Hat-tip to Barry Nyhan for pushing (annoying) me into writing this. I loved Linkedin’s Amazon plugin that allowed users to see what their connections were reading. Unfortunately Linkedin removed this valuable feature in 2012 which has lead me to writing this blog.
At the beginning of 2013 I set a goal of reading one book a month. When I hit this target I decided to double it for 2014. Below I’ll give a brief overview of each book and link them to Amazon where you can get more details if you so wish.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Government mind control and being constantly watched are always seen as the key themes in
this classic, but I think there is a much deeper thread. Depending on where you are in your life you get different meanings from books, songs, art etc. To me this book drove home the fact that even if I have different career and life plans to 99% of others this doesn’t mean that they are right and that I’m wrong, or vice-versa. If the majority of people believe in something it doesn’t make it right. As Smith finds out, it’s not easy going against the status-qoa.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell – I read this prior to reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. Animal Farm is also a fantastic book in helping you to question the way things are, to be more sceptical of authority and the damaging effects of poor leadership. I think it was Enda Kenny who once said, “Four feet good, two feet better”.
- Business at the Speed of Thought by Bill Gates – This book was a prophesy that Gates wrote in early 1999 and 15 years later – almost all of his predictions have come through. Records management, data reporting, analytics, business intelligence, hospital systems, banking systems etc. If someone read this when it first came out and took a lot of the advice to heart, success would have been sure to follow. As Gates was at the forefront of technology with Microsoft I guess that this shouldn’t have been so surprising. Microsoft didn’t capitalise on many/any of his mobile predictions. I wonder now though who will write the book in 2014 that will predict 2029? Please let me know if you have any suggestions.
- The Second Half by Roy Keane – I HATE football gossip with a passion – I definitely didn’t read Keane’s newest biography for a he-said, she-said account. In fairness to Keane, and the author Roddy Doyle, he does avoid a lot of this. The book is a very honest view into Keane’s time as a manager. He openly critiques himself and discusses his management successes and failures, including times when he really should have stayed silent to benefit himself in the long run. A management book in disguise.
- The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker – This management “classic” is certainly has some golden nuggets of information which make up Drucker’s five parts of being an effective executive. I read this before starting my final year of university, so although advice like “set specific blocks of time for a task and work on it until it is completed”, can be seen as basic advice – when one adds all of these management tactics together, they can become a more “effective executive”.
- No Excuses by Brian Tracy – When getting fit or trying to achieve your business, life, academic goals – most of us know exactly what we need to do. The problem is usually self-discipline and the solution is just doing what needs to be done. Easier said than, well, done. Anyone who has struggled to loose weight, quit smoking or write a long blog post like this, all know what to do to reach the end goal. We are our own worst enemies and this book gives twenty-one tactics on how to manage yourself.
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty – The “bible of finance” and number one best seller. If you’ve read any business site or paper in the past twelve months you will have definitely seen many of Piketty’s arguments debated ad nauseam. An interesting fact about this book – it’s the most downloaded book from Amazon not to be completed. I must admit that I helped in it achieving this title. I read over to over half-way and realised that I understood the main points and that my time may be better spent doing or reading something else. It is an interesting look into capital all the same, including why America may no longer be the “land of opportunities” and why my parents would need to leave me millions for me to be able to live from the fruits of their labour.
- Awaken the Giant within by Tony Robbins – Most people have probably read or see Tony Robbins in action. His material is always good for giving you a push when feeling tired or demotivated. This book is again easy to read but still gives some interesting pointers on finding what you love to do and embracing it. The importance of doing what you are passionate about and really believing that has been one of the best things that I’ve learned this year. I finally leave that I am being true to myself and doing it. I think that most people talk about this in clichés such as “love what you do and you’ll never work a day of your life”, but so few actually live this mantra.
- The Game by Neil Strauss – Recommended to me as “the greatest book that I’ve ever read” by a colleague at Agencyport so I decided to check out this book written by “The World’s Greatest Pickup Artist”. It follows the story of the socially-inept Strauss and how he uses his newly learned social skills to improve his professional and personal life. It shows how easily people can be played and manipulated but also the downfall of doing so. Worth a read if you are interest in finding out how to make men wish they were you, and women wish they were with you.
- Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk – Want the tactics to grow your company brand on social media and an understanding of why you are doing them? Garyvee is a great mentor to start with. Add this book to this daily advice videos and you’ll gain a good insight into the mindset of a marketeer.
- The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 by Carlotta Gall – After moving to the US in March I was embarrassed by my ignorance of Middle-Eastern history and politics. Who better to learn from than Carlotta Gall – a New York Times journalist who has been covering war zones with twenty years. “The Wrong Enemy” is a reference to the Pakistani secret service funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, while Pakistan gained financially from the US war in Afghanistan. Gall gives a very interesting insight into suicide bombers and the tribal structure of Afghanistan’s culture.
