22 Books I Read in 2016

As 2016 comes to an end, I am taking stock of all that I’ve read and learned this year.  It really does seem like last December was just around the corner as I was planning on what books I would read this year.  Not everything I actually got to, but I am really proud of how much I did actually get to read.

Below are a list of books, in a rough order of when I read them.  I’ve marked a asterisk (*) symbol beside the books that were my favorite reads of the year and I will carry lessons that I learned from them for the rest of my life, and that I would recommend others to read.  Also the title of the book may have a link to my book notes that I’ve posted on my blog if you are interested in knowing more.

Mindset by Carol Dweck *

Mindset is based on a thesis that people, in different forms and areas of their life, approach life with a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset.  This book has been extremely popular and has been blowing up all over within the business field, education, parenting, and I would imagine sports as well. Many influencers recommend it, including being on Bill Gates’ reading list.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday *

This book’s central tenet is that “The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way, is the way”, a quote from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  This book was my introduction into the school of philosophy called Stoicism.  This philosophy also has been blowing up all over, particularly in the start up world as well as making rounds throughout the NFL.  I just about highlighted a passage from every single chapter.  Stoicism isn’t a boring philosophy, they were interested in pragmatic and practical strategies in living a good life.  If you’ve started to hear about Stoicism or have read about how this ancient philosophy relates to modern life, I would highly recommend this book.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl *

An absolute classic of a book that has stood the test of time, and is recommended on so many people’s recommended book list.  Man searches for meaning, but perhaps it is in fact that life is asking man what meaning to give to one’s life.  A good place to start when asking yourself what you want out of life, or what you want to do with the life you’ve been given.

Frankl was a psychologist that lived through the horrors of concentration camps, losing his entire family, and came out with a sense of purpose in his life, by writing this book.  He observed that those who were most likely to live through life in concentration camps, were ones that had assigned meaning or purpose to their life. Whether it was writing a book, completing their work, or living for a loved one.

Also it goes into great description of what it was like to live in a concentration camp.  Definitely an eye opener. I was touched so much and it grew a yearning inside of me to learn more about WW2, that I arranged a trip to Berlin, Germany in 2017.

No art is original, all art is stolen. Many artists have been influenced by Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton.  Every great artist has been influenced by the past, and build on what was created, but give their own uniqueness to it.  So there is no need to feel like you are copying someone else’s art.  You should be copying someone else’s art, it is the only path to original art.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

You can’t find your voice unless you use it. Artists don’t develop in a vacuum, they are developed with other artists.  Share your work, so you leave a trail for people to find you.  If you ever wanted to have an online presence of a body of work, I recommend getting this book.  Only takes an hour or so to read.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’m glad that I took the chance to re-read this classic book.  Nice to read some children’s fiction every once in awhile.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh was the coach of the 49ers, that was the first coach to take a last place team and turn it around to a championship team within 2 years, and create a dynasty and changed the way the game was played with his West Coast Offence.  His central theme is his standard of performance, how he expected his entire organization to take their job seriously and do everything with excellence.  I did not enjoy this book very much, however I must admit that their are lots of hard lessons that I may be trying to avoid.

Tartine by Chad Robertson

This book is the bible on home sourdough bread baking.  I never got around to creating my own sourdough starter (however I attempted once and failed), but I grew a huge appreciation for bread and how it’s made. The book is filled with bread recipes as well as what to do with the bread.  It goes through a history of bread through the ages and it’s origins, and is wonderfully written.  I salivate now thinking about the stories of Chad’s time in France as he learned to bake bread all day, and ate raclettes, bread, and local rose every night.  An excellent read.
If you are interested in baking your own bread, a very easy access point is Jim Lahey’s video for a no knead recipe.

The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

I liked what my friend said recently as he was also embarking on learning to create his own pizza, it’s a life skill that you can use for the rest of your life.  I’ve probably made 20-30 pizzas this year after reading this book.  It’s a highly accessible place to learn how to make your own pizza dough and learn about the different styles of pizza around the world. Worth it to know the difference between a traditional Neapolitan pizza vs an American pizza (and even the differences between a NY slice, West Coast, New-Haven, Chicago, St.Louis).  I could go on …

Linchpin by Seth Godin *

The workplace is changing at an unprecedented pace.  What we learned from our parents and teachers no longer apply.  If you’ve ever been worried about your future job security, I would recommend reading this.  In a world where organizations are applying rules and standards to their employees, and when services are being automated, what the world will hunger for is true authenticity and human touch.  That is something that will always be in demand, and a skill that will always be rare in the workplace.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

