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Books Reviews

Headhunters on My Doorstep by J. Maarten Troost Book Review

There’s a long tradition of modern travel writers retracing the steps of famous travel routes – whether it’s retracing George Orwell in Burma or Paul Theroux retracing his own journey 40 years later.

Headhunters on My Doorstep is a double-revisiting of travel journeys. J. Maarten Troost retraces the steps of Robert Louis Stevenson’s voyage In The South Seas, but he also revisits his own time in the South Pacific which gave him his initial fame with Sex Lives of Cannibals.

The book has 3 narratives woven throughout as Troost visits islands of French Polynesia, the Gilberts, and Samoas. First is the main travel narrative. It’s the straightforward I went here, did this, experienced this classic travel narrative.

Second is the historic narrative featuring Robert Louis Stevenson covering not only his 19th Century journey, but also anecdotes about one of the world’s most celebrated (and oddest) writers.

And third is the narrative of Troost’s recovery from alcohol addiction. 9 months before starting the research for this book, Troost landed in rehab – and writing this book was sort of his return to a big professional project without the addiction.

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Books Reviews

Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach Book Review

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach was published back in September 2011, but I really started hearing about it during the summer of 2012. It seemed to be the big American novel of the year (err, “the next great American novel”) of 2012 sort of like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen was back in 2010.

I had never really read a long, contemporary piece of American fiction, but this one piqued my interest with a recommendation from the Slate Political Gabfest.

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Books Reviews

Writing on the Wall by Tom Standage Book Review

I originally read Tom Standage in The Economist where he’s an editor & columnist and writes the best Holiday Issue columns of anyone at The Economist.

He’s written other excellent books like Edible History, but Writing On The Wall specifically looks at social media throughout human history, particularly since the Romans.

Yes – the Romans.

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Books Reviews

Phantom by Jo Nesbo Book Review

I’ve never been the type to read or really enjoy Crime or Horror as a genre. However, occasionally there will be an author or specific book that will be the exception to the rule.

In the Horror genre, books like I Am Legend and The Road that have really interesting social commentary and an interesting hook are the exception.

In the world of Crime fiction – that exception was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which remains one of my favorite fiction series ever. For some reason, I’m not sure why, but Scandinavian crime fiction has a very different feel and mix of characters than Anglo-American crime fiction. So much so, that I decided to try to find more – and found Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian crime fiction writer.

I started by reading The Snowman, which was one of the most gripping crime novels I’ve ever read, followed by The Leopard – which also lived up to the author’s hype.

I had similar hopes for Phantom by Jo Nesbo. It has the same main character, a detective named Harry Hole, and promised the same crazy Scandinavian placenames.

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Books Reviews

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo Book Review

I’ve tried to read books from a diverse range of settings and countries, but aside from the outstanding Sea of Poppies, I’ve read very little about India.

It’s always seemed like such a daunting, chaotic, overly-diverse topic. And there’s never been a travel book, class or fiction book that’s piqued my interest. I’ve binge read plenty of books on China – which is just as daunting, chaotic and overly diverse, but embarrassingly never on India.

In the last year, my interests have been piqued. I now have an incredible new family by marriage from India. Time to get to know the country that is arguably going to dominate the headlines of the 21st Century.

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Books Reviews

In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce Book Review

India has been around for a long time. Like more than 5,000 years – back to the earliest establishments of cities and what people call “civilization.”

Like China, it was an economic powerhouse way back when, but fell behind the West and East Asia. Even after it threw off colonialism, India grew at incredibly slow rates until 1991 when they liberalized the economy and passed tons of economic reforms.

Since 1991, India has grown and changed by leaps and bounds. The only country that has grown faster is China. India is on a pretty firm course to become a major world power (if it arguably isn’t already). It’s a center for world-class corporations, software and culture.

And yet – it is famously full of contradictions. It’s not following the well-trodden path of economic development paved first by Britain, then the US, then Japan and then most recently Korea and China. India is developing in a uniquely lop-sided path and is busting all the economic and political truisms declared in recent human history.

That is the topic of In Spite of The Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce (former Bureau Chief for the Financial Times).

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Books Reviews

Books Read in 2014

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. But I did not stop there. I haven’t kept up the same pace – but have kept on tracking every book I’ve read since. Ideally, I’ve also written a short lessons learned or review of each. Here’s the books I’ve read this past year.

