Book a Month

Book A Month: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

As one of the first sci-fi books I’ve happened to pick up, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a great choice. I should preface that by saying I originally was worried about getting it since I attempted to watch the movie version. That attempt quickly ended due to the horrible alien costumes and general confusion felt between me and the rest of my family who suffered through the first 15 minutes or so before picking another movie. Regardless, I am happy I choose this Douglas Adams book because it is simply hilarious.

The confusion garnered from the movie was cleared up in the book since the narrator fills you in on a lot that gets you into the Hitchhiker’s universe. Instead, I was immediately left with a huge smile from joke after ridiculous-ness after joke that resulted in me rarely putting the book down and looking forward to picking up where I left off. Which, by the way, is huge for someone like me who has had to push myself to finish most of the other books I’ve read this year; Hitchhikers is literally a page turner.

To give you a quick summary, Arthur Dent is a regular guy on Earth and before he knows it Earth is completely destroyed and Arthur is only alive thanks to his friend Ford (the galactic hitchhiker). What ensues is Arthur and Ford’s journey around the galaxy trying to stay alive. Saying anymore would continue to do it a disservice.

This is a perfect book for a cross-country flight since it will have you laughing the whole way and you will finish it before you land. If you have heard of this book being raved about before and haven’t picked it up (like me about 2 weeks ago) then definitely get it.


Next up is Walden by Henry David Thoreau, a very dense read but similar to The Consolations of Philosophy. I’ll let you know what I get out of it (besides a lot of reading induced naps).

-Adam

Book A Month: The Invisible Man

Continuing with my dive into science fiction I picked up The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. This one started off very odd for me since for about the first 50 pages I kept experience deja vu. My best guess is I read the beginning of this book in school but, for one reason or another, I didn’t get around to finishing it. As someone who finished few books during his k-12 years, I’m happy to say I finally finished this one and I’m glad I did.

Wells wrote this book with a voice that is very friendly, conversational and British. That combination coupled with the storyline consisting of a nobody from out of town wrapped head to toe with a curious mystery is an excellent read.

I’m not going to rant and rave about it since it didn’t excite me but it is certainly worth a read merely for Wells’ phenomenal writing and his ability to keep the story interesting by changing how he presents the story.

The first example of this is how he refers to the invisible man. Depending on how he is perceived by the other characters, Wells assigns him a different name which results in an altered view of the situation that you couldn’t get in any other way.

Wells also uses a mix of storytelling from the narrator and from the invisible man that acts a fresh breath as well as a tool to show how the plot is developing.

There are a couple reasons why this book is still in print after over 100 years and with it being a short read, I recommend you pick it up as well.


I’m enjoying my sci-fi stint so my next book is The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I started watching the movie but was forced to turn it off minutes later because it was that bad. So when I saw it at the airport bookstore I was hesitant to get it but figured it had to be good if it was still on the shelf.

-Adam

Book A Month: I, Robot

After my almost 3 month escapade into the Rockefeller life and empire I took another turn and went for a sci-fi classic, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Although I remember when the movie adaptation came out in 2004, I haven’t watched it yet. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m looking forward to how this unique story will convert to a movie.

With this being my first sci-fi book since middle school, I forgot how fun they are to read and in turn, how much of a page-turner they can be. Short of retelling the whole book, I, Robot is based around the evolution of robots from, essentially, children companions to all-knowing and integral machines that humanity depends on. During this evolution there are deep rooted questions and challenges that need to be addressed. Asimov poses and explains these in a very 1950s way that also adds depth to the story without using every adjective in the book. I bring up the year since this book is more fiction than science in that communication devices and sources of energy are very ambiguous in their definition. Plus, part of the story takes place in 2015 with technology that I don’t see being around until after 2040. Nonetheless, the progression of technology and the goals they seek to accomplish are realistic and inspiring.

It’s difficult to write much more about the book without going into detail. That is largely due to its length but the implications behind it and the interpretations I take away and apply to our 2016 reality is what makes this book a classic. As we are able to squeeze more computational power out of smaller and smaller devices, questions such as how we ensure good-natured robots and AI are extremely important. Luckily there are organizations and leaders out their like Sam Altman and Elon Musk who have created OpenAI, a non-profit dedicated to creating artificial intelligence that is beneficial to humanity. It’s an exciting time for technology but as seen in I, Robot, things can take a turn for the worse if we are not in control.

