I enjoyed Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman and reflect upon it often. Eschew the cacophony of advice to multitask, to obsess on productivity, in favor of a disciplined devotion to doing the important things, remembering to enjoy those 4,000 weeks. Here are some other books I enjoyed in this year’s 52 weeks.
As an economist, I was familiar with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, but only in snippets. It is easy to see why he is seen as the father of economic science. The table of contents reads like a university catalogue of economics courses. It covers everything from production, economies of scale, markets, supply and demand (by other words), public finance, the budget, money, and prices. I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to institutions and behavioral science, although I am sure I should not have been (surprised, that is).
Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How it Defines our Lives by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir brought a lot of insights to scarcity, not so much financial, but also the scarcity of time and how to manage these challenges in organizations and personally.
I read a number of books related to my work, including Very Bad People: The Inside Story of the Fight Against the World’s Network of Corruption by Patrick Alley. This is the story of Global Witness, from its origins “over numerous lagers in north London pubs” through its investigations, successes, and growth to become a leading anticorruption organization. Their approach of tackling specific cases of “very bad people” contrasts with our approach of focusing on institutions, laws, and capacities—I’ll confess to feeling a bit of envy at the adventure of it all, while acknowledging that the adventure came with very real risk. (The author kindly contributed to our video on the costs of corruption.)
Butler to the World: How Britain Helps the World’s Worst People Launder Money, Commit Crimes, and Get Away With Anything by Oliver Bullough is another good one from the author of Moneyland, this time focusing specifically on Britain.
I was listening to How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley on a morning walk to work when I bumped into a colleague. He had a good laugh at my choice of subjects for a morning listen, but it was mostly quite compelling and convincing.
I enjoyed a couple of books on very greedy people. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou outlined the saga of Theranos which the author had helped uncover. The greed and deception were on display, of course, but what struck me was abetting role of Boards composed of retired politicians. What makes a politician suited for such a job? A similar story of greed and fraud from a few years earlier was The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, the abetting role in this case played by accountants.
I had seen The Art of War by Sun Tzu on lists of CEOs’ favorite books. I can see why CEOs love it: It is very short. And you can feel manly and leaderlike by virtue of the title. I caught this one on Audible, narrated by Aidan Gillen, so you can listen while picturing Littlefinger from Game of Thrones.
For practical books, I took a crash course on Indonesia with A Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices, and Tsunamis: The Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation by Tim Hannigan. And for my homebrewing hobby I listened to The Secrets of Master Brewers: Techniques, Traditions, and Homebrew Recipes for 26 of the World’s Classic Beer Styles, from Czech Pilsner to English Old Ale by Jeff Alworth. Recipes don’t make the transition to audio well, but the stories that accompanied them were fun.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear brings some valuable nuggets about how to keep moving forward, but I didn’t find it as compelling as the more philosophical 4,000 Weeks. (I am trying, though, to keep up—establish, actually—the habit of writing this “year in books” blog by the end of the year, unlike last year.)
Pete Townshend’s Somebody Saved Me, read by him interspersed with his music, melded his and his bandmates’ history, their highs and lows, their ascension to Rock God thrones, their “too many suits of armor”, with Townshend’s learning and philosophy.
I selected The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael A. Singer based on someone’s twitter list without knowing anything about the author. It came across as a bit farfetched that repeated good fortune could come from just surrendering and going with the flow, but it was enjoyable in any case. The fact that he was charged with accounting fraud a la Enron, but exonerated unlike the Enron execs, made it even more interesting given the book’s philosophical nature.
I enjoyed a number of classics, old and new. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, the book with the greatest title ever, albeit not of Asimov’s choosing, felt the inspiration for everything from the android in Alien to Hal 9000. I followed up with Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Audible version includes an introduction by the author on the origins of the book and the movie. I’d understood the book would make the movie easier to understand, and this was partially true. I was still a bit lost on the trip beyond the infinite.
After Salman Rushdie was stabbed, I decided his book The Satanic Verses deserved some Streisand effect-like attention, so I gave it a listen. The writing was magical in places, but for most of the book I just didn’t know what was going on.
I enjoyed Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, the story of a Chinese student’s time in Inner Mongolia during China’s cultural revolution. Although it felt long at times, the violence of the wolf attacks on horse herds and the compelling story of Chen and the wolf pup made it worth finishing.
I enjoyed Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s classic on the precolonial order giving way to one of missionaries and colonial power. Neither is presented as idyllic, but the first came across as stable, at least.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas was funnier than I expected, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was darker. (I don’t know why I was expecting otherwise in either case.)
I finished the year with the Audible version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer read by Nick Offerman. I thought it’d be fun, and it was. Laugh out loud funny (in places). Twain ends by noting the need to end somewhere despite the indeterminate age at which boyhood ends. Somewhere twixt 800 and 1,000 weeks, I reckon.
Wishing all a prosperous 52 weeks in 2023!