A Long Nautical and Historical Adventure in Reading

It started almost two years ago.  I was staying at my sisters place in Gulf Breeze, Florida. The house is right on the water, on the Pensacola Bay side, not on the Gulf of Mexico side.

I needed something to read.  I found this book:

Empire of Blue Water

by Stephan Talty.


Since I was in Florida, on the water (as you should be), and the book was about the famous pirate Capt. Henry Morgan, I decided to give it a read.  And the cover had a sword on it, and that’s cool.

Well, turns out I knew nothing of Capt. Morgan.  He wasn’t a pirate.  He was a privateer.  I had no idea what a privateer was.  A privateer does basically the same thing as a pirate, but they have the blessings, or a license, I think the technical term is a “charter”, from a government.  In Capt. Morgan’s case, he had a charter from England.

This true story takes place around the 1650’s, during a 70 or so years of the height of piracy in the Caribbean.

This was during the height of Spain’s domination of the New World.  England had little to no influence in the valuable New World.  England turned to the privateers to “slow down” Spain’s economic engine.  By “slow down” I mean England used privateers like Morgan to steal ships, valuables, and to ransack cities and forts, important to the Spanish Crown.

Capt. Morgan is the most famous privateer (and pirate) of all time.  This book goes in depth in his adventures.  It’s gruesome and fascinating.

The major hub for all this privateer activity back then was Port Royal, Jamaica.  Port Royal was the richest city in the world.  It was home all the pirates and they’d blow all their loot on whores, drinking, and gambling.  It was a crazy place.

Then, not long after Capt. Morgan passed away, and the English had a treaty with Spain, and banned privateering, the city experience an epic earthquake and sunk into the sea.

I’m not exaggerating.  This really happened.  It’s a crazy story.  You should read this book.

Over The Edge of The World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

by Laurence Bergreen

over the edge of the world

After the book about pirates, I read this book about Magellan.  Holy shit this is a crazy story.

This book is where I learned that the Pope in Italy decided to split the world between Portugal and Spain.  This jackass thought that he had the power to do this.  The crazy thing is, most of the world (the Western world) believed him.  There was some treaty declaring this to be so, so that Spain and Portugal wouldn’t keep warring with each other.

This decision has a dramatic impact on history and the world.  This decision left a huge mark on places as far away as China and Japan, and would impact the world in odd ways for hundreds of years.

Magellan’s whole life was caught up in this nonsense.  He was Portuguese sailor and wanted to sail around the world, I think it was specifically to find a quicker route to the Spice Islands.  He wanted to do this for his home, Portugal, but the king got pissed off at Magellan for some reason and he fled the country.

Magellan fled to the hated rival Spain.  He eventually convinced the Spanish King to let him sail for the Spice Islands.  This is kind of amazing because the whole time they didn’t trust him and thought he was a spy for Portugal.

Because Spain backed Magellan against all odds, Magellan was super grateful and fiercely loyal to the Spanish Crown.  Of course this would come back to bite him, because Spain thought he was a traitor.

Magellan sailed into unknown waters and eventually stumbled into South America.  They were lost.  It was 1519 and technology sucked.  The sailors were getting scurvy and dying and scared.  Most of the crew were Spanish, and they mutinied on the Portuguese enemy, who was the leader of the expedition.

These pussies that mutinied fled back to Spain and talked shit about Magellan, said he was a Portuguese spy, and hated God, etc.  They made up a bunch of bullshit, and of course the Spanish Crown believed these losers.  Then the Spanish Crown went after Magellan’s family.

The whole time Magellan is far away and insanely loyal to the Spanish Crown.  Then the expedition crosses through South America and into the great unknown, the Pacific Ocean.

This is where they are really fucked.

It turns out scurvy was real problem at sea back in the day.  No one knew why you got.  And it was weird cause some people on the boat didn’t get it.  Survey is a nutrition problem and can be dealt with by consuming fruit, which you don’t have on a sea voyage with no refrigeration.

Magellan didn’t get scurvy because he kept a jar of jam or jelly made of fruit.  He thought his immunity had something do with religion.

Anyway… the miraculous made it to some islands and were the first (known) Western explorers to sail across the Pacific.

Magellan went crazy and decided to convert all the islanders he found to Christianity.  It was during this process, on one of the islands that he got killed.  After going most of the way around the world.

A handful of the crew on just one of the boats made it back to Portugal and the rest is history.

It’s a crazy true story.  You should read this book.

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship

by Robert Kurson

nautical adventure book

Do you see the trend here?  Another nautical sea adventure, and this time were back on the topic of pirates.

This adventure takes place in modern times.  This is a story of highly skilled divers that are searching for a pirate ship, which turns out to be one of the hardest artifacts to find.

In particular, these guys are looking for the pirate Bannister’s ship.  He was a legend.  He left England in charge of this beautiful ship, got to the Caribbean, and decided to turn pirate.  A very rare story.

And this book documents how hard it was to find something like this.

This book helped fill in the details to me, of what life was like hundreds of years ago, and at sea.

A book about treasure hunters, diving in the sea, to find long lost pirate ships.  It’s a fun read.


by James Clavell

epic novel about japan

I have a Kindle.  My Kindle is connected to my brother-in-law’s (Keith) Amazon account where there are hundreds of books.  Keith is a smart dude that I respect, so when I see books that I know nothing about, but might be interesting, I’ll start reading them, because they are already “approved” as being good, because they’re in Keith’s library.

I was looking for a book to read and I saw the cover image above.  I saw the big sword and the word Shogun, so I opened the book and started reading.

Unlike the other books I’ve mention, Shogun is a novel.

I was confused at first because the book starts out in 1580 on an English ship that is lost sailing in the Pacific ocean.  It seemed more like the Magellan book than a novel about Shoguns.

