebuilding of the Temple the instruction of the children must not be interrupted.
The Talmud

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.
The Talmud

No Israelite is allowed to lend usuriously to a non-Israelite.
The Talmud

Sinful thoughts are even more dangerous than sin itself.
The Talmud

As a tree is known by its fruit, so man by his works.
The Talmud

All ailings, only not the ailing of heart; all evils, but not an evil wife.
The Talmud

A miser is as wicked as an idolater.
The Talmud

When the castle goes to ruin, castle is still its name; when the dunghill rises, still it is a dunghill.
The Talmud

A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.
The Talmud

First correct thyself, then correct others.
The Talmud

Learn first and philosophize afterwards.
The Talmud

Maria Bartiromo’s “The 10 Laws of Enduring Success” [Book Review & Summary]

The 10 Laws of Enduring Success » Maria Bartiromo Success consists of recognizing opportunity, being optimistic, following our passions, keeping good relations, and making the best of circumstances that life presents us. The elements of accomplishment have been widely written about since the dawn of publishing. Each year, several authors attempt to repackage the familiar skills for success in new contexts. Such is the effort of CNBC anchor and journalist Maria Bartiromo (with Catherine Whitney) in “The 10 Laws of Enduring Success.” Maria presents the longstanding blueprint of success as ten attitudes: self-awareness, foresight, ingenuity, audacity, integrity, flexibility, modesty, fortitude, tenacity of purpose, and resilience.

“The 10 Laws of Enduring Success” falls short on one key characteristic. Advice on success can inspire only when the narrator connects his/her advice to personal anecdotes of hopes and despairs, achievements and disappointments, and meaningfully reflects on how certain attitudes contributed to his/her eventual success. Remember my recent article about commencement addresses by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and J K Rowling? These speakers are stimulating for the very reason that their timeless advices consist of thought-provoking personal contemplations.

“The 10 Laws of Enduring Success” is lacking in deep reflections of what contributed to the author’s success. As the host of one of the most popular shows in business TV, Maria Bartiromo has an extensive access to distinguished people. She does include insights from many successful people from the world of politics, business, sports, and entertainment. However, these narratives are typically short, often wander off the point, and do not necessarily connect to individual themes in a memorable way.

The conversational writing style is unassuming and quite engaging, and thus makes the book a quick read.

Leadership Reader’s Bottom-line