Books read in 2020

A list of the books I have read during 2020.

Currently Reading January 2021…

  • Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, Scott Galloway. non-fiction. Prof Galloway is a provocative thinker. He is not always right, but he takes strong positions and makes good arguments. Even when I disagree, his arguments help me clarify my beliefs and reasoning. Covid is an “accelerant”. We have accelerated 10 years into the future and society is still catching up.
  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker. non-fiction. Recommended by a good friend. A reminder of the positive future and the importance of markets.  Reminds me of The Rational Optimist that I read earlier in 2020.

The books I have read during 2020

This is basically an extract of my amazon kindle content, with a few notes.  List in reverse order of purchase date on amazon.

  • Stoner: A Novel, John Williams – novel. reminds me of Franzen. The life of a decent man made hellish by other human beings and his own inability to find the strength to be himself.  A wonderful read.
  • Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow – biography. They lived through some tough times back in the 1750s. A great insight into the background of George Washington, his wealth, his emergence as a military and political leader, the “fake news” of his time, the bitter politics and how he dealt with the challenges of life.
  • The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, Joseph Henrich – non-fiction. An insightful look at how reading has made a huge difference to society, and to the human brain. We are not “normal”. Literacy changes the brain, how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to family, friends and strangers.
  • Pathways to Possibility: Transform your outlook on life with the bestselling author of The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander – non-fiction. Lovely book. Helpful anecdotes and approaches to living in difficult times. I was expecting something more like Benjamin Zander’s other book… but I actually preferred this. I loved the 5 “infinite games” introduced in the final chapter.
  • Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential, Shirzad Chamine – non-fiction. Very helpful guide to our inner saboteurs – the voices in our heads that make a mess of our lives and relationships.  Good guidance on how to regain some balance when stress, anxiety, worries push you off balance.
  • Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens – novel. Brilliant creation of the character of a young girl abandoned by her family and how she makes a heroic life for herself (in a small but meaningful way) in spite of the challenges.
  • Rediscovering Life: Awaken to Reality, Anthony De Mello – non-fiction. Spiritual. Reflections on how to focus on what is really important and let the small annoying irritations stop bothering you so much.
  • Napoleon: A Concise Biography, David A. Bell – biography – the life of Napoleon. They say that “a great man is often not a good man”. I would agree. A man who took huge risks to rise to be the Alexander the Great of the 1800s. Insights into the politics of the times, and the rise to power of an outsider.
  • The Penguin History of the World: 6th edition, J M Roberts history. I re-read this book after finishing the book 1177BC. I wrote a review here: lessons from history.
  • 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History), Eric H. Cline – history. There was a vibrant civilisation in the eastern Mediterranean with trade and travel amongst the agricultural city states… until the year 1177BC… when it all collapsed seemingly overnight.
  • Serious, John McEnroe – autobiography – McEnroe is a good writer and makes this book an engaging read as well as an insightful biography of a polemic celebrity tennis player.  I read this as I played lots of tennis over the summer.
  • The Overstory, Richard Powers – novel. A unique book. The central characters are… the trees. You learn to see trees in a new light.  It starts as if each chapter is a short story independent of the other stories… but the stories start to connect and come together as the book goes on.  Highly recommended, very different from any other novel I have read.
  • The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Matt Ridley – non-fiction. A positive celebration of markets, trade, science and a needed optimistic boost during this year of Covid. If you need to reconnect to a hopeful, positive future -> this book is worth a read.
  • Rafa: My Story, Rafael Nadal – biography. The life story of Rafa Nadal, tennis player from the island of Mallorca in Spain. Rafa is inspiring as a human who out-worked other tennis players to victory. Federer has the natural talent. Rafa brings discipline, focus and intense hard work to tennis.
  • Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, BJ Fogg – non-fiction. Similar to the book Atomic Habits, which I think I prefer as the go-to book on habit formation. This is a guide to reducing bad habits and increasing good habits in our lives. Major lesson: a consistent small habit and a shift in identity (“I am the type of person who is fit”) is how to build positive habits.  Show me your habits and I’ll show you your life.
  • The Caucasus: An Introduction, Thomas de Waal – history. The geography, history and politics of the Caucasus region. Good insights into the challenges of being on the edge of empires (bordering Ottoman, Persian, Russian empires and now Turkey and Russia).
  • Wealth, Poverty and Politics, Thomas Sowell – economics. Deeply interesting book on the factors that create wealth.  Geography: navigable rivers that reach the sea made a huge positive impact.  Africa is a tough continent to build wealth for many reasons. Culture and its impact on wealth. Strongly written defence of the democratic capitalist system and the dangers of “woke” liberal politics, populism, nationalism and other isms.
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami – novel. I love Haruki… don’t know many other readers that do. He has a fetish for cats and strange lonely human beings… but I find his stories addictive.
  • The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties, Paul Collier – non-fiction. I was looking to get insights into how business leaders can play a positive role in helping society reduce some of the blatantly unfair and unjust imbalances in society. I got some vague ideas, but found the book hard to grasp and synthesize.
  • The Fast Forward Mindset: How to Be Fearless & Focused to Accelerate Your Success, David Schnurman – non-fiction. David is a friend and fellow EO member. This is David’s guide to personal and professional leadership of an entrepreneurial business.
  • Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back, Mark O’Connell – non-fiction/biographical. This follows author Mark O’Connell as he spends time with the strange group of “preppers” – people building bunkers to prepare for the apocalypse. Why do we as humans have this constant sense of impending doom? Helped me see some of my own anxiety as “natural for human being”.
  • Spillover, David Quammen – non-fiction. I read this in March during extreme lockdown. Brilliantly written with wonderful stories over 50 years of following the scientists that study bacterial and viral epidemics.  This was written a few years pre-Covid and you can see that all the virus scientists knew that “the Next Big One” was coming.
  • Tales of Unknowing: Therapeutic encounters from the existential perspective, Ernesto Spinelli – non-fiction. Case histories of psychiatric patients as they work to gain clarity on their lives. I read lots of this type of case study and find it fascinating as insight the struggles of being human.
  • The Orange Girl, Jostein Gaarder – novel.
  • Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me – a Memoir, Deirdre Bair. novel
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever, Marie Kondo. non-fiction. I was pushed to read this (lockdown means you spend a lot of time in your own home!). It was much better than expected. I expected a guide book to tidying (ugh). It was more a philosophical approach to getting clear what is really important in your life and removing junk, obstacles and stuff.
  • Understanding 4-5-Year-Olds (The Tavistock Clinic – Understanding Your Child), Lesley Maroni – non-fiction. I have learnt lot about my youngest daughter from this series of books from the Tavistock Clinic, and you can guess the age of my youngest daughter…
  • The Cicero Trilogy, Robert Harris – novel/biography. Insightful novel (there are 3 books in the series) about the end of the Roman Republic and the re-emergence of monarchy under Julius Caeser. Given the politics of USA, Great Britain this book feels like the Romans lived a similar political experience.  The Romans failed to stop tyranny… will we?
  • Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy in Practice, Emmy van Deurzen – non-fiction. How to help others come to terms with what their life is about.
  • 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson – non-fiction. I loved Jordan Peterson’s youtube videos and his book doesn’t disappoint. Strongly argued but inspiring.  Life is hard… and you must choose to face it.
  • Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse – non-fiction. Fascinating book.  Simon Sinek says this book inspired him.  The style of the book is almost poetic. Simple distinction, but this book makes it clearly and I came out with a different mindset as to how I lead in business.

