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Non-fiction Books Every 20-something Should Read

From Shane Parrish on Quora with an answer to “What are some great non-fiction books a 20-year old should add to his library?

Here’s 10.

1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Psychologist  Robert Cialdini introduces the universal principles of influence:  Reciprocation, scarcity, authority, commitment, liking, and consensus.  Sure you can watch the short video,  but it’s not the same. Buy the book. Why do you need to learn these? To  paraphrase Publius Syrus, “He can best avoid a snare who knows how to  set one.” After you read this book, move on to Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

2. Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger
The  last time I mentioned this book, Farnam Street readers flooded my  inbox. I’ll try to address the two primary concerns that appeared.  First, if you can’t find it new, just purchase a used copy. Who cares?  Second: Yes, it’s an “expensive” book. Ignorance is more expensive. Just  buy it.

3. Letters from a Stoic
I  came to Seneca a few years after I turned 30. It’s clear from reading  Seneca that he’s full of wisdom. His letters deal with everything we  deal with today: Success, failure, wealth, poverty, and grief. His  philosophy is practical. Not only will reading this book help equip you  for what comes in life, but it’ll also help you communicate with others.

4. The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus
A  Syrian slave, Syrus is a full of timeless wisdom. Want an example?  “From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own.” Here is  another: “It is not every question that deserves an answer.” Ok, one  more? “To do two things at once is to do neither.” And he didn’t even  know of Facebook and Twitter. You can read this book in under an hour  but spend the rest of your life trying to learn and apply his wisdom.

5. The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Third Edition
I’d much rather recommend Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders (alsofreely available), however, I recognize that most people would be intimidated by its size. In the Essays,  Lawrence Cunningham thematically organizes Buffett’s own words. There  is more than enough here to get a clear picture of the principles and  logic of Buffett and Munger’s philosophy for business, life, and  investing.

6. Cyrus the Great — The Arts of Leadership and War
Amazing. Cyrus was pretty awesome. His insights about leadership have “inspired great men from Julius Caesar to Benjamin Franklin to Lawrence of Arabia.” Peter Drucker called this book — Xenophon’s biography of Cryus — “the best book on leadership.” You’ll learn about Cyrus’ various campaigns as he conquers Babylon. While the story is old, the leadership lessons are as relevant today as they were then. Among other things “Xenophon shows you how to conduct meetings, become an expert negotiator, deal efficiently with allies, communicate by appealing to the self-interest of your followers, encourage the highest standards of performance, ensure your organization has the benefit of specialists, and prove that your words will be backed by your deeds.”

7. Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to his Son
This book has been on my shelf for over a year. I have no idea why. While the letters are over a hundred years old, they are full of timeless wisdom and practical no-nonsense advice to parents and wisdom seekers alike. Something I’m sure to re-read over the years.

8. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
This is the best business book I’ve read in a long time. Perhaps one of the best ever. Ben Horowitz has been to hell and back and he’s got the scars to prove it. He’s built billion dollar companies, mentored CEOs, been within weeks of bankruptcy, worked with some of the smartest people in the world, and started a tech company in the middle of the dot com crash. Through it all he’s found there are no easy answers. After reading it, I immediately bought several copies and shipped them to friends of mine.

9. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
A great book for me to read so soon after finishing Fooled By Randomness as they both approach the same subject from vastly different angles. Mlodinow’s book is a gentler, though not necessarily better, introduction than Taleb’s. After walking through some elementary lessons in statistics that even professionals get wrong, the book explores how our lives are more informed by chance and randomness than we think. Along the way he offers some tools to help us make better decisions.

10. Zen in the Art of Archery
The author, Eugen Herrigel, spent time in Japan after World War II and wanted to better understand Zen Buddhism. This is impossible to understand through books and requires an activity. He picked archery and found a Zen master who reluctantly accepted him as a student.  Herrigel, being a Westerner, sought rapid progress and linear improvement through technical mastery. This wasn’t enough and became self-defeating. To truly master an art it has to become an “artless art” where it grows out of unconsciousness. Thus archery became a path to greater understanding.

Of course, I’d also add The Prince and the Origin of Species; Two books people talk about all the time, yet few have read.

If you like reading you can see with What I’m Reading.

