Best Books I Read in 2018

2018 was a very eventful year for me. I also read some interesting books that provided me with a lot of new perspectives. I think 2016 and 2017 were more transformative years in terms of new ideas gained from books. Without further ado, here is a list of the best books I read in 2018 and key takeaways and big ideas from each book and a bonus section on new blogs, podcasts, youtube videos I enjoyed in 2018.

Best Books of 2018

  1. Crushing It, Gary Vaynerchuk
  2. Principles, Ray Dalio
  3. Influence, Robert Cialdini
  4. Bad Blood, John Carreyrou
  5. Leonardo Da Vinci, Walter Isaacson
  6. Programming Collective Intelligence, Toby Segaran
  7. Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy

Crushing It, Gary Vaynerchuk

Outside of family and friends, Gary Vee was the most influential person on me in 2018. I think him and Jeff Bezos are the two smartest public figures I know. I came across his content for the first time in the summer of 2017 but I really started to go deep in his content in the first half of 2018. He has many interesting ideas that have changed (or reinforced) my perspective on a lot of things, to keep it focused and concise I will focus on the ideas mentioned in his book, Crushing It.

The key takeaway I got from reading Crushing It is that people should start looking at themselves and their personal brand as a mini-media company and treating their actual business as an actual media company.  Developing your personal brand is the best and most durable investment you can make in yourself. In a world of many distractions, the ability to get people’s attention gives you a valuable asset that you can use to achieve any other goals that you may have.

On the personal brand side, creating content that adds value to your audience in the field that you are interested in which you can then use to help you achieve your goals.

For example, for my personal brand I started a Youtube channel where I teach people how to code and another Youtube channel where I interview different people to share education, career and life advice. I get to help others by sharing valuable information with our audience and it helps me because I can direct some of that attention towards my different projects.

This book and all his other content I consumed in 2018 has really shifted my behaviour a lot in the last 18 months. As someone who was very reluctant to share anything online, I really had to self-reflect on what I was scared of and motivated myself to be more transparent online. I think in 2019 I will consume a bit less of his content because I started to notice that I would start hearing his voice in my head when trying to think for myself. Nevertheless, I think that is my fault for lacking discipline and watching too many of his videos when I was procrastinating on real work. When I watched in the right amounts, his videos are probably the most educational videos I’ve watched in the last 2 years.

Principles, Ray Dalio

I wrote a very extensive review and summary of Principles. So I will just offer a very brief summary of some of the key points mentioned in the book. The main ideas I got from this book was a better understanding of how humans make decisions:

  1. We do things for emotional reasons which we don’t fully understand, then create logical-sounding narratives post-facto to justify and rationalize what we have done.

  2. Being extremely honest with ourselves on what our strengths and weaknesses are and asking friends and family’s to give us feedback on what our weaknesses are.

  3. Turning our decision making processes into algorithms and rules-based systems that a computer or other people can follow.

Influence, Robert Cialdini

This book was mentioned in one of the top 3 books I have ever read, Poor Charlie’s Almanac. One of my goals has been to get better at understanding people and how we make decisions. This book was very informative in terms of understanding how our brains work and more importantly, how much we underestimate our lack of understanding of our own brain and actions. There was also a lot of overlap between this book and Principles by Ray Dalio.

The book also did something very clever by using A LOT of stories and case studies to present their points. I learnt that stories are a very effective communication technique for both convincing people and for remembering things. One of my goals in 2019 is to give a talk on the lessons I learnt from this book as a series of stories.

  1. We do things for emotional reasons which we don’t fully understand, then create logical-sounding narratives post-facto to justify and rationalize what we have done.

  2. We are easily fooled by “truth signals”, even though we think we aren’t. E.g. We are likely to take medical advice from an actor who plays a doctor on a television show, even though we know they are not a real doctor.

  3. When you are in an emergency. E.g. You are choking. Instead of generally calling out for help. Look someone in the eye, point at them and say “You, perform the Heimlich”, point at someone else and say, “You, can you please call an ambulance” (I know it’s hard to talk while choking but you get the idea).

  4. We are story loving machines. We like when things fit a neat narrative of cause and effect. Even if those stories have been oversimplified, exaggerated or modified in order to illustrate a point.

Bad Blood, John Carreyrou

You ever get bad news and think, “How did I not see that coming”. That is how I felt while reading this book. I remember reading about Theranos in the media in 2016/17 and being impressed by Elizabeth Holmes and how smart and focused she was.

Funny enough, I distinctly remember a line on  the company website two years ago, which seemed fishy even then. They were explaining how the technology worked and simply said “… a chemistry is performed…”. Of course, I simply dismissed it as I’m sure the experts know what they are doing, it’s probably standard industry practice. So I was very surprised when I read the headlines that her net worth on Forbes went from $10 billion to $0 overnight.

It’s a bit disappointing that such a potentially awesome idea turned out to be a fraud. Though here are some things I learnt:

  1. When fraud happens at a company, there are usually many warning signs and red flags. people either choose to look the other way or rationalize what is happening.

  2. It’s very interesting to see the extent to which many people that we hold in high regard in our society were also caught by surprise about the Theranos scandal.

  3. Will Elizabeth Holmes ever reappear in public again? She is still very young and actually quite bright and driven. Fortunately, she lives in a relatively forgiving society, so I think if she had a very transparent, well PRd, “apology tour” (maybe write a “tell-all” book) she could actually be given a second chance and still do well for herself.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Walter Isaacson

I am still reading this book and only about 4 chapters in so I will focus more on why I decided to start reading this book and some general first impressions of the book:

  1. First, I loved Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin which remains one of my top 5 books of all time. Speaking of Benjamin Franklin, the early lives of Da Vinci and Franklin are very similar. For example, both of them were raised with an expectation that they would go on to work for the church but left to do an apprenticeship, Franklin for a printer and Da Vinci for an artist.

