Books 2014

matthias on 2015/07/18

After 23 books in 2013, I expected 2014 to be about on par. I started out strong in January; February to June were dominated by my CFA studies, but I finished strong to reach 30 books in total. If I had to recommend one book from everything I read in 2014 it would be Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”. The insight it has brought me into my own biases is just tremendous and I am still working on implementing more checklists and heuristics into my daily activities!

Sport

Pierce, Murr - Run Less, Run Faster; I became interested in running again in 2013 and participated in two races of 10km. I find this book intriguing because it pitches an alternative approach to marathon training than simply running more and more miles every week. Their concept of three key runs + 2 cross-training sessions (e.g., cardio on the rowing machine) + optional strength training is still a lot of effort, but it will lead to significantly less injuries from attrition and better speed than the mainstream approach. And when I say it will, I mean: “I believe it will, but more importantly their studies have shown that it will”.

Relationship

Dowrick - Intimacy and Solitude; Recommended to me by a friend, this book taught me a lot on how to balance personal life with a relationship. I lost the main thread at some points, but the examples are mostly gems that are worth the time to read this on their own.

Self-Improvement

Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow; A milestone book, really. It gave me a new perspective on so many concepts. There are so many raving reviews on this already, so I won’t write much more than that.

Jiwa - Fortune Cookie Principle; I bought this book because it was recommended by Seth Godin. It’s a quick read with many beautiful examples of small businesses growing because their story is enticing for the customers. I would recommend it for someone who is currently starting their own business, but I, myself, probably shouldn’t have read it at this point.

Frankl - Man’s Search for Meaning; This is quite an old book written just after the second world war ended. The fact that it is still widely read today says a lot about its quality. Frankl details his life in the Nazi concentration camps and explains that the meaning he saw was the most important thing that separated those who survived from those who didn’t.

Taleb - Black Swan; Taleb’s idea that instead of predicting random events, we must become more robust to them. I wish I had taken more notes from this book and I’ll potentially re-read some time in the future. As it stands, I mostly remember that this book is mostly about what not to do but offers little guidance towards alternatives.

Taleb - Antifragile; This is the book I liked the most from Taleb. Here, he takes the idea of becoming robust further to becoming fragile. He is talking about systems that actually thrive under volatility (to a certain extent). These systems are for instance in nature where small injuries cause tissue to grow back in stronger connections.

His direct tone can sometimes appear smug when he points out scholars that he considers to be hiding behind their theories.

Nevertheless, his insights into medicine (fasting can cure quite a lot of things) and doubt into changing nutrition and treatments that we have thrived on for centuries have certainly been helpful to me!

Munger - Psychology of Human Misjudgment; A landmark speech from Munger about tendencies in humans that we fail to see time and time again. I recommend you read the summary that he made that can be read fluently instead of the transcripts of his actual speech that are available as well.

Ariely - Predictably Irrational; Behavioral economy professor Ariely presents his research in a very approachable, even entertaining fashion. I have learned plenty from his insight into placebos, how important free is (as compared to extremely cheap) and why certain things must cost a certain sum of money for us to appreciate them. This book is certainly worth more than its cost!

Finance

Schweser Notes for the CFA Level 1 - Book 1-5; I became interested in the CFA exam some time last year as an opportunity to formalize and certify my investment knowledge. I obtained last year’s Schweser Notes (apparently, the most popular study notes you can buy to accompany you through the main curriculum which also consists of books) from a friend and started studying this to see how hard it would be for me. Book 1 didn’t shock me much, rather it turned me somewhat enthusiastic. After that, a mix of sunk cost fallacy combined with the aforementioned arguments overcame me and after some discussion regarding the certification’s value with friends, I signed up for the June 2014 exam. It was hard going through part-time study for around 5 months, but in the end I at least passed the exam. I cannot say that it was worth it at this point; I deepened my knowledge about typical investment products, but I am yet to find out whether others will value my new knowledge.

Buffett - Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders; A rather large book that took me a while to finish. It’s amazing not only from a historical point of view; call me old-fashioned, but I actually believe that many of the nuggets that were laid out here in the 80s still hold true today.

