Books

My Book Picks from 2020

When the sun rose on January 1st, I was thrilled to take on 2020. Sarah and I were in a beautiful beach in Brazil cheering champagne alongside my family just before hopping in a plane back to Canada to start a new chapter in our lives.

We were officially moving to Toronto.

It was an exciting first 3 months, exploring a new city and building new relationships in what was shaping up to be an epic year… until March 11th came. That’s when I left the office for the last time unsure of what lied ahead, and the 2020 that we came to know officially began.

Oftentimes the books I’m reading follow my present state of mind. I try to line up about 20 books that I intend to read each year ahead of time, but then unexpected things happen that scratch my curiosity about different topics I had never thought about. Below is a snapshot of where my head was at throughout 2020:

And so, I’d like to share with you my Top 5 books from above that helped shape my thinking going into 2021.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

This was an extraordinary piece of writing by one of the biography industry’s very best – Walter Isaacson. I did not have this book on my reading list before the end of the year, but while I was in Brazil in 2019 I visited a Leonardo da Vinci exposition (which I talked about on this post) that completely blew my mind.

Aside from having been one of history’s most brilliant painters, Leonardo embodied the definition of a true renaissance man. He invented military weapons, water systems and flying machines, he was a sculptor, he was an exceptional writer, he studied the human body and drew the most detailed anatomy pictures of his time, and the list goes on.

This book was an inspiration to me as I’ve always identified myself as a “generalist”. After seeing how the mind of one of history’s greatest generalists functioned I was finally ready to proudly wear my polymath hat.

Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities by Vaclav Smil

This was recommended by Bill Gates in his 2019 yearly book roundup, but it does come with a word of caution: it’s an extremely technical book, heavy in academic language and mathematical detail.

But Vaclav, known for his deep knowledge in policy and energy systems in his work at the University of Winnipeg, does such an incredible job in explaining how things grow and the patterns in which they do that somehow this 600 page unit, which contains an additional 100 pages purely devoted to sources, becomes a page-turner.

If you’re curious to understand how the laws of thermodynamics explain the economic activity we see today and how to predict the future of growth trajectories (of any type: cells, crops, cities, societies, and more), then this book is for you. I can say that this was one of the most intellectually challenging books I’ve ever read, and because of that it was also the most rewarding one to dive into.

The Canadian Regime: An Introduction to Parliamentary Government in Canada (6th Edition) by Patrick Malcolmson & Richard Myers

I began reading this book in the week leading up to Canada Day. There was a lot of talk about “cancelling” Canada Day due to its complicated history with Native Americans and policies passed over the years, and I realized how little I knew about how my government worked.

Patrick and Richard do a fantastic job in explaining the foundational theory of our parliamentary democracy and how it differs from other systems (such as federal republics, autocracies, communist states, etc.), and they also figured out how to explain our political conventions in a way that will finally make it “click”.

This book is updated after each election to reflect the latest political realities in the government, and is a must read for anyone looking to be a more active member of Canadian society or for someone just trying to navigate our presently charged political reality.

Principles by Ray Dalio

In 2019 I worked as an analyst and took on projects in which I manipulated big data to make more educated forecasts/decisions in business. I quickly learned that when seeking to propose change that impacts large swaths of people, aligning on a set of principles will make it a lot easier to roll out future plans you may have in mind. As long as the ideas ladder up to the core principles of the project, it will oftentimes be safe to try.

So, what better person to talk about drafting principles than hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio. He talks through every single one of this personal principles in detail and how they helped him in business and in life.

Many of the culture building tactics Dalio used at Bridgewater Associates have been implemented across every industry in the globe due to their success in the world’s largest hedge fund firm. On top of his many business successes, Ray also provides a great framework of thinking for anyone navigating complexity at work or at home.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

I began reading this book after a friend of mine recommended me to watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It was an eye opening docudrama that shone light into a number of philosophical and pragmatic issues with social media that sadly most people aren’t even aware of. After questioning my own relationship with Facebook and Google, this was the perfect book to help me determine where I stood in this so called dilemma.

Understanding privacy in the 21st century has become a far more complex exercise due to how our minds have been wired to interpret it over the previous century. The iPhone was only launched 13 years ago (2007) and so most people still aren’t well versed in the bits & pixels emanating from their personal pocket computers.

The idea that someone wouldn’t care about their privacy because “they don’t have anything to hide” no longer holds up – with the emergence of social media interweaving itself in every aspect of our lives we have become vulnerable to manipulation; so much so that we have recently seen a wave of populist movements threaten democracies across the world.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to confidently take control of their data, which effectively has become our social currency in the 21st century world.

