Books I’ve been reading in 2016

Reading is important, everyone knows that. But do we make time to read like we do with sleeping and eating? Unfortunately not many of us do not. You rather binge watch House of Cards Season 4.  I haven’t even seen a single episode yet!

Here’s all the books I’ve read in 2016.

  • Mate by Tucker Max  and Geoffrey Miller– Tucker Max wrote outrageous books about getting with girls in the 00’s. He teams up with dating scientist (yes such thing exists) to add some credibility to this subject. Oddly not a lot of books on this subject. Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance is more about the online dating world.  This book is quite conversational and well researched.  In a sense I feel it’s less about meeting girls and its more a marketing book. Wear leather boots on first dates guys!  Lots of actionable tips that have worked for me.
  • Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati  – This is an Italian book from 1930’s translated into English.  It’s a tale of young solider in northern mountainous Italy assigned to military post overlooking nothing. He wonders what he’s doing with his life. Time is passing, yet he feels obligated to stay on so he can be Captain one day. Waiting for a war that may never happen. It’s a haunting read.
  • How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts.  – Adam Smith is the father of economics. He’s famous for his book “The Wealth of Nations “.  Yet people don’t realize he wrote another book before this one called Theory of Moral Sentiments.  This is a modern take on that. Adam Smith had a deep understanding of human nature.  He discusses why we shouldn’t be addicted to our modern gadgets. He also has deep thoughts on the pursuit of fame, of money, and the value of an “indifferent spectator” guiding your actions.
  • Why I Write by George Orwell –Written back in 1940. It’s a collection of essays on why he writes.  The third essay he discusses socialism, fascism and capitalism. Important subject in those days when the threat of Hitler and Nazi’s taking over England was possible. It’s funny many people still don’t know the difference between socialism  and communism!   The final essay talks about how political language is jumbled up English to persuade you murder is acceptable. You can finish it one day.
  • Creatocracy by Elizabeth Wurtzel  – This was OK.  It’s central thesis is the United States had this intellectual property clause written in the constitution that led to much of the innovations/wealth we see today in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. She’s has a weak but interesting argument that fear of poverty is needed for creativity. She thinks every great musician only comes from the States.  Axel Rose wasn’t the last real rock’n’roll star. That would be the Gallagher brothers from England. She has a amazing insight about how rival ideas affect our consumption of them.   

recent books i’ve been reading

nishant costa rica december 2014 use in blog on reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I especially did during the holiday break in Costa Rica back in December. Did I only listen to rok’n’rol surf tunes the entire time?? NO. Not me.  I took advantage of the dead time sitting on the plane and laying by the beach by READING!!

I did a lot of  fun activities too, but I wanted to make sure I finally caught up with ze books.

Reading is a great way to turn dead time to alive time. Alive time is where your learning and acting on your intended future. In my case it was taking down notes and working through the following:

The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen.

Holy shit this book is excellent. The best business book I read in 2014.  I’m holding the book in the above pic.

This is the insane untold tale of Samuel Zemurray, the self-made banana mogul from Russia who went from penniless roadside banana peddler to kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary.  It reads like a James Bond tale. It’s insider’s look at the American Dream filled with great insights on business strategy, leadership and even geopolitics.

The story hit me even harder, when I realized my hostel in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica sat right next to a banana plantation.  Costa Rica is the birthplace of United Fruit (The Google of the 50’s).

You will also have a desire to visit New Orleans after reading this.

Going to have to read the authors other books.

Obstacle is the Way By Ryan Holiday.

This book is a modern take on stoicism. It’s written by Ryan Holiday, who also runs an book email list that I’m proud to be part of. Actually many of the books I read are directly because of his recommendations, (including all the ones in this blog post except Agassi) .

This is one I will definitely go back whenever I feel I need to re-frame problems. I’ve read Seneca and Meditations, but I enjoyed his for the modern examples he used to explain out ideas.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”


Before this book, I didn’t know much about Andre Agassi, except that he was half Persian, was very good at tennis and married Brook Shields back in the 90’s.

