Category: Books

Jul 25 2018

Book: North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail

I’m a marathon runner, but not an ultrarunner. I’ve only done one ultra (the American River 50 miler) and the combination of the training, race, and recovery was too much for me. But I love the idea of ultras.

I have several close friends who run ultras so I live vicariously through them. I love to watch documentaries about ultras, like the insane Barkley Marathons.

There are lots of ultra runners in Boulder. While I’m not part of the scene, I follow them from a distance.

Scott Jurek is one of my heroic ultra characters in Boulder. I find his running accomplishments completely mind-bending. He is a great writer and I thoroughly enjoyed his previous book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. So, when I noticed his new book, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail while wandering around in the Boulder Bookstore Saturday night, I grabbed it.

I read it Monday and Tuesday night, finishing it last night right before bedtime. I was simply awesome. Jurker (Scott’s nickname) wrote it with his wife Jenny. They used a really fun format – alternating sections within each chapter. The first half of the chapter was Jurker’s view of what was going on (in his voice). The second half of the chapter was in Jenny’s voice. Each of them covered a wide range of experiences during the 47-day journey, including lots of fascinating characters along the way.

I have a secret dream of running the Colorado Trail. Please don’t tell anyone, especially Amy or my parents. It’s only 486 miles (vs. the Appalachian Trail which is officially “about 2,200 miles.”). Since it’s a secret dream, I’m going to keep it locked away there, while reading about amazing feats like what Jurker did on the Appalachian Trail.

If you are a runner, endurance athlete, or just love great human adventure stories, you’ll love this book.

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Jun 29 2018

Book: The Hard Break

Aaron Edelheit recently came out with a great book titled The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle

He interviewed me as he was writing it so I show up a few times, along with a few friends that I sent his way. The subtitle is a good hint – instead of a 24/7 life (where you are always on, especially in a work context), Aaron suggests 24/6, where there is a full 24 hour “hard break” each week.

Long-time readers and friends will know that I generally take a digital sabbath for 24 hours starting Friday night and ending Saturday night (and often Sunday morning.) I’m off my phone, email, text, vox, and other digital channels. I read hard copy books or on my Kindle, but try to stay completely off the web. I’m not religious, nor am I religious about doing this, but I’m pretty consistent. And I have a good enforcer encourager in Amy, who I’d rather spend Friday night and Saturday with instead of my computer.

Aaron does a great job challenging the conventional entrepreneurial mythology around how you have to work all the time, burn the midnight oil, grind it out, and be comfortable with the idea that great entrepreneurs work all the time. Is burnout really a right of passage as an entrepreneur? Do you actually have to push yourself to the absolute physical and emotional limit to be successful?

I believe the answer to this is no, as does Aaron. He asserts that each of us needs time away from work and technology and makes a compelling case that time away from work can actually make us more successful and productive in the long term.

Aaron weaves his own personal story into the book, which, rather than reading like a memoir, supports the points he’s making and reinforces the stories and examples of others. His own journey is one, like many, of a series of key moments of personal and professional success and failure that generates his current viewpoint. In addition to being a provocative book, it’s a personal book.

Aaron, thanks for putting your energy into advocating the benefits of taking some downtime on a regular basis. If you are an entrepreneur, feeling exhausted by the pressure of always being on, or feeling external pressure to never take a break, I recommend you grab this book, curl up on the couch tomorrow, and turn off your phone.

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Jun 25 2018

NY Times Book Review of Eliot Peper’s Bandwidth

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I adore Eliot Peper. We met randomly (he sent me an email), which turned into a long-distance relationship, culminating in FG Press (our now defunct publishing company) publishing Eliot’s first book titled Uncommon Stock (and being the first book that FG Press published).

Eliot went on to publish several other books with FG Press. When FG Press failed, we revered the rights back to him (and all of the other authors) for their books, which Eliot went on to self-publish. He followed it with a number of other books, including Cumulus and Neon Fever Dream. He also wrote a clever short story about discrimination which was inspired by David Cohen.

Eliot recently signed a deal with 47North (one of Amazon’s imprints). His first book under that imprint, Bandwidth, just came out. I read an early pre-release version and loved it. So did, apparently, the NY Times Book Review.

“In a setting that could be a prequel to “Trail of Lightning,” Eliot Peper’s BANDWIDTH (47North, $24.95) is a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of power among those who broker it. Not far in our future, San Diego is a perpetually burning wasteland, the Arctic has melted and Dag Calhoun, a partner at a lobbying firm called Apex Group, helps rich people get richer from catastrophe.

