My 2018 year in books

Just like my annual tradition of blogging about my travel experiences from the past year, I also like to write about my year in reading. Growing up, I hated reading, and in hindsight I believe that was because I had to read for school. As an adult, I love to read! Now, it’s the absorption of information and ideas that I love so much. That’s why I mostly read non-fiction, specifically books on business, behavioral economics, and self-help.

In 2017 I read just 9 books, so I set my 2018 goal at 12….a simple 1 per month. Unfortunately, I fell far short of that goal with 8.5 books read in 2018 (more on the half, below). Similar to the prior year, thats 1 book every 6 weeks or so. So I didn’t meet my goal, but didn’t regress much either. I’m not beating myself up about it, I’ll do better in 2019!

Without further to do, in no particular order, below are the books I read in 2018, with links to Amazon.com.

When Breathe Becomes Air

This was hands down my favorite book of 2018! I first heard of this book when Bill Gates recommended it to his social media followers. This book is a memoir written by a neurosurgeon after being diagnosed with cancer that would likely kill him (it did). His writing honestly and vividly shares the struggles he faced with his new reality, such as his own mortality, the affect on his career if he survived, the impact to his wife and yet to be conceived child, and more. He did not finish the memoir before dying, his wife did that, and I did not finish the book without crying. I remember reading the last couple chapters stuck in the back of a delayed airplane at Boston Logan airport. I probably cried for 20 minutes straight as I finished the book just as my flight lifted off the ground and ascended into the late night sky. That was a good, healing cry, and I am not ashamed of doing it in public.

Hillbilly Elegy

In my effort to understand why so many low income people support Republican’s and President Trump, even when their policies are counter to the needs of these voters, I picked up this book. The author grew up as a self proclaimed hillbilly, before breaking from the norm and getting out of poverty himself. This memoir gives a view into the social and economic drivers of poor white Americans. It is not a political book, and I think the author may be a conservative himself, so expect a fair account. The reader must figure out on their own what if any connection there is to the way of living and the voting habits of the people in question. What you will learn if you read this book is that pride is a massive force, one that is at times greater than hunger, happiness, and health.

Zero to One

This book came out a few years ago. I heard nothing but great things about it from fellow entrepreneurs and product managers, but I resisted picking it up in protest of the author’s politics. Peter Thiel, the author of this great book on innovation, is an entrepreneur that co-founded PayPal and one of the first investors in Facebook. He is also a supporter of crazy conservatives and enemy of the free press.

However, I LOVED this book! It is a fantastic view into what makes it so hard to go from nothing to something in the world of product development and entrepreneurship. This book has helped me reframe my approach to building software products in my work, and helped me position the task, difficulty, and risks to my bosses and stakeholders in an effort to do things differently. The book also does a great job of explaining why venture capitalists operate the way they do, and a great job of demonstrating why the common VC approach to investing is ineffective. If you are an entrepreneur, read this book!

On Tyranny

Anyone that knows me personally knows that I am a liberal and I am disgusted by President Trump and bewildered by his supporters. I believe our country is at risk of falling into turmoil and ruin because of the way some of our leaders behave, and the willingness of the people to allow them to behave this way.

On Tyranny is a book of 20 short essays that each look at a 20th century example of tyranny in our world, and then passively relates them to the Trump Administration today. It is a good historical refresher, and a scary warning of what could easily happen to America today.

Just F*ing Demo!

This is another short book for the year. In software development, it’s common to demo your work to the team, to other teams, and to company leadership. I lead a few teams at PagerDuty, and each demos every other week. In order to pick up some ideas of how to use demos to drive urgency and speed, and to learn to conduct more compelling demos, I picked up this short guide. Lots of common sense and good reminders for a product manager like me.

The Power of Moments

Chip and Dan Heath are author-brothers that use the science of human behavior to help businesses and business people understand how to better serve their customers. I read their first book, Made to Stick, many years ago, and picked up this latest book after a colleague mentioned it.

The power of Moments is about how products and businesses can create memorable experiences that stand out from the crowd and pull the user/customer in. They cover 4 concepts that must be present in some combination to create a memorable moment with positive impact. It was an interesting enough read, but not my favorite book of theirs, of the genre, or of my year.

Killers of the Flower Moon

This was a book recommendation from my dad, and I am so glad I picked it up! Killers of the Flower Moon recounts the true story of the Osage Native American tribe, their sudden accumulation of wealth, and how white men went as far as serial murder to steel money from the Osage people. I knew that Native Americans had been treated horribly throughout history, but this story opened my eyes to the true extent of what our government and individuals did to treat Native Americans as less than human, with unequal rights.

Interestingly, this is also the story of the founding of the FBI and the rise to prominence of J Edgar Hoover. If you have any interest in American history, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.

Sprint

This was a re-read for me. I first read the book in 2016 to help up-level my skills around rapid prototyping and building products that truly solve problems. In 2018, I tried to start a book club at work with the people I work hand-in-hand with to build new products for our company, and this was the first book we read. I say tried to start because we never picked up a 2nd book.