I will end with saying the ending is worth getting to and has more layers than I thought it did at first.


Next up on the chopping block is The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. I’ll probably come back to Asimov since he has about 470 stories but when I read the back of The Invisible Man, I had to get it.

-Adam

Book A Month: Titan

“I’ve got this whole reading thing down, books don’t scare me anymore, I’m going to get a long book and crush it.” I did the former but the latter took longer than I would have liked, two months longer.

Titan is the entire life of John D. Rockefeller, and more, spread out over 675 pages. For anyone who is unaware, Rockefeller was the man who brought oil (and all of its related products) to market right after it was discovered in the 1860’s. This accomplishment led to creating a huge monopoly on the oil market as well as lifetime personal donations of roughly $30 billion in 1996 dollars (when the book was written)*. After he amassed this wealth, he distributed it to several different causes and organizations, some of which he created, as well as creating the University of Chicago.

It’s very hard to narrow down what Mr. Rockefeller was able to do during his 97 year life into a single sentence without leaving out very important pieces. Some of the other major things I left out from the above statement include owning a significant portion of the iron mines as steel production was rising, his son using his inheritance to create multiple national parks and help push the park service into being, creating multiple medical institutions that lead to achievements such as eradicating hookworm, and being an innovative business leader and strategy master. This is part of the reason why the book is as long as it is.

The other reason is because the author explored every facet of his life including long sections devoted to his parents (mainly his wandering-salesman father), his siblings, his children and several key colleagues, namely Fredrick T. Gates, the man who managed his philanthropy efforts.

With that said, let me get to the point. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in business biographies but I would preface that with saying the last ~100 pages are about his kids, mainly John Jr., who received a bulk of the inheritance plus other sections throughout the book that aren’t directly related to Rockefeller Sr. My point here is, feel free to skip sections or chapters as many are not necessary and won’t leave you confused if you gloss over them. The more positive side to the length and depth of this book is the fact that I am walking away from this book with a very solid understanding of how he started Standard Oil, the kind of man Rockefeller was and why he is important to know today (Standard Oil was broken up and became Exxon, Mobil, Chevron and many other gas station companies).

The author, Ron Chernow, wrote with a high degree of visualization as well as clarity throughout the many different aspects of Rockefeller’s life that keep the book engaging. But when Chernow introduced someone, I failed to remember them specifically and after he introduced twenty more people I wouldn’t be able to differentiate everyone. If you can remember who Ida Tarbell, Fredrick Gates and Henry Flagler are you will be in good shape.

Speaking of Ida Tarbell, my biggest criticism of this book is how often Chernow would write as if we already know about an event or person even though I barely knew who Rockefeller was before starting the book, let alone his colleagues or events related to his life or business.

TL:DR – This book is long (for me) and wasn’t perfect but it is definitely worth a read if you like business biographies as it gives great insight into Rockefeller’s personality and talent.


Next up is I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. While writing Dating Robots I discovered my fascination with science fiction and now is a good time to move away from non-fiction for a little while. What better way to start than with a classic and a book that is half the length.

Even though it took me a long time to finish Titan, I’m still on track for reading a book a month.

*If you look here that number is a fraction of his total wealth. Either way, he was extremely wealthy.

Book A Month: When to Rob a Bank

After reading two serious books I figured it was time to read a light hearted book (my decision was also helped by the fact that this was the last of the four I got over the holidays and had no alternatives). If you haven’t heard of Steven Levitt or Stephen Dubner they are authors and an economist (Levitt) who mainly earned their fame with the book and then movie and podcast titled Freakonomics. With Freakonomics and now When to Rob a Bank, among others, the pair dives into economic driven observations. These observations and findings are a result of their blog with the same title which was then pooled together to form this book.

While it doesn’t sound very light hearted and enjoyable, Levitt and Dubner write in a very friendly and amusing way. Then couple that with stories ranging from when banks get robbed, to how tennis endorsement taxes impact which tournaments players compete in, to how professional poker works. The result is an entertaining yet informative read that it perfect for when you have a few free minutes here and there (the stories range in length from half a page to three pages). The way they formed the chapters also kept it enjoyable. For example, there’s a chapter on cheating which ranges from the blackjack table to relationships. So if one entry isn’t appealing to you, the next entry isn’t far off and will likely be something you are interested in.

