A year ago today, I challenged myself to read err listen to more books in 2018. Thanks to a long commute and Audible, I hit my goal. Here’s a quick review of all the new books I read in 2018 (in alphabetical order) with my unscientific rating at the end.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
This is the sad story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.
Holmes isn’t exactly a sympathetic character having willingly put lives at stake by delivering inaccurate labs results to patients. But she had a big vision, and was making good progress towards it — albeit more slowly than apparently she was willing to accept. Had she played by the same rules as, you know, every other healthcare startup, Theranos would be on a much different path.
But she didn’t play by the rules. She lied. Defrauded investors. Put lives at risk.
To Holmes and her co-conspirator COO boyfriend Sunny Balwani, the illusion of success and the paper wealth it created were more important than the truth. Bad Blood highlights everything wrong with the current win at all costs mentality that permeates Silicon Valley.
Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang
I already knew most of the stories — Chris Sacca’s weird hot tub meetings. Susan Fowler’s awful experience at Uber. The creepy abuse of power from investors like Dave McClure and Justin Caldbeck. James Damore’s manifesto.
Taken individually they are a series of really, really bad decisions made by men. Assembled together by Emily Chang, it paints a clear picture of the signifcant obstacles faced by women and minorities in tech. From minor daily annoyances to outright harassment and criminal behavior, women in tech have had to put up with a lot of unnecessary shit. The irony pointed out by Chang is that the numbers show companies who hire more women in leadership positions perform better.
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins
David Goggins is an enduarance athlete and retired Navy Seal. He has completed two Navy SEAL Hell Weeks, run 100 miles in 19 hours, run 135 miles in just under 26 hours, done over 4,000 pull-ups in 24 hours (a Guinness World Record), and completed the Ironman World Championships in just over 11 hours.
He’s absolutely crazy. Or is he?
One of the first points Goggins makes in Can’t Hurt Me is that “motivation is crap.” That’s because motivation disappears at the first sign of adversity. Goggins calls this the 40% rule — where we stop physical and mental pursuits way before hitting our actual capacity. There’s a reserve tank within, and only by pushing and breaking limits can we reach full potential.
To break through, Goggins calls on his mental “cookie jar” containing every setback he’s overcome in his life. And there’s lot of setbacks for him to draw upon. Goggins embraces pain and suffering to “callus his mind”.
Yeah, he’s pretty much the toughest man alive.
Dopesick by Beth Macy
Dopesick chronicles the opoid crisis told through stories of addicts and dealers in a small Virginia suburb. It’s the spiritual successor to the brilliant book Dreamland from Sam Quinones.
The introduction of OxyContin in 1996 affected society in ways we’re just now beginning to understand. Dreamland chronicled the ground zero of the opioid crisis — Central Appalachia. Dopesick expands on the story of how the crisis came into the suburbs, often through the I-70/I-81 corridor known as “Heroin Highway.”
The stories are so real and tragic. The injured high school football star who is prescribed painkillers but becomes addicted and dies of an overdose. The young addicts who are forced into dealing & prositution to support their habit. It’s trivially easy to get addicted and for many reasons, almost impossible to get clean for good. Dopesick makes it clear that the opiod crisis is getting worse, not better.
There are no easy answers. Opiates play an important role in pain management. For many, they are a godsend. But something has to change. Shame on Purdue phrama for bringing a product to market that was trivial to abuse. Shame on the doctors who overprescribed strong opiates for minor conditions. Shame on the pill mills who made opiates as easy to get as Skittles.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Okay, so I’m torn on this one.
A lot of the advice make sense: It should be less crazy and more calm at work. “Growth at all costs” is a pretty shitty way to build a business. I hate it when people add me to random meetings with no context. Remote is the future of work. And Gary Vaynerchuk bothers me sometimes too. But stuff like this, I just don’t know:
How about something really audacious: No targets, no goals. You can absolutely run a great business without a single goal. You don’t need something fake to do something real. And, if you must have a goal, how about just staying in business; or, serving your customers well; or, being a delightful place to work.
If you can’t fit everything you want to do within 40 hours per week, you need to get better at picking what to do, not working longer hours…. when you cut out what’s unnecessary, you’re left with what you need.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy and Work received great reviews from the general press, but my tech friends and I are more skeptical.
It’s a good read and there are some great actionable ideas in here. In particular I love the Office Hours concept, and I’m going to try it in 2019. But where’s the how? Where are the other examples beyond Basecamp? Does this only work at an n=1 sample size?
Basecamp feels a bit like the successful neighborhood store of tech companies. They built a business that works great… for Basecamp. But I’m not sure it would work for my company or yours. To be fair, Basecamp is honest about this.
