Think and Grow Rich: A marvelous book, but I was having a hard time finishing it. Then I realized - the last three chapters are pretty much fluff that repeat points already covered. I skimmed the last three chapters... it starts very strong, ends weak, but I'm happy it's finally done.
The Alchemist: What a masterpiece by Paolo Cuehlo. Read it in one day, couldn't put it down. Got me thinking a lot... lots of great quick ways to think, quick heuristics and mantras in there. Really wonderful short little book with some great lessons.
If I Did It: I read OJ Simpson's autobiography on a whim when I saw a copy. It's a weird book. It's about a guy trying to be a decent husband and having his marriage fall apart. Then he kills his wife. Oh, and it's OJ Simpson, and the most famous trial/legal story of the last 20 years. Weird to read the guy's perspective... it's weird in how surreal and normal it is. A famous guy marries a beautiful 18 year old girl but they don't have a really deep or mature connection. She doesn't take well to money and stability, gets unhappy, starts acting kind of crazy in the marriage. OJ acts crazy in response. They divorce. Then he keeps hearing her partying around town and doing drugs, flips out, and kills her. Weird reading it in his own words - I lived in Los Angeles for awhile, and the first part read like a fairly normal L.A. story with a rich, famous guy making a bad choice in a young beautiful woman without much depth or character. Then it gets kind of crazy at the end. It wasn't sad so much as weird. It's sureally normal in parts, and then ends with... well, you know. I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to read it, but it's interesting for a few hours if you get a chance.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Eliezer Yudkowsky's fanfiction is exceptionally good. If you're a reader of LessWrong at all, you'll love it. If not, you still might like it. He wrote it in "serialized" format where each chapter is a mostly self-contained adventure with plot arc, and then a cohesive whole. It works well, reads well, lots of good insights. He didn't really hit his stride and tone until chapter 15 to 20... if you like Yudkowsky's normal writing, give it until chapter 20. Trust me on this - Eliezer sets up a lot of backstory and forces some humor in the early chapters, and the tone isn't quite smooth... still good, but then wow, it kicks into overdrive around chapter 20 and it's just a page-turning must-read. It's free online at fanfiction.com and you can also find pdf compilations with some googling.
Devil's Guard: Fascinating war history of some S.S. soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front when the war ends. Refusing to surrender for fear of being executed for all the people they killed, they fight and sneak across Europe through to Germany and then Switzerland, get forged passports, and join the French Foreign Legion and get sent to Vietnam. There's a lot of debate about whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. My take? Probably a little of both. Some of the details in the book ring extraordinarily true and precise. Other things seem greatly exaggerated. This book is brutal and not for people who dislike violence. Every country mentioned in this book comes out looking bad (with the exception of England who come across as wise, patient, and effective). But Germany, America, France, and all the Communist countries coming out looking horribly... fascinating book. The most interesting thing to me wasn't even one of the major themes of the book - it's thinking about how far apart the soldiers on the ground and the French leadership thought about the war.
The Richest Man in Babylon: The best book on personal finance I've read. Ever. It's basic in some respects, but really useful and practical. There isn't a single piece of advice in the book I disagree with. It has interesting and captivating fictional stories and dialogues between characters to demonstrate the principles. The part about not trusting the bricklayer about buying gems - not trusting non-experts giving you investment advice - I won't ever forget. Really good book.
Tribes: I heard it on audiobook and enjoyed it. A lot of it is very, very basic - more about convincing people that you can step up and do things, which is good for a confidence boost but less useful for someone who is already on the path. If you're already building and leading sometimes, then the book isn't quite as tactical or action-generating as it could be. The stories of leaders throughout the book are interesting, and it's a good boost and call to action if you're not currently involved in leadership.
The Prince: I read half of Machiavelli's classic work half a year ago in China, and I wasn't in the mood to finish it until recently. I did in a sitting. Thought-provoking, intelligent, practical book, but doesn't live up to its reputation as a work of mad crazy manipulative genius. He just says it like it is - I think the stigma and reputation comes from Machiavelli pointing out a number of hero's real motivations as demonstrated by their actions. People hate that. But overall, it seems like a very practical work on political science, with lots of case studies and history. "Better to be feared than loved" - not a major theme of the book at all. I think most people that quote The Prince haven't actually read it... I don't think I'll be able to call something "Machiavellian" again after reading this. It seems like an inaccurate term.
