Best reads of 2021 so far and the latest haul.
Note this article is from the newsletter I send to my subscribers.
Today we’ll recap:
- Past hauls
- Best books I’ve read so far this year
- One big letdown
- Ongoing rabbit holes (this will be sprinkled in and out)
- Latest haul
- Past Hauls
Note, in the future, I’ll write out the books when I get them instead of sending a Twitter link.
The first haul is pictured HERE.
The second haul is pictured HERE.
I did buy other books not shown in that mix. Some trickled in at random times. Nor do I read a haul in one sitting, and then order the next set of books. I will often pick books from my library not yet read.
In that first haul, you see books on writing. That’s part of my master list inspired by Bryan Garner (more HERE.)
Now, on to the highlights.
Must-Read Book: Management Myth by Matthew Stewart
I discovered it via Nassim Taleb.
I read Taleb’s Incerto Collection twice last spring. He mentioned a few authors in that series that enlightened him, Stewart being one.
Management Myth blew my expectations away. I did not expect to be so engrossed and inspired. So much so, I read it analytically.
Stewart’s premise relates to what I do as far as exposing marketing shenanigans. Yet Stewart leans more into the corporate side. He digs deep into the history of MBAs, consulting, business ideologies, and business success gurus.
The book offers a masterclass in critical thinking.
The big core insight from the book is the as opposed to what? line of thought.
Stewart takes a number of accepted business theories and ideologies, and holds them to the fire. He asks them as opposed to what?
For instance, the sales truism stay close to the customer!
Ok…as opposed to what, stay as far away as possible from the customer!?
Let’s look at it with copywriting.
Plenty of copy experts say it’s important to capture their attention early!
Ok… as opposed to what, make sure you bore them so they completely ignore your ad?
Then he empirically shows where those concepts fail. And he reveals that historically most of what we take to be truth – even most MBA degrees – were built on scams, bullshit, and hot air. A lot of the bullshit stems back to Frederick Taylor, aka Taylorism or Scientific Management.
Taylor was the first to really to teach how to “systematize your business or self to always get success/make money.”
Taylor influenced the case study method used in business schools. Certain production methods (all of which failed), and influenced success gurus like Napoleon Hill.
Taylor even influenced Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet Union how they would run their economy (we all know how that worked out).
As turns out, Taylor lied about his case studies and the success of his methods. His methods, when applied, often led to disastrous results. But in the minds of many, they sounded cool, and so he spawned a lot of the business success ideologies and gurus we know today.
What separates Stewart, he worked with high-end consulting firms and he’s a philosopher. His college degree was philosophy, yet after college, he got picked to work with a top-notch consulting firm.
Furthermore, he worked at a high-level in the world he’s unmasking. He lived and breathed it. Also, what I enjoy, he’s not jaded. He simply shows the realities.
Regarding “business success” ideologies, he unveils that the truisms may be right, and someone new may need them, yet the truisms are axiomatic. And most people handicap themselves the more they make a mystique of the axiomatic.
For instance, if someone has never heard of copywriting and goes to write a sales page, they naturally try to present something in its best light. Granted, basic copy concepts can help that person. And learning the basics play an important role. But many people do fine without inhaling the secrets of persuasion.
Stewart reveals that gurus, formulas, systems, root to a promise of utopia. That utopia exists because business is risky and uncertain. And people like avoiding uncertainty, so why not follow a path promising less uncertainty.
In the world of online marketing, compared to Stewart, the utopia peddlers live on the wild extremes.
People easily buy into the “hustle” mindset.
That makes sense.
It seems like the right thing to do. Want to be successful? Then study success. Then use the formulas taught to get your success.
But that isolates people.
They avoid the uncertainty — where the real lessons exist — and they seek what they want to hear. Hence the Success Porn label. Inhaling Success Literature is like watching porn and hoping that it makes you a great lover and great at relationships.
Uncertainty is hard, and people don’t like doing hard things. I agree with Stewart that we should be learning about our craft. Those who better their skills and talents create more opportunities and chances for themselves. But a lot of the “success” doesn’t come from reading about it. Success comes from jumping into uncertainty and working through it.
I highly recommend the book. It features fantastic writing. And in many places it’s hilarious.
I will do an article on this book. Right now I’m hard at work on the newsletter for the Good Word. Once I have that in a good place, the article will be on the way.
Not pictured in those hauls, Fyodor Dostoyevski’s The Idiot.
Some of the best psychological lessons reside in fiction. And Dostoyevski is great for a reason.
Fiction can provide far more potent lessons on human nature and psychology than almost all marketing or business books on psychology.
I won’t delve too much into The Idiot. But if you want a look at people’s minds running at highly neurotic levels, read it.
WeWork Documentary on Hulu & Billion Dollar Loser
My best friend recommended the Billion Dollar Loser book pictured in the second haul.
Billion Dollar Loser by Reeves Wiedman details the rise and fall of WeWork’s founder, Adam Neumann.
