What Do You Think of This Book?

Seriously, I’m asking. After reading The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. Given the mostly dry subject matter, I thought it was a very readable book. But I also felt like it started off strong but couldn’t keep it going to the end. I definitely learned a lot. For example, I have a much better understanding of weather forecasting now. And I suppose the same goes for the baseball analysis, although you would literally have to pay me to get me to watch a game from start to finish.

In general, this book seems to be an effort to help the general public understand just how difficult it actually is to make a prediction successfully. It also seeks to define what predictions are and what they are not. When the weather forecast says there is a 60% chance of rain, that means that out of a hundred possible scenarios, it rains in sixty of them. In other words, there is plenty that isn’t KNOWN and in reality, there is still a pretty strong chance that it won’t rain. And when Nate Silver gave Donald Trump a 29% chance of becoming president, that means he still saw scenarios where it would happen, even if he believed it was less likely than the alternative outcome. And to be fair, the vast majority of the mainstream media gave the current president virtually no chance to win so against that backdrop, Silver’s prediction looks much better. After all, he does what he does largely by aggregating the same polls everyone else was using and when polling proves to be less than reliable, it’s a garbage in, garbage out scenario. He actually assessed that and accounted for it more effectively than almost anyone else in his field. And no, this isn’t discussed in the book. It was published in 2012.

Anyway, The Signal and the Noise seems to be more a collection of borrowed ideas than a discussion of anything original. It’s at its best when talking about Silver’s personal experiences, at its worst when making conclusions that are debatable at best and presenting them as established fact (and no, I’m not talking about the global warming chapter, I’m talking about random comments that are occasionally peppered in throughout the book; I thought the global warming chapter did a pretty good job of explaining what is and is not considered consensus at this point), and somewhere in the middle most of the time. But Silver clearly did a ton of research and does a great job of presenting a fairly eclectic range of sophisticated concepts in an accessible way.

But at the end, I think this book could have done a little more to tie everything together than to simply repeat a summary of what was talked about throughout. It wasn’t a bad book or a boring one to read; I simply think it could have said more. In any case, I think it was worth my time because it got me thinking creatively about a broad range of topics.     

A Couple More Books I Recommend

Good morning ya’ll! Here are quick reviews of a couple of books I’ve read recently that I felt were pretty worthwhile.

Sleeping Your Way to the Top: How to Get the Sleep You Need to Succeed by Terry Cralle and W. David Brown (2016)

I was really impressed with this book – and not just because of the cheeky title. In fact, that cheekiness continued throughout the book to the point of getting a little bit old. But somehow, some way, this book kept me interested and engaged for almost three hundred pages…of talking about sleep. Tons of recent research definitely points to sleep being much more important than we as a society have ever fully understood. This book puts a bunch of it together to illustrate just how badly some of us, who have disregarded our sleep far too often over the years, have screwed ourselves. It had me stunned and horrified several times as I realized that some of the issues I’ve had in my life, and still have in some cases, could very well have been self inflicted wounds. But it did it in a way that not only didn’t totally crush my spirit (even though I may have it coming in this case), but made it a very easy book to keep reading.

My only criticism is that I wish the book had included more specific solutions. I did try two ideas that it gave me, but in both cases, I quickly realized that I was in way over my head. And now I’m considering consulting a professional, which may be a very beneficial outcome for me. I think this is a very important book that almost anyone could benefit from reading.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, and Laura Roppe (2011)

This is a grudging recommendation on my part. Why? Because I liked the authors less and less the more I read this book. It could be that I was just in a bad mood one day when I was reading it and my perception snowballed from there, but I came away feeling like it was very condescending. Many of the examples provided seemed flimsy at best and the authors loved their ideas so much that they were repeated over and over and……….

Anyway, the fact that I basically hated the experience of reading this book should give my recommendation of it that much more weight. In spite of my feelings for it, the book really did get me thinking critically about the way I approach my “crucial conversations” – and contentious, high stakes conversations are almost a daily part of life for someone in my line of work. It gave me some excellent ideas and I’ve already noticed myself being more effective and getting some better outcomes as I’ve made a conscious effort to integrate what I read into my tactics. This book could benefit just about anyone – not just in a business context, but also in all sorts of other relationships. It’s a great reminder that we don’t have to personally like the source of information to benefit from it – a point that probably won’t be lost on some of my readers…

Have a splendid day and if you’re in Houston, let’s all keep doing our best not to drown! I’ve never seen so much fucking rain in my life and I hope I never do again. But it’s still nowhere near as frustrating as the four to six months of hell people in Wisconsin call winter. Anyway…  

Awesome Books I Recommend – 3rd Edition

Two great books from two different area library systems

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage (2017) by Mel Robbins

I decided to read this book because I had been impressed by a couple of Mel Robbins’ speeches I saw. In writing, Robbins has the same firmly positive, but realistic tone. Her five second rule seems like a gimmick but it also seems to help tons of people so it’s worth trying. While it hasn’t worked very well for me, I am incredibly over analytical and going through a stressful time in my life at the moment so virtually nothing is working well for me. I believe you are very likely to have better results.