Body For Life: It's interesting. I read the first half, which is stories and case studies and inspiration. It's better than I expected - I normally prefer the pragmatic to the inspirational, but it's incredibly tastefully done. I haven't read the second, more tactical part yet. I like it, I'd recommend it if you're thinking about health and fitness. It's good for a kick in the ass, or a boost if you're getting started on a program. Yeah, I'd recommend it if you're thinking about health.
Rules for Radicals: Man, I have a hard time reading this. The guy is very much an ends justify the means guy. Ruthless and unprincipled, he'll change anything he believes in, lie, cheat, steal, kill to get what he believes in. He quotes Lenin and Che. Lenin: "We'll use the ballot box, because we don't have guns. But once we have guns, we'll use guns." They rally for democracy when it's suitable to win, and say that democracy has failed the people when democracy gets in the way. No integrity, and the book is laden with propaganda. Still, there's a gem every now and then about building towards success and organizing and uniting people, which is why I force myself to keep reading it. I'm a strategist, so I've got to understand works like this, even when they're emotionally distasteful.
On Guerrilla Warfare: Only just started. The introduction is written by a USMC officer, and is really an excellent analysis of the phases of guerrilla warfare, encamping, building a base, turning disadvantages into advantages. I haven't started on Mao's part yet, so can't comment on that.
Hagakure: I'm reading it slowly, it's really a nice work with great points. I'm reading around one chapter a month, because I like reading a little bit and then thinking on it for a week or two. Highly recommended to read some.
I feel like I'm missing a couple things I read - I wasn't planning to write another one of these, but I got a few people saying they liked my book summaries. I'll keep better track of what I read going forwards. Comments/questions welcome on books, recommendations for books greatly appreciated as always.
I had a similar reaction to Rules for Radicals when I started reading it a couple months ago. I got about a quarter of the way in and had to put it down because I found it so infuriating and distasteful. (I don't normally have such a visceral reaction to reading things I disagree with, which is why I'll be sure to pick it up again and finish it at some point.)
I think the reaction I had was because the way Alinsky works is the way the "bad guys" work (ruthlessly ends focussed), and what differentiates the "good guys" is that they refuse to act in ways that would violate their integrity, even when that means that they'll fail to achieve their ends. I don't think that means acting with integrity is always ineffective, but I suspect it might mean that the ends they have chosen are wrong in some fundamental way. That is, if the ends you're pursuing can only be achieved by actions which violate your integrity, then you're by definition pursuing the wrong ends.
I'd definitely be interested to hear more of your thoughts on it in a future post.
Quick verdict - it's a good book, and I think it's worth reading.
Josh Kaufman sent me a message on Twitter a bit back, asking if I'd like a review copy of his book. Indeed, I would, I replied, and he sent me a digital copy.
Before I review the book, let me tell you how I read - when I get a nonfiction book that I'm not sure if I'm going to read, I "fastread" it. That's me starting to skim and move quickly, then I slow down and read in depth when something catches my eye, and speed up after I finish that section.
I fastread a lot of books. Especially reading a in-depth reference book on a topic you already know, I think you can get 90% of the lessons of a book in 30% of the time by fastreading. I typically fastread historical backgrounds about eras I'm very familiar with, thoughts on an aspect of business I know, introductions to technologies I'm already familiar with, etc.
My first thought when I was reading The Personal MBA was that this would be a good book to fastread.
I was a pretty good reader as a kid. My mom recounts me sitting in the corner reading in pre-school instead of doing whatever other pre-schoolers did. In Kindergarten, I was praised for reading more books than any other kid. Throughout the elementary school summers, I dominated the summer reading programs in all the neighboring cities.
Eventually, I started to realize that all of these books are the same. Sometime when I was 10, I started to realize every book seemed to be about some derpy kid who eventually overcame his fears and saved the world, or at least his friend group.
I had the intellectual ability to read YA and adult books at the time, but not the emotional maturity. So, I hit a standstill.
Time passes on, I get into Classics (aka: any title whose name being uttered made me sound smart). I got a Kindle and subsequently got into Indie trash, at one point reading one book per day. Then the Kindle broke and I had no clue what to do.
I went through a massive overhaul on how I thought about reading, which leads us to how I read today.