Book Review: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Leaving Microsoft To Change the World” by John Wood, founder of Room To Read, is easily the most inspirational book I’ve read all year. I found it fast-paced and very readable. It’s the story of a Microsoft employee who decides to leave his position as a technology executive to help under-resourced Third World children gain access to education through libraries, schools and books.

I’m going to share a passage about the madrassa schools in Afghanistan (these schools are also present in neighboring countries like Pakistan). I never heard about this story until I read this book. It’s a strong argument for supporting education, especially abroad:

Afghanistan has been invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. The United States, fearful of a further expansion of Soviet influence, provided weapons and large amounts of cash to the Afghan resistance fighters. After tens of thousands of deaths and years of warfare, the Soviets realized that they were not going to win control of this fiercely independent country. It marked the end of eight decades of Soviet expansion, and the beginning of the implosion of an empire that had reached to far and stretched itself to thin.

The United States watched the withdrawal and decided that with the Soviets vanquished, America’s job was done. The U.S. could pull out immediately and leave the Afghani people, amongst the poorest in the world, to live amongst their piles of bombed rubble. The American government did not so much as buy them some brooms to help start the cleaning.

This was such a major strategic error on the part of our government. Because guess what came next? There was the need to rebuild the destroyed buildings, including the hospitals and the schools. The Soviets has been merciless in their attempts to intimidate the Afghani people by bombing them back to the Stone Age. The U.S. did not stick around long enough to help in the rebuilding, because our reason for there was not pro-Afghani, but rather Anti-Soviet. So the Afghan government needed help in rebuilding, and the Iranians and the Saudis were only to eager to help.

Both countries, neighbors to Afghanistan, wanted to fill the vacuum that had been left by the departure of the two superpowers. They each made a big commitment to constructing schools. The only problem is that these were not secular schools. They were madrassas, or religious schools, that taught a very hate-filled version of Islam (NOTE: not every madrassa has a political, religious or radical affiliation). The Saudi schools taught their own anti-Western Wahhabi version, while the Iranians built schools that taught their students to curse ‘the Great Satan’ of America. The only difference between the Saudi schools and the Iranian ones was the degree of anti-Westernism in their curriculum.

The CIA estimates that between them, the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia sponsored the opening of over ten thousand madrassas in Afghanistan. And you know the rest of the story, because we’ve been living it for the last two weeks. A large percentage of the terrorists at large today were trained in these schools. Can you imagine how different the world would look today if those students had been more focused on one-two-threes and ABCs instead of being taught to chant ‘Death to America?’ We lost our opportunity to rebuild those schools, and we will be paying the price for decades to come.”

I’ve spent a number of years looking for a cause I can support. Take one look at CharityNavigator.org and the options are both limitless and overwhelming.  “Leaving Microsoft…” has made the choice much easier.

The challenge many would-be donors face is knowing where their money is going. One of the main things that makes Room to Read stand out is that they do a good job of being transparent and providing tangible results: X dollars builds Y schools/libraries, etc. I encourage everyone to visit the Room To Read website (and read the book) to get involved and learn more about this great organization.

BUY IT ON AMAZON Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children

The Role of Business Schools in the Financial Crisis

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment

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Just read an interesting article on the NYTimes.com, “Is It Time To Retrain Business Schools?” that analyzes how much of a role the teaching at B-schools may have had to do with the current economic collapse.

“Critics of business education have many complaints. Some say the schools have become too scientific, too detached from real-world issues. Others say students are taught to come up with hasty solutions to complicated problems. Another group contends that schools give students a limited and distorted view of their role — that they graduate with a focus on maximizing shareholder value and only a limited understanding of ethical and social considerations essential to business leadership.

Something that really caught my eye was that:  “A study of cheating among graduate students, published in 2006 in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education, found that 56 percent of all M.B.A. students cheated regularly — more than in any other discipline. The authors attributed that to “perceived peer behavior” — in other words, students believed everyone else was doing it.”

And yet another survey found that b-school students actually felt LESS confident in solving workplace ethical issues during their time in school.

“The challenge for a lot of business schools is how to develop leaders and not managers,” said James Tran, a candidate for an M.B.A. and a master’s in public administration at Harvard.

I never went to business school, so I can’t really say anything negative about it from personal experience, but it’s always been my belief that no matter how much theory you learn in school there isn’t any substitute for real world experience. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but I do think that overemphasis on one type of learning can really skew your thinking.

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