Below is a list of books/articles/other that I have recently found interesting. My goal with this list is to share bits of content that I hope will be useful and unique.
Please reach out to discuss any of the topics below as I have found them fascinating and would love to chat about them. Also, I would love any feedback you have so don’t hesitate to get in touch with thoughts.
Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed- Packed with fascinating anecdotes about the creation of famous planes including the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird (including a frustrating story about why it was renamed from RS to SR) and the game-changing F-117a stealth fighter, this memoir is an incredible look inside Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works. Rich’s book is a crash course in aerospace, stealth technology and the Cold War.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much- A fascinating deep dive into how the lack of something (money, time, companionship etc.) can impact people and society at large. I was most struck by their discussion of how scarcity of something impairs people’s ability to function as the focus on the scarcity of money materially impairs their cognitive capability. A book that changed my opinion on the best methods to approach some of society’s challenges.
A Turning Point in Cancer- For some good news, it appears that we are seeing “extraordinary progress in treating and monitoring cancer as individualized medicine opens the door for personalized treatments that are far more accurate and effective with much lower toxicity. When you hear generally reserved doctors use phrases like “unheard-of” to describe the results, it does feel like a monumental step forward.
A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders- It's always been a fascination of mine why certain pieces of culture become incredibly popular yet others languish. In this case, a Stanford professor utilizes a dataset of popular music to quantify how novelty can be both a blessing or a curse for an artist, depending on whether they are already popular.
Mind-blowing Facts- Tim Urban from Wait Buy Why is one of my favorite multi-disciplinary thinkers and I always devour his articles when they come out. He asked all of his Twitter followers for their favorite “mind-blowing fact”. Some fantastic nuggets in this list but I think the fact about shuffling a deck of cards (52!) was the one that I found most surprising.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants- Bill Bryson- This book is my second Bill Bryson recommendation, and I should probably have more. I have found no author who consistently weaves detailed, deeply researched information with helpful anecdotes and a light, enjoyable tone like Bryson. Our bodies are pretty incredible. As Bryson comments, “None of this (our body) has been equaled in engineering or science. Most of the best technology that exists on Earth is right here inside of us.” Dense, enlightening and surprisingly fun.
How to Write Groundhog Day- Danny Rubin- The movie Groundhog Day is an all-time classic in my opinion as it manages to be wildly entertaining while asking big questions about mortality and what it means to live a good life. In this memoir, screenwriter Danny Rubin takes us on the journey of making the movie beginning with coming up with the idea and including his original screenplay as well as detailed notes on the choices they made while filming. An incredible discussion of a great movie as well as an interesting look into the movie-making process.
1st Images from the James Webb Telescope- Exciting astronomy news as the first images sent back from the recently launched $10bln James Webb telescope have exceed all expectations. James Webb sits 3000 times further away from Earth than the Hubble telescope and actually orbits the Sun. As a result, it will allow us to capture images of galaxies that are much further away than anything we have ever seen before and see the early days of the universe with light from galaxies that was created only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
The Secrets of the World’s Greatest Freediver- Like many kids, I would often time how long I could hold my breath underwater. As a sport, freediving has taken that childhood pursuit to extreme levels, descending to almost 430 feet on a single breath. Through this sport, humans have both expanded our understanding of the body’s capabilities (the “reserve tank” of oxygen) and honed techniques of mental focus, calmness, and being in the here and now.
Acquired Taylor Swift Episode- Not only an incredibly detailed summary of Taylor’s unique and incredibly successful career, this podcast is also an incredible overview of the music business including details like how difference in various copyrights mean that an artist earns a dramatically different percentage of a song streamed as opposed to a song listened to on radio. I came away with a much greater appreciation for Taylor the businesswoman and the artist and her willingness to use her power to be the “resident loud person of the music industry” on behalf of other artists. Also, filled with fun tidbits like the odd way that an insurance company is largely responsible for Nashville becoming the center of the country music industry.
Wanting:The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life- Luke Burgis- In September, I recommended an article reviewing Luke Burgis book on Mimetic Desire. While that review was a good overview, I beleive the entire book is worth reading as a valuable tool to better understand one’s own desires as well as those of humans at large. Wanting is a book that I will constantly revisit over the years.
Project Hail Mary- Andy Weir- For those who enjoyed the blend of science and narrative from his earlier novel The Martian, Andy Weir delivers another gripping, science-filled exploit in deep space. Incredibly creative and unique, this book got me thinking about a fascinating variety of topics while remaining quite fun to read.
