Book Notes

A few book notes, before the memory fades.

I notice that my books seem to cluster, i.e. there is overlap and synergy among them. No doubt some comes from my own interest and choices, but I think some of this is an artifact of memory. One book makes something salient and then I more easily see it in others, maybe even see what is not there.

Well, since this is a journey in my mind, don’t have to resolve this. Used to be a problem in graduate school, since I would know stuff but not be able to tease out the sources, but now it is just all mine, so if you quote me on it you are working my memory and need to check the original if you want the author’s.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

It started off very strong but then petered out. The first theme was the government requires lots of expertise and that civil servants are generally hard-working people with significant knowledge & commitment is true, IMO. I am both biased and informed by my own background on this. From there, however, he extrapolates too far about government’s role. IMO, government plays a role that only it can play in creating conditions for prosperity but cannot not itself create prosperity. There is big nuance here that I think he did not property address.

A good example of an important government role is in research. He mentions ARPA-E and DARPA, and all the things they gave us, like the Internet and fracking. This is correct but not complete. It is undoubtedly true w/o DARPA there would be no Internet, but it is also true that w/o American private firms and civil society the seed of Internet would have been sterile. Anyway, worth reading the book.

“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

This is a great book but a little eclectic. Her main idea is that we have become too in love with extroverts, being out there, groups activities and “brainstorming,” and that we need more introspection and contemplation. I agree.

I also agree with her that the popular idea of introvert is pejorative (you have to come out of your shell) and that being an introvert is not something that needs to be cured and it does not mean that you are not engaged in the word. I come of as introvert of the Myers-Briggs (INTP for those who know the test), but I love public speaking, for example. I just also like to be alone sometimes.

The eclectic part comes from her discussions of the character ethic, systems theories and various sciences. All of this interesting and she probably read many of the same books I did, since I recognize the ideas, but I think it was a little off topic.

“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” by Scott Scott Adams

This is the book I would write if I was writing an advice book. I felt a real kindred spirit and attitude. At least that is how I see myself when I am flattering myself – practical, optimistic insouciant, adaptive, “lucky” and a seeker of patterns.

Lucky, which I put in quotes above, is how I would fit it together. You don’t have to be smart if you are lucky, but luck is distributed randomly. Some people get more good breaks than others, but a wise strategy is not to count on that, but rather position yourself so that good luck can “find” you. And when something happens, you have to be ready to move. You can make bad luck into good or the reverse by how you react and adapt.

This leads to the need to look for patterns, think in systems. There is a system to everything. If you can find the key factors and use them, you will be “lucky” more often.

You need to be insouciant and optimistic, since you will fail a lot on your way to success. If you let that stop you, you will not get very far. He did not quote the USMC, but I think it fits here “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”

He has an interesting formulation, which I agree but did not think of myself. Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners. Look to the process and you can be adaptive. In fact goals and systems will often overlap, but the system is more flexible. At this part I thought of the Stephen Covey habit, “Start with the end in mind.”

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