There’s a wonderful conceit to the phrase “I wish I had time to read.”
For one, it’s a little known fact that every chronically-busy person throughout human history wishes they had more leisure time. While their own willful actions and priorities deny them this pleasure, it is part of carrying oneself as chronically-busy to long for the contrary. Bonus points for sighing afterwards.
For two, it’s a widely known fact that every reasonably-thoughtful person throughout human history wishes to be regarded as someone who reads for pleasure. No matter one’s private hedonism, the knowledge that another merely perceives you as someone who retreats into the written word carries a contented-if-enabling buzz of monastic importance. After all, anyone can watch TV. But it is you - the ubermensch, the Atlas-who-shrugs – who chooses to spend their leisure time exerting effort (pages don’t scan themselves) in an apparently-productive activity that deserves praise. In this case, the bonus points are self-evident.
And last but not least, for three: it’s a blatant fact that no one throughout human history has ever uttered the phrase “I wish I had time to read” in private. Simply put, it would fall on deaf ears.
No, like Mother Theresa’s charities or an expired copyright, “IWIHTTR” exists exclusively for public benefit.
When thrown into the public sphere, wishing one had time to read accomplishes little more than a sanctioned ego-yank (see: wonderful conceit). What it certainly doesn’t do is create time to read. That’s why, when I was frustrated with how little I had read during my first semester at the Ross School of Business last fall (see: chronically-busy), I did something truly radical: I kept it to myself.
In January 2016, I quietly resolved to read whatever books I found interesting whenever time allowed. No weekly page goals, no “100 to Read” lists, just autopilot. On December 29, nearly one year later, I finished what will likely be my last book for the year. And, for the first time since January, I decided to check where autopilot had steered.
Instead of doing a full review for each of the 27 books I read in 2016, I (and my sleep schedule) thought it’d be more fun to do short summaries of each. Considering I averaged about 1 book every 2 weeks, 2 sentences seemed a proper fit.
Wishing you had time to read? Here’s 27 books, condensed for your schedule:
1. “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style” by W. David Marx
America’s bombing then postwar occupation of Japan created a culture vacuum that blue jeans, field jackets, and rock music filled. Give it 50 years, throw in a millennia-old tradition for Japanese craftsmenship, and baby, you got a stew going.
2. “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy
The original Mad Man explains the fundamental difference between excitement and results.
Also, good ideas are a function of research and sleepytime.
3. “The Heart and the First” by Eric Greitens
Courage is dependent on both compassion and action. As a Navy SEAL, Rhodes Scholar, and lifelong humanitarian, Greitens has an authoritative perspective on improving the world with heart and fist.
4. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbury
Friendship transcends all divisions: class, status, even opinion on Tolstoy. Some of the world’s best people find comfort behind prickly defenses, when their elegance just needed the right chance to be vulnerable.
5. “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell
Don’t be poor. But, if you have to be poor, especially don’t be poor in Victorian England.
6. “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster” by Dana Thomas
Luxury brands are built by craftsmen who establish a reputation for devotion to product quality. Luxury brands are monetized by businessmen who arbitrage that reputation at the expense of product quality (see: Balmain).
7. “The Luxury Strategy” by Jean-Noël Kapferer & Vincent Bastien
The relationship between normal goods and premium goods is rational: for each additional dollar you spend, you receive proportional benefits (think Toyota -> Lexus). The relationship between premium goods and luxury goods is irrational: for each additional dollar you spend, you get that warm fuzzy feeling.
8. “The Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe
One of the single greatest fiction stories ever published – the definition of a “must read.” Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.
9. “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom
By enshrining the classical liberal ideal of “open-mindedness” in policy, well-meaning administrators sow the seeds of virulent groupthink. As the reliable means through which these policies are achieved, cultural relativism, then, enables the worse angels of our nature.
10. “The Fourth Turning” by William Strauss & Neil Howe
Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. If you read no other book this decade, make it “The Fourth Turning.”