This book caught me by surprise early on as he mentions he hated tennis growing up.  Super entertaining sports biography. Tennis is an intensely psychologically tough sport.  I love watching it, but reading about the emotional swings from a world class pro is another thing.

How he courted Steffi Graf was also super entertaining! what a playaaaah 😉

Napoleon by Paul Johnson.

I’ve read his other ones – Socrates, and Churchill. I love these quick 200 page biographies by Paul Johnson. You can tell he knows the history very well. He gives you solid primer on what makes up these epic characters of history in concise manner.  He has strong opinions, but I tend to believe him since he alludes to so many previous biographies of Napolean (He’s one of the most written about world leader in history).

By the way, Napoleon was no hero. He’s mentioned as an early predecessor to the 20th century monsters of Hitler and Stalin.

The Boys in the Boat

Before this book, I knew nothing about rowing nor did I really care for it. This beautiful book, however, made the sport seem amazingly interesting.

It’s one of those books that will get your adrenaline pumping and YOU will want to finish in 3-4 days. There is a lot of sadness in the early stages of the book. It’s about how this working class kid was abandoned by his own father at age 10.  His mother died at an early age, his step mother was quite cold to him.This part of the book might make you CRY.

Yet through all the obstacles and emotional issues, not to mention tough economic times of the 1930’s, he made  it to the University of Washington Rowing Team.

Eventually his rowing team won every championship in the United States and was chosen to be the national team to compete in the Olympics in 1936 in Berlin hosted by Hitler. Enjoyed the side Nazi storyline as well.

It’s quite motivating read. I’ve started warming up in the gym with 2000 m row since reading. go figure.


I was a little obsessed with 1% vs. 99% movement back in 2011. So I’ve naturally been a bit curious about the global super rich since then.

No idea how the author had privy to so many people from the 1%.

How did the plutocrats came to be in the first place? Some forces include: globalization, technology and also a lot hard work by these self-made people.  Raises a lot of questions and kinda of left me feeling sick. Sick in the sense that these people psychologically don’t seem to be thinking what they aren’t doing is unethical.

One nugget from Dan Ariely in this book: “when you have financial incentive to see reality in a certain way, you will see it that way, not because your bad, but because your human.”

watch your words

I often tell friends to never fuss on spending a mere 10 or 20 bucks on a book they are even 10% interested in.

Why you may ask? There could be one line of wisdom or practical info you can apply immediately to your business.

That ten dollar investment may pay for itself 10 times over. Maybe even more.

Anyways, the other day I was cleaning up my spare room where I keep my library.  I came across one solid book on communication called Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane that I had read about a year ago.

There was this one bit of consumer psychology that has stuck with me AND may stick with you! Check out the video below to find out:

happy money – book review

Hey ‘yall!

I read a cool little book 2 months ago called Happy Money.”

happy money

I finished all 160 pages on a return flight from NYC . It was handed out at this cool marketing conference called BehaviourCon, by the author himself, Michael Norton. He gave a speech on transparency as a strategy in marketing your business.

I wasn’t expecting much, but this was a fun quick read based on latest science.  You can’t argue with SCIENCE!

How to spend money in a such a way that maximizes your happiness ? Don’t buy so many material things, buy experiences! Right? Exactly. It goes into certain nuances of that wisdom.

It breaks spending happy money into 5 principles.

1. Buy experiences 

Housing and Transportation are not particularly good sources of happiness in the long term. Important to know since these are the largest material purchases most people ever make.

Working long hours to earn more money to provide your children with fancier home may represent a bad happiness trade-off.

Remarkably, length of an experience (holiday) has little impact on the pleasure people remember deriving from it.

It goes into one extreme example – spending 200,000 dollars on Virgin Galactic  6 mins flight to outer space will give you more lasting happiness than a material purchase of similar amount.