Great books for 2021

What great books did you read in 2020 that I should be putting on my list for 2021?  I’d love to get your recommendations.

As you can see from this list I mainly read biographies, coaching/counselling cases, business leadership books, personal development books, novels and history books.  Typically at any one time I am reading one novel, one non-fiction and one history/biography book.

The History of the World

This summer I read “The Penguin History of the World”. “The entire story of human endeavour laid out in all its grandeur and folly, drama and pain in a single authoritative book”.

Conor’s World History in 1 Paragraph

World history 9000BC to Today:

The life of the poor was shit under every civilisation. It was short, dangerous, local, painful and dependant. Greek peasant life was bad under Sparta, Athens, Macedon. Roman peasant life was bad. Indian peasant life was bad under Indian rulers, under Mongol rulers, under British rulers. Chinese peasant life was bad under every empire. Russian peasant life was bad under Mongols, Muscovy Princes, Tsars. There were very few wealthy people. Most of the world has always been very poor. Tax systems extracted everything leaving only enough for peasants to not die. Tax was extracted to pay for palaces, rarely improvements in infrastructure.

8 Lessons from World History

The earliest written records are cave paintings from 65,000 years ago. The earliest written culture is 9000 years ago (7000 BC Sumer & Mesopotamia). (History can only begin when we have written records, otherwise it is just guesswork.)