There were two things I liked the most about this book. First, it is very human. Robbins is very open about the struggles she has had and acknowledges that everyone will have some of their own. That said, she advocates finding ways to push through those struggles and succeed in spite of them. Second, while it is a very easy book to read, it is clear that a substantial amount of research went into it. Robbins distills things into very simple concepts but it’s clear she has a well earned understanding of psychology that has made it possible. I believe just about anyone could learn at least something valuable from this book that would help them improve in life so I highly recommend it.

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves (2013) by Dan Ariely

I’ve been a Dan Ariely fan for quite a while now. His work all falls between psychology and economics and the links between the two are fascinating. I’m obviously not the only one who thinks so as Ariely has come further and further into prominence in recent years. This particular book was a lot of fun to read – although it was also a little eye opening in some uncomfortable ways. It very vividly illustrates a concept I’ve believed to be true for quite some time now; namely, we are all full of shit and the only real differentiating factor is how honest we are about it.

This book goes into detail on numerous experiments by Ariely and others that attempted to identify the significant factors that affect the lying and cheating that make up a much larger part of life than most of us would ever believe or admit. If you’re anything like me, this book will have you thinking a lot about your own life and feeling slightly uneasy plenty of times. But I’m a big believer in having information, even if it’s not the information I wish I had, versus living in blissful ignorance.

And somehow, through all of this rather dark topic, Ariely manages to maintain a light hearted, and even often humorous tone. My sense of humor may be darker than most, but I chuckled to myself several times while reading this book. Overall, this book taught me more about the dark side of people, including myself, and kept me reasonably entertained in the process. I was already a pretty big fan of Ariely’s work so factor in my bias, but I highly recommend this book.

My Latest Book Review

The Equity Culture: The Story of the Global Stock Market by B Mark Smith (2003)

This book was written by the same author as the classic “Toward Rational Exuberance,” so I expected big things going in. As advertised, the book takes a winding path through the history of stock markets around the world, providing an in depth look at major events in each. An observant reader of this blog will probably notice that there has been a long gap between the last book review I posted and this one. This is because aside from a couple of lackluster books I decided not to review and the fact that I moved into a new apartment a little over a week ago and spent several days getting my life put back together afterwards, this book was very dense and took a while to get through. While interesting at times, it was mostly pretty dry and even though I was interested in the subject matter, reading it reminded me of having to muddle my way through some priceless work of ancient philosophy that isn’t nearly as readable as modern analysis had me believing it would be going in.

However, because there is tremendous value in this book, I kept going and ultimately made it through. Cultural differences were addressed that help to explain some of the still lingering differences between, for example, the western and Japanese stock markets. But for me, the most valuable part was perspective. After reading about stock market after stock market going through similar stages of development, patterns began to emerge. Just about every different market has experienced something that appeared to be a disaster at the time. But almost invariably, the end result of each of these events has been greater innovation and the continued building of wealth en masse – at least given enough time. However, there were winners and losers in each of these situations and that point is important to keep in mind as well.

My biggest disappointment about this book is that it only goes through the early 2000s bursting of the “dot com bubble.” It would have been nice to have seen the author’s analysis carried through to our most recent recession – and possibly into at least a portion of the historic bull market of the last decade or so as well. I see that there is a 2015 edition so maybe the author extended it. Sadly, my local library had the 2003 one so I’ll never know. Anyway, while the 2008 recession clearly had different underlying causes than the one we are finally beginning to see materializing now, it would have been nice to have had the additional insight. Overall, while this author can’t necessarily keep you on the edge of your seat for 300 pages and change, it’s only fair to acknowledge that isn’t really a reasonable expectation when picking up a book on the worldwide history of stock markets. It is still valuable, well presented information and thus, it is worth reading.  

Awesome Books I Recommend – 2nd Edition

As I’ve mentioned previously, I can’t overstate the importance of continuing your lifelong education. And reading books (or listening to audio books if you don’t like to sit and read) is a great way to contribute to that. Here are my thoughts on a couple of books I’ve enjoyed recently.

