Kreighton’s Summer Reading:
I read a bit more than usual this summer as my children were given a steep reading goal to earn themselves the phones they so badly wanted, so I upped my game. And I counted audio books!
Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman – This is the most influential book of my summer. The Atlantic magazine recently revisited the book’s argument in an article titled “Are We Having Too Much Fun?” Written by media observer Postman in 1985, its observations and warnings on how media and modern society are increasingly trading serious thought and discourse for amusements and distraction strike an astonishingly prescient tone. For example, did you know that the Lincoln-Douglas debates were three to four hours long, and held very large audiences in rapt attention the entire time? This has set me on a journey to explore what media, technology and endless (useless?) news flow has done to my conversations, my attention span and my precious time!
The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein – I finally got around to reading this book by one of the lions of investment writing. Dr. Bernstein masterfully takes a lay reader through the basics of markets, portfolio construction and market history. He repeatedly returns directly and indirectly to the ineluctable tradeoff between risk and return. A joyful and easy read by one of the best minds to ever write about investing.
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion – A work of fiction, recommended by Bill Gates. This quick read is a sweet reminder on the many lessons of love and how it so often finds us in the most unexpected of ways. I am fond of saying “the world takes all kinds”. After finishing this book, I decided that I should be saying “the world both makes and takes all kinds”.
Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity, by John Gribbin – This is apparently a bit of a cult classic, and it was a challenge to stretch it out over the summer. The reading is intense and somewhat dense, but the overwhelming takeaway is the mind boggling simplicity and commonality behind so many features of the universe. The tools and observations that are useful in astronomy and physics have shocking and entertaining parallels in measuring coastlines, predicting natural disasters and observing the collapse of colonies. A great read to pair with Benoit Mandelbrot’s The Mis-Behavior of Markets.
The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr – The title of this book speaks for itself. If you have even briefly pondered this question, then I encourage you, I challenge you, to read this book and do so with the meta-cognitive objective of observing your own focus compared to the era in which Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death, 1985. Has the internet changed our attention spans for the better? Let me know what you think.
On the Shortness of Life, by Seneca – I have what I call my “pithy bromide theory of life”. It is the idea that pithy bromides (a bromide is a phrase, cliché, or platitude that is trite or unoriginal) we all know and tend to ignore, such as “the grass is always greener” actually contain enduring wisdom if we just slow down enough to cogitate on them. That is exactly why they are enduring – they are true! This short, ancient essay contains wisdom that is as enduring today as when it was originally written. Perhaps the appropriate bromide for Seneca would be “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”!
Damn Right! … Charlie Munger, by Janet Lowe – I impulse purchased this for a few dollars on Amazon, and Will does a great job reviewing it. It is a fun read and journey through Charlie Munger’s mind and many original ideas on life and business. Related reading would be Poor Charlie’s Almanack – The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger.
Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiassen – I only include this because it is about a hurricane that tears across Florida, and in light of the tragic events that have occurred there, this classic Hiassen is a bit of levity in the storm, as it were.
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl – This is a book I’ve been meaning to re-read for a while now, and I am wrapping up after a few last summer poolside reading sessions. There I find myself counting my blessing and reflecting on the many ways the experience of humanity, much like the experience of the markets, is simultaneously repetitive and excruciatingly personal. Emerson wrote (I summarize), “People don’t change, things change . . . sell your clothes and keep your thoughts”. Perhaps he intuited what Frankl reminds us: We are our humanity, and perhaps little else?
SuperForecasters: The Art and Science of Prediction, by Philip Tetlock – Professor Tetlock has been studying forecasters and their ongoing failures for nearly 30 years. Here he summarizes the journey that led him to start the Good Judgment Project which produced a surprisingly diverse group of super forecasaters. A very fun read if you enjoy thinking about your thinking.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – Entertaining and also based on serious research into how the modern approach to romance, largely due to technology, has changed so much in barely a generation.
The Signal & The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail But Some Don’t, by Nate Silver – The respected forecaster who is, I believe, as lucky as he is smart. Written before Silver whiffed badly on the 2016 election, I found it a bit self-congratulatory, but it nonetheless covers interesting ground in thinking about deciphering signal from noise.
The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control, by Walter Mischel – The marshmallow test is a classic test of willpower and self-control, given to children more than 30 years ago. It is a provocative and engaging read on those topics, and also the somewhat predictive power of those traits – are they inborn or can they be learned and honed? As a bonus, the audio version was read by Alan Alda.
I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life, and I always love discussing, sharing and hearing about new books. The books above are the ones I finished. I do not finish them all and abandoned a few, such as “A Short History of the Jews” and “The Physics of Everyday Things” to name but a few. Life’s too short to read bad books!