It’s funny, I never used to read non-fiction. I was solely an entertainment reader. My dad pointed this out to me a few times and tried to get me into reading some more educational books while I was in high school. I steadfastly refused to “get serious” with my reading choices. But at some point, years after I had finished college, I realized that I wasn’t learning as much as I used to, and I missed that.
Not sure how I got my first “life changing” book, I think it was a recommendation from someone we knew, but at some point in 2003 I picked up a copy of The Millionaire Next Door. Like many books that make you smart, this one was done by researchers. They interviewed a lot of people who had net worths of over a million dollars and reported their results. What I read about the behavior of people who created wealth was truly eye-opening.
I suddenly saw all the bad financial habits I had and how much they were restricting me from creating long-term wealth. It was because of this book that Ann and I started tracking our expenses. Daily. Every penny we paid. We put it into an Excel spreadsheet for two and a half years, and playing around with it, coming up with new charts to make to view the slightly upward sloping indicators of my own financial progress became a source of great happiness in my life. We eventually fell out of the habit when we moved to the Netherlands, but I will always take with me the lessons from that book.
The second book that really changed me was Guns, Germs and Steel. A fantastic book by Jared Diamond (another academic) that uses a multi-disciplinary approach to explain the course of the development of civilization on Earth. Truly fascinating. It’s one of those books that just makes you feel smart while you’re reading it. Suddenly you look around, and you think, “Hey, I understand everything now. I know exactly why I am sitting in the nice condo in Princeton, New Jersey, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and 80% of the rest of the world is living on less than $2 a day. I get it!”
It didn’t make me an anti-poverty activist or get me into politics, but it gave me an understanding of my place in the world and all the events that led up to putting me where I was. As a result, I felt more empowered. There’s nothing like understanding something complicated to make you feel like a master of the universe.
The next one was A Brief History of Time. I don’t know why I decided I needed to understand the cosmos and physics, but somehow we got a copy of this and I decided to get smart. Funny enough, it was just at the time that I was reading this one that we moved to the Netherlands and I met Ian.
One of the first “bonding” conversations I remember was sitting in a crappy restaurant (“Lekker Belangirijk”) in the Scheffer’s Plein in Dordrecht having a bad meal but a great conversation with this talkative Irish guy about the nature of the universe and the fact that now we know without a doubt that the universe is expanding faster than the ability of gravity to hold it together and it will eventually all break apart into space. But that’s millions of years from now, so I don’t worry so much about it.
Just recently I finally finished, after many times putting it down and picking it up again a few weeks later, a book by Eric Beinhocker of McKinsey entitled The Origin of Wealth. Again, not a small subject. So first was personal finance, then anthropology/history, then physics, and now economics.
Ever since my MBA I have been fascinated by economics. I’m more of a “micro” guy than a “macro” guy, and the intersection of marketing and economics has always fascinated me. I picked this one up in the airport business books section because it had an interesting cover and when I read the back it promised to unlock the secrets of economics and explain why everything they teach you in MBA school about economics is wrong.
And the book did just that.
Amazing book really, a survey of Traditional Economics, which is based on some early physics and hasn’t changed in quite a long time, then a blistering critique of it, and then a huge huge helping of new research and ideas about “complex adaptive systems” and evolution and some pretty heavy comparisons between the economy and an evolutionary system. It’s hard to do a book with such an impressive scope justice in a blog post. It’s quite dense, but at the end of it you walk around wanting to talk to everyone about economics (often to the frustration of your domestic companion who just can’t take another discussion about the subject).
I am on the final pages of The Innovator’s Dilemna, a book about disruptive innovation by a Harvard Business School prof. It was pretty good, and the guy is tops in his area, but I’m not sure if it truly changed me, so I’m not sure I’ll put it in this category just yet.
Hopefully I’ll have upadate posts about this subject over time, but for now, if you’re interested in some reading that will make you feel smart, check out any of these books.