There is a certain template that most of us live.  Work ~50 weeks of the year, and take the rest travelling, dashing between 2-4 cities per year.  But what if this template was flipped on it’s head.  What does it mean to travel well? Is travel very expensive?  If you want to become a better traveller, of start forming your philosophies on travel, this could be a place to start.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

We are in the age of distraction, and a skill that is becoming more rare, while becoming more essential to the knowledge worker, is the skill of deep focus and doing deep work.  The type of work that can’t be automated or systemized, that requires creativity and thought and deep problem solving, requires the ability to work deeply.  Cal Newport shares why this is such a problem, why it’s so necessary, and strategies to deploy in your own work life.  I should mention, Cal Newport is a full time professor, with a kid, publishes research papers, runs a blog, and has time to write books.  If you want to see in detail how productive people work, you may consider listening to this guy.

Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis

Arguably, some of the hardest times I’ve laughed this year (not just in reading, but in general), has come from reading this book.  If you are a parent or interested in parenting life, this book has a ton of funny stories that I am sure are very relatable.  You may know Michael Lewis as the author of such books turned movies as The Big Short, Moneyball, and The Blind Side.  Michael is a fantastic writer, and this is the first book I’ve read from him.

Deskbound by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza

We live in a sitting world.  It’s a bit scary to consider that it’s possible to not do any significant walking, say, more than a few minutes from the parking lot to the office everyday.  Or to consider that many people’s most significant movement is only once or twice a week to the grocery store.  Our bodies have not been able to catch up in evolution to deal with all the sitting that we do. Sitting can wreak havoc on our bodies, by putting us in unnatural positions, shortening the length of muscles and tendons, reducing blood flow, dropping our metabolism, and slowly reducing functionality of our muscles.  Sitting and position is a skill that is completely lost in our age because of the sedentary lives that we live.  Over a lifetime, all this bad positioning can lead to heart disease, injuries, loss of productivity, and suboptimal overall performance.  I certainly don’t want to be held back in my 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s, because I did not maintain the one opportunity at a healthy body that I got in this life.  Learn proper sitting, standing, and walking positions, and overall maintenance of your body.

Microadventures by Alistair Humphreys

In our world of internet, highways, netflix, and offices, our culture has lost a sense of adventure.  Often we dream about a time when we can just quit our job, hit the road, and follow wherever the journey takes us, a great adventure.  However that is impractical, or not necessarily something we want to do for those with a career, family, or any number of reasons that hold us back from a great adventure.  Humphreys challenges the reader with practical ways to get away and take on “microadventures” that can be done on a weeknight, or over a weekend.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi *

A beautifully written memoir, that is arguably one of the best books of the year across all genres.  If you want to read something that will touch you, read it.  If you want to read something that is well written, read it.  If you ponder the meaning of life, read it.  I thirst for another book written as well and is as touching as this. Also an easy read, ~3 hours.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Like most popular young adult series, this was highly addictive.  I think I read the whole series in 4-5 weeks.

Customer Success by Mehta, Steinman, Murphy

In this age of subscription based businesses, often the revenues of a subscription does not cover the cost of acquisition even after several years.  What this requires is a new paradigm so that a customer continues to renew or upgrade in order to become profitable.  Long term retention, reducing cancellations, upsells, adding value, and making the customer successful are necessary to compete in the world of SaaS these days.  If you work in the SaaS or start-up space, particularly the first 3 chapters were written very well explaining the state of SaaS companies now.  The 10 Laws of Customer Success weren’t written quite as well. I believe that this space is still quite immature and needs time to mature to really define what it is and isn’t.

The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Amy Schroeder *

This is the first biography I’ve read since I was very little, and I am so glad that I picked it up.  Warren Buffett has always been a hero of mine, and lives a really interesting life.  His behavior and approach to both life and business has a lot of teachings to learn from.  Another book that I have tons of earmarks and highlights on.

As an aside, biographies are awesome!  I went in expecting to get some lessons, but I quickly found that I could get to know who Buffet is, and actually look up to him as a hero and mentor.  I am definitely going to look out for more biographies to read from now on.

Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss

To anyone who is a listener of his podcast, I would say this is a must-purchase.  Anyone who doesn’t listen to his podcast, I can’t see it as having near the same value.  The book is written as notes and excerpts from his podcasts, and highlight 5-10% of each interview.  It has been great for me as I’ve listened to 30+ of his podcasts.  However, regardless, I pretty much read, watch, and listen to every thing single thing that Tim Ferriss produces.

There are a few additional books that I read this year that were not interesting, or I have chosen not to share.  However, I am proud to say that I read 25 or so books this year.  Considering I was expecting to only read 6-8, I am really proud of myself, and realize that I have to set the bar much higher!