And the main character was a white dude from England.  I was confused.

And everyone is getting scurvy again.  So it seemed legit.

The boat gets in a bad storm and luckily they get shipwrecked.  The shipwreck is great because at least the crew is finally on land.  Once the sun rises the next day, the story starts to make sense because the crew finds themselves in Japan and they can’t understand anyone, and the local’s think the Englishman are crazy.

Immediately heads start getting chopped off and folks start getting murdered.

The first head to get chopped off was a Japanese peasant, who didn’t act respectful enough to the local samurai.

For hundreds and maybe thousands of years Japan had a feudal system.  Where your birth placed you on that hierarchy controlled every aspect of your life and how you were to behave.

A samurai was a high class person and those below had to be respectful or the samurai had the right to kill the person.

There was lots of killing going on.

I could tell that the author of the book knew history.  And the author knew the history of the Japanese culture.  The book discusses the importance of how the world is divided up between Spain and Portugal, that I first learned about in the Magellan book.

The Japanese are incredulous when they find out that some magician in a far away land (the Pope), decided that the Land of the Gods (Japan) was property of Spain or Portugal (I can’t remember which one).

The author, Clavell, goes in to detail on the customs of Japan during that time.  It’s easy to learn because the main character, the ship captain John Blackthorne, has to learn the Japanese ways or he and his crew will perish.

Clavell’s ability to tell a story is superb.  He makes you feel like you are really in the characters thoughts.  One of the main characters is a woman, and it seemed like Clavell really nailed the woman’s thoughts.

I’ve wondered how a man can get place himself in a woman’s head and articulate those thoughts and feelings in a way that is authentic, at least to me.  And the same is true with a female author being able to pull off the same feat with a male character.

I learned the most about the Japanese culture from the female lead character.  She was a samurai.  She was also very smart and tasked with teaching Blackthorne, to become more Japanese.

This book is long.  It is epic storytelling.  I could write thousands of words about my thoughts on this book.  But I won’t do that here.

What’s important is the awesomeness of this book.  It is the second best novel I’ve read after the Count of Monte Cristo.

While I recommend you read this book, it will help if you have knowledge of the history of that time period.  This is how I got lucky.  I read this book after I’d already read the 3 history books I mentioned.

I think, having that background knowledge, made for a much better experience once I got around to reading Shogun.


Gai-Jin book by James Clavell

After reading Shogun, I learned that James Clavell wrote a whole series of books called the Asian Saga.  It took him 31 years to write the series.

Gai-Jin was the last book in the series he wrote (1993), but it’s the third book in the internal chronology of the series.  It’s also as close as Clavell gets to a sequel to Shogun, so I read this book next.

Gai-Jin takes place 200 plus years after Shogun.  It takes place in 1800’s Japan, right at the beginning of Japan being opened up to the world for trade.

It still has all the Japanese mindset stuff, and sex and violence like Shogun.  Not quite as good as Shogun, but I still think it’s really good.

This is how crazy Gai-Jin is: I never figured out who the main character was.  Didn’t figure out who the main bad guy was either.  Never read a book quite like this.  Still loved it.

Now do I recommend you read Shogun first, then Gai-Jin?  Probably not.

I’d stick to the internal chronology of the series starting with Shogun, then Tai-Pan, then Gai-Jin.

Tai Pan

by James Clavell


The last book I’ve read was Tai-Pan.  It was excellent.  The Tai Pan is the name given to the top guy/owner of the top trading firm or “house”.

In this story the top trading firm is “The Noble House” and the owner/founder is named Dirk Straun who is The Tai-Pan.  This is a very honorable position and everyone wants it and everyone wants to take him down.

This story is about the founding of Hong Kong.  It continues the nautical theme, as all these books do, with the trading firm sailing all over the world trading goods in and out of China.

The main trading goods are tea and opium.

Again, reading the non-fiction books I mentioned earlier, especially the Magellan book, helped me to understand the times that this story takes place.

This is another epic story with a hell of an ending.

Each one of Clavell’s books has a crazy ending.  The build up in excitement he is able to create in the reader is incredible.  I usually have anxiety when I get to the end of his books.  He’s that good.

A theme I’ve noticed is there are so many story lines going on, that when you get to the end, they don’t all tie up.  The important ones do, but I’m left wondering about all the other smaller characters.

So that’s it.  Every book here had a nautical theme.  I learned a lot.  Before this I’d never heard of James Clavell or the Asian Saga.  Now I will read all the books (King Rat is next).

I didn’t know about Magallen, that is a crazy story and I’m glad I know that now.  The stories of Henry Morgan were fascinating and I didn’t know about that either.  And I didn’t know the difference between a privateer and a pirate (no much).

I recommend every book on this list and if you have any questions about them, just let me know.

Year End Book Review for my homies.


Hello Wonderful People of the Internet!

How are you? Did you survive all the holiday treats? I did not. All I have been eating is cake and chocolate and sugar…

But I have also been working. Not much but a little. I promised you, my dear reader, that I’d publish my year end book review… ON TIME for once. And here it is…

The Serpent of Venice – Christopher Moore – fiction

Christopher Moore is a great literary re-cycler. He takes old stories, puts his comedic spin on it, and repackages it as a new story. Serpent is a blend of Othello and The Merchant of Venice and Moore mixes in some of his favorite characters from his fantastic book Fool. I enjoy Moore’s style. The dialogue in his books is always great.

Moore also has the rare talent of comedic writing. It’s hard to be funny in writing. It’s even more difficult to switch from comedy to drama, then back again. This is something Moore does well. I enjoyed this book.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice – Bill Browder – non

I took an unexpected detour into the subject of modern Russia. This book by Bill Browder, tells the fascinating story of how a guy from the Midwest United States goes on to become the largest foreign investor in Russia.