Yes, at the end of the day you are paying for a collection of blog posts that are free and readily available online but these entries are the best of the lot and they added context and updates that you wouldn’t get with their blog.

I should mention that, even though they look at things from an economics perspective, it isn’t dry and as someone taking microeconomics and previously macro, it helped build a fuller understanding of a few topics. Plus there is a fantastic story at the end that is a must-read.

So long story short, give this book a go if you are looking for fun, interesting book to help pass the time. The movie, Freakonomics (where I first got to know them and on Netflix) is also a fun watch.


With a month and a half (I finished this book over a week ago) until I want to have read another book, I decided to pick up Titan by Ron Chernow which is roughly double in length (675 pages) the books I have been reading. John D. Rockefeller had a long and very successful life and Chernow was enlisted to write about every aspect of it, unlike Rockefeller biographers before him. Hopefully I’ll have read it before May comes.

-Adam

 

Book A Month: Philosophy and Google

The Consolations of Philosophy

Since I was able to finish up the Elon Musk biography halfway through January, I ended up starting and finishing The Consolations of Philosophy by Alan de Botton earlier than I thought I would. My experience with philosophy has been limited to hearing bits and pieces here and there throughout my life with no formal learning. Those bits and pieces are how I look at the world and how others’ points of view has influenced that. With that foundation in place, this book is the perfect next baby step into the scary world of philosophy.

In high school I had the option of taking philosophy but I opted for psychology mainly because I was worried with how hard it sounded. What de Botton does in his book is he takes six general concerns of life (unpopularity, not having enough money, etc.) and provides a helpful perspective by exploring how a famous philosopher tackled the concern. He does this by giving a back story on say Seneca and walks you through his knowledge until you get to the topic at hand. In doing it this way, it is easier to understand the lines of thinking, making it less intimidating.

If you are in the same boat I was in with having a limited exposure to philosophy, I would recommend you check out this book. It’s not perfect and there may be another book out there that would have connected with me better but that’s the hard thing about philosophy. For the first four sections, I didn’t particularly need consolation for them but as the book began to end I connected with a couple topics. So depending on where you are with your life you might connect with all of them or none of them. Regardless, the book is written well and I’m glad I read it. Last thing, while it was nice to have pictures on every other page, more than half of them were completely unnecessary.

How Google Works

With the entire month of February ahead of me, I picked up How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg.

This book offers an interesting look into (you guessed it) how Google works and more specifically, how it became such a successful company. The way that Eric, Jonathan, Larry and Sergey lead the company and approached obstacles and projects differently is the main driver of this business book. I say business book because it is not what I thought it was, a biography of how Google came to be. That isn’t to say it’s a dense, textbook read but it wasn’t like the Elon Musk book. Once I got past that disappointing realization, it was an interesting and thought provoking read. Don’t worry if you aren’t technically minded, they do a good job of teaching you what, say an API is and how it relates to the story and lesson.

Two things left me with a bad taste in my mouth after finishing it, however. The first being, there are a couple callouts (one using the employee’s name and the others not) that physically made me cringe while painfully reading through it. I was too busy trying to get past the section that I don’t remember what the callout was exactly but I think what happened is they were trying to make a joke (this book is full of them) but instead of being funny it comes off as very awkward. The other part that didn’t sit well with me was I would read a section on how unique and innovative their approach is and then on the next page there would be an extremely typical corporate-based approach. There’s nothing wrong with that tactic per se but it’s uncharacteristic and I’m surprised they hadn’t rethought the approach. It’s also made worse for me since I don’t plan on working at a typical corporation for any long period of time.

Excluding those two items, if you are an entrepreneur/business/technically minded person, give this book a go.


For March I am reading When to Rob a Bank: …And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I watched Freakonomics on Netflix and knew I had to read this, which is a collection of blog posts from their Freakonomics blog.

Talk to you when April rolls around,

-Adam

 

Book A Month 2016: First Book Down

With the help of a round trip to San Diego last week I was able to bang out Elon Musk* by Ashlee Vance quicker than I thought I was going to. The other part that helped is how hard it was to put down. Vance was able to interview Musk over the course of 3 years and was specifically authorized to write the book which not only garnered him more time with Musk, but also his inner circle of family, friends and colleagues. Buckle up for tons of great quotes and information from these people.