But while working on behalf of Commonwealth, a company that provides internet to most of the planet, Dag is recruited by a secret organization called the Island. Their ability to hack into people’s feeds — the augmented reality through which everyone experiences the world — grants them unprecedented powers of surveillance and persuasion. But while Dag’s in the business of breaking the world, the Island’s in the business of saving it — and they want Dag to be their double agent.

“Bandwidth” is a book that savors everything: Dag dwells as much in the scents and tastes of coffee and tequila as he does in philosophical problems of means justifying ends and the limits of ethical persuasion. Peper manages a great deal of complexity without sacrificing clarity or pace, and I read it all in a single fascinated sitting.

That said, the book gives me pause where its women are concerned. A portion of the plot hinges on the premise that one’s sexual predilections can be deliberately and artificially curated, and while I could see the effort made to embed that premise in the novel’s context, it still left a bad taste in my mouth; similar logic underpins rhetoric about “turning people gay” or “curing” homosexuality. Still, the depth and vulnerability of Dag’s perspective, his loneliness and the value he places on his few real friendships, kept “Bandwidth” feeling real and urgent.

In an afterword, Peper observes that “in an age of acceleration, contemplation is power.” It’s a good note on which to end — perhaps with an exhortation to digital readers to seek this column in print, where you can linger and contemplate to your heart’s content.”

As any writer knows, it’s a huge deal to get a review in the NY Times. As my GPS often says, Eliot, “you have arrived.”

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Jun 4 2018

Book: What Made Maddy Run

I took Saturday off, slept a lot, and read What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen.

Kate Fagan has written a must-read book for every parent of a high school or college athlete.

The story of Madison Holleran is a heartbreaking one. Maddy was a star athlete in high school, in a big (five kids) happy family with two engaged parents. She played soccer and track and, after almost going to Lehigh for soccer, ended up going to Penn for track.

And, that’s when everything started to go wrong.

Maddy committed suicide a few days after returning for the second semester of her freshman year after trying, unsuccessfully, to quit the track team.

Maddy’s family gave the author, Kate Fagan, incredible access, which allowed Fagan to write a powerful book. Many different themes are explored, against the backdrop of Maddy’s development as a teenage athlete, the internal pressures of today’s teen, the struggle of entry into college and separation from home, and how depression can take hold of someone. While Maddy’s story is central to all of this, Fagan includes her own experience as a college athlete in areas, that make the writing incredibly relatable.

It’s not an easy book since you know the ending when you start it. It’s simple to fall in love with Maddy – she’s a delightful American kid. The joy in her friendships and experiences start off rich and light. You see the turn into darkness happen slowly. And, because it unfolds against the backdrop of Fagan’s analysis and intellectual exploration, it makes it more accessible.

On Sunday, I came across a full-page ad in the NY Times with Michael Phelps talking about his own depression for a new product called TalkSpace. I found a short video for it, which is below.

As a bonus, there’s a section in the book about Active Minds with some interviews with members. This is an organization for mental health in college students, which Amy and I support through our Anchor Point Foundation and that I wrote about in the post Mental Fitness, the NFL, Active Minds, and the Competitive Workplace.

If you are a parent of a teenage or college athlete, read this book. If you want to learn more about mental health and depression, read this book. And, if you want to get involved in organizations like Active Minds, just drop me an email.

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May 28 2018

Q218 Vacation Reading

Amy and I took a much needed 10 days off in Aspen.

The first five months of the year was intense for both of us. Lots of travel, work, and stuff. Not a lot of self-care, time alone, or reading. And very little running since my calf was injured.

The last 10 days were lots of together time, running, reading, and sleeping. I gobbled up a bunch of books, all of them worth reading.

Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear: I started with a short book by Carl Hiaasen. I’m a fan of his fiction, so this caught my eye in Explore Booksellers (the local Aspen bookstore where we always load up whenever we come here.) It was cynically wonderful, and great advice.

Adjustment Day: Ever since Fight Club, I’ve been a Chuck Palahniuk fan. His fiction is cloudy, complex, challenging, contemporary, and cynical. He’s basically the C-Man of fiction (go Chuck, go …) Adjustment Day was the perfect fictional setup for the next book I read, which was …

Fascism: A Warning: Amy and I have been fortunate enough to get to know Madeleine Albright through our collective relationships at Wellesley. Amy knows her better, but I had an amazing dinner sitting next to her one night where I walked away thinking “I wish she had been born here so she could run for president.” The word “fascism” is once again being used so often as to mean nothing, so Albright spends 250 or so pages walking the reader through real fascism, how fascists behave, what they do to their countries (and societies), and what – as a citizen in a democratic country – to pay attention to. She covers the famous ones, but also some not so famous ones, especially those who came to power in the context of a theoretically democratic society.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup: Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of  lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.