I also watched the documentary on Hulu.
The book and the documentary complement each other.
Neumann is a guru’s dream.
How he built WeWork, his message, how he lived, he represents the utopia Stewart talks about.
But Neumann encapsulates the guru ideologies run to an extreme. He took a decent idea and then ran it to the bloody fringes. He was blowing wild amounts of money, overselling his hype, and no one told him otherwise.
Well, some told him otherwise, but they were cast as – gasp– haters.
Neumann fell hard.
He became a laughingstock on Wall Street.
And he’s likely going to be in lawsuits for a very long time.
Yes, he walked away with a lot of money. I can already hear the guru acolytes and the Jason Capital’s praising that. But that’s money worship. And it misses the point. Scamming yourself and investors to walk away with money isn’t the best course of action to make your fortune. Neumann I believe had something good in his hands, but blew it.
Neumann offers us a lot of lessons, both good and bad.
On the good end, he came into a marketplace full of swagger. Neumann shot from the hip when he started. He wasn’t inhaling sales books and how to get rich courses. He just went in and started selling his idea. He didn’t worry about how it was “done.”
This is a good lesson.
People that inhale Success Literature tend to subordinate themselves. They over-emphasize a hierarchy. They see the person at the top, or a guru, as a deity of conversion.
So they stay stuck.
They reach out in cold emails to some low on the totem pole assistant about a job. Or they buy formulas everyone else uses, hoping that the formula will set them apart.
Neumann ignored all that. He just went in and researched on his feet. He started tinkering and learning on the job.
More people need to do that.
Worrying about 5 sales stages or “giving value” does nothing but make you look forgettable and cringeworthy.
As for the negative lessons, plenty to learn from.
He took the “hustle mindset” to an extreme.
Granted, Neuman may be a grifter, sociopath and narcissist. He’s likely not self-aware. But as I mentioned, during his rise he portrayed a guru’s dream. The pure hustle mentality. The parties, the fun, and discounting anyone who told him otherwise as a hater.
He surrounded himself with acolytes.
And he fell hard.
He took a decent business idea and pushed it off the cliff.
Many people ask me about what business books to read. Most suck. But the better choices, are the ones exhibiting what not to do. And Billion Dollar Loser packs far more insight than say, The Millionaire Next Door.
Both book and documentary are recommended.
Another book on WeWork is coming out in July, The Cult of We. I have it on order.
Coolidge by Amity Shlaes
This pick you see in the second haul.
I could barely put this book down. Shlaes is an excellent writer.
But a bit of background on this pick.
This pick ties to a long ongoing conversation.
Last summer, I went deep down an Edmund Burke rabbit hole. That Burke rabbit hole was triggered by me analyzing my political beliefs.
Here’s why I went into that rabbit hole.
When I got deep into Direct Marketing, I bought into the ra-ra nature of it all. But after a bit, I realized how vapid and repetitive those beliefs were. Plus, as I mentioned, it’s incredibly moralizing. Like how gurus call their critics “poor broke losers.”
All too often, we buy into our beliefs without asking why we believe them. Or do a confirmation bias, we look for things to purely strengthen our beliefs. And often the evidence is weak.
I wanted to look into my political beliefs.
It’s possible, as a few studies say, that we may be genetically predisposed to our political choices (studies on twins separated at birth seem to show this).
Still, many people have switched positions after looking into their political leanings. For example, Thomas Sowell began as a radical left-wing student. Then read ideologies of right and left and switched to the right. He’s now one of the most famous Conservative thinkers to have ever lived.
Politically, I didn’t know where I sat in a deeper sense. I figured Conservative but it was surface level.
About two years ago, I read a lot of thinkers and ideologies from the left. But the readings and ideas never quite sat with me.
Yet time and time again, Tyler Cowen, Nassim Taleb, and my best friend Joe, kept me intrigued on the Conservative side. Both Cowen and Taleb hail Edmund Burke.
And as the founding place of Conservative politics, most roads point to Edmund Burke.
Starting last July, I read a lot of Burke. And he struck a chord with me. He made sense.
Plus he’s an incredible writer and was a great orator. I recommend reading him regardless of your political leanings. His writing provides plenty of writing lessons, critical thinking lessons, and good lessons on human nature.
(If you want to read about Burke, Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke. If you want to get an idea of the Left versus Right today, Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate.)
The Burke rabbit hole inspired me to watch the John Adams series again on HBO (and the book the series is based on, David McCullough’s John Adams, I put on a list). And it inspired me to rewatch Band of Brothers on HBO (I thought I had the book, by Stephen Ambrose, but can’t find it anywhere, so I’m re-ordering it).
I also began wondering who was the most Burkean US president. Many scholars hands down say, Lincoln, yet Calvin Coolidge pops up.
And that’s why I picked up Amity Shlaes’s Coolidge.
Again, people ask me often what business books to read. I argue that books like Coolidge or The Power Broker or Undaunted Courage provide far more lessons than most, if not all, business books could offer. And if you’re an introvert like me, Coolidge is packed with lessons.
