Books I read in 2015

I managed to read a better amount of books this year than I have in years past. That was not an explicit goal for this year; it arose naturally from a combination of things:

  1. Having a more predictable income (i.e. job vs. running my business) made it easier to justify “extra” expenses like books.
  2. Having a more predictable income made it easier to justify the time investment in reading.
  3. Listening to audiobooks made it possible to combine reading (something I love to do) with exercise (something I find enjoyable, but only once I’m doing it). The end result has been much more time spent doing both, which has been extremely beneficial to me.

There are a number of books that I didn’t read all the way through. That’s not necessarily an indictment of the book; perhaps rather the reader. At any rate, I’ve noted those books below, as well as which books I read in hard copy vs. listening to an audio book.

Anyway, here’s what I read:

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor in the second century. He’s considered to be an important Stoic philosopher, and his Meditations are a collection of journal entries espousing that approach toward life. I thought it was neat to read about his rather mundane struggles with day-to-day life, even as Emperor of the most powerful nation in his time.

I read a hard copy, and stopped reading about halfway through.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

This is a classic in tech business circles. It describes–through various case studies, most notably from the hard drive sector–the pattern of technical disruption in an established industry. It’s quite well-written and I learned a lot, but I felt that Clayton Christensen belaboured the point a bit and so again, I stopped reading about halfway through.

I read a hard copy.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel is an extremely successful entrepreneur and investor. He founded PayPal and Palantir (both worth tens of billions of dollars) and was the first outside investor in Facebook (among many others). I am not convinced that the ultra-successful are necessarily a great place to look for advice (because I think there is an element of survivorship bias at play, and because doers are not often teachers) but it is certainly interesting to get some insight into his thought process, especially since this book is likely to influence the thought process of technology investors everywhere.

I read a hard copy, cover to cover.

A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel

This is a classic of stock market investing. I did some research last year for an introduction to investing, and everyone recommended the same book. I went into it without knowing much about the public stock market, and came away feeling like I knew a lot. (Dangerous, I know!)

Basically, Malkiel makes the case for passively managed index funds. I read a hard copy.

The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Jeff Bezos is fascinating to me. These days, Amazon and its leader don’t have the same cachet as Google or Apple, but Bezos is absolutely an internet pioneer, and Amazon is every bit as dynamic of a technology company (and yes, they are a technology company) as Google or Apple. The Everything Store is the first attempt at a comprehensive book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and I gobbled it up.

I read a hard copy.

Gut by Giulia Enders and Jill Enders

Scientists (including one who is dear to me) are making lots of headway on the importance of the gut microbiome to overall health and fitness. This book shares some of those discoveries in a fun and accessible way.

I read a hard copy, but I’m not finished yet.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This is a fun one! The only pure fiction on the list, and I really enjoyed it.

I read a hard copy, but skipped through a few spots. Then I watched the movie :)

Good to Great by Jim Collins

This is a business classic, with several case studies of large public companies who achieved transformative growth over fixed periods. Collins attempts to dissect their success by finding which traits the companies all shared during their transitions, while also looking at comparison companies who did not achieve the same growth.

I found it very interesting, although I find his methodology statistically questionable and the overall relevance a bit lacking (several of the “great” example companies have seen spectacular failure since the book was originally published).

I listened to this as an audiobook.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Short and sweet! I read a series of novels when I was younger which made frequent reference to The Art of War and have wanted to read it ever since. It was really interesting, and the version I listened to was read by actor Aidan Gillen (Lord Baelish in HBO’s Game of Thrones) which made it all the more entertaining.

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler

Great tactical book about building a sales organization, from the former director of sales at Salesforce. Would have been more useful a year earlier, but I’m still glad I read it. I’ll certainly revisit it if/when the opportunity arises.

I listened to this as an audiobook.