Imagine Wanting Only This: I love graphic novels. I don’t read enough because – well – I don’t know. Amy bought me this one because she loved the cover. Kristen Radtke wrote a beautiful, provocative, at times extremely sad, but also uplifting story that is auto-biographical. I wish I could write this well. And, when I read a book like this, I really wish I could draw.

The Painted Word: The world lost a great writer recently when Tom Wolfe died. So I bought the Five Essential Tom Wolfe Books You Should Read. I hadn’t read The Painted Word so I started with it. It’s a deliciously scathing criticism of modern art, circa 1975. I loved it.

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto: If you read one book from this list, read this one, especially if you live in Boulder. Alan Stern, the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, wrote – with David Grinspoon – a riveting story that spans around 30 years. Both Alan and David are at CU Boulder, which plays a key role in the exploration of the last planet in our solar system (there – I said it – Pluto is a planet, the IAU be damned.) This book is a page tuner and will cause you to fall in love with Pluto. And, in late breaking news, Pluto may actually be a giant comet (ah – clickbait headlines …)

Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger: I’m a huge Charlie Munger fan. For some reason, I’d missed this biography of him. I learned a few things I didn’t know and got to travel back in time to a book written in the context of Charlie Munger about 20 years ago.

It was a great vacation. I’ll be back in Boulder tomorrow …

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Apr 23 2018

Book: Head On – A Novel of the Near Future

To clean my palate after reading Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, I settled onto the couch on Sunday after my run and gobbled up John Scalzi’s Head On: A Novel of the Near Future. It was delicious and I gave it to my partner Ryan McIntyre at dinner last night (he and Katherine are in a nice rhythm of taking care of me Sunday night when Amy is away.)

If you don’t know Scalzi, he’s one of my favorite near-term sci-fi writers and joins a list that includes Hertling, Peper, Gibson, Suarez, Howey, Cline, and Weir. If those names aren’t familiar, and you like sci-fi (or want to get into it) that should keep you busy for a while. If you know those names and have others to add, leave them in the comments for me to enjoy!

Head On is the sequel to Lock In. But it’s a magical sequel (I think the official name for this is a “standalone sequel”, but I find them magical so there) – one that doesn’t require you to read the first book. If you want to quickly get into Scalzi, just read Head On, then go back and read Lock In. This morning, I discovered there is an adjacent book in the series called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome which I just grabbed.

Here are a few tidbits for you.

Haden’s Syndrome results from a virus where 1% of people exposed become Locked-in and end up in a pseudocoma. The solution, in the near future, is surgery that results in a neural network implant, that connects the person’s brain to the Agora (a virtual world for Haden Syndrome sufferers) as well as a normal-ish existence in personal robotic transports (called Threeps).

Hilketa is a futuristic football-like game, but with swords and hammers. The two teams are made up of threeps and the only players – so far – are Hadens. The goal is to decapitate the “goat” (one of the opposing team’s players, randomly chosen throughout the game) and get it through the goalposts. No one has ever died yet during the game, until about page two of the book.

Just go read it. It’s awesome.

I’ve started training for my next marathon (number 26), which means its time to go running. Hopefully, this one will be a little better than the 5:59:59 last one in South Dakota.

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Apr 22 2018

Book: A Higher Loyalty

I finished James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership last night. Everyone who thinks or cares about leadership should read it and allow themselves to process it at a meta-level.

I don’t know James Comey and other than seeing his name, photos, opinions, interviews, criticisms, and analysis of him all week, have never really thought much about him. I noticed him during the 2016 election around the Hillary Clinton investigation – both when he announced it, ended it, re-opened it again, and closed it again. I noticed when he was fired and thought everything around it was odd.

I’ve never studied the FBI, know anyone who works there, or have really thought much about its relationship to the rest of the Executive Branch (or the government in general), other than knowing that it is part of the Executive Branch and that the director of the FBI reports to the Attorney General. Beyond than that, most of what I know about the FBI I’ve learned from fictional movies and TV shows, which I know is as accurate as the Fast and Furious movies.

My sense, from all the attention around the book in the last few weeks, was that this would be an important book. I didn’t know how it would be important, but the combination of the extremely aggressive criticism of Comey, the endless ad-hominem attacks on him, the promotion of the revelations that the book held, and a latent curiosity that I had around the dynamics of the director of the FBI before and after the most recent election, caused me to pre-order the book.

I’m going to use the reaction people had to Emily Chang’s book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley to frame my view of Comey’s book. When I wrote the post Book: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley I was simply writing about my reactions and thoughts after reading the book. Over the few weeks following my post, I had several conversations with men, all who I respect, about the book. In most of these conversations, I was surprised that they had a different, and generally negative, reaction to the book from me. When I pressed on why they had the reaction they had, it always came back to an excerpt that was published before the book was released and the ensuing controversy around the event and whether or not it happened as Emily portrayed it in the book. When I asked the question, “Did you read the book or just the excerpt” each one answered some version of “I’ve only read the excerpt.”

