pragmatist
Patrick Joyce

March 5, 2022

What I Read in 2021

January

  • Pachinko - Epic multi-generational story of Koreans in Japan.
  • Station Eleven - Excellent. I’m not sure that reading about a world ending pandemic was great for my mental state last January. The HBO show currently airing is also beautifully shot. It is meaningfully different than the book owing to the need to have the characters, you know, meet. The book is better, but the TV show is different enough that you can enjoy each separately.

February

  • Influence Without Authority - I find most business books overly transactional but if I can learn one thing from them that makes me better I consider it time well spent. In this case that one thing was that people value different things, so paying attention to what your coworkers value makes it possible to give them things they care about. Which in turn makes it more likely that they’ll be able to help you. Sounds cynical, but mostly is about treating people how they want to be treated.
  • Lord of Strategy - I’ve worked with a lot of ex-management consultants, but have never been a management consultant. Interesting history of the creation and development of management consulting and modern business schools.

May

June

  • Goliath - This book made me angry. There are plenty of problems with large companies but this felt like Matt Stoler started with the conclusion “big = EVIL” and then portrayed every scenario in the most negative possible light. For instance, he wrote in scandalized tones that the A&P ruthlessly bullied food distributors for lower prices in the 1930s and I wanted to scream “You mean they achieved lower food prices for millions of Americans!”
  • Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero - I deliberately read this next as a contrast to Goliath and found it a much more compelling argument.
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures - Fungi are super weird and break a bunch of my assumptions about how life works.
  • Working Backwards - Detailed view of how Amazon worked (at least how Amazon worked at some point in the past). I’ve worked with several ex-Amazon people and can see the value of many of these practices. A meeting that consists of reviewing a rigorously prepared 6-pager that everyone has read will lead to better discussion and decision than walking through a presentation live. However, these practices evolved in a very specific environment at Amazon and they can only be successful if the environment shares the values that produced them.
  • Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn, Keras, and TensorFlow - Practical introduction to a broad array of machine learning techniques. Reading “The Hundred Page Machine Learning Book” before this gave me some conceptual understanding. Doing all the exercises in this book gave me a much deeper understanding of those concepts.
  • Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal the Workings of Our World - Building stuff on the Internet means dealing with fraud. This was a fun history of the ways in which humans defraud each other and the very human vulnerabilities those frauds exploit.

July

  • Amazon Unbound - Amazon is one of the most impactful organizations in the world today. This was a deeply researched history of how they went from a large e-commerce retailer to one of the most important companies in the world.
  • Range - I loved David Epstein’s first book “The Athlete Gene”. This is an equally well written book about the benefits of avoiding early specialization.
  • A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - Excellent personal advice on how to apply the lessons of ancient stoic philosophy to live a good life in the modern world. When I’ve practiced the principles in this book I’ve felt more peaceful and joyful.
  • How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well - I thought I should examine some of the other ancient schools of philosophies. This didn’t feel as applicable.

August

September

October

  • The Perfect Bet - I don’t gamble, but I very much enjoy thinking about gambling.
  • Pie in the Sky - I generally don’t include the books I read with my kids here, but this book was beautiful. It is the story of an 11 year old boy who immigrates to Australia with his mother and little brother after the death of his father. Funny and heart wrenching. JoJo ended up having to read the last few pages out loud because I couldn’t get the words out through my sobs.
  • Success and Luck - I have led an unbelievably fortunate life. I read this as part of a conscious exercise in gratitude to appreciate that luck. The book also makes a strong argument for dramatically higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy and how that would deflate top-end asset prices but increase utility… even for those who are being taxed dramatically higher. This adaptation of the introduction is worth reading.
  • Team of Teams - Solid personal narrative of building organizations that can adapt quickly to changing conditions.1

November

  • Hip Hop (And Other Things) - I love Shea Serrano. Thoroughly enjoyed this. I also very much enjoyed his podcast “No Skips” (particularly The Miseducation of Lauren Hill episode)
  • Estonia: A Modern History - I was more interested in the recent history about the extremely digital savvy nation that emerged after Communism, but this was more focused on early to mid 20th century. Despite not being what I hoped I learned a lot more about the Baltic states than I previously new.
  • Trillions: How a Band of Wall Street Renegades Invented the Index Fund and Changed Finance Forever - I invest in index funds because I know I’m not smarter than the market. The indifference and hostility that met the first index funds is amazing given that index funds eventually became the default form of investment.
  • The Rational Optimist - There is a lot of pessimism about the future. I intentionally seek out well argued thinking about why we should be optimistic for the future.

December

  • The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger - Fascinating, but also one of those books I think might have been better as 2 or 3 long magazine articles.
  • The Last Shadow - I love the Ender series. This… didn’t really need to exist, but wasn’t the worst beach read.
  • One Billion Americans - For the US to maintain its global influence we need to grow. The policy recommendations are reasonable and seem like they should be achievable if we committed to increasing growth. This is similar to Derek Thompson’s Abundance Agenda. I work in growth companies because—for all the challenges—everything is better when a company is growing. In a stagnant or slow-growing company there is a zero-sum competition for resources and promotions. But in a growth company there is an abundance of opportunity and it is clear that when person succeeds it makes it more likely that everyone else also succeeds. I’d like to see the US become a growth country again, and I think we can do it.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning - A personal story of surviving the Holocaust paired with a practical approach to finding a meaning and therefore satisfaction in the less dire situations of everyday life.
  1. Warning: The repeated references to Michael Flynn as a valuable and competent member of senior military leadership as opposed to a crazy person actively working to overthrow the US government are… jarring. 

More Year End Book Lists

What I Read in 2020
I read 10 books in 2020.
What I Read in 2019
I read 41 books in 2019.
What I Read in 2018
I read 28 books in 2018.
What I Read in 2017
I finished 14 books in 2017.
What I Read in 2016
I finished 18 books in 2016.
Looking Back at 2015
I finished 14 books in 2015.