Jim Casey:The Unknown Entrepreneur Who Built the Great UPS- A great business history of a key American company. Jim Casey was the consummate entrepreneur who prospered mainly through hustle and street smarts. Some great discussions in here including Jim’s obsessive focus on efficiency and discipline and fun anecdotes such as why UPS trucks are brown.
Sports Aging: The quest to prolong athletic mortality - Sports Illustrated- An in depth look at how athletes like Tom Brady are playing for longer and longer and the science behind athletic longevity. Useful for all of us weekend warriors who want to play as long as possible.
The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer- Christopher Clarey- As a tennis player and long-time Federer fan, The Master provided a fascinating account of Roger’s journey to being one of the best players of all time. While Roger has always appeared to make tennis look impossibly effortless, Clarey describes a much more challenging journey from a “temperamental, bleach blond teenager” who frequently broke racquets and cried after losses to the stylish and placid champion we are more familiar with.
Rocket Men: The Daring Odysset of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon- Robert Kurson – An incredible story of the space race and the 3 astronauts who made the first manned spaceflight around the Moon. Rocket Men is a fascinating description of the challenges of space travel as well as the competition between the US and USSR during the Cold War. A riveting non-fiction book that reads like an excellent piece of fiction.
How You Wound Up Playing Oregon Trail- I have many fond memories of computer game The Oregon Trail from elementary school. I remember choosing my initial supplies, hunting far too much for what my wagon could carry, and always choosing a grueling pace (to the detriment of my travel party’s health). This article is a great description of the history of Oregon Trail and the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium that created it.
Roger Federer as a Religious Experience- As an accomplished tennis player, author David Foster Wallace was uniquely positioned to capture the genius of a young Roger Federer and the unique beauty with which he played tennis. One of the best articles I have ever read about the feelings of awe that can be created by top level athletes
Federer/Nadal/Djokovic Career Points Percentage- Before clicking the link, try to guess what you think the % of total points played that the “Big 3” have won over their careers. A great reminder that great outcomes can be the result of small advantages repeated over a long period of time
Stanislav Petrov - Wikipedia- On September 26th, 1983, you could argue that Stanislav Petrov “saved the world”. A scary reminder of how close we have come to annihilation and the dangers of using fragile systems in high-consequence situations.
Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott (HT Alix Pasquet from Prime Macaya Capital)- While on the surface Bird by Bird is a book about writing, its lessons are also useful for a broad variety of professions and for life in general. Lamott balances entertainment with useful insights that can help anyone struggling with writing and other issues. The lesson from the anecdote that generated the title is worth the cost of the book on its own.
Deep Survival: Laurence Gonzales- Deep Survival tells the stories of wilderness accidents and relays the choices that either put people in greater danger or allowed them to survive their ordeal. Not only is this a fascinating (and terrifying) set of stories for people who like to be outdoors, Deep Survival is also an incredible How-To for people who want to improve their decision making in stressful scenarios.
How David Beats Goliath- While this article is over a decade old, it still holds useful lessons for competition. The key thesis is that an underdog should not choose to challenge a favorite using conventional methods but should instead choose an unconventional strategy that exploits the favorite’s weaknesses. This learning is key for any organization that is looking to unseat a powerful incumbent.
Could Misbehaving Muons Upend the Known Laws of Physics?- Experiments in the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have demonstrated that subatomic particles called muons are far more magnetic than expected, counter to the predictions expected by the Standard Model of particle physics. It is possible that this outcome could lead to the discovery of new forms of matter and energy, including the potential building blocks for dark matter.
The Invisible Addiction: Is it Time to Give Up Caffeine?- Despite the leading nature of the title, this article is a balanced discussion of a drug that many of us consume relatively unconsciously. It discusses the physical and cognitive benefits of caffeine as well as its negative impact on sleep. Finally, the author includes a good historical discussion of the impact of caffeinated beverages on Britain’s history and the Industrial Revolution.
“Are you listening or are you just waiting to talk?”
- General Tony Thomas, Invest Like the Best 3/8/21
Inspired by this incredible quote, I have been thinking a lot about listening recently. In conversation, I sometimes find myself so focused on how I want to respond that I miss what the other person is saying. This bad habit hinders my goal of continuous learning and so I am working to improve my listening. Here are three sources that I have found useful:
The Billionaire's Vinegar: Benjamin Wallace (HT Jeff Kalicka from Mangrove Capital)- An interesting story that weaves history (Thomas Jefferson’s wine obsession), the intricacies of a niche market (obscure fine wine collecting) and the impact of a variety of cognitive biases.
