Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Books I read (or re-read) in 2016

I use books for different reasons. Sometimes, I’m looking for help with a problem. Sometimes, I’m looking for a mentor who can guide me through a part of my life. Sometimes, I want to be amazed. Sometimes, I just want to be entertained. It’s remarkable that I can find all of the above in a few hundred pages of paper that costs less and less on Amazon and if it was up to Jeff Bezos he’d hand deliver it as soon practically feasible after ordering.

Below are a selection of books (50 or so) from all that I read last year. It is quite eclectic but I look up to someone like Sir John Templeton in this regard, he'd go to unusual sources of information to find answers. Hope you’ll find some that might interest you.


  • Paul Allen - Idea Man: The other perspective on Microsoft. I appreciated reading about his relationship with Bill Gates, going through cancer and exploring different avenues in life after founding Microsoft
  • Mark Robichaux - Cable Cowboy: No description necessary
  • Peter Barton, Larry Shames - Not Fade Away: I wrote about this book at length before. Highly recommend to read it. It also inspired me to write about my experience with cancer
  • Jon Krakauer - Into the Wild: The book upon which the movie was based on
  • Chris Hadfield - An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: Chris Hadfield's fantastic life story
  • Rich DeVos - Compassionate Capitalism: From the founder on Amway
  • Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: Funny autobiography from a great comedian
  • Gene Lees - Oscar Peterson: I grew up on Oscar Peterson’s incredible jazz piano music and listen to it to this day (little snippet of his genius here). Gene Lees did an excellent job with this biography book
  • Donald Trump - The Art of the Deal: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration -- and a very effective form of promotion”


  • Tren Griffin - Charlie Munger: From the author of the great 25iq blog
  • Max Gunther - Zurich Axioms: Why the Swiss get things right
  • Laszlo Bock - Work Rules: Insights into Google i.e. why putting bean bags and ping-pong tables into your office won't make your company like Google
  • Valerie Hansen - The Silk Road: Good background reading on the history Silk Road, especially in the context of China's expansion of the One Belt, One Road system
  • Richard Roberts - The Lion Wakes: The modern history of HSBC and the development of corporate Asia
  • Bennet Goodspeed - The Tao Jones Averages: a Guide to Whole-Brained Investing: Why the right side of the brain is just as important as the left side in investing (i.e. how to overcome the man with a hammer syndrome)
  • Matthew McCleary - Shipping Man: A good story about why in public shipping investments the public is the patsy at the imaginary poker table
  • Tim Ferriss - 4 Hour Chef
  • Tim Ferriss - 4 Hour Work Week
  • Mark Tier - Becoming Rich: Cheesy title but a surprisingly good book about the mental habits of successful investors
  • Joe Studwell - How Asia Works: Studwell writes very well about the connection of politics and business in Asia. His other book, called the Asian Godfathers is very good too
  • Jeffrey Towson - The One Hour China Book: A one hour book on China from the former right hand man of Prince Alwaleed. He is also a big Buffett fan
  • Sterling Seagrave - Lords of the Rim: One to complement Studwell’s book
  • Michael Eisner - Working Together: “The best way to have a great partner is to deserve one” – Charlie Munger. Awesome book about great partnerships such as Buffett/Munger, Bill and Melinda Gates, Grazer/Howard, Rubell/Schrager and so on
  • Peter H. Diamandis – Abundance: Why the world is not such a bad place. From the founder of Singularity University
  • Peter Maguire - Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade: A different perspective on Thailand...
  • Mohsin Hamid - How to Get Filthy Rich in Asia: It is a fiction but could well be the real life story of anyone growing up in a developing country
  • Robert Kiyosaki - Rich Dad Poor Dad: Yes, I know. But still…

Psychology, mindfulness etc

  • David Buss - Evolution of Desire: Mix of Sapiens and Emotional Intelligence
  • Nir Eyal - Hooked: Book about how to build habits in your life
  • Kapleau - Three Pillars of Zen: History and discipline of Zen Buddhism
  • Phil Jackson - Eleven Rings: Marvellous book about introducing mindfulness into professional sports (and life in general) from the legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson
  • Michael Singer - The Untethered Soul: Amazing book. Highly recommend to read it after Michael Singer's other book called the Surrender Experiment
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn - Wherever You Go There You Are: Must read every year
  • Karen Salmansohn - Instant Happy: Bad day in the markets? Flip through this book