  2. In many ways I consider Florence in the 1400s to be similar to Silicon Valley in the 1980-Present day. As someone in the technology space I felt like drawing parallels between Present day silicon Valley and the historical precedents in 1400s Florence would help me understand how to best operate in and evaluate the future of Silicon Valley.

  3. Finally, I have recently been wondering if I am doing too many different things. Sometimes I wonder if I am too unfocused, other times I think that I am the right amount of focused since I follow through and complete most of my projects while spreading my bets.

    I know that Leonardo is often regarded as a polymath. Which basically meant that he was good at a bunch of different things. He had an amazing ability to combine insights from different fields to come up with new, revolutionary ideas. The problem is that he often lacked discipline and focus to fully commit on an idea. So my goal is to see what lessons I can learn from his life. Learn how I can keep the good habits of creativity and self-teaching and avoid the bad parts regarding a lack of discipline and focus.

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Programming Collective Intelligence, Toby Segaran

I realized in 2016/2017 that machine learning and artificial intelligence is the future. You probably already know that. But you probably don’t realize  that the advancement of ML and AI in the past 5 and next 5 years has the potential to dwarf every other technological advancement in the last 25 years and possibly since the beginning of mankind. You might think I’m exaggerating but if you’re flexible with the X-axis (time), I think it’s a legitimate claim. Then I realized that 1: I better figure out what AI is at a practical level because being a simple frontend web developer may become commoditized/outsourced/automated.

I also realized that the most valuable companies are the ones that are able to do 3 things:

  1. Generate large, useful data sets
  2. Analyze that data to gain insights
  3. Apply those insights to iterate and improve their product quickly

Let me put it this way. If you have a web or mobile application that people use, It should be able to learn from your users and get better the more they use it.

Programming collective intelligence is a very good introduction to how to do all three of those things. Or at least do the last 2 and find an open source data set to accomplish number one. This book was written in 2007, so in technology years it’s about 100 years old. Despite being 10 years old it actually ages very well and has many useful code snippets that are useful. I would recommend this for anyone who already has a bit of a background in coding and a bit of python knowledge and is looking to get an exposure to machine learning.

Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy

I spent the last 4 months of 2017 obsessively focused on building the Atila product. Then I launched the product and realized I had to learn how to do the other half,  get people to care.

I became obsessed with marketing, sales, consumer psychology, social media marketing etc. A lot of this content is very tactical, ephemeral stuff that becomes outdated or obsolete once FacebookYoutubeInstgaram changes their algorithm again.

I was looking for something timeless. Something which addresses the long standing principles of human nature. Then I stumbled on the book Ogilvy on Advertising, founder of Ogilvy and Mather, one of the world’s top advertising companies. The book was written in 1985 when Television was the revolutionary thing changing the advertising industry. Unfortunately I also read this book at the beginning of the year so I may have forgotten some of the key points I read. Despite that, the book has aged very well and here were some of the key takeaways I had:

  • The point of advertising is to influence people towards an action, don’t get distracted by vanity metrics such as likes or industry awards
  • Be as direct and straight to the point as possible
  • He also has some useful tips on how to get a job at an advertising agency and how to get clients, the latter containing useful information for anyone regardless of your field of business
  • I was very impressed with his writing style. It’s very simple and clear with that dry, sarcastic British sense of humor. Though What Did I expect, he was a professional copywriter.

The book has one of the most memorable quotes I have ever come across. I loved it so much that it is the first sentence of the first blog post I ever wrote:

“When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’ ” -David Ogilvy

Side note: There is an updated version called Ogilvy on Advertising in the digital Age. It’s okay but I get the impression that the author is too biased about Facebook and Google threatening his business model to give a truly fair, objective perspective on the opportunities these new platforms offer.

Best Podcasts, Blogs and Videos of 2018

  1. Inverted Passion – The internet is awesome! I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon this random blogger from India but very interesting insights on entrepreneurship, philosophy and machine learning.
  2. Gary Vaynerchuk – Possibly the smartest person I’ve ever seen on the internet, or just a very good salesman. Very polarizing guy, some people love him, some people hate him. You decide for yourself. See review of his book above
  3. ValueTainment – Great interviews, really good interview with Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon. Really liked his insights on how to treat your significant other and family members.
  4. Matt D’avella – The best Youtuber atm I have found on the topic of minimalism
  5. Johnny FD – very interesting travel blogger. Cool thing he does called monthly income report where he is very transparent and shares exactly how much money he made and spent in a given month. Lots of very practical travel advice that was useful for my trip to Europe and I love his story about his personal transformation.
  6. Impact Theory and The Joe Rogan Experience  – Great interviews on both channels and Impact Theory has occasional good nuggets on relationship advice
  7. Scott Adams – very interesting insight into the fields of persuasion and technology . His blogs were so good that I am currently listening to 2 of his audiobooks (Win Bigly and Dilbert Future) and reading another of his books, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Johnny FD

This was a very interesting travel blogger I stumbled upon. What I like the most about him is how transparent he is. He does this really cool thing called a monthly income report where he shares exactly how much money he makes every month and how he makes it. He also has a lot of great travel tips, which was very helpful for me on my trip to europe.

Those were the best books and content I consumed in 2018. For 2019 I plan to post more reviews of books as I read them and I’m looking forward to seeing what books will be the best books I read in 2019. Thanks for reading.