Borrow: The American Way of Debt (2012) by Louis Hyman

Full disclosure: I love both history and economics so your mileage may vary on this one. With that out of the way, I loved this book! It chronicles the history of the use of credit in the United States from prior to the Great Depression all the way up until 2012 when it was published. Credit is as old as agriculture (how do procure the necessary equipment, supplies, labor, etc until harvest time when you finally get paid?) and it has played a huge role in the growth of the most powerful economy in the history of mankind to date. Basically, credit to the American economy is PED use to professional athletes. If you use none at all, you’re ordinary and probably unsuccessful. If you use too much, you run into problems – for example, a failed drug test or an early death as a result of your organs more or less crushing your heart against your rib cage until it explodes. But with just the right balance (think vintage Arnold versus today’s bodybuilders), legends are born.

The analogy is mine; I don’t believe this book mentions steroids or even sports for that matter. But it does paint a balanced picture of how credit has both hurt us and benefited us as a nation. It also illustrates the patterns in the way the economy cycles, which can be very valuable knowledge to have. Unfortunately, the author closes it abruptly and in rather shallow fashion with a quick and superficial admonishment about how more government oversight would fix the biggest problems. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his assertion, it’s disappointing to see someone paint such a vivid, thorough picture and then wrap it up like a professor who just realized he’s gone over on his lecture and everyone is getting up to leave. I would have enjoyed seeing him form his argument and present evidence for it but instead he basically just stated it and promptly left the room.

Weak conclusion aside, this was a very worthwhile book to read. It really helped me to round things out and I already had a pretty solid base in both American history and economics. To someone who has neither of those, it would probably be even more helpful. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever heard someone say “back in my day, people would have never dreamed of borrowing money.” You have probably always known deep down that unless that guy stepped out of a time machine before he said that, he was full of shit. But if you read this book, you will have the facts to back it up.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016) by Sebastian Junger

This is a special book that has a lot to say. It was so profound that there were several times when I put the book down and found myself deep in thought about what I had just read and the way it relates to issues in our society today. What’s more, it manages to present its message in an extremely succinct fashion – something the author of this blog could certainly take a lesson on at times! The book is just over a hundred pages and yet, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.

If I had to summarize the message of this book, I would say that victory has made us weak. We in the western world have gotten so far beyond the subsistence based existence of most of humanity’s past that we now have obese people with devices containing the entire world’s knowledge in the palm of their hands who genuinely believe they are poor. But in the process of getting here, we have lost sight of something crucial. Today, we are the wealthiest collection of people that has ever existed but we are also much more disconnected from one another than almost any of our ancestors were. Each of us lives an incredibly isolated life by historical standards and the author posits that this is the cause of the epidemic of mental health issues we collectively struggle against. All of this is very well researched and put together.

This book won’t take anyone more than a few hours to read and I promise it will change you in some way. It is for anyone from extreme liberal to extreme conservative and anywhere in between. It explains so much of what we see every day and how we might be able to make this world a better place if we would just pay attention to what is really important. This author has a gift and I would definitely read another book based on nothing more than his name being on the cover.

Awesome Books I Recommend

Reading is a very rewarding aspect of my life. I believe that the day a person stops learning, he begins to lose relevance. Of course there are plenty of ways to learn but with reading, you can expand your knowledge in a very focused manner. You can then integrate this new knowledge into your life in all sorts of ways which will make you a more interesting and capable person. This will translate into a more successful and fulfilling life. Plus, reading a book while you drink coffee in the morning is a wonderful way to get your day off to a great start. Every now and again I will post a quick review of a book I really enjoyed and here is the first one.

The Consuming Instinct by Gad Saad (2011)

Gad Saad has made a name for himself by applying his study of the young, but revolutionary field of evolutionary psychology, to marketing. He also happens to be very adept at explaining very complex concepts so that even someone who is not naturally very scientifically inclined, such as the author of this post, can not only understand them, but feel them come alive. In this book, Saad examines the relationship between consumption and the sum of what we have all had bred into us over the course of human history. The kicker is that he defines consumption very broadly so in the course of the book, he ends up covering a wide range of human behaviors.

This book helped me to understand a lot of what doesn’t appear to make logical sense about the world. For example, junk food exists. It is literally garbage that makes us less healthy and we all know that. And yet we pay our hard earned money to buy it and put it in our bodies, often in ridiculous quantities. If this were a purely logical world, junk food would not be produced at all because there would be no market for it. Once you’ve read this book, you will understand why it happens anyway along with so many other things. Saad also delves into the recently socially dangerous, but ever relevant topic of the differences between the way males and females think and act. Once again, he has very valuable insight and suddenly a whole bevy of behaviors I have observed but never fully understood are starting to make more sense.

This is a book that will really get you thinking and that’s what makes it so valuable. Plenty of scientists could undoubtedly write a book full of concepts that would be worthwhile to learn but difficult for a layperson to understand. This particular book accomplishes the former but bypasses the latter in favor of being very engaging. Simply put, this book is a great teacher and if you read it, you will come away richer for the experience.