- End the Fed by Ron Paul – A book given to me by my US housemate after an evening discussing the respective failures of our countries’ banking systems in recent years. Paul, former Republican Congressman and presidential candidate, details why he wants the abolishion of the Federal Reserve Bank. He lays out an argument that the US central bank is an unconditional institution that was created by the elite for the elite. History tends to favour Paul’s argument, with even Ben Bernanke admitting that the Fed made the Great Depression of the ’30′s worse by its policies.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – OK, I’ll admit that the tale of an autistic young boy who searches for the murderer of his neighbour’s dog might not fit in with the above reading (sorry Amazon if I’ve confused your “suggested reading” algorithm) but sometimes a change is as good as a rest. The way that the main character Christopher viewed life and many of our day-to-day activities was unusual yet refreshing. It’s always beneficial to get a different perspective on life.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni – This book came on the recommendation of FINEOS CEO Michael Kelly. Learning how Michael used what he learned to help transform his business made it a must-read. Where this book differs from the general management literature is that it reads as a story. A new CEO works to gel her management team together – no theory or statistics required. Michael Kelly gives a better review than I ever could here.
- Today Matters by John Maxwell – The title summarises the book well – a guide to being content, mindful and being happy today. Some may scoff at this pastor’s practical twelve steps, but by shifting down a gear we can have greater success in the long term. A self-help book, without most of the BS.
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel – Thiel, the Founder of Paypal and first investor in Facebook, is a legend in tech circles. A guide to innovation and avoiding buzz word industries such as “cloud” and “big data”. Being unconventional can lead to monopolies and Thiel has a swipe at universities by paying the best students not to go. There are some unusual points too though – like the fact that Thiel doesn’t invest in people who pitch wearing full suits. Other conventional “rules of start-ups”, such as tell as many people as you can, he also turns on their head.
- The Culture Secret by Dr. David Vik – “Company Culture” is a bit of a HR buzz word in my opinion. The more a company talks about it, probably the more forced and less natural that it is. Some of the Google culture propaganda for instance is just patronising. This is the only other book this year that I didn’t finish. Vik claims to have had the title as “Zappos Culture Coach” – a company well-know for being an awesome place to work. The book provided me with no new insights into company culture and it felt like Vik was winging it with a lot of what he was saying.
- Business Adventures by John Brooks – This book became a best seller over the summer after Bill Gates announced that it was his favourite business book of all-time and came recommended by Warren Buffet. Although this book was first published in the late 1960′s many of the twelve “Business Adventures” have timeless insights and meaning. Take the story of the failed Ford Edsel – marketeers and manufacturers of everything from cars to wearable technology today can learn a lot from the many mistakes of Ford when they released the new model. The story-based structure of the books makes it very easy reading.
- The Art of Product Management by Rich Mironov – I read this last February before going to see Rich speak in Cork. The book is probably good for someone without much experience in product management and who wants to get an overview and foundation. After that, it varies too much by team, company and industry to get into too many specifics.
- Sell or Be Sold by Grant Cardone – I only came across Cardone for the first time earlier this year. His energy and enthusiasm would remind you of a young Tony Robbins, even if Cardone comes across as a Machiavellian asshole at times. The title is a great summary for the book – either you sell someone your product or they will sell you their excuse. He talks about how persuasion can be used in all areas of life and believing in what you are selling. A motivating book on sales tactics and achieving success.
- Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone – Possibly the most beneficial book that I read this year. I would count myself as being rather self-aware and being able to read people well but this book gave me so many “aha” moments. The title doesn’t do it justice. It’s a guide to managing your communication skills and conflict. Being able to stop in the middle of a row and de-construct what the problem actually is – “Wait, we were arguing that I forgot your birthday, why are you bringing up the amount of time I spend watching TV? They are two different issues, which would you like to discuss first?”. This book is filled with techniques to prevent personal and professional conflict from spiralling out of control. I think that characters in Coronation Street and other soap operas could learn how to remove all the drama from their lives by reading this (although it may lead to even less exciting episodes).
- The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield – Pressfield gives a great understanding of why we as humans lack willpower and have problems achieving what we want. Another book with a lot of insights in human nature. I wrote a piece for the people at Smarter Egg based on this earlier in the year – blame evolution rather than blame yourself. When we become aware of why we act the we do, it is much easier to take control of your own life and future (how very Oprah-esque I know).
- The Lean Startup by Eric Reis – Although only three years old, The Lean Startup has become more of a manifesto than a book for those interested in starting companies. Sometimes reading business books is a form of procrastination for business owners (and maybe students as I look back at the long list of books I’ve read) but Reis’ advice could save you a lot of money and time. He touches on the biggest mistakes and how to avoid them, along with advice on creating your MVP.
- Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder – Similar to The Lean Startup, the techniques used in this book are moving from having a cult following, to being used in large organisations. Osterwalder details how to use a business model canvas to map out the strengths and weaknesses of a product or company. Much of what is in the book can be gleamed from YouTube videos, although the examples are worth reading through.
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking – My interest in Hawking peaked during the summer after watching some BBC documentaries on his work. He is considered by many as the greatest physicist of all-time correct? Sort of. When some of the top scientists in the world were asked the vote who they believed to be the top twenty physicists where did Hawking place? No one knows for sure, because he wasn’t in the top twenty. Some of his greatest theories has turned out to be false, yet many view him as the smartest man alive (what great branding!). A Brief History of Time gave me some unpleasant flash backs of studying Applied Mathematics for my Leaving Cert, but it did really show me how little we as humans know about the world or anything in general. We have spent millennia murdering each other over different gods and religions, yet we probably could not understand the concept of a god or a higher spirit if one does exist. There is so much left for us to discover and understand.
That’s all folks! Thank you if you took the time to read through all of my reviews. If you have any suggestions for next year’s list, then feel free to comment below or send me a message on twitter.