Book Recomendations

I have written a few book reviews over the years.

Here is my piece on what I think is the most important marketing book to read: How Brands Grow.

Here is a piece on the three books I assigned to my Online Marketing & Analytics class at UW MBA.

Today’s post is for those who want more. A lot of the content for the book I am writing (“Good Enough: Why Good is Better than Excellent”) is coming straight out of my head (and my experience). But I also “stand on the shoulders of giants”. What follows is some the books than influenced significant portions of Good Enough (or sometimes just a paragraph, but it’s still a very good book).

 

Everything is Obvious, Duncan Watts

He’s not as good a storyteller as Malcolm Gladwell, but he makes up for it in being “right”. Watts explores his own research to show that we know a lot less than what we think we know.

 

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Caplan

Parenting choices have much less impact than people generally think. Therefore you should put less effort into parenting than you were going to. If you put less effort in, you will have more fun and less work having kids. Therefore you should have more kids than you were planning to have (at least on the margin). (Also stuff on why higher population is good for the world and why kids today will have better lives than the previous generation)

 

Foolproof, Greg Ip

As you add more safety to a system, people will compensate and it often makes things worse.

 

Fooled by Randomness / Black Swan / Antifragile, Taleb

It pains me to include these given the rudeness of the man, but his books are excellent.

My take: When variability looks low it might just mean that the big swing is going to come in the future. You can’t predict the specifics of the future, but you can be sure that something big will happen which you don’t expect. And there are ways to be ready for it when it does. Too many people are picking up pennies in front of steamrollers.

 

The Upside of Down, Megan McArdle

Failure can be the first step on the way to success. How and why we fail is very important. Has a chapter that basically summarizes Duncan Watt’s book, but lots of new content too.

 

Rationality from AI to Zombies, Eliezer Yudkowsky

By the guy who wrote Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (also recommended) and the founder of LessWrong.com. It’s free to read over the web, or available on Kindle for a suggested donation. A LONG series of blog posts on how to how to be more rational. Everything from cognitive biases to the difference between Bayian science and traditional science to the “proper” interpretation of quantum mechanics and the risk of generalized AI.

 

Expecting Better, Emily Oster

A data-driven look at pregnancies. For example the data says one drink a day actually decreases fetal risk (not statistically significant).

 

How to not be wrong, Jordan Ellenberg

There are four types of math in a 2×2 matrix. Hard-Easy and Interesting-Dull. You learn dull is school, and the media throws east-interesting at you all the time. This is the hard-interesting part of math – but he makes it easy to understand.
Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari and Dataclysm, Christian Rudder

Dating is hard. But there is a lot more data these days on how it works and how it is changing.

 

Who Gets What And Why, Alvin Roth

By a Nobel Prize winner and real-world practitioner. A book of stories about the design of non-monetary markets and how to make them better. From kidney transplants to lawyer internships it dives into the less-explored economic markets that don’t involve cash and explains what makes them fail and how to make them better.

 

Doing Good Better, William MacAskill

Why traditional charity fails and how to give away your money effectively.

 

Superforecasting, Philip Tetlock

Remember reading about that experiment which showed that experts were no better than chimps at predicting the future? Turns out that was a huge simplification by the media. The real story isfar more nuanced and interesting. Philip Tetlock created and ran the experiment. Here he tells the story of what he learned.

 

Hive Mind, Garet Jones

Why the average IQ of a country is more important to success of a country than the IQ of an individual is to that individual. An important book even though some conclusions in the book bothered me I a technical sense (Issues explained very well by Scott Alexander).

 

SlateStarCodex.com, Scott Alexander

Definitely not a book (but maybe it should be). If Scott writes a new blog post it is the first thing I read in the morning. If he doesn’t I will often find an old one to ready anyway. His takedown of the scientific method will feature prominently in “Good Enough”.

 

How to fail at almost everything and still win big, Scott Adams

Kind of an autobiographical self-help book. Scott Adams succeeded by being “good” at a lot of different things rather than excellent at one thing. He credits that to following “systems” vs having “goals”. The chapter in “Good Enough” on how to apply some of the principles of the book to your personal life references Scott’s theories.

 

Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert

SoH was incredibly insightful when it first came out in 2007. The ideas have now spread considerably in the general consciousness (ideas like how experiences make you happier than things and happiness set-point levels). More recently some of the data has been questioned. I explore a lot of this in the “Good Enough” chapter on diminishing returns.

 

Eat Move Sleep, Tim Rath

Rather than trying to be healthy by exercise or nutrition or sleep alone, Tim argues you need to work on all three at the same time. That the three “skills” are synergistic with each other. A good night’s sleep gives you the energy to exercise which gives you the willpower to eat right. And if you fail to exercise you may have a bad night’s sleep and then eat an unhealthy breakfast. His solution is to build slowly with a series of small changes across each of the three skills simultaneously day-by-day.

 

Malcolm Gladwell and Tim Ferris

I hesitated before including either of these two because I expect my readers will have either read them or made a conscious choice not to. Neither author’s books had a direct impact on Good Enough, but both had a significant impact on me over the years. I could only dream of matching the storytelling ability of Gladwell or Ferris’ skill at tapping into the zeitgeist. But in many ways if you wanted to be generous, the book could be described as Gladwell meets The Four Hour Workweek.  It follows Gladwell’s common structure of a series of chapters attacking the thesis in different ways using an intertwining of stories and data. But it tries to match that with the practicality Ferris brings to his books.

 

Bonus:

These books have little is anything to do with Good Enough, but I still highly recommend them.

 

Guns Germs and Steel // The Day before Yesterday, Jared Diamond

Why Europe succeeded; How tribes are different than empires.

 

The Average is Over // An Economist Gets Lunch, Tyler Cowen

Why and how the world will be more polarized and you should learn to work with computers; A thinking man’s guide to food

 

Sapiens: A History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari

Like the title says.

 

Economics without Illusions, Joseph Heath

Both the left and the right have it wrong.

 

The Red Queen // Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley

Keep running to stay in the same place; The world is getting better

 

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex Epstein

Coal and Oil make the world a better place.

 

The Undercover Economist Strokes Back, Tim Hartford

How MACRO economics works.

 

If you have enjoyed any of these books, or think you might, then you might also like my book: Good Enough: Why Good is Better than Excellent. You can sign-up to receive chapters while they are written here

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.