2018’s Summer Reading

I last posted a reading list in early May highlighting at a few great books I read in the month of April. Coming to the end of the summer, I thought it may be worthwhile if I highlighted my summer reading.  It has been a busy few months of reading, and there have been a few gems. At the bottom I will highlight 3 books that I think are well worth your time.  For the truly curious, I thought I would list first everything I’ve read.

Life Planning

First a little background, for the last year I have been hard at work on a rough draft of a book focused on how people who are or become wealthy can best engage with their wealth where it becomes a strategic tool to enhance their lives. In the course of that process, the importance of heeding the Delphic maxim to “Know Thyself” has become so apparent. I wanted to dive in and explore more deeply different processes, tools, and questions for doing so. Here were 5 recent works on that front


Old Men Telling Great Tales

Other interesting stories

The Books You Should Read

Conspiracy – Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday shifts from his more recent works reinterpreting Stoicism into a modern context with this fascinating tale – I couldn’t put it down. Plucked straight from the headlines, Holiday dives deeply into Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit of Gawker Media after Gawker posted online a sex tape in which Hogan appeared. What surfaced after an almost 5 year long legal proceeding was that Hogan’s litigation effort was funded by the billionaire founder of Paypal, Peter Thiel. Holiday found himself in the somewhat unique position of being friends with both the vanquished (Gawker/Nick Denton) and the champion (Thiel), and Conspiracy is his recounting of Thiel’s near decade long attempt to bring about the end of Gawker. 

What makes the work that much more enjoyable, aside from the made for the movies plot, is how Holiday weaves in a historical and reflective look back at past conspiracies and the pre-conditions and steps that lead to either success or failure when traditional methods for attaining or using power are no longer viable. Can’t say enough good stuff about this one.

Tiger Woods – Jeff Benedict

There have been many biographies written about Tiger, and some have called this one the best. While Benedict breaks new ground in some parts of the book, the intensive focus on how Tiger was raised and the nature of his childhood were truly eye-opening. While we are all familiar with his denouement that fateful Thanksgiving weekend, what Benedict shows is that the series of events that culminated there, were in some ways an inevitability for Tiger. 

Managing the Professional Services Firm – David Maister

Maister, a former professor at Harvard Business School turned consultant to the consultant, expertly delves into the unique structures, management challenges and opportunities of firms where the assets of the business walk out the door each night. In a world that is increasingly becoming more focused on the delivery of services or services alongside a product, Maister was a prophet for the future given that this work was written in 1994. 

Books Read in April

April ended up being fairly productive on the reading front, with four books finished, bringing the year-to-date total to 19. Here are a few quick highlights on each of April’s reads.

Never Split the Difference — Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

Hands down the best read of the year so far. Voss, the former lead hostage negotiator for the FBI, blends a compelling mix of stories and theory to how he practices the delicate art of negotiation. If you ever interact with other human beings (i.e. all of us), there is a lesson here for you. Surprisingly a large portion of his approach is focused on empathetic listening. In a distracted world, it is amazing to hear how powerful (and difficult to do) the simple act of giving someone their full attention is.

Mastery — Robert Greene

Mastery is unlike any book I have read before. The writing style is an interesting blend of Malcolm Gladwell, meets motivational speaker, meets spiritual guru. Yet all that to say, Mastery seems like it should be required reading for any new college graduate. I finally got to it, just almost 15 years late. Greene’s overarching point is that very few people truly climb the pathway to Mastery in their chosen domain. When you look at world class achievers who have left a sizable body of work in their discipline, there is a common pattern to how they grew and developed their skills, starting with a mentor and then moving to independence, creativity and lasting contribution. In some ways, this book pairs nicely with Josh Waitzkin’s Art of Learning as a meta-study of achievement.

The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King — Rich Cohen

Samuel Zemurray was an impoverished Russian immigrant who started his professional career selling near ripe bananas off the back of a freight train in the rural south. From that inauspicious beginning, he built Cuyamel Fruit and later became the head of United Fruit. This book is a fascinating tale looking at turn of the century American industry and politics through the eyes of a now common and humble fruit, the banana. Yet at that time, the banana was a symbol of economic opportunity and prosperity. Zemurray’s name should be mentioned alongside that of J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller and other economic titans of that time. As an indication of his level of influence, he played a meaningful role in toppling two South American governments. This was incredibly entertaining and could easily be optioned into a movie someday.

