My Top 5 New Books of 2018

Of the books published in 2018 I read, these I found most interesting.

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Factfulness: 10 Reasons we're wrong about the the world — and Why Things are Better than you Think.

An amazing primer on evidence based decision making. Rosling was a WHO doctor who spent his life serving the poorest of the poor. He used the power of data and the scientific method to challenge his own cognitive biases and maximize impact of development spending. He shares those insights with readers. The information visualization in this book and in his TED talks is superb. I also appreciate that he includes ethnographic anthropological information to bring to life the conceptual categories of poverty he describes. So for someone living on under $2 a day there are photos of how that person cooks, eats, sleeps, finds water, and uses transport. Those are placed on a grid for visual comparison with the lifestyles of those in higher income tiers. It's such an important book for anyone who cares about global poverty. I was surprised at how wrong my view of the world was as revealed by his simple multiple choice test.

“One of the most important books I’ve ever read―an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” – Bill Gates

“Hans Rosling tells the story of ‘the secret silent miracle of human progress’ as only he can. But Factfulness does much more than that. It also explains why progress is so often secret and silent and teaches readers how to see it clearly.” ―Melinda Gates

"Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases." —Former U.S. President Barack Obama.

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Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it.

A former FBI hostage negotiator's tried-tested tools. He first trained as a suicide crisis help line operator before being in charge of international hostage negotiation. He'd get people out of places like Haiti, out of the hands of terrorists who had killed hostages before and so on. Listening, telling the truth and crafting messages with diplomatic finesse are explained with context I had not considered. Many things may seem obvious but it takes a certain kind of humility to implement them. ie, 'You're going to think I'm a terrible person, but how am I supposed to do that?'

Interview with the author (Youtube: 1 hour 17 minutes)

Reflections of a Hollywood power broker.

Reflections of a Hollywood power broker.

Who is Michael Ovitz?

Michael was a co-founder of Creative Artist's Agency (CAA) and the most feared person in Hollywood. Seventy five percent of the acting, directing and writing talent was under his management. CAA packaged creative projects together and sold them to studios, managed celebrities careers and stayed in the background focusing on providing business value. I took copious notes. Their privacy was such that at one point they hired a PR firm to keep them out of the press.

How Ovitz built his agency from nothing both tactically and strategically is interesting as is how he expanded it to include the buying and selling of studios themselves. But his reflections on what he now would do differently read as most wise.

After CAA he became a Disney executive (which did not work out) and later worked with Andresson Horowitz advising leaders of their startup. I'd read about his term at Disney years ago in the New Yorker. Turns out Ovitz also is a martial arts expert, master of Japanese cultural etiquette and a fan of Sun Tzu. Some other things that stood out in the book: His lawyerly reference to Mr. Weinstein, his art collecting which includes minimal art and his stories of friendship with Bill Murray, Spielberg and Scorsese.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

The clinical psychologist and public intellectual shares his top twelve rules from his longer list of 42 "most valuable things everyone should know". Some rules may seem obvious or strange at first glance but the rationales, anecdotes and bibliography often shed new light on topics like consciousness, myth and meaning. Peterson's weaving of science with philosophy and literature have spurred many of his fans to 'sort themselves out' and rediscover biblical texts and classic works by Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Neitzsche, Jung, and Tolstoy.

His critics tend to believe in social deconstructivism which Pinker's "The Blank Slate" resolved long ago. Others appear to be narrow minded socialists for whom even a moderate classical liberal represents some kind of threat that must be treated with contempt. It's often critics with no science background, no basic understanding of his field or an almost non existent publishing record who are first to share their judgement that because they disagree with him on some point, he must be a pseudo scientist.

While there may be legitimate grounds for disagreement with him on some points (as Haidt, Pinker, Harris and others have discussed with him) those conversations are often lost on many who are swayed by conspiracy theories and smears. There's a sense some have that information which does not confirm one's existing biases must be false—no matter how carefully presented it may be.

Can't Hurt Me: Master your mind and Defy the Odds

Goggins is a legend. His interview on Joe Rogan is equal parts harrowing and inspiring. I started reading his book as soon as I saw it available. His life experiences are so sad and yet he is relentless in the pursuit of his goals. From suffering under an abusive father as a child, to hating himself and overcoming his own bad habits, limitations and past to become a highly decorated warrior. To then transforming his body to perform unreal athletic feats. In ultra marathon relay race contests where teams of 5 compete, he does the entire thing himself. There are of course huge personal costs to achieving this kind of performance and those are as heartbreaking as the achievements are impressive. Goggins amazing attitude and fearlessness encourage my hope and perseverance in pursuit of more refined character and virtue.


Honourable Mentions 2018

Brutally Honest: No-bullshit business strategies to evolve your creative business, Emily Ruth Cohen

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, Nassim Taleb

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Gawker, Hulk Hogan and the Anatomy of Intrigue, Ryan Holiday

Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure, Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt


Older Books I found insightful in 2018 that were new to me

Something like an Autobiography, Akira Kurosawa

Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett & Dave Evans (IDEO)

The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople, Susan Wise Bauer

Sun Like Thunder, Following Jesus on Asia's Spice Road 2nd Edition, W. Harold Fuller

The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Thomas Sowell

Belief Without Borders: Inside the minds of the Spiritual But Not

Religious, Linda A. Mercadante

Soulful Branding, Jerome Conlon

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Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger

There's much that could be said about these books. They provide insight on themes like decolonization in design education, deradicalization and negotiating from a position of power imbalance.