As I said in my 2016 write-up, this book helps innovators and product developers rapidly prototype and test products with customers in just 5 days. If you are in Product Management or Software Development, it’s a must read.

Leonardo da Vinci

This is that half of a book, and it kinda bums me out. I love Leonardo da Vinci, I think he was the most brilliant person to ever walk this earth. I’ve read other books about him, but all somewhat short and focused on his inventions and his innovation practices. This book is a true biography, by Walter Isaacson, one of the best biographers alive right now (he wrote the brilliant 2011 biography of Steve Jobs).

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t finish this long book (it’s about 625 pages). While I love the story of Leonardo, and I learned a lot from the parts of this book I did read, it didn’t manage to hold my attention as the author describes deep details of painting after painting. I hate not finishing books, but I put this one down for good when I was just 58% of the way through it.


What’s on my reading list for 2019, you ask? I’ve already started a book called Flow, which talks about the psychology of happiness, and I have another book by the author of Sprint to read, called Make Time. I also want to read some old school innovation books that I’ve never gotten around to reading, like Crossing the Chasm and The Innovators Dilemma. I also plan to read Radical Candor along with my finance, as we both seek to be better managers at work.

My 2017 year in books

Just as I believe that travel is critical to being an empathetic, intelligent, and thoughtful person, reading is a big piece of my effort to be a better human. To that end, I mostly read non-fiction but occasionally mix in a good novel.

My level of reading in 2017, like most years, was less than I aspire to. Nonetheless, I read some great books! This year, it appears that every book was in Kindle format, no physical books. Despite being a Kindle enthusiast since the early days of e-reading, 2017 was probably the first year that I didn't read a single book in print format. According to Amazon, I read a measly 9 books. That's one book ever 5 weeks and 4 days...pretty pathetic. Although, looking back at my 2016 in books blog post, I increased my reading by 80% over the past year, so I'm proud of that. Like last year, only one of the books I read was fiction.

In no particular order, here are the books I read in 2017 (titles link to Amazon.com):

Cracking the PM Interview

In 2017, I changed jobs....twice! I only planned on doing it once, but life brings unexpected opportunities your way! Anyway, I hadn't interviewed in a while and wanted to brush up on my skills. Additionally, I was interviewing with Google in January and this book came highly recommended by both Google recruiters and other people that had interviewed there. Like many publications on career advice, this book was filled with good stuff that is mostly common sense. A nice reminder of what to do, but nothing earth shattering.

Mindfulness

My job change, move out of Oregon, and moving in with my girlfriend brought a lot of stress to me all at once. To help deal, I read Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. The book offers tactics for grounding yourself by clearing the mind and going into a state of connection between body and soul. It includes links to digital audio files that walk you through guided meditation, which was probably my favorite part of the experience. The author of this book literally 'wrote the book on' Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which is now a well accepted treatment for phobias and anxiety.

The First 90 Days

This is a book for managers and leaders that want to get off on the right foot at a new job. It offers strategies for evaluating the work situation you are entering, planning for success, winning buy-in from your manager, and executing on the plan. It has a lot of great insight for anyone that isn't a manager, but is or wants to be a leader, as well as specific advice for managers of people. The book even covers situations like inter-company transfers, being promoted above your peers, and other situations that could lead to failure if not planned for. Great stuff, but again, mostly common sense and a good reminder.

Everybody Lies

I heard about this book while listening to a podcast and I bought it immediately. The author is a former academic turned Google data scientists turned independent author/researcher. The book is anchored on his work using Google search data to uncover the hidden (and not so hidden) racism surrounding Barack Obama's 2008 (and then 2012) election as President. From there, it uses search history to unlock a variety of topics, even using pornography web site searches to make that case that there are way more gay men in the US than are out of the closet. If I had to pick a favorite book of the year, this would be a strong contender. I learned so much about human psyche and basically don't trust people as much now (only partially kidding). I also learned a lot of tips and tricks for data analysis. This book was an enjoyable, easy read that taught me a lot.

Never Split the Difference

My brother-in-law, who shares a passion for lifelong learning, recommended this book to me. Its a book about negotiation, written by a former FBI negotiator. I picked it up because I wanted to be more successful in my daily negotiations, recognizing that every single day in my personal and professional life, I am dealing with some form of negotiation. Not every negotiation is life or death, like what the author faced as a FBI hostage negotiator, but the tactics he used can be used in daily life. Its not just about winning, either. This book helps you what you need, which is sometimes simply clarity or agreement.