Shifting your focus can alter whether a purchase feels like an experience. Talks about this amazing restaurant – elBulli, made dining an amazing experience that resulted in 1-2 million reservation requests per year, yet just served 8,000 customers.

2. Make It a Treat

Limiting your access to everything from the McRib to Maseratis helps to reset your cheerometer. That is, knowing you can’t have access to something all the time may help you appreciate it more when you do. Think Charlie and Chocolate Factory. This is a win-win for both consumer and buyer.

There is Classic Car Club in Manhattan when you pay $11,000.00 for thirteen days of driving the clubs “high-end supercars”. Those magical thirteen days gives you more pleasure than owning one.

All else being equal, most people report they would rather have larger number of smaller pleasures, rather than a smaller number of larger pleasures. For example, prefer to get a $5 a day for five days, than $25 all on one day.

3. Buy Time

Don’t Watch TV as much, Cut Your Commute Time and Engage in more socializing with friends and family or join a art class, etc.

Taking a bike to work (even once a week) can transform our happiness commuting time into happiness inducing physical activity time.

Thinking about Time – rather than money – spurs people to engage in activities that promote well-being, like socializing and volunteering.

For example, concert goers felt more enthusiastic about the event when they thought about the time (verses money) they had spent to be there.

4. Pay Now, Consume Later

Vacationeers exhibited a bigger happiness boost in the weeks before their trip, rather than in the weeks afterward.

If you plan to “reward” your friends for helping you move with nothing more than cheap beer and pizza, they’re more likely to be satisfied with Bud Light and Dominos’ if you have them over the day after the move rather the day before.

Talk about Virgin Galactic Trip again. The anticipation toward the 6 min flight to space- the value of the trip stems in part of looking forward to it.

Research show that waiting can increase satisfaction if customers get the impression that work is being done on their behalf during the delay.

This “labour illusion” is so powerful that it leads to customers to prefer services that make them wait to services that provide the same quality immediately.

Purchases that have been paid for long ago feel free, thereby liberating people to spend their time in happier ways.

5. Invest in Others

This is what people report spending the least, though is excellent source of happiness. Try giving 5 dollars once in awhile to a friend. Not suggesting give all your money away.

Donations to a food bank elicited more activation in brain regions associated with reward when the contributions were made by choice rather than being obligatory.

Individuals who agreed with statements such as “I feel that my work makes a positive difference in other peoples lives” were less likely to experience emotional exhaustion at work. Goes into cause-marketing as well.

Other Notes:

Some research suggests chasing happiness can be counterproductive.

People who were told to try make themselves feel as happy as possible while they listened to some pretty good, but not fantastic music reported feeling less  happy than those who hadn’t been given any instructions.

Seneca: Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.

P.S. Check out these songs by two NEW bands that need to save music. Jagwar Ma and Temples! Don’t feel obligated to.

pull and stay

Been reading a book by a fellow Canadian, Unmarketing by Scott Stratten. I like to read books of people I follow on twitter and so I picked it up.

And its got some great practical gems that any business could apply today. Like you need to steal some of this, tweak and apply it today. It has some over tones with permission marketing by Seth Godin, in that spam and advertising isn’t so effective anymore, nor has it been for awhile. That’s a no brainer.

So what really peaked my interest is what you can do with people already interested in your product.

Well how about talking to them?  I don’t know why its so hard for people to just talk to another as a person, instead of selling.  Another way to put it is be informative, don’t say “how can I help you? “. That is the lamest thing you could ask someone.  I  slammed the book at this point when he mentioned this. I hate that too.  One killer example he cites are the framing companies he visits.

He mentions that when someone enters your store they’re never just browsing or killing time. Scott calls this the biggest lie in the retail world and I have to agree. They’re curious. Some are looking for discount stuff, some aren’t sure what requirements they need to buy something and worse they are then made to feel dumb for not knowing! Not a good feeling to have when leaving your store. So you cater to them individually. For example, have a separate email list for those looking for the discounts – make them feel special.  Give them examples of what size, requirements could work. Educate them so they feel smarter being at your store.  Sounds so obvious, yet tell me how often does this happen?


