Books I have read in January 2017

Thanks to the first book I read in January

  1. Deep Work

This book had the most profound impact on me. Author’s thesis is that today’s world is pretty distracting with WhatsApp messages, Facebook notifications, tweets, breaking news, office emails vying for attention with the result that we do not have a stretch of time where we can contemplate about our work or our problems distraction free. We may be able to do it once a month or once a year but setting aside a distraction period every day or periodically is something we find very hard to do. If we get into this habit, we will see our productivity and creativity shoot through the roof.

Talks about “Deliberate Practice” which has become a buzzword in last couple of years. He wants us to sign off or close our social media account. If we can’t do that, then set aside one time say between 8pm to 830pm everyday where we may check our social media accounts and stay in touch. I do not like the “Self Help” genre but I found this book pretty refreshing mainly because taking the author’s advice (which he backed with research and anecdotes) I stopped checking (wasn’t courageous enough to delete the accounts) my social media accounts during my daily office commute from Milton GO to Toronto Union Station and as a result was able to finish this many books in one month.

2. Second Machine Age

In the last couple of years there have been a flurry of books that about how automation is coming for jobs. This is by far the best book on the topic. Using historical and economic data authors show that we are on cusp of exponential growth in computing capacity. However, unlike other authors, they didn’t forecast a utopia and did admit that there are “things we don’t know we don’t know” and to “never say never”. There will be increased overall prosperity but the fruits of increasing productivity may not be distributed evenly. Well researched but can be dry at times.

3. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World

Mind expanding book with a quite a few ideas backed by research and arguments that go against conventional wisdom. Like all business books, the anecdotes/success stories are cherry picked.

One example that stood out for me was how the author showed that despite conventional wisdom that entrepreneurs are risk takers and bet the house on their idea, in reality most of them are risk averse and continue with their day while they refine their idea during the night and it is only when idea has gain certain traction, then they leave their day jobs. He gives example of Wozniak, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergei Brin who followed this path. Filled with similar other ideas.

Also gives the example of Meredith Perry, founder of uBeam as someone who founded her company going through the unconventional route. The book came out before uBeam was exposed as the next Theranos. Jury is still out in uBeam.

But the author writes very will. Keeps you hooked.

4. When Breath Becomes Air

It came with rave reviews with men writing about they couldn’t stop crying when they were reading or finished this book. It is memoir of the late author as he talks about how he became a neurosurgeon and then later was diagnosed with illness, how he faced the treatment and eventually death. But like Atul Gawande, author writes very well and I was able to finish the book in three days. I found the book overhyped or may be I am just a cold blooded person.

4. The Quiet

This is actually a good book. Its thesis being that one third to one half of the population is introvert. However our education system and society is now pushing/training everyone from kindergarten to professional life to become an extrovert.

Also I liked this anecdote about Tony Robbins. No doubt like Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins helped a lot of people improve their personality and move forward in this world, but he is also a salesman.

Good tips in the book for introverts on how to pretend to be an extrovert for sometime to make it through.

5. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It

You think you know what makes a good fiction, movie or non fiction but can’t really put a finger on it. This short book tells you what devices good authors and screenwriters use to hook the reader / audience in the story/movie/book.

But the real pay off is the section about “How to write a self help book” where author highlights the tricks all the self help writers and gurus and frauds use to sell their stuff. Best part of all, this book is also written in the same format. It is a short book written in mini chapters.

6. Designing Your Life

Authors are professors at Stanford University’s School of Design and one of the authors is the founder and head of the Life Design department there. 
Based on a course authors teach at Stanford School of Design. It becomes nauseating with every situation being analysed as “what would designers do?” or “how design thinking will solve this” totally oblivious to the fact that most of the problems being solved everyday are being solved without using the design approach whatever that is.

There was one really practical advice in the book considering that it was coming from Stanford professors so it should be heeded. To rephrase it “if you are applying for an online job posting, don’t lie, but do copy paste the job description exactly as listed in the advertisement in to your CV”.

7. Creativity Inc.

I would have given it 6 stars out of 5. Unlike other business and leadership books written by Ivy League profs or superstar CEOs which are prescriptive in a shot gun way and have advice that becomes dated, this is an ever green book about leading a creative organisation that was Pixar. Unlike egotistical superstar CEOs, Catmull is humble enough to admit that a there was a lot of serendipity, luck and other people that resulted in success at Pixar. Also he was clear that what worked when Pixar was 100 people wouldn’t as easily work when Pixar became 1200 people. If I ever recommend a business or leadership book to anyone, this will be it. This is not a book about how to become creative, rather how the author ran an creative organization, what worked for him and what didn’t and why.

8. Show and Tell

Someone else reviewed it much better than me so I will just paste his review:

Imagine a book without much text that is like a 260 page PowerPoint presentation and you’ll instantly understand what I am talking about here. Yes, it is good to reach your audience with stories/anecdotes and with visuals when doing a presentation and having a PowerPoint visual available as you speak to your audience can be helpful but frankly, having a book that is nothing but a 260-page PowerPoint is more annoying than anything. It is like trying to communicate with a non-verbal child who can only reach out to you through childish stick figures. There were some downright bizarre “PowerPoint slides” here too. The book is almost insulting in the sense that it presumes the audience is too stupid to read and comprehend and thus speaks to us in sign language all the way through. He includes lessons in how to draw blob figures/stick figures (no, I am not kidding ) and some “signs” he thinks you need to use in your presentations. He is communicating with readers as if we are rather stupid slow-witted kids and there is nothing here that you don’t already know. It is lightweight on information. This all might be fun if you are 5 but if you can read, be aware this is not for literate people but just those who like to pretend to do sign language. He talks about bringing back elementary school show and tell but I didn’t think he meant for adults making adult presentations to pretend they are in kindergarten and show childish presentations.

9. Misquoting Muhammad

It’s a good book though gets philosophical and dense at times as author tries to cover the rich history of development of Shariah legal code as derived from Quran and Hadees and as interpreted / implemented by Muslim jurists, Sufis and philosophers. The thesis of the book is how certain aspects of scripture are at odds with “modern” sensibilities and how Islamic scholars are navigating this or rather trying to navigate this treacherous path.


All these books came with rave reviews so people did find useful stuff in them. Despite the bad reviews I gave to certain books, I would have picked some good things here and there and when the time comes, may be able to refer back to these books to dig out the lesson. I would have read a few more books but then an infamous social media star became President south of the border and I logged into my social media account and my book reading productivity tanked. Three days ago, I realized again that I wasn’t getting any benefit from getting up to the minute updates of POTUS tweets, tantrums and media reactions and following the advice from the first book I read in January, disabled my social media presence once again. Here is to hoping that I stick by it and finish many more books in February.

The books I recommend from the above list.

  1. Creativity Inc. (Must read)
  2. The Quiet
  3. Deep Work
  4. The Originals

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