Personal development, spirituality etc

  • Robert Greene - Art of Seduction: Written well-before The Game, in the same well researched manner as the 48 Laws of Power
  • Marcus Aurelius – Meditations: No introduction necessary I believe. One I re-read every year
  • David Schwartz - Magic of Thinking Big: Cheesy title but this book is up there with Think and Grow Rich
  • Paul Arden - It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be: A handbook of how to succeed in life by advertising guru Paul Arden. It's a short book that I try to read every year
  • Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way: It’s not why someone put that obstacle in our way but how we overcome it
  • Ryan Holiday - Ego is the Enemy: This books takes the theory behind Obstacle is the Way and presents a philosophical application to overcoming our own ego
  • Carol Dweck – Mindset: When you fail at something it doesn’t mean that the world has come to an end. How you get back up is the key to life
  • Cal Newport - So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Advice from Steve Martin
  • Cal Newport - Deep Work: Recommend to read Cal Newport’s books together
  • Elisabeth Gilbert - Big Magic: Oh yes. For anyone facing fear in expressing their creative work publicly
  • Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends and Influence People: Must read for a left brained person (aham, me)
  • Dale Carnegie - How Stop Worrying and Start Living: Dale Carnegie’s less famous but very good book
  • Don Miguel Ruiz - The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship: Not just mastery of love but life itself
  • Kamal Ravikant - Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It: Often from the greatest depths of misery a new way of life emerges. At first you might not know what to make of the title but I highly recommend this very short read. A talk from Kamal on his story here
  • Adam Braun - The Promise of a Pencil: I’ve put off reading this book until the end of the year but it is a wonderful story, especially how Adam’s upbringing in the US and the formation of Pencils of Promise was influenced by his family of Holocaust survivors and Hungarian refugees
  • Neale Donald Walsch - Conversations with God: This goes deep (not in religious or dogmatic way)
  • A Course in Miracles: A daily practice in spirituality
  • Marianne Williamson - Law of Divine Compensation: One of the best known spiritual teachers alive today. I saw her giving a talk last autumn and was very impressed then started delving into her books afterwards.
  • Oprah Winfrey - What I Know for Sure: Someone gave me this very short book and I’ve been through it a few times already. Wonderful life lessons from Oprah


  • Michael Moss - Salt, Sugar, Fat: Why does it feel so good the way those Pringles crunch, and how the food industry tricked our brains into eating it
  • Mark Sisson - The Primal Blueprint: Very good book for those exploring making a change in their diet and lifestyle. From the author of Mark's Daily Apple lifestyle blog
  • David Asprey - Bulletproof Diet: Inventor of the Bulletproof Coffee. Highly recommend the podcast
  • Alejandro Junger - Clean Gut: I've binged through 5-6 books on this topic. One of the most concise books I came across on why the standard high carb diet is unsustainable
  • Nina Teicholz - The Big Fat Surprise
  • Mark Hyman - Eat Fat, Get Thin
  • Mark Hyman - The Blood Sugar Solution

Books currently on my nightstand

  • Brian Grazer – A Curious Mind: A story about a collection of curiosity conversations
  • Ryan Holiday – Daily Stoic: Daily practice in Stoicism
  • Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference: Most amazing negotiation book. Ever
  • Phil Knight – Shoe Dog: The amazing story of Nike’s birth
  • Robert Cialdini – Pre-suasion: Follow up book to Influence
  • Tim Ferriss – Tools of Titans: If you like the podcast, you’ll like the book
  • Matthew McCleary - Viking Raid: Follow up story to The Shipping Man
  • William Irvine – A Guide to the Good Life: Continued exploration of Stoicism

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Dear diary, it's been a long time...

I made a New Year's resolution to start posting on the blog again, which until 28 January didn't happen. Fortunately Chinese New Year's came around and thought that I got a new shot at this (I'm grateful for a multi-cultural family). Posting has been very intermittent (it's a nice way of saying basically 0) in the past year mostly due to increased time allocated to private investments, angel investments/advisory and a book project (more on this below) among other things. I thought that it would be a fun way to kick off the year by having a recap on some of the lessons I learnt in 2016 (some by choice, while some by big slap on the face). Here it goes in no specific order:

Curiosity conversations
A couple of years ago I've adopted a practice from Brian Grazer, the legendary Hollywood producer, which he called "curiosity conversations". When he started out in life he made a practice of reaching out to people, not necessarily in his field, he didn't know (this was way before the internet) and engaging in a conversation about what they do. I thought that this sounded like a lot of fun so why not try it. Over the years I have been very fortunate to meet successful entrepreneurs, health coaches, nutritionist, doctors, spiritual teachers, real estate developers, investors, chefs, graphologists, authors, farmers, teachers, VCs, bankers, philanthropists, artists, photographers and on and on and on. The first few approaches and conversations were weird (I mean you talk to total strangers and tell them that you want to ask a bunch of questions and no you are not a reporter). But I learnt that people are really interested in people who are really interested in them. With that the weirdness disappeared.