By my count, this story exemplifies the following biases from Charlie Munger’s Psychology of Human Misjudgement : Liking & Loving, Envy & Jealousy, Reciprocation, Influence from Association, Social Proof, Authority-Misinfluence, and Lollapalooza. Also, it’s a fun read for people who enjoy wine.
Setting the Table: Danny Meyer (HT Elliot Turner from RGAIA)- Renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer shares the lessons he learned in building iconic restaurants like Union Square Café, 11 Madison Park and Shake Shack. His philosophy of Enlighted Hospitality provides many useful lessons for businesspeople in all industries who are looking to better serve their customers, employees and other key stakeholders.
How Katie Ledecky is Better at Swimming than Anyone is at Anything- This article is almost 5 years old but remains an incredible profile of one of the premier athletes in sports and her drive for perfection as she toiled to shave hundredths when she was already winning by several seconds. At the time of the article, Ledecky had dominated an unprecedented variety of events in women’s swimming by the largest margins seen in international sports despite have a physiology that the USOC described as “remarkably unremarkable”. I also loved the final quote from her coach in response to an article that about Katie’s training secrets… “Just do the damn work”.
How I lost $10,000,000: Andrew Wilkinson- People generally only like to share their success stories, especially on social media where it appears that every investor has market trouncing returns and no errors. I believe however that there is much more to be gained from studying failures instead of successes and loved Andrew’s tweetstorm about his failure at Flow. A must read for every investor and anyone who is thinking about starting a business.
The Man Who Invented the Zamboni- As a hockey player and fan, this article scratched an itch given the amount of time I have watched Zambonis circle the ice. This story describes an inventor who kept tinkering to solve problems and ended up transforming an industry. He’s also one of the few inventors who can say that his name became synonymous with his product.
What They Were Saying About Amazon in 1999- A fun trip down memory lane to see what Wall Street was saying about Amazon in 1999. This clip a valuable reminder of the importance of management because the strategic changes they make will have a huge impact on future results. The Amazon of today (AWS, Prime, Marketplace) is wildly different than the online bookstore that these investors were discussing in 1999 and its clear that those management decisions have driven a lot of additional value.
Unaided Eye Can See 0.000004% of the Milky Way- We can only see a tiny part of our own galaxy and it is estimated that there at least ~125 billion galaxies in total (with some estimates being materially higher). The scale of the universe always blows my mind.
A Short History of Nearly Everything: Bill Bryson- A Short History provides a fascinating tour of the history of a large number of scientific topics and theories. From deep discussions of physics to geology and everything in between, Bryson delivers a ton of information in a very readable (and often funny) package. A great combination of information and entertainment.
The Inner Game of Tennis: W. Timothy Gallwey- While the focus of this book is tennis, it is truly applicable for anyone seeking to improve their performance in any athletic or performance endeavor. Gallwey provides both theory and specific insights to help improve any kind of performance.
What Are You Laughing At? : Dan O'Shannon (HT Dan McMurtrie from Tyro Capital)- For anyone who has ever been curious about the structure of a joke. It also falls under the category of books that are not ostensibly about investing but will certainly help make you a better investor.
Reverse Engineering the Source Code of the Pfizer Vaccine- A fascinating article that takes a detailed look at the source code of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine similar to the way one might deconstruct a computer program. I had to read it several times but it was an incredible look at DNA/RNA, the production of vaccines broadly and the specific Pfizer vaccine.
The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al- It feels weird to describe an article about Weird Al as a portrait of an artist given that he only sings parodies. But this article is a great look at a craftsman who had an incredible passion for perfecting his music. I especially loved the discussion of Weird Al’s obsession with tweaking lyrics to find the exact right combinations.
Ric Elias- Peter Attia Podcast (HT Graham Duncan from East Rock Capital)- Ric was a passenger on the US Airways Flight that landed in the East River. In this discussion with Peter Attia, he reflects on how that experience changed how he lived his life. One of the few podcasts I have listened to more than once and I have incorporated a few of Ric’s concepts (ex. be a “collector of bad wines”) in my daily life.
Rob Delaney on Grief- Actor/comedian Rob Delaney’s short discussion of losing his son Henry to brain cancer manages to be incredibly sad while also being a life-affirming reminder of what is truly important. It makes me want to find someone I care deeply about and give them a hug.
Brazilian Pianist in Bionic Gloves- As a result of numerous injuries, Brazilian pianist Joao Carlos Martins lost the ability to move his fingers and could not play the piano for over two decades. Recently, he was given a pair of bionic gloves which allowed him to play again. A great example of the progress being made.