Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed an interest in ancient philosophies. More specifically, I’ve found Stoicism, which I was introduced to through Ryan Holiday’s writing and The Daily Stoic, to be particularly intriguing. It has shown me that the things humans do in our daily lives has evolved a lot throughout history, and it continues to change rapidly due to technology. However, the character traits of being a good person have not changed. The same values and principles that made up good character over two thousand years ago are still applicable today. What humans do has changed, but human nature has not. It reinforces the adage – “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
When reading Stoic philosophies, it is impossible to avoid references to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Aurelius was Emperor of Rome from 161 AD – 180 AD, and Meditations is a collection of writings from his personal journals that reflect his thoughts during his time as emperor. Since most of my reading of Aurelius’ writing were excerpts from and interpretations of passages from Meditations, I felt is was best to read it on my own, to get it from the horse’s mouth.
I’ve read a few books on the topic of neuroscience and how the brain functions. I’ve also read a few science fiction books about artificial intelligence, robotics, and simulating human behavior. A few of these books have went as far as portraying the concept of uploading the contents of the brain to a computer. It begs the question, what is human conscience, and can it be portrayed in software? It’s an ambitious and complex topic, and one that Greg Egan tackles in Permutation City.
My best source for book recommendations are from those who I know well, whether they are family, friends, or close acquaintances. We talk about books enough that they have a good feel for the types of books that I might like. It’s also easy for me to figure out how to prioritize a book by how they describe it to me. It’s how I learned about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. A couple of years ago, my daughter Courtney read it for one of her college classes and recommended it to me. She even went as far as to lend me her personal copy, which was an old school traditional hardback. Before we dive into this review, I only have one regret with this book – that I let it languish on my book shelf for the better part of two years before opening it up.
Eliot Peper is near the top of my current list of favorite authors. I’ve read most of his books, including the Uncommon Stock Series, Cumulus, and Bandwidth. I really like the way he weaves together mystery and suspense using present day technologies as a backdrop. So it was with high expectations that I read his latest work, Veil.
In June 2013, Edward Snowden provided reporter Glenn Greenwald with top secret documents from the NSA. It was the first of many leaks Snowden would supply to various media organizations. Those leaks revealed both the breadth and depth of the US government’s surveillance programs.
The leaks ignited a firestorm of controversy. People were appalled at the amount of information the government was collecting from individuals around the world, including its own citizens. Reforms of surveillance programs were requested, demanded even.
Were these reforms ever implemented? We’ll never know.
One would be naive to think our government no longer collects people’s personal information, listens to their private conversations, or monitors their movements. I’m convinced the government is collecting even more data about us than when Snowden made his revelations.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. In his fictional novel, The God’s Eye View, author Barry Eisler explores how the government might still be collecting data on us, and the consequences of such a program if a megalomaniac happened to be in charge of the agency responsible for safeguarding that information.
When it comes to business books, I tend to drop them into one of 5 categories:
- Founder/CEO autobiographies – these are the glamorized stories told by the founder recounting their effortless journey to massive success.
- Founder/CEO biographies – these are told by a third party and go behind the scenes to tell the real stories of how a founder succeeded or failed.
- Company biographies – these describe how a business evolved from inception to success, demise, or to present day.
- Theoretical frameworks – these are those books that feel like college textbooks and are usually told by people who haven’t run a business but by researching successful businesses publish the common themes that led to their success.
- Practical handbooks – these are the books written by people in the trenches who have experienced the emotional highs and lows of starting a business, lived to tell about it, and then documented their findings into a handbook that others can use.
I find the books in categories two and three entertaining, and generally dislike those in categories one and four. Founder/CEO autobiographies feel too much like a self-congratulatory pat on the back, while theoretical frameworks are a slog that try to separate a framework from a complex business system. The resulting framework is hard to apply and rarely succeeds, especially when trying to apply it to a small business.
It leaves those books in category five, which I’ve really come to enjoy. I call these practical handbooks because they teach you straightforward concepts and give you suggestions on how to apply them in your business. In some cases, these suggestions are broken into steps you can follow to help get you started. Books like Allan Dib’s1-Page Marketing Plan and Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand fall into this category.
The latest book I read that clearly falls into the practical handbook category is Systemology: Create Time, Reduce Errors and Scale Your Profits with Proven Business Systems by David Jenyns.
The best book recommendations come from those who are closest to you. They are the ones who know you best. Since my two oldest daughters have started reading regularly, one of the side benefits has been getting book recommendations from them. For example, last summer Amanda recommended Recursion by Blake Crouch, which I really liked. Then, later in the year, Courtney recommended Lexicon by Max Barry, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As it turned out both books had been on my reading list, but their recommendations pushed them to the top.
So when both of them recommended American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, a book that wasn’t previously on my radar, I didn’t just add it to my reading list. I put it at the top. I figured it deserved priority treatment since they both suggested I read it.
Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
I’m intrigued and constantly amazed by the power of the human brain. I’m convinced had I not taken a liking to computers and electronics growing up that I would have ended up a neuroscientist. The more I read about the brain, the more fascinated and interested I become. What’s most amazing to me is how little we understand of its operation, even after all the brain research that’s been done over the last century . After all that time and energy, researchers have only scratched the surface. There is still so much more they have yet to discover.
A lot of my interest in the brain is understanding how to maximize its utilization. If one was to compare the human body to a computer, the brain is the microprocessor. It has the job of processing the inputs our senses provide, which is our interface to our environment. Those inputs, which make up our experiences, in turn affect the make up of our brain, which in turn determine our personality, which is in effect who we are. In my opinion, the better we are at using our brain, the closer we get to realizing our true potential.
Based on these interests, when the book Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Growth by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi showed up in my Amazon recommendations, if felt like the perfect fit. Of course I had to read it.
I enjoy reading, as evidenced by the number of book reviews on my blog. So it’s been great to see my two older daughters develop a regular reading habit. Our reading interests aren’t completely aligned, but there’s enough overlap that we occasionally recommend books to each other.
When I do get a recommendation from my duaghters, I do my best to move it toward the top of my reading list. Such was the case with Lexicon by Max Barry. The book had been languishing on my reading list for quite some time. My daughter Courtney read it recently, and given how highly she spoke of it, I decided it was time to move it up the queue.
There are times when Amazon’s recommendation engine is off. And when I say off, I’m talking way off. I’d use the phrase ‘out in left field,’ but there are times when it’s not even in the same zip code let alone the same ballpark.
Then there are times when the Amazon recommendation engine is right on the money. It’s like it knows what I’m reading, which, of course, it does. Such was the case when it recommended Impossible Dreams by Tim Pratt. The book checked nearly all of my regular reading boxes – science fiction, new author (for me), and short story. It was a no-brainer to add to my reading list.