Writing a book is hard
Really, really hard. Especially when it is about your own life. A few months ago I posted an article about the story of Peter Barton and my experience with cancer. The book is nearly completed and expected to be published in the next few months. More details to follow soon.

The right people and what you do, over money
ANY DAY! From experience more money without more meaning means more misery. There is a time and place for putting up with an awful situation for a while or as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it "eating a shit sandwhich" to get to where you want to go but for argument's sake if you find yourself saying to yourself "just one more bonus" then it's time to look at something else.

Attending your own wedding is a lot of fun
This is for sure. My wife and I got married late last year in Asia and having our friends and families join us was simply amazing. Someone said that the quality of a person's life can be judged by how many people show up at their funeral (at their own will). While this might sound morbid, looking around the room that evening and seeing people who traveled thousands of miles to be there left both of us feeling extremely grateful. OK, we did go to karaoke afterwards until 6am so maybe that's the real reason they joined. Mic drop!

The way to have a great partner is to deserve one
This is from Charlie Munger and once again he is right. I also read from a famous waterpolo player (yes, it's a very popular sport in Eastern Europe where I come from) that to be a great team player you should always give the pass you expect to receive.

Do less "low-quality more" and more "high-quality less"
After you are done testing and experimenting, find a few ideas and go deep. We have the option to do anything we want to but cannot do everything. The only way to achieve mastery in one subject is sticking with it (i.e. Buffett's idea of painting that one picture).

Give more
Yes! Whether it's time, money, love, smile or attention just do it. The more I did it last year the more came back to me in totally unexpected ways. Given the limited human interactions we now have on a daily basis people crave attention. If you can give a little more you'll be surprised what you'll get back. If you are at an airport, your flight gets cancelled and you are the 156th person who walks up to the poor flight attendant who has been taking the abuse of her lifetime for the past 30 mins yelling at her will not get you anywhere. But being emphatetic might get you a nicer hotel room for the night and an upgrade on the next flight (it happened to me on a trip to the US). This is not tactical or aimed at "getting anything out of it" but this is simply good for the soul. Imagine if you were the one taking the abuse, how would you like to be treated.

Books, books and more books
Over 60 books read last year. I find it amazing that if I spend $10 on a few hundred pages of paper I can learn to become a better investor, businessman, philantropist and so on. Living vicariously and not making the mistakes others did in front of me (or at least making better mistakes) is priceless.

2016 book summary post to come soon.

Billionaires and self made people in general think differently
I've been very fortunate to have a network that includes some seriously wealthy people. The large majority of them are first generation/self-made entrepreneurs. Despite what is thrown around in the media and self-help courses they don't go "all-in" from day 1 rather run what I call a series "controlled experiments". Their number 1 priority is protecting the downside and in case something sticks you can always add more to it (time, energy, money etc). The example that comes to mind is Sir Richard Branson's entry in the airline business. He didn't go and buy planes rather called up Boeing asked for lease terms then one by one he started taking people on flights worthy of an Austin Powers movie. Ultimately Virgin Airlines was a success, however even if he failed the downside would have been controlled.

Sometimes you have to let go temporarily of what you know to find yourself
For a long time I thought that public equity value investing was "my thing". At the beginning of 2016, I felt the urge to step away and explore other avenues of business and investing. I got involved in more PE, VC and angel type investing as well as managements/boards of companies. It was fun. What I think I missed all along was the human interaction in business. I got a whole new appreciation for how Buffett runs Berkshire and how much public investors underestimate the question of managements/boards (note to self: when there are emotions involved rationality goes out the window). Buffett was right when he said in the recently released "Becoming Warren Buffett" HBO documentary (btw, it is amazing) that you can understand investing from a book but you cannot understand people by reading books. So I learnt that value, patience and compounding work for me, however there is more than one way of expressing these ideas. What these qualities give me is a guiding principle. These give me a "why" but "how" I plan to apply them is really where the fun starts. This doesn't just apply to investing btw.

Trade expectations for appreciation
I heard this from Tony Robbins recently. Note to self: there is nothing wrong with expectations but before you go one step further make sure that you are grounded and appreciate what you do have. Expecting constantly without appreciating will drive you crazy.

Btw, Tony's I'm Not Your Guru documentary is a must watch. Looking forward to attending his UPW seminar in London this April.