The beginning of December sparked a kind of reading renaissance for me. December turned out to be a productive reading month.

Think Like a Freak - Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

This is the third book from the Freakonomics duo. It deviates from their tried and true formula of explaining certain phenomena, and instead focuses on the type of thinking that allows insight into tricky problems. It's an interesting book, and gives some startling insights to how these problems should be examined.

 

 

So Good They Can't Ignore You - Cal Newport

The best book I read all month, and one I've reflected on at length elsewhere. It starts with a unique premise: 'Follow your passion' is perhaps the worst advice we can give people. For a variety of reasons, this resonated with me.

Newport, an Georgetown professor and Study Hacks blogger, spends the rest of the book talking about his alternative for finding a career you love: Get damn good at the one you've got.

 

Where Good Ideas Come From - Steven Johnson

A good book with a premise that I was already familiar with. Johnson takes a look at the history of good ideas and examines what they have in common. He breaks the task into seven distinct features: The adjacent possible, Liquid networks, The slow hunch, Serendipity, Error, Exaptation, and Platforms.

In short:

  1. Get great at what you do
  2. Saturate yourself with information
  3. Put yourself in an environment that encourages you to slam in to people who are also great and saturated.

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin

Steve Martin's autobiography that explores his growth from mediocre to memorable. It's well-told by Martin, and an engaging read from front to back. 

Martin realized at a young age that humor comes from a tension in the audience. Laughter is the release of that tension. Martin wondered: 'What would happen if I never let the audience release?'

Then he spent 10 years making people uncomfortable.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work - Mason Currey

This book was interesting enough, but lost it's charm early-on.

The book is composed of a series of vignettes detailing how notable people spend their creative days. A wonderful premise, and it becomes clear very early on that there is no one recipe for success.

It's fascinating to read about some of your heroes, but the nature of the narrative makes it a repetitive read. Best consumed in small sips.

Sam Walton: Made in America - Sam Walton with John Huey

This book was wonderful.

Written in the year before his death, it reads as if Grandpa Sam is sitting you down and telling you a nice story about a corner store he started.

And in a lot of ways that's what Walmart is. The story follows Sam from the time he is a young man to the year of his death. It follows the evolution of Walmart from a corner five-and-dime to the behemoth it is today. The two narratives proceed lockstep, making it clear that the life of one is the life of the other.

It's been on my radar since reading The Everything Store, a parallel story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. I would wholeheartedly recommend either.

How to Not Be Wrong - Jordan Ellenberg

An interesting book that is one part Freakonomics and one part Nate Silver, this is a mathematical look that seeks to redefine being right.

The math gets a bit thick in pages (admittedly, I struggle with even the simplest equations). I chose to take Ellenberg for his mathamatical word, and breeze through the pages of proofs to the juicy narrative and analysis. Ellenberg encourages his readers to embrace complexity, and view the world through a prism of logic.This was the real strength of the text.