Books Read in November ’14

In order to gain a better understanding of how I choose what to read, I’ll be doing monthly recaps of the fiction and non-fiction books I finished, and why.

I set out this month to focus my reading after a relatively haphazard (but interesting!) October, and I made good progress toward that goal. The pending launch of an entrepreneurial project affected both the recommendations I got from family, as well as the reading I sought out for myself. Additionally, I’m in the process of taking the Coursera specialization on Entrepreneurship and in doing so I’m taking advantage of their recommended readings. In scanning down the list below it’s clear I’ve started with the bigger names in business, like Buffett, Thiel and Christensen, though I do look forward to seeing what niche readings will come from this foundation.

I also continued with the side readings in Natural History with two of my favorite writers in the genre, Diane Ackerman and Stephen Jay Gould. As the project I’m working on takes shape, I realize more and more the credit they’re both due for inspiring it. Though many of the business books I’ve been reading on my iPad, I endeavor to get the actual books for the natural history writers. This makes it easier to take notes in them, flip through them for highlighted passages, and to share them with people. Despite the broad scopes of their books (evolution and genetics, the senses), Ackerman and Gould approach their topics with intimacy, and I can’t help but feel that having the book bolsters that sensation.

For this next month, I expect the entrepreneurial reading to continue, with an added focus toward actionable guides toward marketing, social media and business plan development. I’ve also got some quality travel time coming up, which I hope to fill with the books I’ve picked up over the year that I haven’t gotten around to yet.

Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – My mother recommended this to me based on the strength of the writing, and it really is remarkable how Doerr describes the world as experienced by a young blind girl (incidentally, this paired nicely with the Ackerman book A Natural History of the Senses I read this month). It’s already ending up on many best-of lists, and I encourage you to check it out. Next to Station Eleven, it’s one of my favorite works of fiction this year.

Non-Fiction

Choose Yourself! by James Altucher – This was my introduction to Altucher, and I am happy to have made the acquaintance. Choose Yourself! is motivating and actionable and, for me, right now, pertinent. My next year is nowhere near as obvious as I would’ve expected. Reading this has steeled me against that uncertainty.

The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, by Warren Buffett – James Altucher recommends this book if you want to learn to be an entrepreneur. I was already interested in Buffett’s annual letter-writing, and this collection does a great job of dispersing his insights on running a business, investing, and analyzing markets (which is especially helpful given how little I knew about the first and last when I started the book) in a way that is simple and clear.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel – A recommendation from my father, Zero to One pulls no punches in helping would-be entrepreneurs decide if their startup is worth their time. Not everything that’s worth doing has been done, and it’s poisonous to think that way.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal – I found this book while looking up mindmapping / brainstorming software. It’s a quick, informative read that provides regular exercises for those developing products that I found helpful in framing my own ideas.

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson – This book was suggested as part of the Entrepreneurship class I’m taking. I found it had much more to say about education and learning than actual business, but since those two areas I’m partial to hearing about and understanding more deeply, it was a satisfying read.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen – Since reading this I’ve come to understand how widespread this book’s influence is. The nuanced analysis of how companies can do everything right and still miss out on obvious opportunities was a great antidote to the common myth of “small companies disrupting everything happens because they’re just better.” This also came from the Entrepreneurship class.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – In terms of helpful, strategic books I read this month, this and Hooked are at the top of the list. The Lean Startup has a broader perspective than Hooked as it takes in the formation of a company into its scope. I imagine I’ll come back to this in six months and a year.

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman – After reading Ackerman’s The Moon by Whale Light, I could hardly wait to read more of her work. This book delivers on a very interesting premise: a meditation on each of the senses, as seen through the lens of history, culture, genetics and personal experience.

Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould – I’ve mentioned already in these writings how I enjoyed Gould’s Dinosaur in a Haystack, so I was prone to liking this essay compilation, the first of Gould’s books. This is not nearly as broad or cultural as I found Dinosaur to be, though it was still interesting and readable.

If you have any recommendations of books to read, either based on the books above, or on your own experience, please let me know.

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