With great risks come great rewards. At first, Browder’s Hermitage Fund made huge gains investing during the time that Russia’s economy took its first steps from communism to capitalism. Then Browder found himself on the wrong side of Putin’s graces. Going against Putin is not a fun endeavor. Browder had to shut down his fund. He was banned from Russia. Innocent people were killed.

Putin is a gangster and this is one of the many tales that illuminate the power of the man who controls Russia

Once Upon A Time In Russia – Ben Mezrich – non

Mezrich tells the story of the rise and fall of Boris Berezovsky, and a few of the other Russian Oligarchs. When Russia changed from communism to capitalism, the vast majority of the country’s wealth fell into the hands of a few people, the Oligarchs. Life was swell for Berezovsky during the Yeltsin years when he had the government on his side.

Once Putin came to power, Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider, found himself on the outside looking in. Then he started publicly criticizing Putin. Needless to say, that’s not a smart move. Berezovsky quickly fell from power, fortune, and had to flee Russia.

This is another sad story that portrays the wildness following the Soviet Union’s collapse and another example of someone going against Putin—and losing.

Born To Run – Christopher McDougall – non

This book is fantastic. It read more like a novel than a non-fiction. McDougall tells the story of the Tarahumara of Northern Mexico, the world’s greatest endurance runners. The Tarahumara live in the Copper Canyons which are similar to the Grand Canyon. The terrain is rugged, vast, and unforgiving. The Tarahumara thrive there and run vast distances as a part of daily life.

McDougall also weaves in many stories of endurance running throughout the ages. He argues that humans were born to run. That is what makes us so unique. He convinced me.

My favorite line is “We don’t stop running because we get old. We get old because we stop running.”

This is a wonderful book.

The Martian – Andy Weir – fiction

The story of how The Martian was written is almost as interesting as the book itself. Weir went to great lengths to get the science of the book correct. You can listen to James Altucher’s podcast with Weir where they discuss this in more detail. In short, he’d post chapters of the book on his website and his readers would correct him if he messed up a particular physics problem… or whatever.

So, here’s the idea: Astronaut gets stranded on Mars through unfortunate events. He uses his smarts to stay alive. Then all of Earth bands together to try and save stranded astronaut.

Weir writing style is entertaining and informative. His main character uses comedy and sarcasm in between the drama of staying alive. This is a wonderful and original story.

Of A Happy Life – Seneca – non

This was my first time reading Seneca. I wouldn’t even call Of A Happy Life a book. It’s more of an essay. It had zero impact on me. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. I can’t really remember much about it. I guess there is reason why, when people talk about Seneca, they usually mention his other works.

When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chodron – non

A friend of mine, a guy a greatly respect, sort of a mentor, recommended this book to me. At the time he was going through tremendous adversity. He’s a smart and determined guy. I knew he’d handle the adversity and be a better person for it.

My friend is also a good person to talk to about books. He’s the one that gave me one of my favorite books Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. When he mentions books he likes I pay attention.

I found When Things Fall Apart to be kinda slow and wishy washy. There were some good parts about making meditation accessible for the average person, which I liked. But in general I didn’t get much out of the book.

Sometimes the way a book impacts you depends a lot on where you are in your life, at the moment you read it. Maybe that’s why this book didn’t do much for me.

Fooled By Randomness – Nassim Taleb – non

I’ve been meaning to read some of Taleb’s work for a while. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a few years and I listened to the podcast he did with James Altucher.

Fooled By Randomness has some brilliant ideas. Some of which I couldn’t follow because I’m not smart enough. Some of them I got. It gave me a new way of looking at things. You can navigate life safely if you understand how to deal with probabilities. Most people don’t. It wasn’t the easiest to read. The writing doesn’t flow like a great novel. It’s more academic.

I liked the book and I recommend it. I’ll be reading more of Taleb’s work. If you’re interested in finance you need to read this book. If not, then it’s ok if you don’t, but you probably should.

The Ultimate Sales Letter – Dan Kennedy – non

I think it’s important for everyone to have some level of sales skills. We all need to be our own mini-brands. It makes sense doesn’t it? Of course it does. Corporations are downsizing and no should work for the government. So we all need to learn how to work for ourselves—in whatever capacity we can find.

And to work for yourself you need to learn to sell. Dan Kennedy will teach you how. Listen to what this guy has to say. He is one of the smartest marketers around. Kennedy breaks it down in an easy to understand language. He spent his entire career educating people on marketing and sales.

You’ll learn a lot from reading this book. But, you’ll learn a lot from reading any of Kennedy’s books. So pick up the first one you can find.

Market Wizards – Jack Schwager – non

If you study finance for more than three days, you will here at least five people suggest that you read Market Wizards. Market Wizards is a series of interviews Schwager conducts with the top financial traders of the day. Which is sometime in the late 1980’s.

Some of the interviews are dry and kinda boring. But if you like investing and finance you’ll love ‘em. A few of the interviews are deep and insightful. The ideas in these few interviews are applicable to many areas of life outside of finance.

It’s a thick book, but I blew threw it faster than I thought I would. I also read it just after I read Fooled By Randomness and I began to think that maybe, many of these successful traders were simply lucky.

The Ultimate Marketing Plan – Dan Kennedy – non

Remember how I told you a little higher on the page how you can learn a lot from Dan Kennedy? Yes? Good.

Well, I learned a lot from reading The Ultimate Sales Letter so I decided to read some more Kennedy. This book is also jam-packed with useful information. I recommend reading books like this over going to business school.

You’ll get a better education and a real ROI for Kennedy’s ideas. I got the book, when I signed up for his offer at the end of The Ultimate Sales Letter. It only cost $20 and I got a ton of useful information and this book. I recommend it if you ever have aspirations of working for yourself.

And so…

That wraps up my Reading List for 2015. I think I read about 25 books or so. I hope to do better next year.

