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My highlights from this year:

1. "How to Measure Anything" (Douglas Hubbard)

Presents a few simple techniques (confidence intervals, Monte Carlo simulations, regression analysis, Bayes, etc) to help with decision-making. E.g., should we build this feature or spend the same money on marketing?

I put it alongside "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (Daniel Kahneman), "Superforecasting" (Philip Tetlock), "The Art of Thinking Clearly" (Rolf Dobelli), etc. These books explain how our thinking is often flawed; "How to Measure Anything" gives you some tools to avoid flawed thinking.

Note: if you already know the math (a lot of people on HN would), you might not get that much out of it.

2. "Why We Sleep" (Matthew Walker)

As I read this book I kept thinking about all the people I knew who would benefit from it: family and friends whom I want to have healthy happy lives, managers who believe that they'll get more out of people by pushing them to work crazy hours… and lots of people who think they’ll get more out of themselves if they sleep less.

With references to studies, the book explains the different factors that influence sleep, what your body does during sleep and the different phases of sleep, how your body—mostly the brain—benefits, etc.

For days after reading it I kept telling friends about things I'd learnt from it. One of my favourite was how certain types of bird are able to sleep: they line themselves up in a row, with the birds on each end putting only half their brain to sleep. This way they can keep one of their eyes open—the one furthest to the end—so they can keep watch. Then after a while the birds on the end will turn around and sleep the other side of their brain.


My only complaint is that it very rarely mentions the actual numbers behind studies. E.g., there might be a mention of a lack of sleep and an increased risk of diabetes or depression or heart attacks, but there's no reference to the amount the risks increase by.

3. "Shoe Dog" (Phil Knight)

The story of Nike, told by the founder. I honestly don't care about Nike but that's not the takeaway—it's not about shoes or T-shirts or Michael Jordan. It's about a guy trying to keep a business alive: almost from day one there no let-up, the company is continually under threat.

Also the early employees are a really fun bunch.

4. "The Master and Margarita" (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Fiction. It took me a while to warm up to this but I'm glad I stuck it out. I think the charm is in the language and the crazy mix of characters, the way religion is dealt with in a very human way; the tension, the fun…

I really struggle to describe this book.

5. "Shantaram" (David Gregory Roberts)

Fiction. I was looking for a book about India. I've never been, and I thought I might learn something and get a feeling of what it's like to be there.

I didn't. Not in the same way that I could feel the heat in "Heart of Darkness" (Joseph Conrad) or the sun and the trees in "From the Holy Mountain" (William Dalrymple) or the weight of the world in "Suttree" (Cormac McCarthy).

But it's a good ride of a story.

6. "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories" (Delmore Schwartz)

I knew this book from university. And then a few weeks ago: I needed a break from the world of tech and productivity and work, and this did the trick. It is so far away from that. Think: creative types working on books and poems and plays during the depression, struggling, self-conscious, observant, talkative…

If you want to read a book about India, you could read "Delhi" by Khushwant Singh, it is a pretty cool book about India's most interesting city. =)

I'll check it out. Thanks :)

"The Master and Margarita" - I'm assuming you read this in English. I'm currently reading this in Russian, great book, but I wonder how much is lost in translation and lost in "missing context"- there are some great parts of this book that are very Russian/Soviet, did you find parts that you didn't understand? (I'm assuming you're not Russian).

You assume correctly :)

I read it in English. The Burgin/O'Connor translation.

I don't recall not understanding anything, but I'm sure there are parts that I would have enjoyed more had I known about the history and culture, or had I read it in Russian.

To compensate a bit I read the notes at the end of the book and the Wikipedia article. E.g., apparently there are some abbreviations that are meant to be ironic: that was completely lost on me.

How to Measure Anything is great! It has some brilliant advice - for example: you can get a 95% confidence interval for the median of an unknown thing with just 5 measurements!

And he describes a framework for how to calculate the value of measurement (e.g. how much is running an experiment that costs $1,000 worth -- will the information we gain be more valuable than the cost? etc).

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