Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Best Books of 2007

Its about that time again when much of the media will be focused on creating their year-in-review pieces. Like my blogging friend, Ben Casnocha, I love "Best of" lists. So, without further attempts to write for the sake of hearing my fingers hit the keys, here is a list of my favorite books I read in 2007:

Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England by Lynne Olson

My latest read, a story about the band of young MP's in Britain that broke party ties on the eve of WWII in order to topple the Chamberlain-led appeasement government and make way for Winston Churchill. Starts out a bit slow, but gains rapidly after the first 6 chapters. Incredible insight into the internal struggles many of the young politicians faced in going against their party and standing for what they believed was England's only chance at survival, all-out war against Nazism. The book raises interesting questions concerning loyalty, party politics, the role of the press and leadership. Lynne Olson has made great tale in describing the behind the scenes workings of a few that helped change the world for so many.

Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There by David Brooks

Go to any college campus, resort town, or urban-chic hotspot in America today and David Brooks' "Bobos In Paradise," could act as an incredibly detailed and relevant tour guide. Everyone knows a Bobo whether they realize it or fact they may be one themselves, though they would never admit it. After reading this book I realized that I am in fact a Bobo. Brooks cracked the code for me on things I had always noticed, but never been able to put into words regarding the new class of society forming in America; the exotic coffee drinking, urban outfitter/anthropologie wearing, mutual fund owning, I go climb Himalayan ranges barefoot and drink yak's milk tea with the sherpas over Spring Break for fun because all the "tourists" stay in Kathmandu, class of society. The people that will not like this book are the ones that take themselves way too seriously...most likely because they are probably Bobos too, but too proud to admit it. Entertaining to say the least!

Londonistan by Melanie Phillips

Shocking commentary on the rise of radical Islam in London. Finally, someone who is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Melanie Phillips should be commended for her courage and tenacity in tackling head on an ideology that is seldom confronted out of fear of being labeled "intolerant." Ideologies of hate simply cannot coexist with freedom. "Londonistan" shows the front lines of a culture war that has been brewing for centuries and is nearing its critical mass. This book should sound as a warning for every American, highlighting the consequences of appeasement and the philosophy of moral and cultural relativism. Prepare to walk away angry and shocked.

The Brothers Karamazov (Everyman's Library) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Not much to say on this book, its a classic for a reason. Dostoevsky has an amazing ability to take characters and make them your friend, brother, father, etc. The story of a Russian family and their struggles for power, money and blood. Some of the greatest writing I have ever experienced. Examines nearly every big philosophical question: meaining, purpose, good, evil, God, man. If you read one classic, read this.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb

Most predictions are flat out wrong, just listen to any "expert" on CNBC give a prediction of where the market is headed on a given day. Yet, we love predictions because they help us feel like we understand what's going on around us much better than we actually do...the idea of randomness is uncomfortable. The reason our prophecies fall so short is our lack of understanding of the Black Swan and its impact on both history and the future. The Black Swan as Taleb describes it is:
1) an outlier 2) carries extreme impact 3) produces explanations only after the fact.

The bulk of Taleb's book explains in great detail, clarity, and wit the error most humans make in failing to account for the Black Swan in their thinking. He explores various theories ranging from our eagerness to interpret the "causes" in history (confirmation bias, narrative fallacy, etc.) to our inabilities to predict the future (the expert problem, herding and the character of prediction errors).

Finally, Taleb doesn't stop with mere theory; he gives the reader help in how to think in a Black Swan world. His advice, make black swans gray by being aggressive in gaining exposure to positive Black Swans and extremely conservative when under the threat of a negative Black Swan. You're probably reading this right now going, I think I know what he is talking about, but you don't, just read the book and be prepared to have your comfort zone shattered and your mind exercised.

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