I attempted to read The Essays of Montaigne. I’m still working on it. It’s slow going. I’ll let you know if I finish it.

And naturally, I want to know what you think. Have you read any of the books on my Reading List? If so what did you think? Did you read a book that rocked your world? If so, what was it?

I’m always looking for that book that will make me shake when I read it.

Have a Happy New Year. And thanks for reading my blog!

Semi-Annual Book Report… 3 months too late.


Procrastination has always kicked my ass.  This book review should have been written at the beginning of summer not the end.  Here’s what I’ve been reading so far this year:

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr – fiction

This book takes place in Europe in World War II. The work follows the two young children, a blind girl in France and an albino hair orphan in Germany. I thought it was a beautiful book. The description and imagery is vivid and real. It is a sad story but then again most WWII stories are. The author made it seem like it was real. I was impressed and definitely recommend this one.

Deep Simplicity: Finding Order in Chaos and Complexity – John Gribbin – nonfiction

This book is deep. Did you know that there were laws that dictate everything from the way coastlines are formed to the pattern of traffic jams? Me neither. If you did you are probably an astrophysicist like the author. I did not understand everything that was going on in this book, but I got the main points. The author did a good job of making it accessible to average folks like me. Here’s a friendly warning: Put you thinking cap on for this one. This book is also a Charlie Munger recommendation. I liked it too, check it out.

How We Decide – Jonah Lehrer – nonfiction

This book was recommended to me by Pat who is wicked smart. I told him I read Deep Simplicity. He said if I liked that then I’d probably like How We Decide. Pat was correct. How We Decide is fascinating. We all know humans are not rational, right? It turns out we need the emotional side of our brain to make the best decisions. We need our emotions to cut through the noise so we can act. This book challenged my thinking. It’s well written and full of good information. Check it out.

Lamb – Christopher Moore – fiction

One of the brilliant things about Moore is that he is one of the few writers that can be funny and tell a good story. This book is about Biff, Jesus’ childhood friend. I stayed away from this book for years because of the religious aspect. That was a mistake. Moore did a great job. What if Jesus was a ninja, a yoga master, and could make himself invisible? What if he had a best friend that he forced to sleep with a bunch of prostitutes so that he could learn about sex, because he was celibate? What if?

My Life In Advertising – Claude Hopkins – non

If you want to learn about business or marketing read this book and Hopkin’s Scientific Advertising. If you cross a value investor with a marketing wizard you’d get Claude Hopkins. I also like his short sentences. The short but powerful sentences reminded me of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Because of that I think this is a good read even if you don’t care about learning marketing.

Outrageous Advertising – Bill Glazer – non

If you’re trying to something, learn from someone who has accomplished what you’re trying to learn. Bill Glazer learned effective marketing. His main point is You Have To Get Noticed! Otherwise no one will care. This book is full of good info, but if you’re not trying to learn marketing they are other books to read.

Siddhartha – Herman Hesse – fiction

In looking for balance in my life I’m spending time thinking about Spirituality. My buddy Jason recommended this book. This is a short but powerful story of a man who spends his whole life searching for inner peace. He goes through successes and failures. He learns all his life. He learns to listen. And that is the key. Check this book out.

“Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish.”

Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson – non

I’ve never cared about Steve Jobs. I didn’t have an opinion. I was never an Apple hater or lover. I found myself fascinated with the story and playing with my ipad with renewed interest while reading this book. Isaacson did a great job portraying a complex and difficult man. Steve Jobs was a little crazy but not stupid. He was influenced tech, movies, and music. He was the definition of one who is creative. I will also be reading Isaacson’s book on Ben Franklin. Well done.

The Black Count – Tom Reiss – non

First read The Count of Monte Cristo. Then and only then can you read this book. I admire the amount of research Reiss did to uncover this fascinating story. General Alex Dumas’ mother was a black slave from Haiti and his father was a white French degenerate aristocrat. His father sold Alex’s siblings and his mother, but kept Alex and brought him to France. He rose to become one of the most powerful leaders of the French military. Napoleon didn’t like him. Which was not good for General Dumas. A sad and powerful story of the man that would leave a mythical impression on his young son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas. I highly recommend this book—but—don’t read it until AFTER you’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas – fiction

Holy Smokes! This is one of the best books I have ever read. Do not leave this earth without reading this book. As a guy that struggles to put words together I was blown away by the skill of Alexandre Dumas. The book builds pressure in a way that will make you itch and fill with anxiety. The story is amazing. At times I was crying, and shaking, and angry. Just read the damn thing. It’s epic. It’s beautiful. A masterpiece.

The Survivors Club – Ben Sherwood – non

I read this book because I was wondering if it could provide any insights into my avalanche experience. It did. Thing is everyone joins the Survivors Club at some point. If you read this book you might get a few pointers that will help when life gets tough. There are some crazy stories. This women fell out of a jetliner that exploded from a bomb. She fell 30,000 feet. And lived. I’m not joking. The last part of the book was lame because you’re supposed to take an assessment on the website and then read and see what type of survivor traits you have. The website doesn’t work. Don’t even bother reading the assessment part. Other than that I liked it.

The War Of Art – Steven Pressfield – non

This is a very popular book and one of the most recommended books around. For good reason. It is a short and accessible read. Pressfield cuts through the crap and forces you to see you hang-ups and get to work. Read this book.

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”

The Wild Truth – Carine McCandless – non

Don’t read this book until you read Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. Carine McCandless is Chris’ sister. She unloads all the family dirt that lay hidden. The story of her brother’s death had a massive impact on her. Over the years she saw people take advantage of the story and wanted to set the record straight. Lots of messed up stuff happened in her family, so she’s normal like the rest of us.  Parts of the story made me cringe.  If you liked Into The Wild you’ll probably like to read this part of the story.