11. “Sneaker Wars” by Barbara Smit
A blood feud between the Dassler brothers created the sneaker game, athlete marketing, and the corruption-riddled governing bodies of sports (FIFA, IOC, etc.) that we know today. Hmm… Adi Dassler… sounds familiar.
12. “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight
The autobiography of Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Unlike other business memoirs, the story of the world’s most successful and competitive sports brand takes an unexpected turn: it is honest, candid, and humble.
13. “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” by Elizabeth Semmelheck
The definitive history of sneakers, told jointly through the lenses of fashion, function, and culture. Semmelheck’s work is as enlightening as it is thoroughly enjoyable to read.
14. “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant
The world’s successful innovators are cautious, analytical, and quietly decisive.
Remember this the next time a “world-changing” startup makes headlines.
(P.S. For any Michigan readers, Adam Grant is coming to speak in Ann Arbor on January 11. More information here.)
15. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg
Habits are formed and reformed according to a 3-part cycle: a “cue” is identified (ex. my teeth feel dirty), a “routine” is established (ex. two minutes of brushy-brushy), then once completed, a “reward” is earned (ex. a minty tingling sensation). If you want to form a positive habit, start by focusing on the cue.
16. “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young
Idea generation is a simple process willfully ignored by many because it takes work. In this age of process automation and machine learning, ideas are the differentiator – therefore, “Technique” (first published in 1940) is as applicable as ever.
17. “Business Adventures” by John Brooks
While technology may change, expressions of human nature – hype-fueled heartbreak, insider trading scandals, market bubbles - remain constant. Brooks’ stories (collected over his career with the New Yorker and first published in 1969) aren’t just relevant and engaging – they’re uncanny.
18. “Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing
The true story of the 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Reading this book will make you feel like a weeny for ever complaining about the cold.
19. “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari
Thanks to advanced communications tech, an entire generation has confused the nuance of human relationships with the instant gratification of digital media. Long story short: maximization behavior only works in Excel.
(P.S. Read my full review of the book here.)
20. “Talk Like TED” by Carmine Gallo
TED talks are engaging because they are emotional, novel, and memorable. In other words: because they’re entertainment.
21. “The Small BIG” by Noah J. Goldstein and Steven J. Martin
Details matter. This collection of 50 “back of the envelope” persuasion tactics won’t save your shitty PowerPoint from catastrophe, but if you’ve already put up table stakes, each can make the difference.
22. “Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business” by Jon Steel
The single most applicable book I have ever read. If you want to live a happy and successful life, read this and “Ogilvy on Advertising” – the rest will work itself out.
23. “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson is to science fiction what Jay-Z is to rap: iconic, influential, and as prolific as ever. His latest – a 700-page tome packed with drama, humanity, and the end of the world – is both insightful and wickedly entertaining.
By selling vintage-inspired products “outside” trend cycles, companies like Ralph Lauren have identified a reliable, high-margin segment at the expense of the costly product innovation that once drove the fashion industry forward. The upshot: in fashion, “minimalist” and “retro” are code words for “making money hand over fist.”
25. "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson
Virtual reality, language as a virus, and shadowy main character named "Hiro Protagonist": Stephenson's cyberpunk novel isn't just thoughtful and prophetic - it's also one of the most masterfully-worded books I've ever read. This was my third re-read, and I'm already planning #4.
26. “The Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy” by Christopher Hayes
The true division in American society isn’t between genders, races, or even classes – instead, it is between those with enough power/money to self-serve and those without. For an insightful and oddly comforting understanding of current events, read this immediately after “The Fourth Turning.”
27. “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble” by Daniel Lyons
A writer for HBO’s Silicon Valley pens “The Jungle” of this second tech bubble. My book of the year.
Thanks for reading about... well, reading. Funny how that works. Anyways - have you read any of the above? Better yet, any recommendations for what I should read in 2017? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page to start the conversation.