The Best Books I Read in 2019

Here’s my annual list of the best books I read over the past year:

Non-Fiction

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

This is the most unique behavioral psychology book I’ve read in years. I love the way Sutherland looks at the world:

If we allow the world to be run by logical people, we will only discover logical things. But in real life, most things aren’t logical – they are psycho-logical. There are often two reasons behind people’s behaviour: the ostensibly logical reason, and the real reason.

More here.

I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

The book Scorsese’s movie The Irishman is based on. I hate to be that guy but I liked the book way better than the movie.

More here.

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

This is hands down the best book on business leadership I’ve ever read. Iger also has an inspirational story about starting at the bottom and working his way to the top position at Disney.

The stories about how he helped Disney acquire Pixar, Marvel, and 21st Century Fox were incredible. His relationship with Steve Jobs was also eye-opening.

Iger gives some great advice, using his own personal experiences, about how to deal with other people in a fair and balanced manner in the workplace. I liked this description of a secret weapon in life:

I learned from them that genuine decency and professional competitiveness weren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, true integrity—a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong—is a kind of secret weapon.

This was also one of the more honest books I’ve read from a CEO, most of whom are essentially politicians in that they can’t always say exactly what they feel.

Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber by Mike Isaac

This book was equal parts enthralling and depressing. The fact that Uber went from an innovative idea to one of the largest companies in the world in under a decade is bananas. But the way Travis Kalanick got the company there was in many ways abhorrent.

It’s great and all that we can summon a car from our pocket supercomputers but I wish the company that made this happen wasn’t founded by an all-time dirtbag. Either way, I had a hard time putting this book down once I started it.

More here.

One Giant Leap by Charles Fishman

For my money, the moon landing is the greatest achievement our species has ever pulled off and there may not even be a close second.1 What those scientists, astronauts, and engineers were up against has to be one of the greatest challenges ever solved by man:

On that day, May 25, 1961, when Kennedy asked Congress to send Americans to the Moon before the 1960s were over, NASA had no rockets to launch astronauts to the Moon, no computer portable enough to guide a spaceship to the Moon, no spacesuits to wear on the way, no spaceship to land astronauts on the surface (let alone a Moon car to let them drive around and explore), no network of tracking stations to talk to the astronauts en route. On the day of Kennedy’s speech, no human being had ever opened a hatch in space and gone outside; no two manned spaceships had ever been in space together or ever tried to rendezvous with each other. No one had any real idea what the surface of the Moon was like and what kind of landing craft it would support, because no craft of any kind had landed safely on the Moon and reported back. As Kennedy gave that speech, there was an argument—at MIT no less—about whether engineers could do the math required, could do the navigation required, and do it fast enough, to fly to the Moon and back.

One of my favorite stats from the book is the computer onboard Apollo 11 could execute 85,000 instructions per second. The newest iPhones can process 5 trillion instructions per second. So the astronauts who landed on the moon did so using technology that had 0.000002% of the computing capacity of the little phone that fits in your pocket.

More here.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This book packed the biggest punch in terms of quality information per number of pages. It’s a quick read on the state of the world and how modern society is potentially making it harder for people to feel necessary. Junger talks about how much more divided we are becoming as a country and much of it has to do with all of the progress we’ve made.

This line is the one that stuck with me the most:

The United States is so powerful that the only country capable of destroying her might be the United States herself, which means that the ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the country alone. That way, America’s ugliest partisan tendencies could emerge unimpeded by the unifying effects of war.

This book gives you a lot to think about.

More here.

How History Gets Things Wrong by Alex Rosenberg

Marc Andreesen discussed this book on an a16z podcast and the idea made so much sense from his description that I knew it would be great. And it was. This book will change the way you think about history:

History—the study of what happened and why—has an effect on history, on what actually happens, through people’s awareness of it. That kind of “reflexiveness” is another source of the difficulty in extrapolating the human future from the past.

The idea may be better than the book itself but still worth a read.

More here.

Who is Michael Ovitz by Michael Ovitz

Andreesen’s successful venture capital firm is actually modeled after the CAA, the Hollywood talent agency created by Michael Ovitz. This book is full of great Hollywood stories, some excellent stuff on running a business, and also some stuff on people and actions you should avoid in your career.

Ovitz is quite a character and not necessarily someone I would want to emulate but the way he built relationships over the years is impressive. This book is worth it for the Bill Murray stories alone.

More here.

The Big Change: How American Transformed Itself 1900-1950

You could make a pretty good argument that the world changed more technologically over the first 50 years or so of the 20th century than during any other time in history. This period also included two world wars and the Great Depression.

And there’s no one better to walk through this insane period of time than Frederick Lewis Allen.

More here.

Fiction

A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton

My newest detective series is about a retired cop who moves to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m on the third book of this series already but the first one was excellent.

A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais

Crais began this series about a PI named Elvis Cole, your typical wiseass detective who is tough yet sensitive. But the series has evolved over the years to spend more time on his mysterious partner in crime Joe Pike. Pike has two huge arrow tattoos on his arms pointing forward and it quickly becoming one of my favorite literary characters.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This book came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. It’s unlike my usual fiction tastes but had me hooked from start to finish about a little girl growing up in the swamps of North Carolina. The ending was terrific too. It should make for a great movie or TV series someday.

Wolf Pack by CJ Box

The latest book about the Pickett family had an element of Breaking Bad in it as the Mexican cartel sent four killers to Wyoming to take out the game warden’s family and friends. Nate Romanowski is Joe’s mysterious friend, and much like Joe Pike, has become one of my favorite characters. These books are always better when Nate and Joe’s daughters are prominently featured.

Further reading:
My 2018 Recommendations

1Maybe the skip intro button on Netflix?

 
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