What happened

This book by Hillary Clinton was a tough choice for me. On one hand, the election was over and my candidate lost...why rehash old things? On the other hand, this election may prove to be the most important, critical, and unusual election of my lifetime, shouldn't I learn more? I picked it up, am glad I did, but would struggle to recommend it as a read for others. In this book, Clinton describes just what the title says, what happened, from her point of view. I learned a lot of things about her as a person, which I enjoyed, but also read through a bunch of "but Bernie!" and "but Trump!" commentary over, and over, and over again. What I did walk away with was an evidence based belief that Hillary was undoubtably treated differently by the press and other candidates because she is a woman. I now blame the press more than I blame her, Trump, or Trump supporters. She was treated differently, and it is despicable. Glad I read this book, but not eager to read another like it for a long time.

Zone to Win

This is a business book that is the 4th in a 4 part series that includes Crossing the Chasm and Escape Velocity. Oddly enough, I haven't read any of the first 3 in the series. I picked up this book because the leadership at my new employer, PagerDuty, is using the concepts as a guiding framework. Essentially, the book lays out 4 zones for each product investment at a company. The first 2 are for existing products, the second two are for new/future products. Good read, all made good sense. That said, probably should have read the first 3 in the series ahead of this one.

Origin

The only fiction book in my reading list in 2017, Dan Brown comes back with another Robert Langdon thriller. I first fell in love with his style after reading The Da Vinci Code. I've read every Dan Brown book since, as well as going back and reading Angels & Demons, which was published before his The Da Vinci Code popularity. Origin is the same style and main character as every other book, its no longer a unique or interesting style, but I still love his books! My guilty pleasure, I guess. This book takes place in Spain, one of my favorite places on earth, so the familiar sights and locals added some extra interest for me.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This book had been on my reading list for years, and with a new job in September where I'd be building a new product from concept to delivery, I figured the time was now. In the book, author, entrepreneur, and investor Ben Horowitz tells the stories of his startup life. He tells tails of near failure, some incredibly tough decisions that turned out to be critical turning points, and the hard thing about doing something new and difficult: there is no playbook. I really enjoyed the real life stories and was engaged from cover to cover. If you are an entrepreneur, or an intrapreneur, pick up this book and study how Horowitz behaved. He didn't know at the time that he was doing the right thing, but his approach was the difference between success and failure.


Those are my nine of 2017! On deck for 2018 includes When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir of a neurosurgeon exploring the meaning of life, recommended by Bill Gates; Zero to One, a book on startups and innovation by controversial entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel; and Hillbilly Elegy, the memoir of growing up in "hillbilly country" and insight into what drives some people to vote against their own interests. I want to read at least a dozen books, so I need 9 more...what would you recommend? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

My 2016 year in books

The amount of reading I do goes in waves. I aspire to read much more than I did in 2016. A good year for me is 10-15 books, but this year was far fewer: just 5. I typically read non-fiction (biographies, business, behavioral economics, personal improvement, etc), but this year 40% of the books I read were fiction. Here is a list of what I read in 2016:

Gideon's Children by Howard G Franklin

I actually started this book in 2015 but it took me a while to finish it, mostly due to its size. This book was written by a family friend who passed away in 2016, a couple months after I finished reading this book. Gideon's Children is historical fiction, based on the early adulthood of the author. It chronicles the efforts of a group of public defenders in the Los Angeles area during the 1960's as they fought for the rights of African American's in the legal system. If you are a legal wonk or a student of civil rights, you'll enjoy this book.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the first person telling of Nike's origin story. As a life long sneaker head, University of Oregon alum, occasional entrepreneur, and former Nike employee, this book was exactly what I needed in 2016! Knight focuses the book on the years after Stanford, and leading up to the company's IPO. Its a great telling of the entrepreneurial journey that often comes with financial woes, growing pains, relationship struggles, and more. I'd recommend every entrepreneur read it, as well as any Nike or footwear enthusiast.

A Hero is Always Alone Sometimes by Jonny Effing Lucas

Another book written by a friend, this short story was a fun tale of a lonely man dreaming to be a super hero. Its a great read for a teen or an adult looking for a quick escape. As someone that doesn't read much fiction, I didn't expect to like the story as much as I did (the twist at the end got me)! Jonny's next book is coming out soon, and he even has a teen novel published under a similar, but more noble author name!

Sprint by Jake Knapp

A business book, and the most simple books I've read, but one I really enjoyed! Sprint uses real world examples and a straight forward framework to teach teams & entrepreneurs how to validate product ideas quickly. Using this framework, in just 5 days, teams can select a problem to solve, generate ideas, select a path forward, build a prototype, and test with customers/users. After reading this book, I am determined to use this process in my work during 2017! If you are an Engineer, Product Manager, or Entrepreneur of any kind, I highly recommend this book. Think outside the box, its not just for software or technology products!

Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

This book came as a recommendation from one of the Product Management leaders I work with at New Relic. Its part "how to turn the ship around" and part "how to be honest and direct in work conversations." Effective communication is something I am fascinated with, in part because I screw it up more often than I'd like. I am in the middle of this book, a victim of my choices to spend free time doing less valuable things than reading, but I am committed to finishing it up soon.


What books did you read last year, and what are your reading goals for 2017? Share by tweeting at me!