My Favorite Books of 2017

My biggest goal for 2017 was to read 24 books and so far I’ve finished 30 (and not finished another 15-20). I keep track of all the books I read and give them a rating of 1-5 after finishing. Below are the seven books I rated a five from the past year.

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Probably the most influential book I read this year. I think it’s right up there with Thinking, Fast and Slow as the best books that helped me to understand my own brain and cognitive biases. I love the idea that each of us is ruled by a totalitarian ego “that ruthlessly destroys information it doesn’t want to hear and rewrites history” in our own favor. Our totalitarian ego subconsciously justifies actions that we would demonize others for, fills in gaps in our memories (with a positive spin of course), and ignores evidence that counteracts our own personal story line. This book also has a great analogy using a pyramid to explain how two seemingly normal people can become so diametrically opposed on some issue. The pyramid is something I still think about on a regular basis, mostly when I’m trying to figure out how in the hell our political system became such as mess.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

I don’t recall ever reading a more entertaining book than this. I would have read it all in one sitting if I didn’t have dinner plans the day I started it—but I was eager to finish it the next morning. The quote on the front cover is a perfect summary of the book: “Fascinating, strange, sad, funny, and entirely engrossing.” I spent a significant chunk of the book shaking my head left to right, partly laughing, thinking to myself “no way this actually happened.” Beyond just pure entertainment, there are several valuable lessons about bubbles along the way. Ty Warner, as crazy as he is, made what I thought were several genius business decisions (that I highly doubt I would have made) that ultimately fueled the craze.

Nothing To Envy

Maybe the opposite of The Great Beanie Baby Bubble in terms of entertainment, but far more important. This book tells the story of six real North Korean citizens who have since escaped. I found it fascinating (and horribly sad) to learn about the day to day lives of North Koreans. This book really drilled home how much of a humanitarian crisis North Korea is. It’s easy to focus on the psycho dictator and want to bomb him off the face of the planet, but behind him are millions of innocent people who are trapped inside a regime they don’t want to be a part of. The US’s approach of kicking the can down the road hasn’t accomplished much, but there are no good options. It’s a shitty situation all around.

Open

I don’t follow tennis at all, but I loved Andre Agassi’s autobiography. The title of this book is perfect—Agassi is extremely open about his personal and professional life. As good as he was at tennis, you would probably assume that he loved the game with a fiery passion, but surprisingly he struggled with that his entire career. In fact, he spends much of the book talking about how much he hates tennis. This is an easy page-turner that you’ll finish in no time.

The CEO Pay Machine

By far the best investing book I read of the year. I thought it did a phenomenal job of really explaining why the standard CEO pay package (salary, annual bonus, long-term options) is bad for shareholders. The vast majority of a company’s value is what investors call its terminal value—what a company will earn 5, 10, and 20 years from now. Not much of a company’s value is really dependent on what it earns next quarter or next year—yet that’s what the vast majority of public company CEOs are focused on. And they’re focused on the near-term because that’s what their pay package and Wall Street incentivizes them to do. This book also explained how rigged the system of benchmarking CEO pay to peer groups is. This section actually pissed me off because I had never thought about peer group benchmarks in the way that it’s explained here. I may have been angered by some of the realizations I had reading this book, but I’m a better investor for it. I mentioned this book several times in my blog post Why I Prefer Founder-Led Companies.

Back Mechanic

Completely different than anything else on this list, but if you have back problems I can’t recommend it enough. I hurt my back deadlifting in the summer of 2016 and it bothered me a lot until recently. Within days of reading and implementing many of this book’s suggestions, my back started to improve. It ultimately took several more months to heal, but no other book in 2017 had a bigger impact on my quality of life than this one. Most of the book is about relatively simple changes we can make in our everyday life to improve back health—things like how we sit, stand and walk, how we bend over to pick up things, and how we brush our teeth or wash our hands (hunched over a sink). It amazed me how quickly my back started to feel better once I adjusted  these seemingly small everyday actions.

Digital Gold

I thought this was a great introduction to cryptocurrency as it is a relatively objective look at the potential and risks. It starts with a history of Bitcoin and the unique personalities of the people who got the movement started and then follows through to how it’s evolved over time. The book does a good job of explaining how Bitcoin works, the pros and cons of cryptocurrencies in general, and the incentive structures in place. If you’re looking for an overview of Bitcoin that isn’t overly biased in one direction, this is a great starting point.

If you have read any fantastic books this year, please send them my way! My latest interest has been business autobiographies. I just finished Howard Schultz’s Onward (about Starbucks) and am now reading Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness (about Zappos).

As of this writing, Wiedower Capital does not own shares in SBUX. This is subject to change. 

4 thoughts on “My Favorite Books of 2017

  1. I read The Great Beanie Baby Bubble earlier this year and totally agree it’s a fascinating book!

    The biggest game-changer for me in 2017 was ”Deep Work” by Cal Newport. It’s not investment related, but it improved my work ethic tremendously.

    Most interesting read (and business autobiography) would be ”Am I Being Too Subtle?” by Sam Zell.

    Thanks for sharing your favorite books Travis!

    Like

  2. 1. Just ordered Digital Gold due to your recommention… was just thinking I needed to find a good crypto book.

    2. Eminem autobiography > Andre’s but his story is definitely a surprising and interesting one you wouldn’t think to hear from a profressional in any sport.

    3. You’re a beast, I owe you an IQ Test…

    Like

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