Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – Scorecasting

Scorecasting: The Hidden Influence Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won
by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, 2011

I read this book a few years ago, but I recently re-“read” it on tape on a holiday drive. The content is interesting and the conclusions are cool and worth knowing, but I was struck with how much filler content is included in reading it a second time. You want to yell at the writers, “Just get to the point” sometimes. Also, don’t listen to this on CD, as the reader reads the entirety of the book’s tables, which is frustrating and silly. You’ll skim the tables in the actual book. Overall, a good book to read quickly, especially if you don’t know why there is a home-field advantage in sports.

Book Review – The Power Brokers

The Power Brokers: The Struggle to Shape and Control the Electric Power Industry
by Jeremiah D. Lambert, 2015

“The history of the electric power industry in the United States, created by entrepreneurs, is also the history of the exercise of political power.” (Conclusion, pg 259)

I recommend this book for those that are getting started in the energy field and need a bit of a deep dive into the context and history of political influence in electricity generation. Granted, that’s a small subset of the population. But I’m in that subset! So I thought the book was good. It is very specialized, though. It covers 7 “power brokers” in the history of electricity: Sam Insull, David Lilienthal, Donal Hodel and others at Bonneville Power, Paul Joskow, Ken Lay, Amory Lovins, and Jim Rogers. The writing takes some getting used to, but I found myself reading the later chapters at a faster pace.

Book Review – End the Fed

End the Fed
by Ron Paul, 2009

Ron Paul spent a large portion of his time in Congress fighting for sound money principles. Our current system of “fiat money” encourages excessive government spending and then inflation to wash away debt. Those who are fiscally responsible in the current era tend to have to bail out the irresponsible. This book was written right after the bailouts of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (it’s a TARP!) and carries some of the fervor of the Occupy Wall Street protests. I do wish we had a more fiscally conservative government, something neither the liberals nor conservatives seem to be offering. This book is a good overview of the economic, moral, and libertarian impacts of our current monetary policy and describes a reasonable alternative to the status quo.

I listened to the CD recording of this book, which was good.

Book Review – Superforecasting

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, 2015

superforecasting

Great book describing insights from The Good Judgment Project, which was/is a forecasting tournament sponsored by the intelligence community. Describes how to be a superforecaster and avoid common pitfalls that ensnare “hedgehog” pundits with overconfidence. The ten “commandments” at the end of the book summarize the book well, though I would suggest reading the whole thing:
1. Triage. Focus on questions where your hard work is likely to pay off.
2. Break seemingly intractable problems into tractable sub-problems. Look up Enrico Fermi if you don’t know him.
3. Strike the right balance between inside and outside views.
4. Strike the right balance between under- and overreacting to evidence.
5. Look for the clashing causal forces at work in each problem.
6. Strive to distinguish as many degrees of doubt as the problem permits but no more.
7. Strike the right balance between under- and overconfidence, between prudence and decisiveness.
8. Look for the errors behind your mistakes but beware of rearview-mirror hindsight biases.
9. Bring out the best in others and let others bring out the best in you.
10. Master the error-balancing bicycle. Like all other known forms of expertise, superforecasting is the product of deep, deliberative practice.
(11. Don’t treat commandments as commandments.)

Book Review – Hooked

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
by Nir Eyal, 2014

hooked

Quick read about getting users invested and addicted to your product, with a focus on apps. Walks you through four steps to build and strengthen the relationship: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment. Draws on behavioral research in places and gives decent examples from current apps (circa 2014).

Book Review – The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control
by Walter Mischel, 2014

the-marshmallow-test

The marshmallow test was an experiment that checked whether kids would hold out eating a visible treat in order to get two of the treat after a wait. Turns out that this self-control was highly predictive of success in life. This book is by the architect of the original experiment and discusses ways to increase self-control to improve outcomes in life. Pairs well with Willpower.

The audiobook version is read by Alan Alda! Which makes everything better.

Book Review – Zero to One

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
by Peter Thiel, with Blake Masters, 2014

zero-to-one

Good short book about the importance of businesses being actual improvements over what came before. Thiel is focused on technology, and his advice is not generalizable to all industries. He says that any new product should be a 10x improvement over the previous offering in order to gain acceptance. 10x easier to use, cheaper, better, and/or faster. Anything less won’t overcome the switching costs of moving to the new product.

I really liked the discussion of society’s optimism/pessimism and beliefs about whether the future is determinate or indeterminate. The US used to be deterministic optimists. We knew the future would be better than today and specific projects were undertaken to bring about this improvement. Somewhere along the lines, the determinate became indeterminate in the US. People still thought the future would be better than the present, but they weren’t really sure how. In a determinate world, many of the brightest minds become inventors, scientists, and engineers striving to create the future. In an indeterminate world (like today in the US), many of the brightest minds become attorneys, consultants, and bankers in order to profit from a better world without really creating it themselves. This is part of the reason why many of the technology thought leaders (Elon Musk comes to mind) seem so eccentric nowadays. They often have a view of the future that they want to create, and this clashes with an indeterminate populace that is not really sure how to move progress forward. At least we’re not pessimists like much of the rest of the world.

Book Review- TED Talks

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
by Chris Anderson, 2016

ted-talks

While the book is geared toward TED-style talks, it does have useful pieces of advice for any presenter. You just have to see a bit past the inflated discussion of presentation motivation. Not every talk’s topic is so all-important/all-consuming as to be your life’s work and worthy of a national audience. I am giving four talks at an upcoming conference. While I think they’re all awesome, I don’t make the mistake of believing each is life-altering.

I will use some of the advice from this book in future posts. I do suggest academic presenters read it; again, take it with a grain of salt, though. Here are some quick quotes from the book:
-“Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners.”
-From Sir Ken Robinson: “There’s an old formula for writing essays that says a good essay answers three questions: What? So what? Now what? [My talks are] a bit like that.”
-“To make an impact, there has to be a human connection. You can give the most brilliant talk, with crystal-clear explanations and laser-sharp logic, but if you don’t first connect with the audience, it won’t land.”
-From Salman Khan: “Be yourself. The worst talks are the ones where someone is trying to be someone they aren’t. If you are generally goofy, then be goofy. If you are emotional, then be emotional. The one exception to that is if you are arrogant and self-centered. Then you should definitely pretend to be someone else.”
-“Many speakers use their slides as memory nudges… What you mustn’t do, of course, is to use PowerPoint as a full outline of your talk and deliver a series of text-crammed slides. That’s awful. But if you have elegant images to accompany each key step of your talk, this approach can work very well, provided that you’ve thought about each transition. The images act as terrific memory nudges, though you may still need to carry a card with additional notes.”

There’s a useful appendix at the back of the book that contains all the TED talks that the author, who organizes the TED movement, references. You could watch those for inspiration.