- Management: Bob Fifer’s How to Double Your Profits in 6 Months or Less (1995) obsesses about cutting costs by any and all means possible. Every corporate resource is a cost-center that must be pared down to the bone—unless it brings in business or improves the bottom line. This obscure book has instigated systematic cost-consciousness in many large firms that have bloated cost structures in today’s hypercompetitive business environment. [Read my summary.]
- Leadership: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh (2017) recounts his remarkable empathy-centric revamp of the culture of a company that had become set in its ways. Nadella is an exemplar of a leader as a sense-maker. His narrative arc shifts from a personal memoir to a management how-to, and then to technological futurism. [Read my summary.]
- Self-Help: Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2014) is an excellent reminder of the wisdom to think through—and act upon—what really matters. “A rich, meaningful life entails the elimination of the non-essential.” A simple life is a good life. [Read my summary.]
- Self-Help: Robert Maurer’s One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (2004) conceives transformative change as a cumulative, gradual process of small improvements. One small step leads to the next, which leads to one more, and so on. “Small Kaizen actions disarm the brain’s fear response … and satisfy your brain’s need to do something and soothe its distress.” [Read my summary.]
- Leadership: Singapore Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs are The Singapore Story (1998,) From Third World to First (2000,) and One Man’s View of the World (2013.) Lee is one of the most competent leaders the world has ever seen. He was an autocratic pragmatist—a strong-willed, visionary leader who got it done. While considering Lee’s legacy, one needs to acknowledge his incredible achievements while refusing to close one’s eyes to certain lapses. He once remarked, “We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.” [Read about the key lessons that Lee had to teach.]
- Science History: Richard L. Hills’s Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine (1989) traces the arc of development of the technique to harness the properties of steam. Steam-powered mechanical devices became the driving force of the Industrial Revolution and led to innovations that became the bedrock of modern civilization. [Read this case study about insights into creativity.]
- Management: Julie Zhuo’s Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You (2019) chronicles her experiences from ramping-up into management and getting to know herself better. This excellent primer for novice managers offers many hard-earned insights that only time in the trenches can reveal. “Being a manager is a highly personal journey, and if you don’t have a good handle on yourself, you won’t have a good handle on how to best support your team.” [Read my summary.]
- Aviation History: Jon Ziomek’s Collision on Tenerife (2018) analyzes the world’s worst aviation disaster caused by small errors that became linked up and amplified into a big tragedy. He provides a comprehensive picture of the importance of protocols and expounds on how some humans can freeze in shock while others spring into action. [Read my summary.]
See, also, my book recommendations from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014.
The four books I re-read every year are Benjamin Graham’s Security Analysis and The Intelligent Investor, Phil Fisher’s Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
You may be interested in my article on how to process that pile of books you can’t seem to finish and my article on why we read self-help books.
I wish you all very enlightening reads in 2020! Recall the words of the American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, who said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Leave a Reply