*all the links below go to Amazon for convenience, but I definitely recommend purchasing books from Alibris. They support local booksellers, and often have even better used pricing.

This post covers books read in 2014. You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Books Reviews

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield Book Review

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield is not a book based on any kind of science of motivation, psychology, or behavioral science. It is also not a a piece of traditional Tony Robbins or Napoleon Hill type positive thinking inspirational type book.

It was something very different, and actually quite a useful read.

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Books Reviews

Last Places by Lawrence Millman Book Review

A couple years ago, I read Travels In Siberia by Ian Frazier – which was one of the top 5 travel books I’ve ever read, and piqued my interest in places that are really cold, and really isolated.

Lawrence Millman’s Last Places: A Journey In The North is all about just that: really cold, really stark, and isolated places in the North Atlantic where people still live.

More specifically, it’s about his re-tracing of Viking migration patterns back in the Middle Ages (come to find out the Vikings wanted to go live in these places).

He travels from Norway to the Shetland Islands to the Faeroe Islands to Iceland to Greenland to the Labrador Peninsula in Canada.

It has a good mix of anecdote, diary, observation, and history. However – he does frequently ramble and come out of context with some history (he doesn’t have Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux’s ability to seamlessly weave history, observation, and anecdote into one great narrative).

His writing is really florid, descriptive, and really fascinating. Here are some of my favorite bits and questions…

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Books Reviews

Contagious by Jonah Berger Book Review

In the past ten years, there’s been a really fun genre of books that take normally boring academic research in behavioral economics and psychology and package it into a readable, fascinating book. Think Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, or Made to Stick by Chip Heath.

Contagious by Jonah Berger falls into that genre – and definitely lives up to the classics in the field. The book is specifically focuses on why things catch on and why things spread.

The book is particularly interesting (and possible) in the age of the Internet where concepts, media, and stories can spread so fast and so easily. But it’s not limited to just why YouTube videos go viral – he also looks at offline ideas, ads & trends that catch on and spread.

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Books Reviews

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts Book Review

“Vagabond” is a word with lots of negative connotations – laziness, narcissism, dependency, aimlessness – someone avoiding commitment to home or job. In Middle English, it was actually a synonym for a criminal.

So despite many famous endorsements, I had been skeptical of  the book – assuming it was  just another quit your job, leave your commitments, and explore type book with lots of trite, over-simplified advice. That assumption turned out to not be true after I, you know, actually read it.

It turns out that Vagabonding is possibly the most practical book of the genre I’ve ever read. It’s simply different – so much so that Rolf Potts starts the book right off the bat with his own definition of Vagabonding as an outlook (vs. someone who is a vagabond).

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Books Reviews

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin Book Review

Josh Waitzkin was called a chess prodigy at a very young age, and was actually the subject of a film called Searching for Bobby Fischer. But even though the term “prodigy” connotes some sort of in-born chess playing ability, his world class skill at chess really comes down to an insatiable curiosity, focus on deliberately developing skills, and seeking out behaviors that create extreme mental focus.

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Books Reviews

Blood River by Tim Butcher Book Review

For me, the best travel books are more than just narratives that just tell how the author did A, then B, then C – they are books that use a real experience to help frame and understand larger issues surrounding the place they are traveling through.

Some of the best books I’ve ever read have been in the travel genre – Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux gives a fascinating treatment of development in Africa; In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson will tell you more about the history of Australia than any history book; Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman, Grounded by Seth Stevenson, and Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost will give you better glimpse at globalization than many books on the topic itself.

The problem is that this type of book is nearly impossible to find. A good, page-turning non-fiction book is tough to find because you need an author who can not only do incredible research – but who can also wield a fabulous turn of phrase.

If you throw in the ability to travel, explore, ask questions, and weave that experience into the larger narrative and theme of the book…you have an entirely different task.

So I was very happy that Tim Butcher turned out to be just that sort of author. Here’s what Blood River is about and why I found it so fascinating.

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Books Reviews

10+ Books That Stayed With Me

About a month ago on Facebook, there was a chain post going around where you had to name 10 books that “stayed with you.”

It’s a pretty cool idea and tapped into the common feeling that most books are sort of like meals where you consume, digest, get nourished (or not), and then you forget. It’s too bad when you think about how much time and effort the writer put into the book – and how much time you put into reading it.

