Books Read in 2019
Between the World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates — Styled as a letter to his teenage son, Coates discusses and illuminates — especially for non-black readers — the cruel, harsh reality (destruction, dispossession, and disembodiment) of being “drafted into the black race,” and dispels the illusion of America as some shining city on a hill. Incredibly evocative.
The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller — Miller's seminal, blockbuster work, this book is something that I think everyone can relate to in some part (or at least acknowledge its powerful, inescapable conclusions) regarding the cyclical nature of parenting, i.e. how we unintentionally reproduce/internalize behaviors (often undesirable) in our own children. Most importantly, she offers us the tidbit from her own decades of experience as a psychologist that the only solution for individuals tormented by their childhood - which is basically everyone, in some way or another — is much-needed but much-avoided internal dialogue.
The War On Normal People by Andrew Yang — Basically Yang's fully fleshed out campaign manifesto, or the rationale behind it (oh yeah, he's running for President 2020). The best part is that it's more data-driven than anecdotal, and the anecdotes that he does include come from his experience as an entrepreneur — he started Venture for America, but realized it wouldn't create enough jobs. Perhaps tech-pessimist in terms of the conclusions he comes to, Yang's tone is nevertheless pragmatic. Indeed, this is the startling, clarion call to overhaul the US that the country needs, not irrational backlash against threats unknown. I was a proponent of UBI before, and now even more so... glad a mainstream US political candidate is taking it up now before it's too late. Consider how 7 million jobs (fast food and trucking) are in danger, and tell how AI is going to create 7 million jobs for these "normal people" who'd be displaced, hint: they're not going to be software engineers.
King of Capital by Carey & Morris — This book is (1) About finance, specifically, about Private Equity (PE), Stephen Schwarzman (SS), and Blackstone (BX, which is named after him and his cofounder (Peter Peterson): combining the English equivalents of schwarz, Yiddish for black, and peter, Greek for stone), (2) God-damned fun to read: blow-by-block story telling of major financial deals that reads like sports coverage, maybe only to me, (3) Well-researched: references run around 20% of the book and many are based on personal interviews that give access to the characters we only see gracing magazine covers, (4) Somehow coherent: dealing with complex timelines and deals, the story is weaved into a coherent crisscrossing narrative; it takes a while to fully comprehend the "Blackstone diaspora," (5) but also really long… was quite the slog to get through — fascinating notwithstanding.
The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger — the story behind how Wall St and more became "too big to persecute" from the SEC/DOJ's side; tl;dr rise of the DPA and the lack of political willpower/resources to go after big cases after past fiascos including Enron, Andersen, KPMG, Bear Stearns; also, regulatory capture.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou — Bad Blood is an exciting telling of Theranos from start to finish with great descriptions of E. Holmes and the other players involved. Are we as much at blame for believing her? Definitely a developing story given coming trial, an HBO documentary, and a future blockbuster movie. Worth reading to contextualize what's to come. Madoff for Millennials.
The Coddling of the American Mind by Lukianoff & Haidt — An expanded version of their original 2015 article, but goes into much greater detail explaining 6 potential causes of the recent safetyism/victimhood culture arising on campuses and spelling out why it's problematic for kids today. Basically, it makes them fragile.
The Wisdom of Finance by Mihir Desai — Explains basic financial concepts through various cultural references (history/lit/music/movies) in order to humanize it. The ideas of living life with or without leverage (comparing Jeff Koons' and Orwell's approaches), and seeing the principal-agent problem in parenting, were particularly thought-provoking.
My Twentieth Century by Kazuo Ishiguro — Kazuo Ishiguro’s acceptance speech for his 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature (transcript). Explains the thought-process and chronology behind his books, especially interesting if you've read Remains of the Day and/or The Buried Giant.
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis — Lewis uncovers some of the hidden complexities of the US government in this book, taking examples from the Department of Energy (half of whose budget goes towards maintaining the nuclear arsenal, namely waste), the Department of Commerce (which is misnamed, it should really be the Department of Data — all of weather data comes from sub-department NOAA), and the Department of Agriculture (whose $200B bank funds rural development). Basically, the book is about short-termism and through reading it one uncovers how Trump might be the epitome (both indirectly (lack of preparation) and directly (continued ignorance)) of it. Honestly, terrifying.
Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas — explores how the rich (and especially philanthropists) have monopolized thought leadership and persuaded, most worryingly, the up and coming that public policy doesn't work; instead: PPPs with emphasis on the private.
A New Foreign Policy by Jeffrey Sachs — updated for Trump’s presidency, Sachs (a leading developmental economist) makes a great case for internationalist foreign policy. Much of it is about committing to the UN, but some great points about the arms/aids race (to the bottom) with China.
Make Time by Knapp & Zeratsky — My highlights aren’t as helpful here, but I would recommend this book as a useful reference. It’s a collection of 87 tips from ex-Googlers who've worked on addictive products (YouTube, Gmail) and therefore know first-hand how hard it is to find the time to do the things we really want to do, i.e. mistaking urgency for importance.
Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman — Blitzscaling (verb): "prioritizing speed over efficiency under uncertainty." Hoffman’s main thrust is to tune your startup strategy for its stage and commands that you have 3 types of innovation: (1) business model, (2) strategy, and (3) management; all of which is intuitive, but which Hoffman is able to uniquely expound upon by using his own experience as a (co)-founder of LinkedIn/PayPal and well as those of other entrepreneurs he’s mingled with. Note: I basically copied 80% of my highlights, so would recommend reading the actual book.
Black Edge by Sheelah Kolhatkar — An accounting of the SEC's quest to bring down Steve Cohen, "the genius trader," whose firm SAC was known to beat the market (by a lot) and trade on inside information (a lot). Ultimately, the SEC failed to get Cohen, instead convicting only a few of SAC's employees and exacting a record $1.2B fine in 2014. Today, however, Cohen is back in the game, unscathed, with billions to his name and a new shining fund: Point72. Raises questions about the SEC's capabilities, something which is expounded on more in Eisenger's The Chickenshit Club.
The Buy Side by Turney Duff — Duff, a journalism major from Ohio State vividly recounts his experiences as a buy-side trader on Wall St from the 90s to the 00s. What makes this book so entertaining is Duff’s ability to write what is presumably a factual account of his own experiences and his willingness to go to into incredibly sordid details regarding his cocaine/alcohol addiction, which his book suggests is the norm of Wall St’s buy-side (at least back then). I was fascinated by his crediting his success to his interpersonal skills — something which I imagine has in no small part have to do with him being the only son (of a demanding, cold father, see Drama of the Gifted Child but youngest of 4 children…
The Real Estate Game by William Poorvu — good for first time homebuyers and potential RE investors, I guess. No notebook, since it’s a little dated. But really simple/clear explanations, will try and tackle his casebook at some point.
When to Rob A Bank by Steven Levitt — A collection of blogposts from the Freakonomics guys. Though I didn’t really enjoy the originals (I read both) because I thought some of the hypotheses were tenuous at best, they were still entertaining to read. This is better — and best as an airplane book — because the stories are even shorter and the tone is more light-hearted… if you’re going to do pop-economics, don’t take yourself too seriously!