Every December, I make a list of books to read for the upcoming year. The list isn’t designed to be exclusive, and I tend to add additional titles as the year progresses.
In past years, however, I never came close to getting through everything on the list. I still didn’t make it all the way through 2017’s list, but I did manage to read far more books in the last 12 months thanks to a simple switch.
I used to use my “books to read” list as a way to set a goal of reading a book or two every month. Inevitably, I’d fail to keep up that pace.
This year I read more than ever by committing to reading at least 20 minutes a day. I also committed to using my Kindle app across multiple devices to make it easier to get that reading in no matter where I was, and not reading news articles that would be irrelevant in 12 months.
Although I wasn’t intentionally emphasizing habits over goals at the beginning of the year, this article explains why habits can be more effective than goals. In my case, my habits resulted in me reading 32 books. (My parents and all of my high school English teachers are probably in shock.)
Here are some of my favorite reads from the year.
Favorite Investment Books
The Most Important Thing Illuminated by Howard Marks
I’ve been a long-time reader of Howard Mark’s client memos, and now this book earned a spot on my “essential investment reading” list.
The original version of The Most Important Thing was released in May, 2011 to combine Marks’ famous client memos into a single volume. The Most Important Thing Illuminated contains additional commentary and insights by Marks as well as from a prestigious lineup of investment thinkers including Christopher Davis, Joel Greenblatt, Paul Johnson, and Seth Klarman.
Marks beautifully describes the many complexities of the market and provides a framework for thinking about investing and risk that ought to improve the way you make investment decisions.
A Man for All Markets by Edward O. Thorp
Finding and capturing a real edge in the market is way more complicated than most people acknowledge. This is a humbling book from that perspective. It’s also fascinating for investment wonks that enjoy gambling and probabilities.
My favorite non-investment stories are those about how Thorp beat Las Vegas in roulette using physics and blackjack to create a card-counting system (you’ll recognize it if you’ve read Bringing Down the House or saw 21).
After conquering the casinos, Thorp turned his attention to the investment world where he discovered and employed what is known today as the Black-Scholes option formula before anyone else knew of it. He concludes the book by sharing some personal money management advice that is relevant to the masses.
A Man for All Markets is littered with great insights on investments, risk, money management, and probabilities.
Favorite Non-Investment Books
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
This book had been on my reading list for a while, but hearing that a follow-up book would come out in February 2017 pushed me to finally pick up Sapiens – and boy, am I glad I did.
Harari tells the story of three revolutions that shaped human history: the Cognitive Revolution that started about 70,000 years ago, the Agricultural Revolution that began about 12,000 years ago, and the Scientific Revolution that started just 500 years ago (and continues today).
While I thoroughly enjoyed the historical and scientific examination of our evolution, my favorite concept in the book was the impact of stories on human society.
The use of stories enabled millions of strangers to work together in a way that separated our species from many other competing breeds. Our ability for storytelling is what allowed for our species to create states, churches, legal systems, and corporations, too.
(I’ll note that I did read Harari’s follow-up book, Homo Deus, but I didn’t like it nearly as much.)
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
This is required reading for anyone that writes or wants to write.
Pressfield tells the story of his writing experience, highlighting important lessons learned along each stop. He started in advertising to make some money before setting out to write a novel. He transitioned into writing screenplays in Hollywood before successfully conquering fiction and, later, nonfiction.
This is a fast, funny, and informative read. My favorite idea is that writing and reading is a transaction – the reader donates his/her time in return for the writer providing something of use. Pressfield shows you how to craft a compelling story that makes everyone happy in this “transaction.”
Near the top of my list for 2018 is Pressfield’s earlier work The War of Art.
The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway
I wasn’t planning on reading this book until a free copy was given to me at the Evidence-Based Investing Conference.
We all use products and services from these four companies, but Galloway tells a compelling narrative that explains how these companies appeal to our most basic human needs.