  1. Civilisation rises and civilisation falls: there have been major losses of technology over the last 17,000 years. (This was something of a surprise to me as I realised that I had an untested assumption that innovations don’t disappear from civilisation).
  2. Geography matters a lot. The physical location and terrain of a nation shapes the people. Ireland, Britain, Japan – island nations.
  3. Agriculture allowed wealth creation. Agriculture allowed population growth and the first wealthy individuals (kings, emperors). A king without wealth will soon not be king.
  4. Fragile: Until 1500AD most empires, kingdoms, cities were only 1 or 2 poor harvests away from collapse.
  5. We need a common enemy An Empire without a common enemy will collapse from internal divisions (Rome, Mongols). A common enemy can create an empire or a nation (Greeks vs Persians, France vs England)
  6. Absolute power is the norm The separation of church and state, and limitations on political power are not common. Absolute monarchy that unites political, military and religious power is extremely common.
  7. Guttenberg changed everything. The availability of the printed word changed how we live more than any other change in history. How will the internet & AI change the next 1000 years?
  8. I like my life: I would prefer to be me than any Pharaoh, King, Emperor, Pope, Tsar of the last 17,000 years. The Sword of Damocles is real. (I would prefer to be king than peasant, but that is a different comparison).

The Penguin History of the World

The entire story of human endeavour laid out in all its grandeur and folly, drama and pain in a single authoritative book.

J.M. Roberts, CBE, published The Penguin History of the World in 1976 to immediate acclaim.

Odd Arne Westad, FBA, is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics.

Here’s the book The Penguin History of the World on amazon.

Book Recommendation: The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer

This video is about a book that I read last week that has had a major impact on my approach to life (even if only over the last 7 days…).

The Surrender Experiment

Check out: The Surrender Experiment, by Michael Singer https://amzn.to/2I0C6DC

Read More Great Books

If you would like to see my full list of 26 recommended books to read on leadership, communications and on life: Personal Leadership Library

 

Finding Courage as a Leader

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  Martin Luther King had courage as a leader to stand up for what is right.  He was willing, and did finally, pay the full price as a leader.

Update: I recorded a Facebook Live video session about this post and Bill Treasurer’s new book:

Conor & Bill on Conor’s roof terrace, Barcelona 2015

Bill Treasurer’s latest book, “A Leadership Kick in the Ass” launches today, January 16.  Bill is a good friend and a trusted source of expert guidance when I have questions about leadership, life and living well.  The pic to the right is from Bill’s last visit to Barcelona in 2015.

I first met Bill in 1996 at Accenture’s Global Leadership Training facility in St Charles, near Chicago USA.  We were put on a team of 4 consultants for a week-long training course.  I loved the experience, and I gained a leadership mentor that week.  Bill has gone on to publish 5 books on Leadership and speak on the stage with Marshall Goldsmith, Ken Blanchard.  I’m proud to say that Bill is turning into a Leadership guru.

About this post...  I did a short interview with Bill about his life and his motivations for writing this latest book.  First, here is Bill himself explaining what the new book is all about...

How to Lead with Experience: Making the Shift

If you are reading this via email you can watch the video on the blog here: How to lead with Experience

The Rhetorical Journey Interviews Bill Treasurer

Over to Bill… 

Where did the idea for the book come from? 

I didn’t know where the book came from until after I wrote it! Though I’ve worked with lots of famous companies over the years, the bulk of my work has been with three unionized construction companies based in Chicago. They have a very low tolerance of leadership fru fru. If you don’t give them practical and useful stuff that works, they will chew you up and spit you out.

This book is low on theory and high on practicality. Even the title was influenced by my construction company clients. Believe me, “ass” is the tamest word I hear when I’m working with them!

What single achievement are you proudest about? 

Honestly, when other parents compliment my wife and I on our kids. I love being my kids dad.

Outside of my home-life, the achievement I’m most proud of is having developed long-term relationships with my clients. In this business, if you’re not adding value, your business will fail. I love my clients, and I love the trust that we’ve built together. I consider the fact that they’ve entrusted me with the development of their leaders to be a sacred honor.

If you could speak to every person on the planet for 1 minute what would you say (what would you ask of them?)?

I would have the world start each day with 5 minutes of reflective silence. With all the technological bombardment in the world, we often move too far off-center, away from our inner wisdom.