In Search of Captain Zero – Alan Weisbecker – non

This is a book about surfing. Weisbecker drives his truck from California, well he starts in New York, then down south all the way to Costa Rica. He follows the coast all the while looking for his friend he hasn’t seen in 6 years. He stays camped on a beach until the surf dies down, then moves on south to the next camp site. It’s introspective and at times slow. Weisbecker put words together that were above my comprehension level. His description of surfing though, was top notch. That was his strength, describing the waves and Big Blue. This book was ok.

Bank On Yourself – Pamela Yellen – non

This book is about setting up a dividend paying whole life insurance policy to use as your own bank. This concept has been called Bank On Yourself, Income For Life, and the most popular Infinite Banking Concept. I set one of these up for myself and wanted to learn more. If you’re interested in looking for an alternative saving vehicle—give this book a read—if not, read something else.

The Authentic Swing – Steven Pressfield

This is another of Pressfield’s short but powerful books. In The Authentic Swing he tells the story of how he wrote the novel The Legend of Bagger Vance which was his first novel. He finally broke through after trying and failing for decades. I love how Pressfield explains his thoughts and techniques. His writing style is deceptively simple. It seems like he’s in the room talking to me. That’s when you know your reading good writing. Pressfield believes in putting in work, in having your butt in the chair and trying, and listening to the Muse. I always learn something from his writing. I liked this book. I recommend it even if you haven’t read The Legend of Bagger Vance or seen the movie. I hadn’t experienced either and I still enjoyed this book.

Pressfield gave this book away for free over the summer to subscribers to his emails. I recommend these emails as well, they’re always well written and you get to learn something at the same time.

These are the books I’ve read so far this year. I liked them, hopefully you will like one of them. If not, no worries!

Of course you can purchase these books. I am a ski bum at heart and often try to find the cheap way around, I get most of my books for free from the library.

A friend recently told me that you can get some books for FREE on iBooks. Mostly old books that are “Public Domain.” I just picked up some Descartes, Plato, Montaigne, Proust, and Seneca for free. Haven’t read them yet though. Bruce is happy.

Hopefully these books will bring you something extra than just time spent reading. They all had an effect on me that made me contemplate and want to share them.

If you’ve read one of these books and liked it, let me know at brucepaulson1@gmail.com. And if you have a book that made a huge impact on you let me know about it.

When is it OK to bail on a book?

Raise the white flag on crappy books.

Raise the white flag on crappy books.

Let me tell you a story.

I was attracted to this girl that read a lot of books. Unfortunately she would not sleep with me. Something about her already having a boyfriend and not being interested anyway. We had great conversations about books. She recommended that I read some of Hemingway’s stuff. She thought his writing might suit my style. I’d never read any Hemingway.

Guess what? I picked up the first Hemingway book I could find. It was Across The River and Into the Trees. It was the first book of his that I found in the library. I read the entire book. It was brutal.

The book is about this older dude in his 50’s, who is dying. He spends the whole book talking about this young girl that he is obsessed with , who’s maybe 18. He keeps calling her “My love” and stuff like that. Older dude wanting to bone younger chick. The whole book was about that.

I suffered through and finished the book because it was my first exposure to Hemingway. I wanted to read a work by one of the greatest American authors. I told my friend, a retired winemaker who was finishing his own memoir, about my first Hemingway experience. He said, “Yeah, that was when he was older and that’s not one of his best works.”

What I learned is that I should have bailed on the book.

Not every book is great. Your time is limited. If you cast a wide net and read books on a variety of topics; if you read books that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone, you will find yourself reading a book that just doesn’t work for you.

If you find yourself struggling forward, like trudging up a hill in deep sand, then consider putting the book down. If it feels like torture, it probably is.

Sometimes the best action is to surrender. Give up. Cut your losses and bail on crappy books.

Years later I tried reading another novel by one of the great American authors. I picked up Tender Is The Night because I enjoyed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. What is it about authors writing entire books about an older dude wanting to bone 18 year old chicks? Tender Is The Night reminded me too much of Across The River and Into the Trees.

This time I cut my losses and bailed on the book one third of the way in. It was the right decision.

Both of those books were written by great American authors and maybe both are regarded as great novels. But they weren’t great for me.

There are too many good books out there to waste your time reading something that makes your brain feel like mud.

The problem is that some books are slow to get started, then pick up speed, and explode at the end. These are some of the most rewarding books to read.

So how do you know when to bail on a book or to keep reading when it feels like you’re getting bogged down? It boils down to experience and intuition.

When I was less experienced I’d plow through tortuous, uninteresting books because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. As I dealt with this problem more I got a better feeling of the situation. I understood myself better. I knew when a book just wasn’t right for me, and I’d put the book down.

Experience will teach you when to let go. The important thing to realize is it’s ok to give up on a book, even if the book is considered a classic or written by a great author.

What about Hemingway? Did I miss out on one of the greatest authors of all time? No, I went back and read The Old Man and The Sea. Now that is a good book.

And the girl, what about the girl? I dunno. I moved 3000 miles away and she stopped answering the phone when I would call. Ouch.

2014 A Powerful Year Of Book Reading. The Review.


For the last 3 years I’d made the same New Year’s resolution: to read more books in this year than I’d ever done before. After 2 years of this I realized I had a problem. I wasn’t keeping track of how many books I’d read.

That changed with the help of My List. I wrote down all the books I’d read as soon as I finished them in 2014 and I highlighted the entry in blue. If my records are correct, and I’m not sure they are, I read a total of 19 books in 2014.

That’s weak, not even a book every 2 weeks. I need to do better. In 2015 I will beat that number.

By keeping a list you can notice trends. The biggest trend in my reading this year was reading more fiction.

I stayed away from fiction for several years. I wanted to spend my reading time learning, so I read non-fiction books about business and history.

