Matt Stockton

mattstockton@gmail.com
Top Books From 2013

At the beginning of 2013, I made a resolution to learn more things outside of Technology. In the past, I’ve been a semi-active reader, finishing about 15 books a year. Most of these books were non-Fiction, Business or Psychology-oriented, mainstream (Gladwell, Friedman, etc.). I wanted to branch out. I opened a Goodreads account and started adding books to my queue. About half-way through 2013, I made a goal to finish 100 books. I did an audit last week. I miscalculated somewhere along the way, and came up 1 short of my goal — 99 books. I’m hoping that one just ‘fell through the cracks’ somewhere, oh well.

Through these 99 books, I learned a lot of new things, and a lot about myself. I learned that I’m curious about many topics outside of Technology, including Philosophy, Social Justice, History, Economics, Religion, Sociology, Mythology, and Public Policy. Some of the reading re-affirmed my existing belief system. More importantly, many times my existing belief system was challenged. I come out of this experiment even more curious about a broad range of topics. I plan to continue challenging myself into 2014 (maybe with a greater focus on Fiction!).

Here is my list of ‘Top 25’ books for the year. I made this list mainly as a personal reflection, and with a secondary hope that someone may be inspired to open a book they otherwise would not have opened in 2014. Below each book is a short, personal reflection or a quote from the book (or sometimes both).

If you’re interested in the complete list of my books for 2013, you can see them here

Top 25 Books of 2013

Man’s Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl
A mind can be stronger than terrible circumstances, or weaker than favorable circumstances. It’s your choice.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong - Loewen
History is relative. Always consider the operating origin myth when learning history. What statements are served? What viewpoints are ommited?
“It would be extremely naive to expect the dominant classes to develop a type of education that would enable subordinate classes to perceive social injustices critically’”

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t - Jim Collins
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”

Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis - James Rickards
Money and the history of money is complicated, fragile, and fascinating… and bitcoin is not money, just like houses are not money.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom - Miguel Ruiz
The mind can be tamed, it just takes practice. The less you make things about you, the happier you will be.
“We pretend to be who we are not because we are afraid of being rejected. The fear of being rejected becomes the fear of not being good enough. Eventually we become someone we are not.”

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand
War is terrible. Resiliency is heroic. People in the worst circumstances can do incredible things.
“The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when their tormentors suffer.”

What Technology Wants - Kevin Kelly
Technology moves forward by a series of failed experiments. The only way forward is to keep experimenting, and experimentation is … ineveitable?
Also, the evolution of the eye (which the book discusses) is fascinating.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander
The prison industrial complex is a terrible thing. Here’s a good summary

The Art Of Happiness - Dalai Lama XIV
“There is no fortitude similar to patience, just as there is no affliction worse than hatred.”
“It’s the very struggle of life that makes us who we are. And it is our enemies that test us, provide us with the resistance necessary for growth.”

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism - Naomi Klein
Power corrupts, fear is highly exploitable, and Naomi Klein really hates Milton Friedman

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - Robert Cialdini
Some tactics of influence and compliance are insidious and very effective. Learn them and know them, or be exploited by them.
“When we make a compliance decision, it’s important to separate our feelings about the requester from the request. That’s why it is so important to be alert to a sense of undue liking for a compliance practitioner. The recognition of that feeling can serve as our reminder to separate the dealer from the merits of the deal.”

One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson
In the 1920s, people were obsessed with crossing the Atlantic by flight and were willing to die for it. People were willing to die to drink alcohol during prohibition, too. And Bill Bryson is one of the best storytellers of our time.

Pathologies Of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor - Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer is my hero. He is an amazing man in many ways, including his ability to force me to use a dictionary on almost every single page of this book.
“What is to be done? It’s the oldest question around. Sometimes its posed in a way calculated to discourage discussion, the subtext being that misery and unfairness are so ubiquitous that only hopeless romantics would discern opportunities for effective intervention. But every so often the question is asked by people of goodwill.”

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World - Tracy Kidder
Paul Farmer is still a hero even if someone else is writing about him. Less dictionary required for this book, but an equal amount of inspiration. If you want to dip your toes in some Paul Farmer inspiration, I also recommend his new book, which is (primarily) a collection of his graduation speeches: To Repair the World

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit - Daniel Quinn
It’s hard to say anything except: ‘Read this book’ (and then let me know what you think)
“The premise of the Taker story is ‘the world belongs to man’. … The premise of the Leaver story is ‘man belongs to the world’.”

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families - Philip Gourevitch
What happened in Rwanda is incredibly sad and incredibly unbelievable. The recovery since 1994 is inspiring. I’m proud that my brother spent 2013 getting involved in this beautiful country.

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires - Tim Wu
Money and power trump innovation in odious ways. For example, the answering machine had to be ‘invented’ multiple times. AT&T firmly believed that the answering machine, and its magnetic tapes, would lead the public to abandon the telephone, so they killed it. More info here

Metaphors We Live By - George Lakoff
Metaphors are so prevalent in our lives that we don’t even recognize them or think about them as metaphors. For example, consider the metaphor ‘Argument is war’:
He attacked every weak point in my argument.
He shot down all of my arguments.
His criticisms were right on target.
Your claims are indefensible.

Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World - Bruce Schneier
We often worry about the wrong things. The things we don’t worry about are the things that harm us the most.
“Don’t blindly accept that ‘its for security purposes’ when someone tries to justify a questionable countermeasure; far too often players try to disguise their actions as security-related. Understand how emotions lead people to make seemingly irrational security trade-offs. Agendas are natural, and they’re pervasive – be aware of them.”

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! - Richard Feynman
Feynman is the original professional interesting man. He is hilarious and brilliant. We need more people like him.
“All the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘I could do that, but I won’t,’–which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”

1984 - George Orwell
It’s not 1984, but it’s good to know what 1984 is.
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed - James Scott
No matter how you plan things, the plan won’t work exactly how you think it will, so plan for it not working.
Simplification, abstraction, and standardization inherently create a natural resistance in complex systems.

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else - Hernando de Soto
Property rights are important, extralegal arrangements are economic necessities in many situations, and you are probably the descendant of a squatter.
“The proof that property is pure concept comes when a house changes hands. Nothing physically changes. Looking at a house will not tell you who owns it. A house that is yours today looks exactly as it did yesterday when it was mine. It looks the same whether I rent it, own it, or sell it to you.”

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea - Barbara Demick
A fascinating look inside of North Korea. If you ever wanted to know more about the country, this is a shocking and informative book.

The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created - William Bernstein
Property rights are important to align incentives.
Will GDP be an ancient measurement relic in 100 years?
“Had world per-capital GDP started growing 2% per year when christ was born, it would now be sixty quintillion dollars - instead of the current 8000 per head. Even a growth rate of 1% would have resulted in a current per capita GDP of about 200 billion.”

I hope you enjoyed this list. I’m always looking for new things to read, so please send me an email if you have any good book recommendations.