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I hope I was able to be of help in picking a couple books for your 2021 reading list. Please drop me a line with what you’re planning to read in the new year in the comment section!

To see what I’m reading year-round, follow me on Goodreads here.

PPA

You can find my 2019 Book Picks here.

My Top 5 Books From 2019

Reading has always brought me tremendous joy. It’s an activity in which I get to jump in and out of reality & imagination, sharpening my tools while also trying them out in my day to day life.

In 2018 I set out to read 100 books by 2023. Here’s a list of the top 5 books I read in 2019 that had an enormous impact on my way of thinking.

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1.      Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello

Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who gave many lectures about spirituality over the course of his life. This book is a compilation of the key lessons he gave around the topic of awareness and in these pages lie many “aha-moments”. This is a book to be read once a year to reset your mind.

We are often trapped in ways of thinking without knowing and this book will open your eyes to that. De Mello doesn’t preach any religion in it, rather he uses reason and philosophy to help us understand important mental traps that hold us back in life.

“When you said, ‘I was a success’, you were in error; you were plunged into darkness. You identified yourself with success. The same thing when you said, ‘I am a failure, a lawyer, a businessman’. You know what’s going to happen to you if you identify yourself with these things. You’re going to cling to them, you’re going to be worried that they may fall apart, and that’s where your suffering comes from.”

2.      The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

“If we mortals are to uphold our end of the human-computer symbiosis, if we are to retain a role as the creative partners of our machines, we must continue to nurture the wellsprings of our imagination and originality and humanity.”

Similarly to his book “Steve Jobs”, Walter Isaacson left me inspired and speechless about the dynamics of human collaboration and limitless thinking that has led us to our present day.

It’s no easy feat to build a personal computer, or a software, or a encyclopedia 85-times the size of Britannica, or much less a search engine that emulates human-ranking thinking. But these were all contributions from many of the great companies we know today – Apple, Microsoft, Wikipedia and Google.

Despite the endless patent wars we see in the news, purists believe that none of these ideas “belong” to anyone. These were all expansions on a single idea originated 150 years ago by Ada Lovelace. The idea that humans and machines one day would not be put against each other, but rather collaborate to achieve unimagined feats.

3.      Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

“Power is concerned with what has already happened; strength with what has yet to happen. Power is finite in amount. Strength cannot be measured, because it is an opening and not a closing act. Power refers to the freedom persons have within limits, strength to the freedom persons have with limits”

James P. Carse is a professor of history and literature of religion at New York University. In this book Carse eloquently explains all the games hidden in our every day lives.

There are two types of games: finite and infinite games. “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.” From this simple deduction, Carse dissects all the elements that make each game unique and relevant within our lives.

When I first read this book I had 78 highlighted passages… there are way too many golden nuggets hidden in these pages, and very much like Awareness, this is a book that must be read at least once a year.

4.      Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with this book. It is written in the form of a letter to his son about the symbolism and struggles of being an African American in the United States.

This is an absolute masterpiece that will open your eyes to how racism has shaped the history of America and continues to be a problem today. What I thought I understood was a tremendous understatement to what Coates so brilliantly writes to his son.

“We should seek not a world where the black and white race live in harmony, but a world in which the terms black and white have no real political meaning.”

This is required reading for anyone looking to understand how racism truly manifests itself around us. It is the first step towards true empathy in a world so divided by race, religion and place of birth.

5.      Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

This is one of the most complete books about the evolution of human societies that I’ve ever read. It has also won a Pulitzer Prize, Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California’s Gold Medal.

Diamond does an incredible job explaining how and why certain societies advanced ahead of others by digging deep into their abilities to raise large mammals, grow certain foods, leverage their climate and landmass to migrate and trade with other groups as well as their exposure to animal diseases that helped them develop antibodies against certain viruses and bacteria.

This all-encompassing chronicle shines light into how the geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern societies we see today and answers a lot of questions that you may have never thought of.

Bonus: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley & David Kelley

The brothers Tom Kelley (partner at IDEO) and David Kelley (founder of IDEO and of the Stanford d.school) are two of the most influential masterminds in the design thinking world. In this book they reflect on the power of creativity and how all of us can unleash our creative powers to solve problems around us with the user at the epicenter of it.

Design thinking has become a powerful way of thinking to finding innovative solutions to the hard problems of today and of the future. It all revolves around 2 key elements: empathy and prototyping.

This is a powerful book that will help even the most seasoned creative thinkers to cause long lasting impact on the solutions to the problems they are working on today and on the innovations of tomorrow.

What do you have in your reading list for 2020?

PPA