Year End Book Review for my homies.

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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!

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Semi-Annual Book Report… 3 months too late.

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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.

A Simple And Powerful Way To Learn

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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.

MAKE A LIST.

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.

YOU SHOULD KEEP A READING LIST.

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.