Books I Read On Sabbatical 2015

Amy and I take an annual one month sabbatical completely off the grid. This is something that each of my partners and their families also do – we rotate throughout the year and the other partners completely cover for whomever is on sabbatical. Based on the experience of the past two years, this has had a dramatic positive impact on our lives, our relationship with our families, our mental health, and our longevity in our business. It also is a powerful reinforcing dynamic in our partnership – we talk regularly about how we all work on everything together, but when one person is gone for a month and the other three have to cover everything he’s working on, there’s nowhere to hide and the trust dynamic that evolves is remarkably deep.

We went to Rancho Valencia and played tennis at least five days a week and I used this trip to completely reboot my tennis game. When I was a kid, I played junior tennis in Texas from age 10 – 14. I was good but not great – I could consistently get to the quarter finals in tournaments and every now and then make it to the semifinals. I stopped playing around age 14 when I discovered girls and computers. Today, after having zero consistency on the court for 35 years I’m a solid 4.0 but with some effort and consistency I expect I could play 4.5 tennis. That’s kind of a fun thought for the next 20 years.

One of the other things Amy and I do on sabbatical is read every day. We are both fast readers and I generally can read a book in a day or two, depending on the type and size of the book. Last year I was on a biography kick in Bora Bora and that’s what I posted about. This year I decided to do a LIFO approach on my Kindle so you’ll just get the whole list (in order read) along with my quick thoughts. This includes books I decided to buy while on sabbatical as they jumped to the front of the LIFO line.

If you want my full reading list mildly categorized going back several years, take a look at my Goodreads account.

How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written: Amy and I ended up addicted to Archer and I think it’s now my favorite TV cartoon. The book is fun, but the TV show (now through six seasons) is a riot. Archer Vice is an especially fun year (Season 5).

Rogue Lawyer: I stopped reading John Grisham books many years ago (I loved his first few and then got bored). For some reason I picked this one up and thought it was great fun.

Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies: This one was a little chewy, but fortunately not that long. I don’t remember why I bought it or who had recommended it to me. It didn’t stick with me thought – I’m not sure I remember anything insightful from it.

How We’ll Live on Mars (TED Books): Given the move The Martian and all the recent Elon Musk talk about Mars, I decided to learn a little more. This was another winner – easy to read and very accessible, yet with plenty of stuff that was new to me.

The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor: Yeah, well, Howard Marks is an investment genius. I should have read this book when it first came out. If you are in any kind of investment business (including Venture Capital) you should read this book right now.

Startup Wealth: How the Best Angel Investors Make Money in Startups: Josh interviewed a bunch of angel investors, including me. This is a very timely and relevant book for any angel investor. It’s heavily interview style and could have benefited from a stronger edit pass, but it has tons of useful (and often contradictory) feedback from lots of different angel perspectives.

The Term Sheet: A Startup Thriller Novel: I’m a big fan of the Startup Fiction genre. This was a quick, fun read.

@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex: This was an important book that crushed my soul. We are at the very beginning of something that is so complex that it will make traditional / historical war look like child’s play. Sure – the ancient Romans and the Greeks created a lot of war strategies that are still in use today, but they never envisioned this.

Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy: I’m reading a lot about robotics and AI these days. I bet you aren’t surprised. This was a solid book – I learned a few things and it made me think a little deeper about others.

Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals: I needed something fun, light, and absurd to read as I been consuming too much serious stuff. This book, written by the guy who created the hilarious GSElevator twitter account, nailed it. As a bonus, if you are either voyeuristic or cynical (or both) about investment bankers, this book is for you.

The Investment Answer: I was given this book with a note that it’s a clear, basic book on personal finances and investing. It’s that, but very basic. If you don’t feel like you have a handle on your personal investing approach, even if you don’t have a lot of money, this is a good starting place.

America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve: With all the discussion about the Fed starting to raise interest rates, I felt I owed it to myself to understand the history of the creation of the Federal Reserve. I knew under 3% of what actually had happened, and I didn’t understand any of the competing forces. In addition to the mechanics and philosophy of what and why the Fed was created, the politics behind it were fascinating. Like a lot of history, it was a little too much blow by blow, but overall really good and context generating.

The Last of the President’s Men: This was the best book of the trip. Wow, wow, wow. I’m a huge Woodward fan so I’ve read a lot of his books. This is a capstone to a very long career of writing about Nixon. It’s totally crazytown what still is surfacing from the Nixon White House era.