That’s one reason behind my project to record and review every single book I’ve read (at least since 2007) – to try to get more out of the books I read. And yet still, there’s a certain set of books that I can recall plot, characters, and scenes instantly whether I write those thoughts down or not. Or books that really change how I act or think.

I read fiction & non-fiction very differently and are sort of like apples and oranges in this exercise, so I’m taking the liberty of 2 lists – and trying to mix up the non-fiction with different categories. Here’s my list in no specific order.

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Books Reviews

The Inner Game of Work by W. Timothy Gallwey Book Review

When you’re trying to learn something new or excel at something you’re familiar with, there’s a predictable process that we all default to. First, we’ll track down or listen to a set of instructions, then we’ll set goals to achieve them, then we’ll just sort of have at it. We’ll fail or fall short of expectations and get frustrated. Then we’ll either put our heads down and keep at it – and keep failing or succeeding by brute force or give up saying we’re not “talented” enough.

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Books Reviews

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg Book Review

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book in the same genre of Nudge, Outliers, and How We Decide and others in the pop psychology type of book – except with a focus on daily habits and their role in our lives.

As with other books – the book formula is a bit predictable, but for me no less fascinating than all the other books that pull from the huge volume of psychological studies since the 70s…even though I didn’t actually finish the entire book. Here’s what I learned from the book and what I thought about it.

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Books Reviews

Empire of Wealth by John Steele Gordon Book Review

Let’s see where to start…you’ll only be interested in this book if your are interested in History, Economics, and American Studies…all at the same time.

That said – it is hard to write a book on History, Economics, and American Studies – and John Gordon Steele does an great job overall.

There’s a good mix of anecdote, well-explained statistics, and grand narrative, which though it doesn’t actually exist, does provide a good framework and storyboard for how America got to where it is today.

So that’s the short review – here’s some other points about the book and what all I learned…

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Books Reviews

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau Book Review

First off – it’s absurdly hard to find a business book that’s not too fluffy on anecdotes of one-off successes or simply full of really common-sensical repackaged tips.

Thankfully – the $100 Startup was neither.

The book revolves around the idea that starting a business doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Unlike a lot of other business books that attempt to show you how to navigate expenses or complexity – Chris Guillebeau argues that you can really just cut them out.

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Books Reviews

Tubes by Andrew Blum Book Review

When I publish this post, the content will zip out of the back of my computer over my head to my wireless router.

From there, my router sends the info over to my modem – which is connected to “The Internet.”

Before I read this book, I knew that much.

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Books Reviews

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami Book Review

As a spectator, watching a running race mainly involves standing around for a while, then watching for a few seconds as runners crest the hill and run by. And that’s that.

On television, watching running is about as almost as gripping as falling asleep to a ceiling fan.

But kudos to the publishers at Vintage International for believing that reading about running could somehow be interesting.

Because writing a book about running is exactly what famed novelist Haruki Murakami has done – and done masterfully well.

The book is in a memoir-ish format and talks about running as a background and constant theme of Murakami’s life as a professional novelist.

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Books Reviews

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson Book Review

Human felicity is produced not as much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day.

That is one of the many, many memorable quotes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin.

I picked this book up immediately after hearing Elon Musk talk about it (and later finding a whole slew of fans of it). It’s 500 pages – and well worth the read.

I had always had this sort of elementary school version of Ben Franklin in my head like most every American, but I was really blown away by just how ingenious, influential, industrious, and insightful Ben Franklin was.

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Books Reviews

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson Book Review

With the move to Atlanta, new job, and new routines, it took me an embarrassingly long time to read Bill Bryson’s short little work on Shakespeare (it only just reaches 196 pages). Either way – it was a fun read, and just the type of book that’s easy to pick up and put down frequently. Here’s why…

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Books Reviews

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Book Review

I grew up about 10 years too late and on the wrong side of the world to fully appreciate Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – but it was a really fun, fresh, and fascinating novel.

The book set in 2030 where everyone spends all their time digitally immersed online to escape the awful dystopia outside.

The economy is dominated by just 2 online firms – and one firm’s eccentric founder dies leaving his fortune to whomever can solve a treasure hunt involving riddles and trivia centered around the 1980s American geek sub-culture.

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Books Reviews

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer Book Review

I’ve never thought of memory as skill until I read Moonwalking With Einstein.

