Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned. At the onset of the year, I had many. Some acted up and some stuttered to the wire. I felt the year was short, gone in a puff, like a wind that blows and never comes back. I was diligent with my reading; I added a few titles to the rack. Today I present to you ten books that shaped my thinking in 2022.
Numbers don’t lie – Vaclav Smil
If there is a quant throne; I enthrone Vaclav. His ability to comprehend such vast topics as human demographics, energy, economics…virtually just about any subject under the sun and with so much authority demonstrates his level of erudition. Reading through this book, you will have nothing but respect for the author, his insights are succinct, irresistible, and deeply insightful.
This book reads like a painting, a painting created with statistics but before you back off, I must let you know that the numbers are presented in a mesmerizing even tantalizing style. Once you pick the book, the author has you in a vice grip. Indeed, it is true, great teachers use simple language; I am yet to see a better illustration. This book closely relates to Factfulness and may be a distant cousin to How to lie with statistics.
Seven men – Eric Metaxas
This book opens up with a profound question. What is a man and what makes a man great? Certainly, something worth pondering. The author offers that a man is not macho, bigshot, strong and domineering. Neither is a man emasculated. At the heart of being a man is to be selfless, to put your strength to the service of others. What makes a man is a staggering amount of work and sacrifice.
Chivalry and heroism are good to have but he who desires to lead must be a servant of all. A true leader gives himself to the people. This book is a biography of seven men. Some who went through demonic horrors, some through great personal tragedies, but all who led as a man ought to lead. Seven sober, steady and calm men. Men that were right for their time. Men who rose up above the call of duty, men who led ethically and caused seismic changes. This book is written in a simple beautiful prose, it endears you to like the imagery of the subjects and to seek to emulate them. A good read for everyone.
Infinite game – Simon Sinek
I do not know of an year I have not read from Sinek, and 2022 was no exception. Choosing to commit to something with no clear end in sight; something bigger than ourselves, something of value and very likely something that will outlive us, is what this book is about. Great leaders set up their organisations to success beyond their own stay; obsessed with advancing a cause. Money is the fuel to advance a cause, it is not a cause itself. This book is about a long game; an infinite game.
Sinek acknowledges that to embrace an infinite mindset is not easy because we are human, we stray, we are fallible, greedy, ignorant and driven by fear and ambition. The environment is also rigged against us because finite games are seductive, appealing and celebrated. But even against all these odds, he proposes how to train for an infinite mindset by embracing what he terms as a just cause; a reason for which you may suffer insurmountable setbacks and still hold on to your convictions. And because the writer is a good teacher, he shows with historical illustrations of men who resisted the temporary thrill of victory to deliver on a visceral calling, he also demonstrates the things to watch out for, the red flags that stifle infinite thinking. Moral duty has weight, things that have weight have gravity, and so the duty to bear moral responsibility should always pull us back to the infinite game; it is never about you, it is about all of us today and in the future. The theme in this book relates very closely to upstream.
When breath becomes air – Paul Kalanithi
This is a riveting story, the autography of a doctor taken young. The book attempts to answer the old age question – what makes human life meaningful even in the face of death and decay? But even before you dig in, you cannot help but admire how much this one man had achieved with his young life – he held degrees in English literature, medicine, human biology, history and philosophy of science. He was also a decorated researcher. About his achievements, this is what he had to say “I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand in earnest” Like all of us, he thought he had time and yet he had very little of it, he was taken at 37 years.
In the face of fear, we hide the truth, but not so with this author. Paul was surgeon, specialised in removing malignant tissues. It is cancer, a disease of strangeness of the esoteric that took his life, but not without a chivalrous fight. This is a spiel of a heroic spirit of responsibility amid disease and fear, the gallantry, the defiance against an imposing itinerant. Faced with the futility of thinking about the future beyond lunch, Paul would never crush to despair, his self-talk was “even if am dying, until I actually die am still living.”
Greatness is achieved after your refusal to quit the hard stuff; Paul is an ideal example. This book is about persisting despite being unable to struggle. It is a lesson that even in extreme adversity, we must find courage to persist, a reason to live. This book ties very closely with Man’s search for meaning.
Connect – David Bradford & Carole Robin
If you are seen, known, supported, and affirmed, if you are appreciated and accepted, you are enjoying an exceptional relationship. The reality is that exceptional relationships are a rare find. Crunching numbers and muddling problems may seem great and arduous (accountants and engineers say amen!) but the authors teach that there is nothing soft about a squishy touchy feely.