With even 5 brief minutes of silence each day, people could become reconnected with the wisdom inside them, and collectively, humanity would be a lot better off with more wisdom and less distraction.

Who are 5 people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself?

My three children, Bina, Alex, and Ian. My wife, Shannon. And all my clients.

What is one failure you had, and how did you overcome it?

I sucked at leading. I know that because one of my employees had the courage to tell me. At first I got defensive. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. I didn’t know who I was as a leader, so I had adopted the leadership style of my main leadership role model: my dad. Turns out, my dad was a controlling temperamental hothead, and I was mimicking him.

So I picked up my first book on leadership: The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. It lit a fire in me. I started reading more leadership books, and then entered graduate school and studied leadership. My thesis focused on the effectiveness of various leadership styles. Before long, I got better as a leader myself. Now I work with leaders as part of my professional practice. I owe that courageous employee a debt of gratitude for telling me I sucked as a leader.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

 I’m a gregarious loner. People sometimes mistake me for an extraverted socialite.

In actuality, I’m a very solitary person and relish my time alone. I sometimes think of myself like a full moon that you can see during the morning. I’m at my best when I am able to be a bit of an outsider, observing the world with a certain objectivity, and then sharing what I’ve observed in my books.

I can be social, but it’s just as important to me to be unsocial so that I observe the world without becoming subsumed by it.

What is one internet resource that you regularly use?

Wikipedia. Someday, when computers get integrated with human biology, I’m going to upload Wikipedia into my brain!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

You mean besides my new book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass? J

One of my all-time favorite leadership books is Obedience to Authority, by Stanley Milgram. When you learn how easily people capitulate to authority figures, with little or no coercion, it becomes less perplexing to see how a Hitler or other malevolent leaders emerge. Every leader needs to read this eye-opening book.

About Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer (CEO) of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc. His new book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, focuses on the crucial importance of leadership humility. He is also the author of international best-seller Courage Goes To Work, which introduced the new management practice of courage building and Leaders Open Doors, which became the #1 leadership training book on Amazon. Bill’s clients include NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, Walsh Construction, Spanx, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs, and many others. Learn more at: www.CourageBuilding.com/Kickass

Connect with Bill through social media: facebook.com, twitterlinkedin. youtube

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Me and my 7 Habits

This is a great summary video of a book that had a great impact on me back when I was 23 years old.  I was working for Accenture (in those days, Andersen Consulting) and the organisation shared this book with all employees.  There’s a photo there of me there on the right with my leather bound edition of the book.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most influential books in self-development.

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw.

About the Creator

You can follow the creator Malkash Geldashvili on twitter.

The Simple Maths of Leadership

My friend Bill Treasurer’s fourth book “Leaders Open Doors” is now available. In 90 easy to read pages, Bill cuts layers of confusion out of the term “Leadership”.

Bill had an “Aha!” moment about a year ago.  (I mean Aha as in the story of Archimedes in the bath).

Bill has been teaching, coaching and mentoring leaders for over 20 years.  He has worked with CEOs, Presidents, Teachers, Entrepreneurs… but never yet with his children.

Earlier than expected, his moment came. His 5 year old son, Ian, came home from school and with a big smile proclaimed “Guess what, Daddy—I got to be the class leader today!”

This was to be Bill’s big moment…

Bill felt this was the moment where he would finally get to show his 5 year old the value of his lifetime of studying leadership. Bill, looked at his son and asked:

“Really? Class leader? That’s a big deal, little buddy. What did you get to do as the class leader?”

Instead of opening Ian up to Bill’s 20 years of leadership knowledge, in 7 words Ian knocked back his dad’s question with an answer that caused his dad to drop all his expertise, and realise that his son had just described leadership in a far more deep and profound way than he himself had ever managed in 20 years of teaching, speaking, writing and coaching.

Ian’s answer was simple:

“I got to open doors for people!”

…Bill learnt more from his son

In a matter of fifteen seconds, with seven simple words, Ian clarified what’s most important about leadership.

Bill’s new book takes this simple story and shares the simple steps that allow leaders to step up to their real role in society.

About Bill Treasurer

Bill is Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap Consulting and former U.S. High Diver, wants leaders to be a part of opening doors of opportunities for others to thrive, achieve, and lead. The proceeds of his new book, Leaders Open Doors, are being donated to charities that serve children with special needs. Available on Amazon.