In 2014 I finished my first draft of my book about recovering from the avalanche and self-pity. It took 2 years for me to write and it is utter garbage. By struggling to write my own book I gained an appreciation for high quality fiction writers. The skills it takes to write dialogue that is worth reading are immense. Currently I’m obsessed with Michael Crichton’s books.

Sleep is important to me.

In researching how to get better sleep I came upon the technique of reading fiction for an hour before bed. Reading fiction turns off the problem solving part of the brain that produces stress and anxiety. You have to suspend your disbelief with fiction. To me this is relaxing and a good way to prepare for sleep. I got this idea from Tim Ferriss.

Enough of the blabber! What did I read? What was the best? What was the rest? In no particular order here it is.

A Case Of Need by Michael Crichton:
This is a work of fiction that Crichton wrote when he was 26 years old under the pen name of Jeffery Hudson. Crichton’s Harvard Medical School training is obvious here. The book is about a botched illegal abortion that leads to the death of Karen Randall, the daughter of a prominent Boston surgeon. It’s a touchy and technical subject and Crichton educates the reader with medical and legal terms so that even a reader that knows nothing of medicine or law can follow along easily.

This is what I love about Crichton’s writing, his ability to explain highly complex medical, legal, and scientific language so that the reader can not only follow along with the story, but also learn something.

A doctor is jailed for the botched abortion. His friend, the protagonist and fellow doctor, decides to become a detective and figure out what really happened. There are many twists and turns in the book and well as some gnarly medical procedures. If you like to learn something while reading fiction you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a page turner.

The Swerve: How The World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt:

I often learn more from reading a book about a great book than by reading the book itself. That was the case with The Swerve which is about the history of the book On The Nature Of Things (De Rerum Natura) by Lucretius. On The Nature Of Things was written 2000 years ago. A few hundred years after it was written the book was lost, or burned, or melted away in time. Humanity lost Lucretius’ book. Which was sad because among other things Lucretius deduced the existence of atoms about 2000 years before modern scientists could prove their existence.

The Swerve tells the story of a papal scribe named Poggio Bracciolini who found one of the last copies in existence of On The Nature Of Things rotting away in a German monastery and brought it back into the world. This was in the 15th century when the papal court in Rome claimed that it ruled the entire world.

Lucretius’ ideas that the universe functions without the aid of gods or if there were gods they couldn’t care less about humans, that life was made up of atoms and void, and that seeking pleasure was a good thing, did not sit well with the ruling elite. So what did the ruling elite do? Lots of nasty things to anyone that agreed with these ideas, including burning folks alive for simple thought crimes.

The Swerve gives you the background, the history, and context that is the story of the finding and reintroducing into the world On The Nature Of Things. After reading The Swerve I had to read On The Nature Of Things and man, am I glad I read The Swerve first.
On The Nature Of Things is a didactic poem that explains philosophy and it is confusing as fuck. It was super hard for me to read. I’m glad I read The Swerve first otherwise I wouldn’t have known what was going on in On The Nature Of Things. I recommend you read them both.

And Thank You Stephen Greenblatt for writing this book!

Beyond The Bear by Dan Bigley:

This book made me feel like a whining, full of self pity, piece of shit. It was very difficult for me to read. I had to skip over a page or two. This book is graphic. Dan Bigley went fishing for salmon in Alaska one day and got attacked by a brown bear. The bear ate his face. He goes into detail. Dan gets lucky and survives and has a lot of surgeries. He loses both eyes. It’s gnarly. My friend knows Dan and let me borrow his copy of this book.

Because of my own trauma and facial reconstruction, this was a very hard book for me to read. It’s a good book though. If you ever feel sorry for yourself, read this book, it’ll vaporize your feelings of self pity. Life is unfair to everyone in its own weird way. It’s right there with books like Touching The Void in terms of human carnage.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I struggle with the Great American Novel, but I keep trying to read them.  The last G.A.N. I tried to read was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night.  I gave up on that one half way through because it was too much like a boring teenage love story.

The Sun Also Rises is way better than Tender Is The Night.  And I read the entire book.  And I liked it more or less. But I still had no real idea what the hell was going on in the book.

It’s about a group of American expats in Paris that like to go to cafes and eat and drink. And drink a lot. Then they all take a trip to Spain to watch the bullfights.  It’s a bunch of dudes and one girl and everyone wants to bone her.  She takes a few of them up on it.

What I liked most about the book was the sentences.  They were short and direct.  If sentences can be beautiful, then this book is chock full of beautiful short sentences.  As for a story… I don’t have a clue.  It’s weird.

My favorite quote from the book. “How did you go bankrupt?  Two ways, gradually and then suddenly.”

Letters From A Self Made Merchant To His Son by George Horace Lorimer

This was my favorite book that I read in 2014. Like every great business book it’s not just about business, it’s about human psychology, which essentially never changes. This is a timeless classic.

Damn! In doing a simple search on this book I found out that this is a work of fiction. I’m a fool. And it’s not the first time.

I thought this was a real collection of letters that a father had written to his son over the years. Apparently it’s the work of fiction. Well, ok… it’s still awesome and I love this book. I highly recommend it. There are all sorts of good stuff packed in this book that is just as applicable today as it was when the book was published in 1901.

This book has a ton of great quotes. One of my favorites is this: “Give fools the first word and women the last.” You can’t go wrong there.

Read this book. It’s awesome.

