Christmas Reading

Good reads for the holiday season.

Christmas Reading

At Serious we spend a lot of time reading & we have collected a list of eight of the books we read in 2015 that made the biggest impact on us.

In no particular order……… 





Bargaining with the Devil - When to Negotiate, When to Fight - Robert Mnookin

This book by the head of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation is unsurprisingly case-study based.  The studies range from the historical and political (Hitler, Churchill and Mandela ) to the world of business (IBM and Fujitsu) and the more personal realms of divorce and inheritance.  The studies illustrate Mnookin’s key message that negotiation should always be considered as an option.  Specifically, we should always “systematically compare the expected costs and benefits” of every conflict; this point is frequently missed when emotions are raging and/or moral judgments have been made. I am afraid I still haven’t figured out the correct pronunciation of the author’s name.

A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)  - Barbara Oakley

Engineering Professor Barbara Oakley has written this simple to understand book on how to improve your ability to learn.  Using evidence based research she highlights techniques such as chunking, tackling difficult problems first and letting your diffuse thinking work on difficult problems overnight.  This is a valuable addition to your library especially if you are studying or have children at school.

Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend - Barbara Oakley 

The second book in this list from Barbara Oakley deals with very different subject matter but displays all of her polymath abilities, diverse life experience and considerable humour.  Oakley draws on research from brain imaging to explore the relationship of genes, emotions & behavior in so called “Machiavellian” individuals.  She weaves the science with the stories of well-known sociopaths such as Slobodan Milosevic and Mao Zedong and with the personal story of his (Mao’s) own sister.  What is most useful is that the book highlights how to identify similar individuals in our own lives and thereby avoid suffering at their hands or harbouring any unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of them changing.

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success - Matthew Syed

I first came across ex Table Tennis world champion and now Times columnist, Syed in 2011 with his excellent first book “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”.  He broadens his scope here to cover the subject of failure across almost the entire gamut of human activity including the fields of politics, engineering, education, medicine and the law.  Syed covers how we should change the way we view failure and most importantly how we must systematically use evidence to extract and implement learnings to avoid continually repeating errors.


Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies- César Hidalgo

This is one of the most ambitious books I have ever read and it deserves to be widely read.  It is essentially a (very credible) attempt to integrate Physics, Math’s, Information & Communications Theory and Economics in order to explain human development!

Hidalgo has an easy style which makes the sometimes complicated subject matter very accessible.  That said he admits to having reordered the chapter flow several times as he wrote the book and I am not sure there is a right answer as the field he is covering is so huge.  Notwithstanding this he has managed to synthesize several previously unrelated fields and a large body of cutting-edge work into what will develop further into a unified theory of human growth.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference & why it matters - Richard Rumelt

This 2011 book is now my answer whenever I am asked what book I recommend on strategy and before that I could never answer the question with a single book alone.   Good Strategy Bad Strategy is an essential read for all involved in any kind of long term thinking or planning (whether it is called Strategy or not).  One of his key messages is that most things that are called “strategy” are not!  Rumelt details how to run the gamut of “fluff”, muddled thinking, goal obsession and other common strategy traps.  His prescription is essentially ”less is more”, with a simple three-step process that has a strong (and very necessary focus) on execution.

Zero to One – Peter Thiel.

This book made it to #1 on the NYT books list. Peter was one of the founders of Paypal and is a good buddy of Elon Musk. He is worth several billion dollars and in his book he evangelizes how one should go about crating something from nothing. Clearly Peter is an INTP and this is an INTP perspective of how you should create and run a company.  While I can understand his perspective I am not sure I agree with all he has to say. Luck plays no part in his success (according to him) and of course “to the victor goes the spoils” he gets to write about history.

Superforcasting: The art and science of prediction – Philip E Tetlock and Dan Gardner

Along the lines of Thinking Fast Thinking Slow, this book chronicles the activities of Superforecasters, a group of people whose ability to make accurate predictions far surpasses (statistically) that of professional forecasters, futurologists and intelligence agencies. What do these people have in common? They understand math especially statistics, they make frequent changes to their predictions based on timely information, and they consider both sides of the probability that is what is the likelihood of something occurring and what is the likelihood of it not occurring.  A good read for anyone in the field of decision making and planning.   

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