The Simple Maths of Leadership

A leader’s job is to open 3 types of doors for people:

  • Doors of Opportunity
  • Doors of Accountability
  • Doors of Discomfort

7 Great Business Books

Who are your “Passive Mentors”?

Mentors make a big difference in my life. There are 2 types of mentor: Active and Passive mentors.

Active mentors are those that you meet in person, interact with and get to know.

Passive mentors are those that you learn from without them knowing.  Book authors are one of the top sources of Passive Mentoring.

My Top Passive Business Mentors

Here are my 7 most valuable Business Book recommendations:

What books would you recommend?  Why?

Interview: Manel Baucells, Author of Engineering Happiness

Manel Baucells was the favourite Professor amongst students when I did my MBA at IESE Business School.  He taught Decision Analysis.  There are certain types of situation under which humans will take poor (rational) decisions.  We study this subject so that we can reduce the likelihood that we will take similar poor decisions under similar situations.  Examples of situations that cause poor decisions are sunk costs, loss aversion, prediction of low frequency events.

Manel’s new book “Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Lifehas just arrived to my Kindle.  I asked him to answer a few questions about the book, and about how a Microsoft Excel geek could end up at the fluffy end of psychology…  writing about happiness 😉

Interview with Manel Baucells

Engineering Happiness,
by Manel Baucells


What most surprised you in learning about happiness?
How much happiness depends on our attitudes, rather than on external circumstances.

What led you to write the book?
As professors, our audience are the students that attend our lectures and the colleagues that read our academic papers. There is a moment in our careers that we want to expand our audience, and publish a book for a broad audience. It is critical to choose a time that is not too early in one’s career, and ideas are not yet mature; or too late. Rakesh and I felt that this is a good time in our careers to write a book of this characteristics.

Who will benefit from reading the book?
Any one interested in being happier, or readers of popular science books. I feel that the audience for non-fiction, research based books is expanding. This increase is due, no doubt, to the growing quality and relevance of the research done in the social sciences.

What are the 3 most damaging things people do that reduce happiness?
The fundamental starting point of the book is that happiness equals reality minus expectations. There are three key things one needs to understand:

  • The first is that expectations shift. The moment one increases his or her living standards, one get adapted quite soon, and going back down is very painful.
  • The second is that our happiness is greatly influenced by how we compare with our peers, our comparison group.
  • The third is that happiness can be engineered by using a “less to more” approach. Always start low, and then increase.

What 3 things have you changed in your own life since writing the book?
Managing expectations better, create less to more (crescendo) patterns, and engage in activities that accumulate.

The book is accessible for anyone interested in the latest science on the field of human happiness: Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life.


Have you read the book?  Did you have Manel as a professor?  What are your thoughts about the concept of mathematically measuring and improving “happiness”?

Book Review: Double Double by Cameron Herold

I met Cameron Herold at an Entrepreneurs’ Organisation meeting in Vancouver, Canada two years ago. He gave a keynote session to the group. He was passionate… and he left me with practical tools that I took home and implemented. It is rare to find this combination. Cameron delivers. He clearly has a passion to see other entrepreneurs succeed, and a determination to develop and deliver practical tools that make a difference.

Cameron has written a new book which shares his experiences in building his own businesses, and in being a coach to dozens of companies and hundreds of high growth entrepreneurs all around the world.

He has a free flowing writing style, easy to read and packed full of practical examples. This is a book written from experience. These are tools that have been developed through hard interaction with the real world of business.

You can download a pdf of the first chapter at Cameron’s website for the book.

I read the book about 3 weeks ago. Some of the highlights for me are the examples and practical tips that Cameron shares on:

  • Surviving the Entrepreneurial Rollercoaster (the four stages of entrepreneurial emotion)
  • Know where you are going: The Painted Picture
  • Reverse Engineer your Goals
  • Recruit and lead great People
  • Create a winning Culture
  • Get PR for your business at no cost
  • Get personally productive
  • Make your work-life balance
  • Attract an Advisory Board

You can get a sense of Cameron’s passion and style in his TED talk (video on the blog here).

Have a great day.  Here is a link to the book Double Double at Amazon.

Happy Dia de San Jordi

Today is La Diada de San Jordi in Catalunya; also known as The day of the Rose or The day of the Book.

This is as big a day as Valentine’s day for folks in Barcelona.  Girls give books and boys give roses to the important people in their lives.

My favourite novels of the moment:

Any other good books I should be reading?