An example that will further illustrate this point is a recent visit to a car dealership. I’ve been driving the same car for 10 years, so I decided to do some test drives to see what I like. Unfortunately, zipcar isn’t in Calgary.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a young receptionist behind a desk. I told her my interest in driving the Cooper. She immediately picks up the phone and this message blares out this massive speaker system.  The entire showroom now knows that I need a car…how thoughtful. The sales people are only 20 steps away, but that would require her to move, which would interrupt the movie playing on her laptop. I waited for a half hour until finally I’m informed it would be another twenty minutes. I walked out.

Now imagine if she gave me a tour while I waited. Ask what my hobbies are, talk to me like a person not a walking bank account. She might realize I love music. She might then show me how awesome the stereo is in a certain car. Imagine a week later she sends me some tickets to a Strokes show.  I would be floored! I  would strongly consider only buying from that dealership, and possibly marrying her. Wouldn’t you?

See also : Why You Should Care

imagine a free gym

It’s funny after reading a book on a topic, you then seem to focus on that aspect on  everything else you see in the world. Recently, for me, its been the free concept.

Free by Chris Anderson gives an awesome explanation of economics and marketing in 19th and 20th century and then about how companies can make money from things that are free.

One of the cool ideas he mentions in passing is a free gym chain in Denmark. Imagine if a gym charged you for not showing up? Otherwise was free as long as you went every day. Punishes you for not being healthy, and basically rewards by not paying at all! Sounds like something from realm of behavioural economics (well guess what? it is!). Chris Anderson explains the psychology behind it:

When you go every week, you feel great about yourself and the gym. But eventually you’ll get busy and miss a week, you’ll pay, but you’ll blame yourself alone. Unlike the usual situation where you pay for a gym you’re not going to, your instinct is not to cancel your membership; instead it’s to redouble your commitment.

What else can you do?  You charge  for the strength training classes,  since the kind of people who go everyday love being healthy, so probably be willing to pay to make stronger muscles! Put a juice bar in there to also monetize on the freemium you used to market to these gym loving fanatics.

If they fail to make the 2 times a week schedule (got busy) you ding them 60 dollars for that month. So in reality if say you missed just 2-3 times a year, you would still be paying less than a full year membership! Why? Because  most gyms today actually make money on you NOT using it. The pricing depends on the particular costs of setting up the gym, etc, but this is the gist of this radical idea.

less is more!!

be like water

Less is more. Less is More.

Its getting quite scary how this philosophy rings true in so many facets of life. I was flipping through the awesome Paradox of Choice recently, which basically explains we feel worse when given too many choices.

For example, when given free samples of jams in a store, 30% of people exposed to 6 jams bought a jar.  Only 3% of people exposed to 24 jams bought a jar.

Sounds totally count intuitive doesn’t it?  The fact that some choice is good doesn’t mean that more choice is better. More options you entertain makes every new option seem less and less attractive. There is beauty in good enough, instead of only seeking the best!  (people who constantly change tv channels are really annoying).

So why not make it easier for the customer and reduce the choices?

This would make a better shopping experience for the customer, because the decisions would require less effort, it would lessen making mistakes, and reduce this massive regret after buying it!

Making less, also allows you to change fast, market to the consumer again, show them you want to change, then change it and present to them again. Faster. Its about creating customers who want to pay for their solutions. And wow them with an amazing product that they want.

Of course how to convey why its so special is important, but a part of that relates to exclusivity. That feeling that there isn’t anywhere else you can find that product or service is very powerful.

This is also why small has the advantage in creating amazing niche products. Big Companies are too bureaucratic to act fast and just give the most choice (generic products).  Apple is the prime example of a small company that can make profits that dwarf the 20th century ‘factory business.