And it no order at all here’s the other books I’ve read in 2014:

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore – fiction. Death has a job like everyone else. Good Fun.  Moore has become one of my go to fiction authors.
American Gods by Neil Gaimen – fiction. A fantasy novel about a strong dude named Shadow that goes on adventures all over the American Heartland.
Arrian’s Discourses Of Epictetus translated by W.A. Oldfather. This was research I was doing on Epictetus, the slave/philosopher whose ideas helped me recover from devastation. Difficult to read but worth it.
Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. This book ignited a hilarious shouting match on CNBC Lewis takes a super boring topic, high frequency trading, and makes it interesting. The guy is a master. I have to read any book he writes.
The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe – fiction. Wolfe has a style that’s instantly recognizable as his own. The 60’s, a bus, a boatload of LSD, California,rock n’ roll, and… Kesey!
Predators Ball by Connie Bruck. The rise and fall of junk bond king Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham.
Tree Of Smoke by Denis Johnson – fiction. A novel about the Vietnam War. It’s ok but I like his book of short stories Jesus Son much better.
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get to work. I liked it.
What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars by Jim Paul. A successful commodities trader holds onto a trade until it bankrupts him. This books dissects the psychology of our decision making process. Timeless.
When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein. Business book about the blowup of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.
Wine And War by Don & Petie Kladstrup. The Nazis weren’t completely crazy, the liked the finest French wines. Tales of the lengths the French went to, to protect their wine from the Nazis. If you like wine, you’ll probably enjoy this quick and easy read.
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton – fiction. Someone found this finished novel on Crichton’s computer after he passed away. Apparently he started writing it in the 1980’s. A fictional story involving real historical figures. I thought it was great.

The Socratic Dialogues by Plato. I’ll write more on this book later.

That’s it for 2014!

What about you? Did you read anything fascinating in 2014? Let me know at brucepaulson1@gmail.com. I’m always looking for another great book.

A Simple And Powerful Way To Learn


I have a hard time remembering much about my childhood. Maybe I’ve taken too many knocks to the head or maybe I started trying various chemicals too early in life or maybe a combination of the two. Whatever. I find it amazing that other people can remember so many details of their youth many decades later. My memories are vague.

I think when I was a 10 or 12 years old I read a series of books called The Hardy Boys. If I remember I think these brothers were young detectives and went around solving Scooby-Doo type crimes. I read several of those books I think. I was fascinated with the myth of King Arthur. I read several of those books. Somehow I was introduced to the Dune series and read three or four of those books. As a kid all I read was fiction.

In high school I was turned on to Hunter S. Thompson. I started with the book every Hunter fan started with, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. I was hooked. Hunter S. Thompson became my hero. I read all his other books. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on with the books about politics.

As a fan of the Grateful Dead I started reading autobiographies about the Dead and other rock ‘n roll bands from the 60’s. These books complimented my Hunter S. Thompson bent.

Then I hit a patch were I stopped reading. I look back on this period and I wonder why. It comes down to this: I couldn’t find anything interesting to read.

I read only one book in college. It was the textbook for an early American literature class. I don’t remember the name of the book, only the subject. The stories were written by the European missionaries “settling” the new continent and they were all horror stories. They detailed the atrocities of the Europeans as they invaded and pillaged the Native Americans of the New World. The stories were raw, authentic, and uncomfortable to read. That Early American Literature class was the only class in the 4 years I went to college that was worth my time.

I spent every moment away from the classroom I could climbing and hiking in the mountains. I forgot about reading. Without realizing what was happening I was stagnating. No reading meant no exposure to new ideas and learning. This went on for over a decade. A lost decade.

In the summer of 2009 I packed my car full of shit and left North Carolina headed to Napa Valley, California. I was terrified. The economy was in the shitter. I was moving to a place far away with no job and no place to stay. I experienced my first mid-life crisis.

I read 3 books the first week I left North Carolina. Reading calmed me down, it helped to sooth my fears. I wanted to read more. I ran into my same old problem, I couldn’t find anything interesting to read. I was desperate and scared, I had to keep reading. I kept looking for books.

I’ve always been drawn to adventure. It’s been the story of my life. I had a short climbing career in college and I missed the sport. I started looking in the library for books on climbing. I hit the jackpot. The history of climbing is filled with stories of adventure, terror, and interesting people. I spent months reading about the greatest climbers and adventures in history.

Then I began to wear out the genre. I was having my old problem of not finding interesting books to read. Out of nowhere the solution appeared. Or maybe out of somewhere the solution appeared. I don’t know or I can’t remember. Maybe someone told me to do this or maybe I stumbled upon this myself.


That was the solution to my lifelong problem. I needed to make a list of books to read. I realized in all the awesome climbing books I read, the climbers would reference books that inspired them to go climb big mountains. I started writing these books down. Once I finished the book I was reading, I went to my list and ordered the next book. Voila! I solved my lifelong problem with a simple list.

The original List was a piece of legal paper. This wasn’t the best idea. I kept misplacing the darn thing. I’d search all over, find it, order a book, and cross it off the List once I was done reading it. The paper would get old and messy and I’d have to transfer the List to a new piece of paper.

This was my best technique for years. I became frustrated with the piece of paper and its shortcomings. One day I realized I lived in the computer age with Excel spreadsheets and electricity and stuff. It hit me, put the list on an Excel spreadsheet! What a simple idea.
I’m lazy and slow. A year later I forced myself to stop thinking and start doing. I sat down and made a simple spreadsheet with the title and the author’s name. My List was growing faster than I could read and mark the titles off.

I was so impressed with my List I began telling all my friends about it. Most didn’t think my List was as awesome as I did. Some liked the idea and would ask me to recommend books. I could name a few of the books I’d read but I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t remember all the awesome books I’d read. Once I read the books I marked them off the List and later, deleted them off the spreadsheet.

The List evolved.

I began to keep the books I’d finished reading on the list. I color coded the titles. If I read the book the color was red. If I hadn’t, the color was black. Simple.

Now if anyone asks for a recommendation I can go to my list and give them several titles. The list continues to evolve. I have added genres such as fiction, non-fiction, business, philosophy, and adventure. I can sort the list in several different ways.

