The Boys in the Boat Book Review

The Boys in the Boat

Written by Daniel James Brown. This book is about an incredibly inspiring story about the 8-oar US Rowing team that went to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. You do not need to be a rower, or really know anything about rowing in order to enjoy this book. It is classic American and you will feel immensely patriotic by the time you turn the last page.

It follows the story of 9 boys who arrived at Washington in 1932 as freshmen. They trained together with a hard driving coach. They had many struggles, but the ultimate learning experience was that they had to completely trust each other. It’s a real “man’s book”.

The author does a great job describing the era, Nazi Germany, and what it was like to attend the Olympics in 1936. The book really makes you appreciate when something comes together perfectly. And that there will be moments in your life that you will never forget. You are provided opportunities and you should seize them with all you got.

The Path Between the Seas: Creation of the Panama Canal Book Review

The Path Between the Seas: Creation of the Panama Canal

Written by David McCullough. Like most of you, all I knew about the Panama Canal was the tidbit I was told in elementary school. “We built a canal at Panama because it was the shortest distance between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean so we didn’t have to go around the horn of South America…” Be honest with yourself — did you really learn more than that?

I got the idea to read about the Panama Canal from The World Without Us which I read a short time ago. There was an incredibly interesting three-page summary about what would happen to the Panama Canal if humans simply disappeared. Those three pages stayed with me and I began searching for a book on the Panama Canal.

David McCullough, known mostly for Truman and John Adams (which became an HBO mini series), wrote this book. And let me tell you, he blows you away. The Panama Canal is a huge story with heroes, villains, spying, government back-stabbing, revolutions, and the construction of the greatest engineering feat in the history of mankind.

I had no idea that the French had tried to build the Panama Canal and failed, nearly bankrupting their own country. There is a story of Yellow Fever and Malaria and the doctor who tried to convince people that mosquitoes were responsible for transmission of the disease while others thought he was ridiculous. Did you know that we almost went to war with Columbia and helped Panama with their revolution so we can build the canal…and the men behind the scenes who were pulling the strings.

The story of the canal was most impressive and I’m a smarter man for having read it. But most of all, you gain an appreciation for the magnitude of what men were able to accomplish in the early 20th century. The spirit of man and what we are capable of doing never ceases to amaze me.

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Devil in the White City Book Review

Written by Erik Larson. If you liked my recommendation for Destiny of the Republic, than you would love this book as well.

The Devil in the White City intertwines two main stories. The first is about a notorious serial killer known as H.H Holmes. This guy is an absolutely insane psychopath but is really popular with the ladies. He has absolutely no morals and gets satisfaction out of being in control and ending lives. Cold, calculated, delusional. All of this is happening in Chicago at the same time as the World’s Fair in 1893 — the second story.

The sheer amount of engineering and architecture that went into building the World’s Fair in Chicago was unbelievable. The World’s Fair happened because the French held their own fair a few years prior and impressed the world. Some guy named Eiffel built a tower there or something. Anyway, the Americans wanted to build something more impressive. The author, Mr. Larson, does an incredible job of bringing you into 1893. You absolutely feel like you are attending the world’s fair. It’s a glimpse into a reality unlike any other. The people just had a different way of life. Attitudes were different. America was very different.

Anyway, some guy named George Ferris invented a wheel to compete with the marvel of engineering that was the Eiffel tower.

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Thinking, Fast and Slow Book Review

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Written by Daniel Kahneman. This is another one of those books that alter your reality. It is a thorough overview of how our brains work when it comes to decision making. In many cases, humans actually make absurd or illogical choices simply because of the way our brains are wired. The author even admits that while educating yourself about how you can easily be swayed on a decision based on the way a question was framed, you may still make the same mistakes anyway. Your brain is split into the “intuition mode” which he describes as System 1 and “thinking mode” which is described as System 2. System 1 is susceptible to errors in intuition.