Girl in the Woods: A Memoir: I’ve got a fantasy that in a parallel universe I thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While I’m not going to do it in this particular lifetime, I love reading stories about people who do it. This one, like The Wild, is a coming of age story that is incredibly powerful and well written. While there are plenty of stressful, emotionally painful, and some cringeworthly parts, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book.

Wishful Drinking: Star Wars 7 is coming. Amy and I are in the midst of watching Episodes 1 through 6. So – it’s time for some Carrie Fisher. Well – ok – one is enough.

Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi: Reading some Carrie Fisher led me to reading Bob Woodward’s biography of John Belushi. It also prompted us to download the best of Belushi on SNL and watch it, although we managed to restrain ourselves from watching Neighbors. As a childhood Belushi fan, this book made me incredibly sad and I think I actually moped around for a few days after reading it.

A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought series Book 1): Time for some science fiction. I hadn’t read Vinge’s Zone of Thought series so I decided to start it. Like most Vinge, it’s a lot of book with tons of ideas that hold well today, in this case about what is going on 25,000 years in the future. I’ve got the next one on my Kindle and will read it when I need another break from current reality.

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns: Amy and I aren’t public market investors – neither of us are interested in it and I simply don’t have time or the emotional energy to add it into the mix of what I do. However, we own plenty of public equity through the various mutual funds (managed and index) that we own. I’d never read the book by Bogel (the founder of Vanguard) and it has been recommended to me by several people I trust. It’s extremely well done and very clear – worthwhile to read if you struggle with the best way to invest in the public markets over the very long term.

Beatlebone: The only physical newspaper I read these days is the Sunday New York Times. And, I don’t read all of it – only the front section, business, Book Review, and the Magazine (Amy reads – and savors – the whole paper.) This was highly recommended in the Book Review and John Lennon is my favorite Beatle. It took me almost a week to read it – it was hard to get into and then easy to bounce out of. Or, it’s possible I was just pretty “read out” by this point.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance: It seemed appropriate to end seven weeks of tennis with one of the classics about tennis. Awesome book.

As 2015 comes to an end, it was a good year. Here’s looking forward to 2016. And – happy reading.

  • If you had to pick one to either recommend or read again, which would it be?

    • Wordward’s The Last of the President’s Men.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed The Term Sheet as well and just added a few others from this list to my to-read pile. Thanks for sharing :).

  • rick gregory

    The next vinge isn’t as mindblowingly scaled as Fire. For a really offbeat look from him at the nearish future when wearable tech is firmly established try Rainbow’s End. For far future but very different from Fire, try The Peace War and/or Marooned in Realtime (2nd in that series). Obviously, True Names is his classic – if you’ve not read it, do.

    • Thanks. I’ve read Rainbow’s Edge but I think it’s time to read it again.

  • Are you sitting, standing or lying down while reading?

  • Victor Muthoka

    Some great reads here, thanks for sharing. Added a couple to my kindle wish list to read. Thank you brad!

    • My pleasure. I’m deep in Flash Boys (Michael Lewis) and it’s another great one by him.

      • Victor Muthoka

        I’ve already read that one. EXCELLENT book.

  • Dave Kruse

    Thanks Brad. I always love it when you list the books you have just read. What books/classes/other are you using to learn more about robotics and AI? I’m curious.

    • Re: AI – lots of science fiction (to form my own view). All the contemporary “experts” (like Bostrom). Talking to plenty of people. That’s about it.

  • Thanks for sharing! Many interesting to choose from. Adding some of these to my list 🙂

  • If you liked (were terrified by @war) I highly recommend http://www.amazon.com/Future-Crimes-Everything-Connected-Vulnerable/dp/0385539002 It covers a lot of the same ground but does a much better job of discussing the cyber crime element and I think a better job of discussing the APT.

    • Thanks. Grabbed it.

  • Minn

    Thanks for sharing, Brad! Excited to read more on robotics and AI as well.

    Do you keep a running list anywhere? I kept my 52in52 in check here – https://airtable.com/shrWoFzA4HHmVJBJP. My 2015 book highlight would be Gawande’s Being Mortal, which included several interesting musings on what it means to live and die with an ever increasingly aging population.