Favorite books of 2016

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It’s that time of year. Temperatures recede, consumerism peaks, and bloggers write about their favorite books of the year. As a blogger, I will abide.

I’ve done this list the past five years, usually at my personal blog. I let that domain lapse so the list moves here. That works because most readers here are Readers.

Before we begin, this is my final post of 2016. I’m not stopping because the holidays make things too busy, though they do make things busier, but because I need to get better. I haven’t read enough books on writing better or enough books on disruption theory or enough on….

The list is endless.

The catalyst for this pause was re-listening to Cal Newport’s podcast with James Altucher. It reinforced the idea of being So Good and Deep Work. Newport’s books are some of my favorites. I nod my head as  I read them. Yet I fail to implement the lessons on a day to day basis.

I’m off to the woodshed for December. See you again in January.  Happy holidays, feliz ano nuevo, and safe travels!

For now, here are a few of my favorite books from 2016 (with Amazon affiliate links):

Investing

Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor by Tren Griffin. I like Griffin’s Blog, 25iq.com and this book was an extension of that. However, if i had to choose between Griffin’s weekly posts and this book I would take the posts.

Investing and investors is a newish area for me, and I began my journey down the rabbit hole with the familiar books. The Black Swan, Damn Right, and The Most Important Thing all lived up to their billing as good books – and ones I’ll reread.

Biographies

My biggest focus this year was on biographies, an area I had never enjoyed all that much. My hesitation was because they were biased. I remember one CEO writing about his heroics in turning his company around. It wasn’t his heroics so much as the 1990’s. Tailwinds – as we’ve noted here – have a powerful effect.

Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove. This book was more business than biography but it felt too personal not to include here. In this book you get in Grove’s head to see his confusion, success, and decision making process.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. This also felt true to its roots. Knight, like Grove, acknowledged the gray areas and confusion he felt. It humanized him. Knight’s book is also good for people who want to start something but aren’t ready. No one, not even the founder of Nike, was ever ready.

Napoleon by Paul Johnson. A short book about a – HA! you’d thought I’d do it. Actually, this is part of the Penguin Lives series of books that cover big people in a short format. The appetizers of the book world.

My favorite biography of the year was Boyd by Robert Coram. Incredible.

History

The lesson from each history book was that a lot of little things have to go right for one big things to.

Bill Bryson taught and entertained with One Summer (about 1927). If you like Bryson, you’ll also like Eric Weiner’s Geography of Genius.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. This book is as good as everyone says. McCullough takes us back in time like we’re in a Hollywood movie, watching history unfold with one of the best narrators around.

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by John Nagl. A common sight from the history books was me slapping my forehead with the palm of my head, muttering ‘not again’, and my wife asking about my sanity. This book takes the cake for that reaction. America’s actions in the Vietnam boondoggle do not compare well to the British success in nearby Malaya. Not recommended for people with (already) high blood pressure.

Big effects

Then there is the category of books that had the biggest effect on me. These are books you can use as a lens to see the world. Boyd fits that mold because I think of this quote often:

“So you got your reward; you got kicked in the teeth. That means you were doing good work. Getting kicked in the teeth is the reward for good work.”

Another was The Success Equation by Michael Mauboussin which introduced the two-jar model.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger had an unexpected effect on me. Sometimes there are things that happen in life so related to what you read it gives you goosebumps. In the fall of 2016 I was thinking about the two largest communities where I live; college football fans and church. Fill in the rest of the week with work and school and that’s a typical week for most people. Overlay this with the sheared political election and the importance of feeling connected came into focus. Junger speaks to this feeling.

Grit by Angela Duckworth. I wrote a lot about this book here. It reminded me that to get to any vista you have to walk up a trail. I often forget about the work required for a view.

A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer. A surprisingly enjoyable book. It was a reminder to be curious.

Self contained curriculum

Books that should replace textbooks.

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner taught me more  about evolution than anything in high school.

Erik Larson continues to write great books like Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Larson speaks to an entire period of time with a story that took only two weeks.

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast. The history of the world’s greatest brand. This lens on the past 130 years was fantastic because it avoided the political/military direction so often taken with looking at one period of time. A solid book on American history.

Military

I’ll blame Jocko Willink for this. I enjoyed his book, Extreme Ownership as well as Blind Man’s Bluff (submarines) and Skunk Works (B-52).

Big history

Civilization by Niall Ferguson was good.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari was good too. This one I got less from because I listened to it. It was after I saw and heard the praise on other blogs and books that I realized I may have missed something. From what I remember though, Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History could be considered the abbreviated version.

Potpourri. 

Hershey by Michael D’Antonio. If you take your family to Hershey Park read this ahead of time. Quick and fun.

Let my People go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard and The Outsiders by William Thorndike. There are different ways to run companies, these two books tell those stories.

Failure is not an Option by Gene Kranz. The story of Mercury, Gemini, and the Apollo missions from someone who was there.


Drafting this post and planning to not write in December felt odd. Like I wasn’t doing what “I should” and that I would lose readers without writing and a few other hesitations that are hard to name.

In a more clear headed moment I would say that this is “attribution substitution.” That I’m confusing posting with relevance, importance, or some other metric of vanity.

I want to write about things that good and true despite the time. A break will help prove if that’s true.

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9 thoughts on “Favorite books of 2016”

  1. You might like Martin van Creveld’s Command in War as a follow-up to “Napoleon” — he tries to show how the tactics and strategy of communication have changed over time, and is astounded at what Napoleon managed to do.

    Like

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