Best Books of 2017

It’s that time of the year where I list my favourite books for your reading enjoyment.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google

A mind-opening account of how big tech became the modern empires of the digital world. Scott Galloway in his irreverent style describes how these Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, with access to cheap capital, ability to retain outstanding talent, and mastery over storytelling have managed to dominate their -increasingly overlapping- industries. He argues that it’s time for regulators to break them up and why this is actually good for capitalism. Highly recommended.

How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know

There are very few marketing books who have completely challenged my pre-existing notions about how marketing works and this book is one of them. Byron Sharp rejects the concepts of brand loyalty, differentiation, segmentation and targeted media, and builds a strong case for why growth comes from market penetration, achieved with a distinctive brand that’s always-on  through exploiting sophisticated mass marketing and establishing strong memory structures. This should be mandatory reading for anyone in marketing.

Good strategy Bad Strategy

Possibly one of the best books on strategy. Richard Rumelt systematically lays out how good strategy involves a clear and coherent set of actions and policies around a key pivotal outcome expectation, how bad strategies usually are usually vague wish lists on where to go with no idea on how to get there, and how to tell the difference between the two. This book will improve your ability to detect bullshit, including your own.

Management of the Absurd

In this 1996 classic, Richard Farson offers entertaining yet counter-intuitive management lessons such as how every act is a political act, why morale is unrelated to productivity and why organisations change most after surviving calamities. Great read for anyone trying to find their way in a big company.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters

Internet with its free access to information was supposed to make us all more open-minded and smarter. Instead, it turned us into narcissistic, intolerant mobs that reject science and rationality. Tim Nicholas in this excellent book explains how the transformation of “news” into a 24 hour source of entertainment, commercialisation of higher education, and the emergence of politically correct egalitarianism that threatens the foundations of democratic institutions. A fascinating and terrifying account of our modern times.

What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars

Investment books are generally quite boring. This book, however, is an exception. In first part of the book, Jim Paul tells his own story of building a fortune and the series of decisions leading up to losing it along with his reputation. In the second part, he argues that there are countless ways to make money but only few predictable ways to lose it, and examines the biases and logical fallacies that lead people to making stupid decisions.

God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment

A thought-provoking, persuasive exploration of concepts such as time, gravity and probability from Scott Adams, told by “the smartest person on earth” sitting in a rocking chair. Unlike his other books, this is a non-humorous philosophy book, best enjoyed with an open-mind.

Best Books of 2016

A year is never complete without a “best of” list. Here’s a list of books I’ve truly enjoyed reading in 2016:

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity

Internet promised us a future with true peer-to-peer value exchange, a digital return to the free marketplaces of 16th century. Instead, it gave power to monopolies like Amazon and Uber and enabled them to value extraction to scale, without being restricted by geography and borders. Rushkoff argues that our existing economic operating system is incompatible with our modern digital world and needs an upgrade: one that prioritizes needs of people over companies that focus on growth for the sake of growth. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley

A must-read for anyone who has ever worked in online advertising, a startup or both. In his roller-coaster ride of a career including crunching numbers at Goldman Sachs, building an ad-tech startup as a Y Combinator graduate, monetizing ads for Facebook and advising Twitter, Martinez lays it out how online advertising works and why success in Silicon Valley has more to do with chance than skills. His writing occasionally sounds like a resentful ex-employee, but his politically incorrect, often cynical and absolutely hilarious writing makes this book super-entertaining.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

A fascinating read on how we evolved from our savannah-dwelling, hunter-gatherer roots to become the dominant species on earth through cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolutions. Harari argues that our ability to believe in imagined realities such as religion, nations and money played a big role in allowing us to live together in groups bigger than 150 people, building civilizations and conquering the earth. His writing is intriguing, humorous and entertaining. Reading this book is a bit like playing Civilization, sans the game-play.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

Chris Hadfield, an astronaut who has logged more than 4000 hours in space shares his experiences in space in vivid detail while explaining how “thinking like an astronaut”, being persistent, sweating the small details and preparing for the worst can help us live better lives on earth. If you’ve ever dreamed of going to space, you will love this book.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

The Mongolians are well-known for their hugely successful military campaign that resulted in more land in 25 years than the Romans did in 400 years. This book does a good job of explaining the lesser-known principles of the Mongol Empire, such as free trade, primacy of the state over the church, freedom of religion, diplomatic immunity, and international law—all ideas that gained new importance in their time and contributed to the making of the modern world.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

Although I don’t necessarily agree that outsourcing everything to third world countries and exploiting global arbitrage opportunities will necessarily help you spend your days sipping piña coladas in tropical islands next year, this books makes valid arguments such as the importance of focusing on living life “now” rather than deferring it to “retirement”. It introduces the concept of “lifestyle design” while supporting it with great resources on how to start a business while keeping your day job. If anything, it’s worthy of a read in order to appreciate how Timothy Ferris likely built an empire by convincing people that it’s possible to essentially have your cake and eat it too.

Proof: The Science of Booze

Finally, an excellent book on one of my favorite topics: booze. A Wired editor distills scientific research on everything we know about alcohol, infuses it with witty and cynical humor we have learned to appreciate from the magazine. The book goes into detailed explanations about fermentation, distillation, aging and the effects of alcohol on humans. Spoiler alert: we still don’t know what causes hangovers or how to fix it.