(Originally published on 30/03/2020)
These are the 5 non-fiction books that I learnt the most from in 2019 and in this article, I’m going to explain why you should pick them up as your next read. As I mentioned in my previous post, I made a personal quest to dive deeper into the topics of personal development and personal finance in 2019. Initially when I started out it was quite challenging to be fully engaged in non-fiction books, I was always worried that I would be overwhelmed by dry topics. However, it didn’t seem to be the case as I breezed through most of the books without ever a hint of boredom.
So, here are my “official reviews” on the books and I believe they all have something valuable to offer and they would be certainly worth your time if you do decide to pick them up. Nonetheless, I do hope you find my take on these books useful.
The books are listed in no particular order as they all have something unique and valuable to offer.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This book is written by Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky on the topic of behavioral science, cognitive biases and prospect theory. The book’s primary focus is on the two trains of thoughts that we rely heavily on a regular basis, System 1 being a fast and reactive one whereas System 2 is slow and deliberative.
The book delves deeper into how our brains function when making decisions and how they can be prone to errors and misjudgments, especially when you end up using System 1 to make snap judgments that would in fact require System 2 and not being aware of the substitution.
“This is the essence of heuristic: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”
I have had many incidents where I made bad decisions on a whim based on the facts that were available to me at the time, which has gotten me in a lot of trouble at work and sometimes even in my own personal life. This can be very problematic when you are confident of your decision-making ability without realizing the flaws in the process of making the wrong decisions.
Inevitably, we all fall victim to our laziness and make bad decisions from time to time; however, we can improve our decision-making ability by being more self-aware of our shortcomings which will allow us to take a step back and analyze our mistakes a bit more critically and re-configure ourselves not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
I was introduced to Malcom Gladwell by a student of mine during one of our conversations on books we’ve read. In this book, Gladwell explained how some ideas and events trigger a huge following by drawing convincing examples from historical events such as the rise of popularity and sales of Hush Puppies in the mid-1990s and a sudden drop in crime rate in New York city after 1990.
I was sucked in right away because of Gladwell’s brilliant storytelling and his convincing evidence on human behavioral sciences. Yes, I’m a sucker for well-written narratives even if they sound slightly far-fetched! Gladwell has a reputation among academics for oversimplifying some theories on human psychology and making them too dumb-down to fit into his narratives. To that I say, always take what you see with a grain of salt!
In the first chapter “The Law of the Few”, Gladwell revealed the three main factors that are required to trigger such serendipitous events and they are: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.
The second chapter deals with “The Stickiness Factor” which explains how a subtle but significant change in presentation can make a big difference to the interaction and participation of viewers, Gladwell uses the popularity of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clue as examples in the book.
The third and final chapter touches on “The Power of Context” which explains the dramatic drop in crime rate in New York city after 1990, which the author attributes to Broken Windows Theory that was introduced by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982.
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
In the later part of 2018, I got really interested in investing when I stumbled upon a YouTube video on personal finance which covers some basic knowledge on how to save up money and invest in the stock market. Back then I had little to no knowledge about how the stock market works and the whole thing just seemed really intimidating to me. So, I did what any responsible adult would do and started consuming all the information that I could find on investing both on the internet and in the library till I finally stumbled upon this book.
I’m still a beginner in the world of investment and I have only put in a small portion of my savings in buying ETFs. So, I do not qualify to tell anyone which stock to buy, but Ben Graham can indeed give you all the best advice you would need on picking the right stocks based on his famous value investing.
You don’t have to buy into my words. Even the world’s greatest investor a.k.a Warren Buffett, who also happens to be Graham’s disciple calls this the bible of investing. So, you can imagine how important this book is if you’re planning to start your investment endeavor.
Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
I’ve always been intrigued by how some countries like Singapore, the country that I’m currently residing in, becomes one of the richest countries in the world whereas my home country Myanmar, although it’s blessed with abundance in both natural and human resources, is still struggling to make its way out of third world countries list. Lo and behold I got all the questions answered in this book, and they are incredibly eye opening.
However, my main takeaway from this book are the economic concepts of Inclusive institutions and Extractive institutions that enable the governments to act in a certain way. In short, inclusive institutions encourage people to move and trade freely without much involvement from the central government. This also allows people to grow wealthy and lead a fulfilling life while also having the freedom to elect the government through democratic system, which means the government is responsible to keep people safe and happy if it wants to stay in power, which means the government is responsible to keep people safe and happy if it wants to stay in power.
You can see the extractive institutions in practice in countries such as North Korea and most African countries. In extractive institutions, the government and a handful of elites are in charge of making both economic and political decisions with no checks and balances. You can imagine how such government can be more corrupt compared to democratic government. That is not to say that democratic governments are all saints as the authors provide some historical events on how people can still become corrupt even under inclusive institutions.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
One of the best ways to learn about life is by studying the great men of history. This book depicts a remarkable journey of Abraham Lincoln starting from a child who lost his mother at a very young age to becoming a circuit lawyer by reading and self-studying day and night, then to finally become one of the most powerful and influential leaders in world history.
Goodwin did an incredible job depicting the lives of Lincoln and his cabinet which includes Henry Seward as Secretary of State, Salmon Chase as Secretary of Treasury and Edward Bates as Attorney General. The rivalry dynamic between him and his cabinet is something we can all learn a great deal of leadership lessons from. There are some gripping stories of Lincoln successfully bringing the broken/divided nation through the civil war and reuniting the Southern States back into the Union.
You can feel Lincoln’s unwavering effort to bring slavery to an end against all odds with the primary support of his closest advisor Henry Seward. Lincoln’s capacity to understand and empathize the inward feelings and intentions of others are displayed throughout his career.
“Lincoln always believed, he later said, that ‘if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’”
I do have to admit that this is a really long book, and it will definitely require some time commitment; however, Goodwin’s writing is really intriguing and will keep you riveted throughout.
Well, that was quite a list eh! Congrats if you made it all the way down here and I’m incredibly humble that you decided to spend your precious time on this post. Please let me know what you think of my list and if you have any recommendations for me.
As always, stay curious and keep learning!
I love this post👏👏. Hope to get more tips 😀
Thanks for sharing these. I find it so fascinating how the books we read can shape our views, opinions and overall us as people. So impactful!