Sometimes I just stare at the list. It gives me pride. I know, there are dangers to pride. I’m writing this whole post because I have a lot of pride about my List. But I think there are many more benefits to keeping a reading list than there are negatives.


It costs nothing but a little time and thought. You can tweak your list however you want. The effort is worth it, your reading list will make you a smarter human being.

There is power in a reading list. A reading list can show you patterns of your interests that you didn’t realize you had. It is a store of knowledge, like your brain, or a bank.

You can look back at your list and you will be looking back on your life. You will realize you spent a good portion of your life reading. This is time you can be proud off, this is time well spent. You will be able to add value to others if you are asked to recommend books because you will have a deep well to choose from.

If you ever need a recommendation for a good book let me know, I have a List.

Be Long Term Greedy


I’m reading Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys. The book is about the world of High Frequency Trading (HFT) which basically amounts to computers that front run a customer’s stock market orders costing the customer more money than if HFT didn’t exist. HFT is basically just another tax on the investor.

The topic is dreadfully boring. It’s all about bits, and bots, fiber optics, routers, and microseconds. I find myself blasting through this book, unable to put it down. Only Michael Lewis could make a topic this boring—-fascinating. He uses the word “fuck” a lot in this book. More so than I remember in any of his previous books. The guy is a master.

When the hero, Brad Katsuyama, approaches investors trying to raise money to start a stock exchange that eliminates the HFT tax, he runs into a problem. The potential investors want to know why he left his cushy job on Wall Street, where he was making millions of dollars, to risk it all starting a business to make the market “fair”. Why was he trying to be Robin Hood? The investors didn’t trust him.

Brad Katsuyama told both himself and investors that the market had become “grotesquely unjust” and that if no one else would fix it then he had to. His potential investors weren’t buying it. He figured out a new way to pitch his idea, when he realized that if his idea worked then he could potentially make a lot of money. He told his investors, “We are long-term greedy.” They instantly liked this response.

Long-Term Greedy. I love it. Focus on yourself, on what you have. Focus on what’s in your wallet, not what’s in someone else’s wallet. Try to increase what you have. What’s the best way to do that? To create value for other people.

If you create bunch of value for others then plenty will come back to you.

This is long-term greedy. This is healthy thinking. It’s in your best long term interest to make things better for other people. Brad Katsuyama wanted to create a fair stock exchange. He’ll turn out ok. Henry Ford made cars available to the masses. No more horses! He did ok. Steve Jobs made powerful computers, ipods, and iphones. People love Apple products. He did ok. My orthodontist Dr. Cooke, fixes crooked teeth and provides the best customer service available. Her patients love her work and have the smiles to prove it. And I can’t stop recommending her and talking about what a great experience I had. She does ok.

When you are long term greedy and you focus on how to better yourself, you’ll come to the conclusion that you need to create value for other people. When you focus on making life better or more convenient, easier, or whatever for other people you are engaging in healthy thinking.

Your energies flow to everyone else.

When I lived my life submerged in self pity, I focused on what I didn’t have. I focused on what other people had and how I didn’t measure up. I felt sorry for myself. I couldn’t get any traction in life because I was only thinking about myself. It’s funny how thinking only about yourself isn’t in your best interests. It’s when you focus on what you can do to improve the world around you that life becomes rewarding.

And you will get great satisfaction when you get feedback from the people that benefit from your services.

It is a simple yet powerful change of thinking that gets dramatic results. It seems counter-intuitive: to get what you what, be long term greedy, make life awesome for other people.

Don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself.


What do you do with your manuscript, painting, or piece of creative work once it is finished? The next step is really hard. Once you’ve finished you have to show your work and get feedback. When I started writing, I never thought I would finish, so I never thought about the next step. Once I finished the first draft I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to show it to anyone because I thought it sucked and I was embarrassed not only by what I wrote, but also the quality of the writing. I’m not a writer and it showed in my work.

But when you’re done, you’re done. I could have keep rewriting the thing over and over and claimed that it was never done. I could have made improvements on the manuscript for years, but even if I’d known what I was doing it would have made the story only marginally better. Plus, I was glad the first draft was done.

It took me two years to write the damn thing, it was like battling a monster for two years, I was tired of it. Not only was the process of writing difficult for me, the subject matter was difficult.

The whole story is of me talking about a traumatic event and my physical and psychological challenges in dealing with it. It was exhausting to keep going over the stuff. I don’t want the avalanche to define me. I don’t want to be that guy that spends the rest of his life talking about some tragedy that befell him. That scared me. I wanted to move on.

I just had to finish the damn manuscript. Once I did finish I felt lost all over again. I no longer had the routine of waking up early and writing before I’d go to work. I didn’t know the next step. Well, I did know the next step, I had to get someone to read it but I didn’t know who.
I listened to a podcast with the author Steven Pressfield and the editor Shawn Coyne about how you don’t want to dump your book, screenplay, manuscript, etc. on your friends or family; you need to find a professional and pay them to read it and give you feedback. This suggestion made sense to me. That’s where I’m at trying to find and editor to work with. I think I’ve found one but I don’t know. I’ve read a bunch of articles about how to find an editor. At this point I’ve got information overload. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think I’m just going to pick one and move on.

In the meantime my sister said she wanted to read the first draft. She thought it’d be a good idea for her to read it, give me some feedback so I could clean it up before sending it to an editor. That worked for me, so I sent it off to her. I think both her and her husband are going to read it which is good, I’ll have feedback from two people. Maybe yes maybe no.

Because of the personal nature of the story, it’s a memoir, and because my sister is biased because she’s my sister and she was a major part of the story, I wanted to find someone that doesn’t know me to read it and give feedback. That will happen soon enough I guess. In the meantime I’m looking forward to hearing the first criticisms of that ugly duckling I wrote.