But I think sometimes achieving great things requires sacrifice. A maybe a little crazy. Ask David Goggins about that.
Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin
In Lost and Founder, Rand shares the story of Moz and what it’s really like to build and scale a startup. I really enjoyed the book and the cheat codes he provides based on the successes and failures he experienced building Moz to over $45m in revenue.
Rand teaches lessons through the lens of failure, which makes them much more real and actionable. Chances are that your startup looks a lot more like Moz than it does Slack, Atlassian, HubSpot, and the other hypergrowth rocket ship unicorn startups that you are likely to hear about at the SaaStr conference.
Stories like Moz need to be told loud and proud.
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr
The OKRs concept came from legendary leader Andy Grove at Intel. Doerr saw the impact of OKRs when he worked for Grove at Intel. While at Intel, Andy Grove first implemented OKRs for “Operation Crush” — a project to achieve market dominance by taking down top competitor Motorola.
Doerr shared Grove’s OKR brainchild with more than 50 of his Kleiner Perkins portfolio companies, most notably Google. I’ve never worked at a company that’s used OKRs, but I’ve always been interested in learning more how they worked. And now I know.
Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi
I was there when Agassi first burst onto the tennis scene at the Stratton Mountain tournament in 1987. I was a young kid watching in awe as a 17 year old Agassi almost took down world number 1 Ivan Lendl with his huge topspin forhand. And huge hair! And huge personality!
Roger Federer is easily the best tennis player of all time and my personal favorite player will always be the great John McEnroe. But Agassi is right up there. I geeked out on all the tennis stories of his rise — fall — and rise again. Three things stuck out to me:
- Sadly, Agassi hated tennis. It was work to him from the minute he landed at the Nick Bollettieri Academy.
- Agassi used crystal meth during 1997, the worst year of his career. Wait, what?
- And yes, his (in)famous hair was part toupee. Shaving his head was one of the most joyous moments in his life.
Principals: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
I’ll be honest. I had no idea who Ray Dalio was or what Bridgewater Associates did. The second is especially embarrassing as Bridgewater Associates is a long-time RapidMiner user.
I do now.
Wow, this is probably the best business book I’ve ever read. It really spoke to me.
In 1975, Ray Dalio founded investment firm Bridgewater Associates out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Dalio started as a moderately successful commodity trader. After a few starts and stops, he learned that by analyzing historical patterns he could create machines that take inputs from the entire supply-chain of a commodoity — like a pork belly — and predict what will happen next and make better decisions.
Everything in business and life can be turned into a system.
Dalio’s Bridgewater operates on a principle called “idea meritocracy” — employing systems and methods to the best ideas come to make the best decisions. To do this requires “radical honesty”: Everyone has to be honest about their strengths and weaknesses in order to deliver the best inputs to the system. Each Bridgewater employee has a baseball card that lists their strengths and weaknesses across over 100 datapoints.
Dalio’s documents everything he believes in for both work and life as his “principals”. Here’s a good example of the type of insight you’ll read:
Just read it.
10/10 (David Goggins could get behind this!)
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
Shoe Dog is the story of the early days at Nike. It’s the anti-Valley success story. There were no insane growth hacks or unicorn funding rounds. Just the perseverance and grit of the “shoe dog” — Nike founder and Phil Knight.
Knight turned his running side-hustle passion project into a $30 billion business. Knight himself is worth $33b or so.
9/10 (Goggins approved)
The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
East Atlanta’s Radric Delantic Davis aka Gucci Mane is the founding father of trap music. He’s sold drugs, and been addicted to them. He’s been arrested many times. He was charged with murder (later dropped). He started writing his memoir while in federal prison.
It’s a fascinating story of drug-dealer-turned-rap-god. Gucci Mane began selling drugs in the seventh grade. By the time he released his first single So Icey in 2005, he had already been arrested and jailed twice.
Rap was his only path out.
Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger
At 23 hrs and 21 mins this was easily the longest book I listened to in 2018. It was also one of the best.
Total Recall is truly an incredible story that boils down to simply setting goals with unrelenting focus on achieving them. NO ONE has a track record like Arnold. He simply refused to start at the bottom and work his way up like everyone else.
✅ Top bodybuilder on the planet
✅ Real estate mogul
✅ Top movie star
✅ Marry a Kennedy
✅ Governor of California
Look Arnold is flawed. You may not like his politics. Or the fact that he cheated on his wife + had a child with his housekeeper (he covers both extensively in this book). But before reading the book I didn’t appreciate Arnold’s ambition, motivation, and intelligence.