Of many passages I found interesting, here he describes “Loss Aversion” and how it applies to both economics and putting in golf. Loss Aversion is the idea that humans are more fearful of losing something than they are of gaining something of equal value. Another way of describing it is that you would be more upset if you lost $1000 than you would be happy if you gained $1000. Loss aversion might seem obvious to us, but this passage demonstrates how it can have rippling effects far beyond what we may imagine:

——————-

The economists Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer, at the University of Pennsylvania, reasoned that golf provides a perfect example of a reference point: par. Every hole on the golf course has a number of strokes associated with it; the par number provides a baseline for good–but not outstanding–performance. For a professional golfer, a birdie (one stroke under par) is a gain, and a bogey (one stroke over par) is a loss. The economists compared two situations a player might face when near the hole:
– Putt to avoid a bogey
– Putt to achieve a birdie
Every stroke counts in golf, and in professional golf every stroke counts a lot. According to prospect theory, however, some strokes count more than others. Failing to make par is a loss, but missing a birdie putt is a foregone gain, not a loss. Pope and Schweitzer reasoned from loss aversion that players would try a little harder when putting for par (to avoid a bogey) than when putting for a birdie. They analyzed more than 2.5 million putts in exquisite detail to test that prediction.
They were right. Whether the putt was easy or hard, at every distance from the hole, the players were more successful when putting for par than for birdie. The difference in their rate of success when going for par (to avoid a bogey) or for a birdie was 3.6%. This difference is not trivial. Tiger Woods was one of the “participants” in their study. If in his best years Tiger Woods had managed to putt as well for birdies as he did for par, his average tournament score would have improved by one stroke and his earnings by almost $1 million per season. These fierce competitors certainly do not make conscious decision to slack off on birdie putts, but their intense aversion to a bogey apparently contributes to extra concentration on the task at hand.
The study of putts illustrates the power of a theoretical concept as an aid to thinking. Who would have thought it worthwhile to spend months analyzing putts for par and birdie? The idea of loss aversion, which surprises no one except perhaps some economists, generated a precise and non-intuitive hypothesis and led researchers to a finding that surprised everyone–including professional golfers.

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Destiny of the Republic Book Review

Destiny of the Republic

Written by Candice Millard. This book was incredibly eye opening and centers around the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. Not many people know about Garfield or the legacy he left behind since he only served as President for 5 months before he was shot.

The more you read though, the more engaged you become. Garfield had no intention of becoming the president but was forced into the position despite his refusal. As the book progresses, you follow Garfield, his assassin, and Alexander Graham Bell. The stories converge of course at the shooting that occurred in a train station in Washington, DC.

Garfield’s assassin was a complete mad man. Insane, no doubt. He believed he was better than everyone else and was entitled to fame and fortune. He was a fuckhead though and just scammed people out of money his whole life.

Alexander Graham Bell, famous for inventing the telephone, wanted to help the president live by inventing a device that would help locate the bullet inside the President’s body. This was effectively the first metal detector.

The most interesting part of the book though for me was Garfield’s doctors. When you read this book, you cringe hard. It’s like the doctors cared more about their egos and who would get recognition than actual common sense. Despite there being early evidence about the real risk of using contaminated surgical methods, American doctors largely dismissed this. Everything you read was disgusting and completely the opposite of how things are done today. By the end of the book, there is a real question about who really killed the president. Was it the assassin…or the doctors?

Other neat little things I learned — back then, people felt entitled to meet the president. It was way different.. For example, if I was willing to wait hours on end, I can just walk up to the White House, sit in the waiting room and wait my turn to talk to the president about my troubles. Unheard of today.

There’s a lot more in this book and I definitely recommend it.

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Unbroken Book Review

Unbroken

I just completed reading the epic biography. It is one of those books that takes you in to the story and never lets you go. It is written by Laura Hillenbrand.

The book is about the life of Louis Zamperini. He grew up as a young kid stealing shit all the time, but was set right by his brother Pete who insisted he join the track team. Louis got good and was soon breaking records. He was immensely popular at USC and people believed he would be the first person to break the four minute mile.

He went to the olympics in 1936 and shook Hitler’s hand.

Fate would have it, as we all know, WWII breaks out.

I’ll let the Amazon reviews clue you in on the rest.

What I want to say is that this story speaks to me — in terms of resilience and never giving up. Having the heart to always stay in it. It will remind you of your own self improvement journey about the ups and downs (mostly downs) that you have to endure.

You never have experienced pain, loss of dignity, and humiliation to the level of POWs that endured in Japanese prison camps.

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RGR Nabisco Book Review

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RGR Nabisco

I have become a huge fan of “narrative history”. It’s a genre of books that tell a period or event in history as if it is a story. There are characters, dialogue, etc. But it is all true and meticulously researched. Barbians at the Gate is such a book.

Anyone who is at all interested in business or Wall Street will love this book.