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

The crux of this book is that entrepreneurs should build systems that can function without them; otherwise they are merely building a job for themselves. One of the reasons entrepreneurs create businesses is for the autonomy and freedom that owning a business implies, and yet too often they create businesses that cannot function without them. This one resonated with me.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Data-Driven Marketing by Mark Jeffery

This is an information-dense book about how to create measurable marketing campaigns. I found it very interesting, but since it wasn’t really actionable for me I only got about halfway through.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

In the Plex by Steven Levy

All about Google! In the Plex is widely considered to be the authoritative history of Google. It’s well-researched and well-written, and I discovered just how much I didn’t know about Google.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Reid Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn, and is now a prominent Silicon Valley investor. This book wasn’t really about startups, though–it’s all about forging a personal career in the modern age. Hoffman and Casnocha present a thesis wherein company loyalty is not what it once was, and that it’s been replaced by personal networks. It rung true, but I didn’t feel like I got a lot of new insights from this book.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff

Klaff dissects the art of pitching (i.e. to investors or sales prospects, not batters). His “explanations” rely a bit too much on evolutionary pseudo-psychology for my taste, but I still found the content useful and have made a note to revisit this book eventually.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Hooked by Nir Eyal

I didn’t really read this book. I stopped after about 20 minutes of trying. I found it banal. Maybe I was just in a bad mood that day :)

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

This is a great one! Elon Musk is another fascinating Silicon Valley character, of course. But he’s more-or-less unique in his ambitions, and I find it inspiring. This book is the first of what I can only presume will be many biographies of such a formidable human.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

After listening to Musk I wanted to hear about more uber-ambitious entrepreneurs. This book… was ok. I stopped about halfway through, but that still represents about 5 hours of listening, so it can’t have been all bad.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

I didn’t really read this book, either. I think it made such a splash when it was originally published that I’ve already heard most of its ideas elsewhere, and so while I was excited to read it I quickly got tired of waiting for some new insight.

I’m sure it’s a fine book, though! (I listened to it as an audiobook.)

The Real-Life MBA by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch

I really enjoyed this book. Jack Welch is, of course, the legendary former CEO of General Electric and–it would seem–a generally kind and admirable fellow. He and his wife have collected all sorts of business advice from their many years “in the trenches” so-to-speak, and although it’s not all necessarily applicable to my work it was still a fun listen.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

I listened to this as an audiobook while on vacation this past fall. It’s very entertaining, and although I’m skeptical of Lewis’ overall indictment of high-frequency traders I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Business Adventures by John Brooks

I added this book to my wish list because it is reportedly Bill Gates’ favourite book. It didn’t disappoint! 12 interesting business stories from throughout the 20th century.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Horowitz is one of the name partners at Andreessen Horowitz, a very prominent venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. The book is all about lessons learned throughout his business life. I thought it was quite good at the time, but can’t seem to remember anything particularly unique about it now.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Skunk Works by Ben Rich and Leo Janos

This was one of the best books I read this year. For the week or two that I was reading it, I became obsessed with the history of the Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin, and the incredible spy planes they were able to create. This book is applicable to anyone who builds things, or who works in an office, or who has a remotely inquisitive mind.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer

Did you know there is such thing as a World Memory Championship? This book is all about human memory, and about the “mental athletes” who compete in memory sport at its highest levels. In the process of writing the book, Foer became proficient enough in memory techniques to win the American Memory Championships! Very entertaining and educational.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

In this book, Greene attempts to distill centuries of political and military history into a set of “laws” of “power”. I think the premise is a bit cheesy, but the history is fascinating.

I listened to it as an audiobook, but didn’t finish it. I’ve spent over 10 hours listening to it so far, though, so it’s pretty interesting.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

A “brief” history of capitalism, by the numbers, with some attempts at determining where our economy might be going.

I have spent 7 hours listening to this audiobook so far; I’m not sure I’ll finish it (only 18 hours to go!) but I do recommend anyone interested in economics takes a peek at this book if they haven’t already.

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

I’m buying this for everyone as a Christmas present this year. Well, almost.

It’s the actual diary of an actual inmate at Guantanamo Bay. It’s fascinating and horrifying at the same time. This is not just the Americans’ problem. As “the West” we have collectively allowed our society to stoop to horrible lows; in the name of defending freedom and justice we’ve made a mockery of it. This is the most important book I’ll read this year.

I’m listening to it as an audiobook; almost done.

Taking People With You by David Novak

Management advice, basically. The author is CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, etc). Fairly interesting, actionable stuff.

I listened to it as an audiobook.

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis

I haven’t really read this one yet. I received it as a gift (hard copy) earlier this year and feel bad about not having read it yet, so I’m including it here out of guilt. Also, I am looking forward to reading it over the holidays :)


Software developer, book writer, beer brewer :)

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