The book starts off with Musk’s family and the amazing story of his grandparents who deserve a book written exclusively about them. They traveled the world on their plane and created a whole host of stories in doing so. From there, the book is divided into his first two companies Zip2 and X.com, Tesla and SpaceX’s formative years, their growth years and then a summary that includes SolarCity. Interspersed throughout the book are fantastic stories about the Tesla and SpaceX teams that I haven’t heard before, a detailed account of Musk’s marriages, as well as his tendencies and abilities that are often compared with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Over the past year or so I have begun to seriously look into Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity to get a better understanding of how they operate within their overall framework of bringing us to a renewable and multi-planetary world. Reading this book at this stage in their growth was aptly timed as it brought me up to speed, filled in the gaps from my reading, and put the companies in context of each other with their successes and failures. Anyone in a similar position as I was should definitely pick up this book.

Ashlee Vance has a very relaxed and conversational writing style that kept me engaged in the text regardless of the exact topic at hand. He avoids the painful details and leaves you with just enough to understand a technology’s importance to the situation.

To put it simply, it was a joy to read how the inspiration for Tony Stark is building our future and I won’t be surprised if I end up reading it again.


Up next on the chopping block is going to be The Consolations of Philosophy* by Alain de Botton. I was lucky enough to catch a presentation by Jason Silva back in November and he constantly quotes de Botton. With The Consolations of Philosophy being an intro to philosophy, I figured this was a good place to start and see why Silva loves him so much.

Talk to you when I finish.

-Adam

*I don’t make any money from these links and don’t plan on it, they are simply there to help you find the book should you feel so inclined to join in on the adventure.

Reading a Book a Month: The Innovators

For Christmas last year I received The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. It is almost a year later and I am just about to finish it, which is fairly pathetic. While it is the longest book I will have read so far, it is a bit longer than average at 560 pages, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to read. Couple this with how I have recently added 29 books (and counting) to my reading list and I will never end up reading everything I want to read.

In an effort to remedy this I am going to be reading a book a month starting in 2016. I haven’t decided which books those will be but you can bet your fanny that the ones I end up reading will come from the list I linked above*. To kick things off let me give you a short review of The Innovators.

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

What is it about?

Starting in the 1800’s and coming up to the first decade of this century, Isaacson describes how we went from Ada Lovelace’s idea of a counting machine, to the founding of Intel, to Ev Williams creating Blogger and everything in between.

What did you like about it?

As someone who is starting out in the tech startup industry, it was refreshing to take some time to understand how we got to where we are. Isaacson does a very good job of dumbing things down such as how silicon transistors work so that I get how they work but he doesn’t go into so much detail that I get bored and put the book down.

He is also a wonderful storyteller. In breaking up each chapter into bite sized chunks I was better able to grasp how the individual parts fit into the larger scheme of things. With each chunk he would take a person or group of people and write a mini biography about them, glue those stories together and by the end of the section I had a very confident grasp on how say AOL came to be. There were also a lot of audible “Oh so that’s how that happened” and other such phrases since I had a basic understanding of how digital history happened after 1950 but The Innovators helped connect the dots.

What did you not like about it?

I have two main complaints with The Innovators but in no way should these stop you from reading it if you have been interested so far.

My first gripe would have to be with how history goes, so it has less to do with Isaacson than it does with my lack of interest in how things worked back in the day. Getting through the first couple chapters was a bit of a struggle since I had to remove my familiarity with a smartphone and think in highly simple terms. The first couple chapters are more about concepts and wooden counting machines than what I would consider technology as a 21st century Millennial.

My other annoyance would be with the second half of the book. The first half felt very put together and fluid as he went from topic to topic. In the second half there are parts here and there that sound like he wrote it before the section or chapter before it. What ends up happening is terms he has already explained are re-explained or he uses different terms to talk about something he was describing earlier in the book.

Considering those are the only two negative factors, I would definitely recommend giving this book a read especially if you are interested in entrepreneurship, computers, coding, etc.

Look forward to a similar post in early January on what book I am going to read next.

-Adam

*I have since discovered that Amazon removes items from my wish lists as I purchase them. Fret not my friend as I have kicked things off a bit early which you can read here. This includes the books excluded from my Amazon list.