However, more than anything, it is not the quantity of books that one reads, but the lessons that one learns from them.  I can say that I certainly am not the same at the beginning of 2017, then I was at the beginning of 2016, and my life is richer because of the books I’ve read.

Giving Money as Part of a Rich Life

Over the 12 months I have been giving thought towards lifestyle optimization, and how charity and donation are a vital part of a meaningful and purposeful life.  I was introduced to the giving movement of Effective Altruism, which is a philosophy in giving to the charities that are most effective at making impact in the world.  This concept immediately captured my attention, as it would seem to be the most productive way towards building a better world.  Charities that fit in this category at the time of this writing fall into categories such as giving malaria nets, mass deworming medication for parasites, access to clean water, and other such causes.

In my journey of giving this past year, I’ve found four things that I’ve experimented with and experienced, some to greater success than others, that are new and quite profound in my life.  It’s my joy to share these with the world and I hope you gain something out of it!

Giving Builds a Meaningful Career

I’ve read lots around “waking up with a purpose”, or “tap dancing to work”, and “do what you love” as mantras and philosophies around choosing work and a career that you love and is meaningful.  However I have not found this to be very practical advice, for a variety of reasons. So maybe rather than looking towards yourself for the source of enjoyable work, you can look at others.

Rather than looking at loving work, maybe we can look at it from a perspective of meaningful work.  In fact, it seems as though parents don’t love the job of parenting, but it is deeply meaningful.  Perhaps the prospect of going to a far away land with the chance of dying from gunshots or mines doesn’t sound pleasant to you or I, but thousands of people enlist in the army to fight for their country.

I’ve been able to begin to transform my mind to see it as meaningful work.  Not because of the work itself, but because of the output that I gain.  You see, I am reasonably skilled in business, I have good commercial ideas and I have the ability to execute which the market rewards me financially for.  I also think that I am only in the beginnings of my career earnings potential.  So as I put in the practice of giving to charities as a certain percentage of my income, let’s use the number 5%, then as I grow in my income, the more I am able to give and impact people.  So I know that it is the direct fruits of my labor as I go to work, that I am making an impact in someone else’s life.

It actually starts going in the direction of thought, that it is actually my moral obligation to do well, to stay motivated, to do good work, gain and improve my skills, in order to attain a larger pay cheque, in order that I can support my brothers and sisters around the world.

I Write Victories on the Wall

I have a chalkboard that hangs on the wall in the kitchen, and can be seen as soon as I walk into my home, as well as from the living room.  It says “X,XXX PPL AFFECTED”, where X,XXX is the number of people that my giving has affected.  I calculate this using thelifeyoucansave.org impact calculator, which follows the effective altruism movement and has a selection of organizations that generally fall into the movement.

What the sign does is that it gives me a reminder, everyday, whenever I need it.  When I start my day in the kitchen getting ready for work, I immediately know why my work makes a difference.  I begin to connect my ambitions and financial goals with knowing that my work affects the world, affects people’s livelihood, and that I have the ability to save a life with the decision to work hard and do good work.

I Recognize I am the 1%

Now, not to take away from the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I realize that I am part of the 1% in the world. With hard work, I am at a level of income that I can live comfortably, where I can eat everyday, know that I have a roof over my head at night, know that I have a steady stream of income, and that if anything were to happen I have the experience and know how to create income if my current source runs out.

Knowing that I am the 1% allows me to get the focus on what I don’t have, and focus on being thankful for what I do have.  Obviously in this day in age, it’s so easy to get caught up on feeling like trash about your own life, particularly when seeing some of your old friends’ or classmates’ Instagram profiles.  But even as I live in my basement suite, drive my 2003 CR-V, and wear clothes that I would have laughed at while I was in university, I know that I am unbelievably rich already.

I Make the Decision Once

Success is having a set of good habits.  In the same way that I just make one decision to decide how much to save for long term goals, medium term goals, and short term finances, I make one decision to decide how much money to give.  I make automated monthly contributions to a charity that I have selected that aligns with what I want to give to, and I know makes a huge impact because it is vetted by organizations such as givewell.org. Without consistently giving, none of what I said above will matter or make a difference.  You need to continually give, remind yourself of the difference you are making, remind yourself that you are already rich, and chase the number on your wall and grow it bigger.

Rounding into the new year, maybe it’s a good idea to consider giving a portion of your income to charitable organizations.  If you don’t know which one to give to, check out the effective altruism movement at sites such as  givingwhatwecan.org or givewell.org.  Or if you’re Canadian, make sure to give through charityscience.com to get a canadian tax receipt. In fact, consistent giving through effective altruism, you will most definitely save a human life through your giving.