Note that you can download most of these letters yourself, but I wanted to have it in a convenient format that could be read on my Kindle.

Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook 2014; At 68 pages, I should maybe only count this report as half a book, but combined with the Berkshire Letters it should even out.

This year, the main topic are the interactions between the emerging and the developed markets. The most interesting takes for me are the rising correlation between the two groups, how arbitrary the classification is and the evaluation of rotational trading strategies in the developing markets. The individual historical performance and description of all the examined countries is a big value added as well.

“Morningstar Guide to Equity Option Investing” by Philip Guziec. It takes an interesting angle by describing options as real investments and not hedging tools. I like the way it introduces the terminology and especially the idea of profiting when the market and/or the Black-Scholes formula is wrong.

Homm - Die einzige Lektion über Aktieninvestitionen, die Sie jemals brauchen werden; Controversial author, but the book was much less controversial than I had expected. It did sum up things in a nice way however that I really liked. Not much fluff. My impression was definitely better than the reviews on amazon for once. Especially liked how he points out that most of the information from writers that haven’t amassed a considerable wealth is just worthless.

Meditation

Towards the end of 2014, I became interested in meditation. I read a few books about Buddhism and meditation and got started. For a while, everything went well, but I ultimately dropped the habit and I am currently trying to start out again. I’d recommend Kornfield’s audio for guided meditation to just sit and get started. Rahula is a great insight into Buddhist teachings. Austin’s book with its neurology perspective was just way too specific and scientific for me.

Kornfield - Meditation for Beginners (Audio) Austin - Meditating Selflessly[

Rahula - What the Buddha Taught

Misc

Vujicic: Life without limits; Born without arms and legs, Vujicic writes a great book about personal happiness and purpose. A little bit too much Christianity here but very moving and motivational work that he put out.

Delisle: Burma Chronicles; Burma became much more interesting to me this year for personal reasons. Received this book as a gift and I must say that reading it was a real delight. Being a comic, it doesn’t go into detail, but it offers a glimpse into the culture as far as I can tell and it is entertaining to boost.

Simsion: The Rosie Project; The book I finished the quickest this year. I picked it up after a public recommendation from Bill Gates who claimed that he barely put it down and I must say that this was rather accurate for me as well. Seeing the story evolve from a person who permanently optimizes his life, especially his schedule, and is thus considered weird by his surroundings created a constant smile on my face. Highly recommended! Especially if you show even the slightest tendency of over-optimization 🙂

Learn Sailing Right: Beginner; I made an attempt at sailing during my time in Boston and this was the course book I read while I took baby steps practicing at Community boating (highly recommended) there. I ultimately didn’t love sailing as much as I had thought however and I am currently back in a different environment where this sport is just flat out too expensive for my taste.

Huff: How to lie with statistics; A classic from 1954 about offset bar charts and talking about mean vs median that I like to revisit from time to time. Clear recommendation!

One Hour China book; it took me 80 minutes to complete this book which means that the authors’ estimate is off or my speedreading practice has finally worn off. Probably a mix of  the two. On the book itself: I’m impressed with the clarity the authors describe the six megatrends in contemporary China. I definitely recommend this book!

Marcus Aurelius - Meditations; I read it, but I can’t really follow why people are so thrilled about it. Is it because he was arguably the first person to write down that you should learn to content?

Allison - Lee Kuan Yew; The author combines insight about the great Singapore leader from many speeches that LKY had given over the years. While I don’t agree with certain things the man had said (issues about IQ related to race and talent being fundamental and unchangeable) I found his insights highly valuable and would recommend looking into his opinions on over-engineered social programs in the West for instance.

Arrison - 100 plus: I bought this a bit on a a whim because it had tremendous reviews and concerned the constantly intriguing topic of longevity. While it describes the research of printable organs and calorie restriction, it does not go into detail about what the individual can do besides waiting at this point. Calorie restriction is outright dismissed as being unpractical for most; practical implementations like intermittent fasting are not discussed. I am very curious for instance whether such temporary restriction triggers at least some of the benefits of constant calorie restriction. Instead, the book talks mostly about the larger social implications of longevity. Will we be more motivated, delay marriage longer, less religious as a result of longer life expectancy?