The book is Joshua Foer’s exploration into not only mnemonics, but also the subculture of “memory athletes,” and his adventure in experimental journalism where he goes from covering the US Memory Championships (yes, there is such a thing) to participating in – and winning the following year.

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Books Reviews

Books Read in 2013

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. But I did not stop there. I haven’t kept up the same pace – but have kept on tracking every book I’ve read since. Ideally, I’ve also written a short lessons learned or review of each. Here’s the books I’ve read this past year.

*all the links below go to Amazon for convenience, but I definitely recommend purchasing books from Alibris. They support local booksellers, and often have even better used pricing.

This post covers books read in 2013. You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Reviews

The Best Unlikely Sandwich

A few months ago when the New York Times wrote about PB&P sandwiches (yes, as in Peanut Butter and Pickle) – it got quite a bit of attention. The article was the most emailed that day, and made it to the Front Page of Reddit.

Apparently there is a whole cohort of people in America who know about all sorts of unlikely pairings with peanut butter. I had never met any of these sandwich anarchists before (everyone I know is a PB&J die-hard) – and was really skeptical as well of the idea of peanut butter paired with pickles.

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Reviews

I Drank Kopi Luwak Today

In Southeast Asia, there’s a jungle cat called the Civet that loves to eat coffee cherries.

The civet’s digestive system uses the fruit of the coffee cherry for nourishment – but only partly begins to break down the coffee cherry pit (what we call the “coffee bean”) before pooping it out.

Someone, and I have no idea how this someone got this idea, but someone thought it would be perfectly splendid to pick the undigested coffee beans out of the Civet cat poop, and proceed to process, roast, grind, brew, and serve them just like any other beans you’d buy from your coffee shop.

And I’m not making this up.

In Indonesia – they call it “Kopi Luwak” or “Civet Coffee.”

And it’s one of the most sought after coffees in the world – mainly because of it’s scarcity (you can imagine the hordes of people signing on to harvest it…).

Today – I got to drink some Kopi Luwak. Fresh-brewed in a French Press. Here’s how it all went down (and out).

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Outdoors Products Reviews

One Year of Running In Vibram Fivefingers Bikilas

I started running distance when I was 10 years old, and continued throughout high school. I was never particularly fast, but it was enjoyable and something athletic I could do.

I had shin splints, hurt ankles, and all the rest of runner’s woes – to the point that I slowly tapered off in college.

In 2010 – I had some friends who encouraged me to get back into running and had me read Born To Run by Chris McDougall, followed by Four Hour Body (running chapter).

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Books Reviews

What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 6 | 2012

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. Here’s my lessons learned and short review of each.

This post covers books read in 2012 (so far). You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Books Reviews

What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 5 | 2011

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. Here’s my lessons learned and short review of each.

This post covers books read in 2011. You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Books Reviews

What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 4 | 2010

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. Here’s my lessons learned and short review of each.

This post covers books read in 2010. You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Books Reviews

What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 3 | 2009

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. Here’s my lessons learned and short review of each.

This post covers books read in 2009. You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Books Reviews

What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 2 | 2008

From 2007 to 2012, I read 263+ books. Here’s my lessons learned and short review of each.

This post covers books read in 2008. You can also read from,

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

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Books Reviews

What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 1 | 2007

Last week I read a post by Julien Smith called “Lessons I Learned Reading Over 200 Books.” It was really fascinating and well done. I was quite jealous.

But then I realized, “wait, I’ve done that.”

Since January of 2007, I’ve read about 263 books. I say “about” because I was only half keeping track until September 2008 – when I converted to a spreadsheet and really started tracking.

I’ve decided to start reviewing (nearly) every book I read here. And that means getting caught up.

Unlike Julien (who put everything in 1 ridiculously long post), I’m going to split mine up into 6 ridiculously long blog posts (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012). I’ll also keep going after this initial push to 2013 and beyond.

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

I’m just going to write a couple sentences for each – and only what I remember about the book, and a short bit of review.

Here we go…

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Why Free Software Should Be Very Suspicious

Shopping for invoicing software.

Now that I have your full and rabid attention, here’s why you should not trust free software by default.

The Quick Story

After 6 months of ignoring my invoicing system, and working with a duct-taped system of PayPal and Google Docs templates – I was tired of looking a bit unprofessional and feeling disorganized.