The Generosity Network — Jennifer McCrea and Jeff Walker

No doubt we have all been tasked with the act of fundraising for a non-profit at some point. McCrea (of Harvard) and Walker (former private equity senior leader) have drafted a thoughtful work that encourages us to see philanthropy in a much broader capacity. By viewing fundraising as a consultative approach where the ask is one of finding common causes and passions, it removes the power barrier between those with the money and those without. Instead, it becomes about two eager heads circling around an issue to determine where or how it may fit within the potential donors philanthropic aspirations. In all this book does a nice job of recognizing that the “inch deep and mile wide approach” to philanthropy is going away. Instead, people are diving deeply into a narrower set of causes. This should be required reading for any non-profit board member or director of development.

8 Things Every High School Senior Should Know About College

A younger cousin of mine was just accepted to my Alma Mater, Wake Forest. I wrote her an email recently reflecting on what I wish I had known about college given what I know now. I thought this might be valuable for others as well.

Hey and Happy New Year!

I know your generation doesn’t read emails, so bear with me J  I mentioned this briefly over the holidays, but I could not be more excited for you to head to Wake Forest this coming fall. I think if anything your acceptance has encouraged me to remember what a wonderful time I had there, and be excited (and a little jealous) that you will get to build your own memories at a place that is so near and dear to my heart.

At the risk of coming across excessively parental, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wish I would have known when I stepped foot on my college campus as freshman vs. what I knew when I graduated and now know 13 years after graduation. I thought I would put down a few things, in the hope that you may find it encouraging and helpful at some point during your tenure.

1.      You will make some of the best friends of your life, but it won’t happen at once.  Coming from a smaller private school as I was, we are forced to make the best friends we can, given the people available to us. At college, you will find an amazing group of people and easily find folks that fit who you are as a person, and who you want to be as an adult. 

I still talk regularly to my closest guy friends from Wake. The flip side of this, is that these friends may not happen at once. My freshman year was marked by periods of overwhelming loneliness. Please know that those are very normal, and everyone is feeling the same way. Those alone times forced me to reach out to others, and set the stage for meeting what are now my best of friends.

2.      Play the class game well.  Ok – I don’t know what your high school is like, but I came from a private high school which had a few choices for course work, but not many. Classes in college and at Wake are a game and you can learn how to play it well. My first academic mistake was taking a math class freshman year that was too hard for me. I toughed it out and finished with my worst grade in college. I should have just dropped the class 2 weeks in and changed to an easier class but I didn’t realize that was an option.

It is your education, so focus on building the skills you want and exploring the interests you have. The pace will be breath taking at first – a full year’s worth of high school material in 1 semester, but you will get used to it. 

Don’t overload your first semester – I took a writing seminar, calculus 111, a second semester sophomore Spanish class, and an intro to history class (huge reading load). Insane – 15 hrs – you’ve got 4 years to get it done. Find a junior or senior who gets it and figure out how they study and use their time. 

3.      See a lot.  Wake is incredibly diverse in student body, experiences, and opportunities. There is a ton of stuff going on at campus that a lot of students won’t go to because they are too busy (or think they are too busy). Take advantage of those resources. I ended up taking 5 fine arts classes, and saw a ton of theatre, music, and art all on campus – something I would have never been interested in if I hadn’t explored what was so easily available to me.

4.      Study abroad – Seriously, this is the best thing I have ever done, ever. It changed my life more than any other experience at Wake and has dramatically shaped how I live my life today. My wife  would say the same thing. (Your parents may freak out – but they’ll deal) I was abroad when the Iraq war started – it’s always dangerous. Also – you can study abroad no matter your major, it just requires more planning. I was a business major and studied abroad (which has a reputation of being impossible to do)

5.      Make friends with your professors.  People who chose to teach at Wake value their students – more than research. I am still very close with several professors to this day. One invested in my business, and I saw one a few months ago on campus. They are sometimes quirky, but good and generous people. If you show that you are well-intentioned, paying attention and working hard (and not entitled), they will bend over backwards for you.

6.      Talk to career services early, and get an internship.  The team there are really good. Internships are so invaluable in helping you figure out what you want to do with your life, no matter your field. I would consider it as early as summer after sophomore year.

7.      Make it your own.  Your Wake experience will be uniquely yours. The school has changed a lot since I was there, and since your parents were there – and what you love about Wake may be the same, but may also be really different from our experiences.

8.      Time is valuable.  You will never have more time and freedom than the next four years. With 12-15 hours of class total a week, you will have lots of time to do what you wish. Wake students will always complain about how busy they are and how much they have to study. 

Most of the time, it’s because they aren’t disciplined with their time. Now 13 years out, in a busy 60 hour a week job, wife, and 3 kids, time is precious. As I look back at my time at Wake, I am jealous for the freedom to have that time– all that to say – seize every moment you can – whether it’s for pick up frisbee on the quad, a random road trip, to stay up way too late talking with friends, etc. 

Again, so excited for you. (I hope this comes across more like a big brother than a parent)