This year, I read 103 books, extending the triple-digit streak from last year. The secret I've learned is to read on your own terms. Don’t be a prisoner of the table of contents. Skip dull chapters for better ones. Abandon books that overstay their welcome.
Some books stretch one good idea over hundreds of pages; others pack so many great ones, you get something new out of every read. The trick to finding the gems is to not get lost in the duds. Here are my favorite gems from the year.
A friend was telling me about how their son tested in the 98th percentile for the SATs but shrugged it off because some of his classmates did even better. As they lamented about how competitive high school is, it reminded me of the book, Talent.
This book starts as a guide on how to spot promising talent. But it will make you rethink how to differentiate yourself altogether.
One of its core ideas is that personality is revealed during weekends. In our downtime, we do things because they’re fun, not because we have to. The open tabs in our browser are unfiltered windows into our real curiosities.
Many of us dismiss our personal curiosities in favor of playing games that society deems important, like test scores, degrees, promotions. The problem? These games are all zero-sum. You have to outcompete everyone else doing the same thing. And even if you win, you often wind up building someone else’s dream.
Here’s the red pill from Talent: the world doesn’t need another copy of you. It needs the version of you that’s been quietly percolating since childhood, the version with your unique combination of curiosities and skills. When you hone that version, you create your own playing field.
Never split the difference
Many people consider this strictly a negotiation book. I disagree. Written by an FBI hostage negotiator, the scripts are out-of-place for say, your typical job negotiation. But it holds killer insights on human psychology.
Here’s an example: when we talk to others, we secretly want to hear two words: “You’re right.” This is true in interviews, debates, negotiations. "You're right" is both the sweetest validation, and a common red herring. It implies a few things:
- You presented something as distinctly your idea, not theirs
- They’re probably not entirely convinced it applies to their situation
- Even if they agree in principle, they might not own the conclusion
“That’s right” is a better signal. People only say “that’s right” when they genuinely agree. It's not about validating you, it’s about making them feel understood.
In a similar vein, "treat others the way you want to be treated” is a nice concept that fails in practice. We should instead treat others the way they want to be treated. This is easy to mix up because we naturally assume that our preferences are “normal” and shared by others.
In reality, even something as basic as time is seen differently. During negotiations, some see time as preparation, to be relished; some see time as a way to build rapport, to be spent lavishly; and yet others see time as money, to be conserved. The best results come from adapting your playbook to the audience.
How will you measure your life?
This is one of those rare books that is worth reading every few years. Some memorable nuggets from this time around:
- 93% of all companies that ultimately make it had to abandon their initial plan because it didn’t work. The exact % is trivial relative to the larger point: it’s almost always better to share your idea because the value of early feedback far exceeds the threat of someone stealing your idea
- The value of a strong brand is that it owns a piece of the customer’s mind. This is only possible when we intuitively map to a “job” customers are trying to do, so when their need arises, they think of us first. Most of us fixate on who’s competing in the market when we should be focusing on who customers think of for every job
- Earned confidence comes from doing hard things. The curse of abundant resources is that it deprives us of the opportunity to do hard things, proving that we can confront new problems and solve them independently
This is the perfect read if you’re looking for suspense and intrigue. An Eagle Scout boy starts an anonymous marketplace to sell anything. It skyrockets to hundreds of millions in revenue within two years, igniting a national manhunt to uncover his identity. During the investigation, multiple uncover agents are convicted of stealing from the case. The founder is now serving two lifetimes in prison.
This is the true, crazy story of the Silk Road. Even when you know what happens, the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ will keep you at the edge of your seat. It will make you question what separates a Boy Wonder Billionaire from a convicted criminal, the arbitrary whims of our justice system, and how small decisions can snowball into catastrophe.
- Alibaba - the House that Jack Built: the author starts with a confession — he snoozed on a $30M opportunity to buy Alibaba pre-IPO shares. This rest of this book is a fascinating tour of how Jack Ma built not one, but five billion-dollar business lines
- Daemon: Daniel Suarez, my favorite sci-fi writer, tells the story of a computer program that starts killing people after the founder dies. What looks like revenge homicide winds up being an elaborate campaign to exploit the vulnerabilities of our digital world
- Psychology of Money: how does a JCPenny janitor end up with a $8M estate at the end of his life? This book opens with the surprising true story of Ronald James Read to illustrate how money and investing is steeped in psychology
- Carrie Soto is Back: TJR, my favorite fiction writer, tells the story of a tennis player who comes out of retirement to defend her world record. It explores the pursuit of excellence vs. stats, being the best vs. being happy, and making peace with our limitations. Even with zero interest in sports, this kept me hooked
Thank YOU for reading to the end, and giving me a reason to write this year! Happy holidays! 🎄