Galloway’s writing style is easy to digest, plus the content is very relatable if you use any of the products or services from these four companies. While this book can be read for pure enjoyment, there are several insights that you can apply to your own business or career.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Briefly summarizing the entire series is a challenge given the incredible creativity and enormous scope of the story.
In the first book, an extraterrestrial civilization plans to invade Earth but their journey will take 400 years. On Earth, different organizations begin to form around various ideas for dealing with the visitors, from finding a way to welcome the superior beings to planning for an intergalactic battle to escaping to another galaxy altogether.
The overarching plot develops further in the next two books, but anything I tell you beyond that would be a spoiler.
Each book manages to be better than the last, and the pace throughout the entire trilogy seems to progressively pick up to the point that it was really hard to put down books two and three.
While the story was gripping, my favorite aspect of these series might be the physics education it provides the reader as the tale unwinds. There were multiple scientific ideas that kept me thinking for weeks and expanded the way I view the world in a way that I wouldn’t expect a fiction novel to do.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Until I started The Three-Body Problem, I would have expected this to be my favorite fiction book of the year.
Set in a dystopian 2044, the depletion of fossil fuels and consequences of global warming has led to social problems and economic stagnation. People spend most of their time in a virtual world called OASIS that is so intertwined into society that its currency is the most stable in the real world.
When the creator of this world dies, his will – provided through a video to players – announces that he has hidden an Easter egg inside the virtual world. The first to find it will inherit his entire fortune and the video game corporation.
For what it’s worth, Steven Spielberg directed the film adaptation that will be out in March 2018. Cline is currently writing a sequel, too.
Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton
For whatever reason, I tend to re-read a book or two every year. This year I read Happy Money for the third time. It is one of my favorite personal finance books and among my most gifted books to others.
Unlike most personal finance books that focus on processes to increase your wealth, Dunn and Norton focus on five ways to increase the happiness you derive from your spending.
Using a plethora of personal stories along with summaries of research studies, this book will make you rethink the way you are spending on both everyday and major purchases.
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein
I included this book on a list for Forbes as one that could make you a better investor, but it had been several years since my original reading.
Bernstein explores the history of money through the lens of financial risk, beginning in ancient times and into the modern world of portfolio theory. Bernstein does an excellent job explaining the underlying mathematics in simple terms, making this book very informative and relevant to practitioners.
What’s on the List for 2018
If you’re curious about what I plan to tackle in the coming year, here are just a few titles currently on my list that I look forward to diving into:
I have a four-year-old that is asking more questions about money. Kids and money is a topic I’m very interested in pursuing in 2018.
I love reading about evolutionary trends that explain our human tendencies today.
Big Mistakes: The Best Investors and Their Worst Investments by Michael Batnick
I’m interested in seeing how one of my favorite bloggers takes an unusual angle on the best investors.
Mastering the Market Cycle: Getting the Odds on Your Side by Howard Marks
I love Howard Marks and will read every book he publishes from now on.
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Taleb’s Fooled By Randomness remains one of my favorite books and opened my eyes to the role of chance in the world around us. I look forward to reading this next one from the same author.
The Behavioral Investor by Daniel Crosby
I read Crosby’s last book this year, The Laws of Wealth, and loved it. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.
I love gambling and probabilities. I’m assuming this poker champion will have a lot to say that interests me.
Dune by Frank Herbert
The best-selling science fiction novel of all time…sign me up. This six-book series will keep me occupied for a while.
The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin
BOOKS ON MY 2017 LIST THAT GOT BUMPED TO 2018
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
I love a good math book. This was on my list for 2017, but never reached the top of my queue.
But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Pastby Chuck Klosterman
My hope is that this book will challenge the assumptions I make when thinking about the future.
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis
This probably would have been more interesting to read when it was first published in February 2012, but I’m looking forward to seeing the bright side in society.
Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Futureby Johan Norberg
Much like Abundance, I’d like to read more of “the future is bright” narrative given how loud “the future is scary” crowd has gotten.