Coolidge is a criminally underrated president. He’s wedged between the scandalous Warren Harding (though Harding did some decent things) and the Herbert Hoover mishaps that exacerbated the depression, and the fame/myth of FDR.
But in America, we have the roaring twenties. A period of unprecedented growth, innovation, and success. And Coolidge and his administration played a large role in fomenting that success.
Coolidge led via principles.
Today, it’s forgotten that the US president, as set forth by George Washington, is supposed to be, more or less, a game manager. They aren’t necessarily supposed to take the spotlight. Currently, from both sides, US Presidents are lionized into being our sole leaders on everything.
Coolidge led from the Constitution and American tradition. He wanted states to have their spotlight. He stood by his administration picks, and he didn’t give in to the rhetoric or popular pet theories (succeeding administrations did give in, Hoover and Roosevelt, and they worsened the effects of the Depression).
He focused on shrinking the government and letting commerce grow. He wanted to empower the individual, and let the collective be guided through laws.
And he did a remarkable job.
He was forthright and consistent.
Egotistical politicians on both sides derided him, yet the public, left and right, praised him.
He provides rich lessons on ruling by principles, diligence, tradition, and patience.
For you marketers, especially copywriters, Amity Shlaes style offers a great lesson: detailing the boring.
When you write a problem section or need to detail the technical part of your product, it’s difficult to do to keep someone engaged.
Plus you must use detailed phrasing that removes ambiguities. When you can detail in a compelling manner versus boring them or saying “it’s great!” you pack far more selling punch.
Shlaes style, especially when she describes something that could be coma-inducing, like tax code… excellent. She makes it compelling. Her style is worth paying attention to if you want to up your copy, especially in ways to make technical details captivating.
Coolidge is excellent.
As I said, I could barely put it down.
I might read it twice.
The Quick Fix – A Letdown
The Quick Fix by Jesse Singal was a letdown.
I heard Singal interviewed on the Art of Manliness podcast. The topic of self-help more or less being a distraction intrigued me. I ordered the book.
Now, I wish I did a little bit of research, or what I usually do online regarding an author, on him. Because it may have saved me a bit.
Singal’s book isn’t atrocious. I’m not telling you to avoid the book. Some nuggets exist. But Singal kept pressing progressive identity politics in such a way it made a lot of arguments in the book fallacious. And it took away from his valid points.
Singal looks at popular self-help social studies.
He looks at Amy Cuddy, Marty Seligman, and the IAT racist test, and a few other areas.
Now, on Cuddy, I was a bit shocked he included it. Amy Cuddy’s “bodywork” or “power poses” had a very public downfall. So it seemed a bit like old hat.
Regardless, Singal shows the replication crisis that debunked Cuddy. Yet, Singal imposes a feminist ideology of how Cuddy’s work shows the inequality women face in the workplace, and that white men are privileged. And perhaps Cuddy’s work helped women to fight white males. He asserts this claim without any evidence. To me, he’s making the naming fallacy.
Singal also prefaces certain parts of the book, with warnings like, “this does not make me a Republican.” He doesn’t state he’s a progressive liberal, but he keeps warning that he’s not a Republican. I found it odd and eye-rolling.
The worst of it was the IAT chapter. IAT stands for Implicit Association Test. It tests for implicit biases. In short, it plays off as “evidence” to prove Critical Race Theory as correct. Well, the test is bunk. Singal shows how and why it’s bunk. But then he asserts that Critical Race Theory is correct. He’s begging the question and making a no true scotsman fallacy.
I made it halfway through before I put it down. I couldn’t stand the Woke flag waiving.
I research Singal after I stopped reading his agenda. Two thinkers I admire, Nassim Taleb and James Lindsay, expertly point out Singal’s shortcomings. Lindsay unpacks the ideological agenda of Singal and Taleb points out Singal shortcomings with math.
In short, the book was bogged down by the author trying to speciously shoehorn everything into Theory (Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory, Feminist Theory, etc.) being the answer.
On a positive note, a decent take on the book, it wouldn’t hurt to look into the concepts and studies Singal exposes. He wasn’t the first to expose the myths, and plenty of better thinkers exists on what he exposes.
The Latest Haul
- The Federalist Papers
- The Anti-Federalist Papers
- The United States Constitution, annotated by Richard Beeman
As you can guess, this haul ties to the Edmund Burke rabbit hole. As I root my political beliefs, I want to know more about what shaped the United States. Men and women have fought and died for the Constitution.
Also, in the public sphere, to sound like a snob, it annoys me when people talk of their sides, but it’s either CNN or Fox News headlines. And, to be fair, I know a bit about United States history, but I want to know more versus what a talking head shouts on TV or people on Twitter harboring fantasies of a new dawn.
I side with Burke on tradition. So, I plan to dig into these after I read Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics.
I’ll be back soon with another haul, and likely an update on my reading of Basic Economics.