What I’ve Been Reading

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Some people swear by these Stoic teachings, but even me, a confessed lover of nuggets, could not fully engage with the long list of short aphoristic nugget-y blurbs. I’ll try again later. I do want to better understand Stoicism.

2. Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. There are many reviews and summaries of this book on the web (including an entire Ted talk) so I’m not sure I’d recommend reading the whole book itself. Schwartz’s argument — that too much choice robs us of satisfaction — is clearly presented and convincingly supported, even though it’s a “problem” only the very fortunate seem to have. I found much of the book familiar, but if you haven’t already dipped into happiness books or any of the recent slew of pop psychology books, Schwartz brings a lot of the research into one place.

3. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb. Another book that’s been well reviewed and summarized. I read Fooled by Randomness and loved it. I didn’t love Black Swan, but this is probably because over-high expectations. It’s a good book with important points about statistics, randomness, planning, and human nature. With the onset of the financial crisis, I’m sure Taleb has been dancing a jig. The book’s weakness, to this reader who isn’t qualified to assess the statistical arguments, is stylistic. He proudly resisted any editorship, and it shows. Also, he seems to enjoy his reputation for brashness so much that he hurls bitchy, pointless insults toward people like Richard Posner. All this notwithstanding, you should still read this book.

2. The Knack: How Street Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham. Brodsky and Burlingham have sterling reputations in the business journalism world, but I found nothing new in this grab bag of entrepreneurship tips and tricks. Like most business and entrepreneurship books: pass.

The best book I’ve been reading recently is John Updike, but that review deserves a separate post.

8 Responses to What I’ve Been Reading

  1. Dave says:

    Taleb’s prose style makes me laugh more than anything. At some level he is clearly full of himself. At the same time he is very angry that people don’t “get it” like he gets it. And his contempt for those he deems his intellectual inferior (which is everyone save Mandlebrot) is amusing. But he still makes many good points and deserves to be read.

  2. Jude says:

    I’m reading The Education of Henry Adams. I’ve probably read the first 7 chapters 12 times in my 54 years, but I’m finally finishing it in part because the rest of it finally resonates with me. I’m in love with that darned book, which I’m reading via Project Gutenberg in Google Docs and deleting as I go (keeping a separate quote file in another Google Doc). Maybe the Meditations will be that way for you–a book to try again in a decade or two.

  3. Tom says:

    You gotta read the Gregory Hayes translation of the Meditations. It is much better and easier to read.

  4. Matt says:

    Ben,

    Which Updike book? I’ve been picking up anything by him that I stumble across at used bookstores.

  5. I couldn’t get into The Black Swan for the same reason as Dave. I felt like Taleb was telling me an interesting story at a cocktail party, but digressing too much in an attempt to impress me with his brilliance.

    Stoicism. Though not a philosophical exploration per se, it’s a key component of Tom Wolf’s A Man in Full. Two characters embrace it to transform their lives. I’m not a huge fan of Wolf in general but loved that book.

  6. Chuck says:

    Ben,

    I’ve been interested in this “more is less” idea. I’ll check out that book.

    I’m sure the book tackles this idea from a consumerist POV (i.e. grocery store shelves and vehicle choices), but I’m more interested in it from a relationship perspective. I have a hypothesis that people are unhappy in their relationships nowadays because of the many mating choices offered to us. The opportunity cost of dating is too high to settle down with one person.

  7. I couldn’t help thinking that The Black Swan would have made a better magazine article than book.

  8. Ben Casnocha says:

    “Due Considerations” – full review coming.

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