The book is about the leveraged buyout of RGR Nabisco in the late 80s that took place over a six week period. Leveraged buyouts were increasingly popular throughout the decade — what this means is that the management group of the company — the executives — try to collect enough bank loans and debt to buy out the company. The catch? Once the announcement is made that an LBO is going to happen, the company is up for grabs. The management group has to fight it out with any third parties who also want to seize the opportunity to buy out the company. In the case of RGR Nabisco, it was the largest takeover in history and the story and its characters are absolutely fascinating.

It’s a story about leverage, hardcore negotiations, twists, backstabbing, business, media, and wild personalities. “A few million dollars are always lost in the sands of time.” – CEO of RGR Nabisco F. Ross Johnson.

Check out the other reviews and see if this is a book you’d be interested in reading. I highly recommend it.

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The Art of Strategy Book Review

The Art of Strategy

Written by Avinash K. Dixit, this is one of those rare books that have an actual effect on your reality. It changes the way you view the world. I see games happening all the time. In the work place, relationships, among friends, on the news. Life is a game. And it’s good to be aware and recognize the various types of games you deal with on a daily basis.

My favorite games discussed in the book was on the topic of Brinkmanship. The idea is that you take another player “to the brink”. Who is going to blink first? For example, imagine you are playing a game of chicken. You’re in a car, and your opponent is in their car and you’re going to drive head on to each other and the first person to swerve out of the way is the chicken. Let’s analyze this:

1. Both swerve at the same time. Both considered equal chickens.

2. Opponent swerves first. You are the victor.

3. You swerve first and lose.

4. Neither swerves and both dies.

The desired outcomes in order is 2, 1, 3, 4. The worst case, 4, is if you both die.

How do you ensure that you win this game without dying? The opponent has to believe that no matter what, you will not swerve. If they genuinely believe that, then they have to swerve or die. Simple, yes? But how do you convince him of this? Just telling him that you won’t swerve is not reliable since he can mistake you for bluffing, killing you both. The answer:

Remove your steering wheel, hold it out the window, and drop it on the ground. Now the opponent knows that you have absolutely no option but to drive straight. If you have no option, then he has to swerve. Sometimes, when you play games of brinkmanship, you have to go to the point of no return in order to win. And something about that appeals to me.

The book is thorough and talks about many other types of games. Extremely useful book and I highly recommend it.

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Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman Book Review

Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman

The book is a collection of memoirs by theoretical physicist and professor Richard Feynman. He starts off as a brilliant young boy, super curious about the world around him. His intellect is unmatched by his peers as he conducted his own experiments as a child, teaching himself about the world around him.

As brilliant as he was, he has absolutely 0 social skills. Many of his stories are hilarious and you can relate to them. However, as he grows and matures throughout early adulthood and through college, he meets a ton of people and he becomes better and better in social situations. He learns how to interact with others and becomes quite a ladies’ man.

Besides all of that, I think the best message to take away from his adventures is the idea of being curious and the absolute need to solve new and interesting puzzles. As a result, he gains not just social experience, but life experience. Feyman learned how to pick locks, fix radios, flew to Brazil and joined a samba band, became a pseudo biologist, learned how to speak Portuguese and Japanese, learned how to play the drums, and became a legitimate artist. Why? Because he felt like it. Because he was a curious person and because it was something he hadn’t ever done before.

Oh, and this is all besides the fact that he was a renowned theoretical physicist who worked at Los Alamos and won the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum physics.

He also talks about adopting a philosophy on life he called “social irresponsibility” — the way he describes it, it’s almost like his own form of not caring about what others think about him.

The book is full of life lessons and advice. About all the kinds of people you encounter along the way and how he learned how to handle them. It’s a must-read as far as I’m concerned.

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Atlas Shrugged Book Review

Atlas Shrugged

Written by the always-controversial Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged is her magnum opus and statement on her philosophy objectivism. The massive novel takes place over three parts and is well over 1000 pages.It follows the story of Dagny Taggart who is a railroad executive in a dystopia. The world has gone to hell and trains are the primary mode of transportation. The men and women who are keeping the country going are scientists, engineers, and businessmen. However, the government in power keeps enacting new laws to tax and take away all the efforts these people have made. One by one they start disappearing. And the mysterious John Galt is feared to be the culprit.

The story is about what would happen if the best minds went on strike. That there are producers and takers and the takers can only whip the producers so much before they snap. Forcing someone else to take care of you is immoral. Individualism and the drive to make money is actually good for society. If you agree with this, you will love this book.

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