Strong functional and robust relationship are a necessity to a fulfilling life. Soft skills require a lot of work. Deep connections require a great deal of effort; there is no instant intimacy. This is a book that teaches you about having an open mind for continuous learning as a wonderful way to live and connect. The authors also teach that your assumptions are your windows to the world. Being in touch with your emotions and expressing them appropriately is a key determinant in leadership success.
Masters of scale – Reid Hoffman
This is an immersive book, storytelling at it best. It is definitely among the fastest reads I have had. Impartial anecdotes of entrepreneurs, about their winning strategies and about their mortifying mistakes and moments of crushing defeat. You will learn that you must not fear failure, you learn so much from failure and sometimes failure is a gift. Reid teaches that learning to unlearn is the hidden mindset for scale.
If you have ever started a business, this is a book for your type. You will feel validated, you will find commonality and a community. Among the validation is how much work you must put in before getting a dime (I mean thousands upon thousands of cold calls and pitches, there is no overnight success). And here is a cool line that I picked from the book, it should help you judge a conversation “when the quality of questions drop, the real conversation is over, the rest is just noise!”
Range – David Epstein
There is an assertion that has been doing rounds for a while now. The ten thousand hours rule. If you have not heard of it, here goes “To be an expert at anything, you must spend at least ten thousand hours in deliberate practise.” This author seeks to put head over heels on this theory. Not that he invalidates the centrality of practise to hone a skill, far be it. He pours cold water on the obsession that only specialists win and he does so with thoroughly researched success stories of athletes, career professionals and all manner of trades.
David goes further to demonstrate that accumulating experiences in different domains spurs more creative impact. As specialists dive deeper into a field, sacrificing breadth for depth, they end up seeing smaller and smaller pieces of a puzzle. (if you only have a hammer in your tool box, everything is a nail). Did you know that more patents are held by generalists? (it sounds like okay to be a jack of all trades). One of the lines that stuck with me from this book is this “the best form of learning is slow, it feels inefficient, it looks like falling behind’’ ever heard of the Chinese bamboo? That should resonate.
Think again – Adam Grant
A great honour to be at the feet of a great mentor. This book opens up with a captivating tragic story; of firemen that died fighting a fire that in the first instance they should never have bothered with. The central theme in this book is this “you must learn to unlearn in order to avoid being ignorant (and maybe save your life as well).” This book explores why we struggle with learning. We favour the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt, the truth however is that outdated facts are mental fossils that are best abandoned.
In a world beset with so many complexities in decision making, what should you do to win? Adam proposes several options, the one that stuck with me is an illustration of the most favourably rated presidents in history. They showed intellectual curiosity and openness, they were interested in hearing new views and revising their old ones. As you read this book, you will encounter a graph that always fascinates me, its peak is called Mt. Stupid. Think again is a book about introspection and the journey is indeed rewarding.
Make your bed – William McRaven
This author is a decorated military officer, a man of action. He once grabbed our attention through a video doing rounds on social media titled “make your bed.” This book is about discipline and perseverance; it is about goal setting and execution. Starting your day with one task completed creates structure. Structure creates clarity and clarity creates action.
The author asserts that determination and grit are always more important than talent, he uses his own career as an illustration. A fundamental instruction from this book is this “you are going to have a lot of failures but if you preserve and let those failures teach you and strengthen you, then you will be prepared to handle life’s toughest moments.” A man is etched through fire and friction. Struggle cannot be underrated. If you are looking for a book to encourage you on your new year resolutions, this is a good fit. This book sounds age mellowed. The advice is picked with great care, poise and wisdom. Written with a fatherly tone, you cannot fail to identify his call for order and structure in daily living.
Things my son needs to know about the world – Fredrick Backman
If you want to crack a rib, here we are. This book is a captivating storyline, maybe a letter from a father to a son. It is irresistibly humorous, and you will struggle to let go. It is witty sometimes bordering on callousness but still delivering on the core message – the struggles of being a male parent. “It is not easy to teach you what a man is, masculinity changes, that is the whole idea.”
If you have read to this point, thank you very much. I hope you have found the review valuable. I wish you a fruitful New Year 2023. Feel free to reach out to me for your accounting, audit and tax service needs.