The remarkable thing about some of the criticism about Comey and his book was that it occurred before the book was released. The attacks – both substantive and ad-hominem, have been amplified to a volume of 11.

Comey starts the book off strong by acknowledging his own weaknesses and goals for the book. He asserts that he is focused on defining and describing ethical leadership, using his own experiences as support for the ideas of what he believes (and I agree) is a powerful and important leadership approach. While the book uses the format of a memoir, I think he did an excellent job of putting the reader in the moment of the decisions he had to make, how and why he made them, and the legal context in which he made them. As a result, the notion of ethical leadership gets developed and defined throughout the book.

The criticism of the book that I keep seeing focuses on Comey. It talks about his self-absorption, his need for personal absolution, his inability to see things from a perspective other than “his truth”, and a plethora of other weaknesses, including using his personal descriptions of the people he was talking to at various points in the book.

This is why I encourage you to read the book and reflect on it at a meta-level. There are different ways to be a successful leader. Truth and empathy are powerful, and key traits, of many of the great leaders I know and respect. For these leaders, loyalty is earned rather than demanded. Comey casts himself as this type of leader, but also acknowledges mistakes, misjudgments, and conflicts along his journey. This is another powerful message – leaders are imperfect. And, when you reflect on the various anecdotes Comey describes, from his perspective, one can see this very clearly in all of the leaders he describes his interactions with.

As I need a break from current reality, Sunday’s book will be science fiction …

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Mar 30 2018

Book: Waking Up White

My dad, brother, and I are now doing a monthly book club together. One of us chooses a book, we all read it, and then we do an hour-long video conference and talk about it. We’ve done this for about six months now and it’s wonderful.

A few months ago Daniel chose Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. It was a powerful book that started off strong.

“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving. Neither is true; both distort and stunt development. Racism crushes spirits, incites divisiveness, and justifies the estrangement of entire groups of individuals who, like all humans, come into the world full of goodness, with a desire to connect, and with boundless capacity to learn and grow. Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.

No one alive today created this mess, but everyone alive today has the power to work on undoing it. Four hundred years since its inception, American racism is all twisted up in our cultural fabric. But there’s a loophole: people are not born racist. Racism is taught, and racism is learned. Understanding how and why our beliefs developed along racial lines holds the promise of healing, liberation, and the unleashing of America’s vast human potential.”

I found myself nodding many times as I read this book. When I finished, I wandered around the web and found this TEDx Fenway talk by the author which does a great job of a high-level summary of the book.

I particularly liked this framing:

“What I’ve learned is that thinking myself raceless allowed for a distorted frame of reference built on faulty beliefs. For instance, I used to believe:

  • Race is all about biological differences.
  • I can help people of color by teaching them to be more like me.
  • Racism is about bigots who make snarky comments and commit intentionally cruel acts against people of color.
  • Culture and ethnicity are only for people of other races and from other countries.
  • If the cause of racial inequity were understood, it would be solved by now.”

Dad, Daniel, and I talked extensively about the notion of “Good intentions, bad information.” While it applies to many situations, it’s especially key in applying critical thinking to a complex, or deeply challenging situation, especially one where there is a visceral bias (emotional or intellectual) that appears. Consider applying Curiosity, Courage, and Tolerance by doing the following.

  • Curiosity: Ask yourself silently, “Why did I just think that thought?” Force yourself to chase down the “why” before you go on.
  • Courage: Resist feeling terrified that you will say the wrong thing. There are lots of different ways to say something with a qualifier that you don’t have any idea whether what you are saying is going to be offensive, interpreted correctly, or correct.
  • Tolerance: Tolerate your own feelings of discomfort, anger, grief, and embarrassment. Take a deep breath and calmly press through into the situation.

There’s a lot more in the book that both challenged me and helped me. I’m sure I interpreted plenty of it wrong, but, in the same way that I’m reading and exploring a lot of feminist literature, I’m going to include explorations of race and ethnicity in the stuff I’m reading.

Daniel – thanks for choosing Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race as one of our monthly books.

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Mar 16 2018

Book: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley

I read Emily Chang’s book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley the day it came out. Yes – I stayed up until after midnight (way past my bedtime) reading it.

It’s powerful. I bought a bunch of copies for different people and I recommend every investor and entrepreneur in the US read it. While there are a handful of salacious stories (some of which were covered in excerpts that were pre-released), the overall arc of the book is extremely strong, well written, and deeply researched. Given Emily’s experience as a journalist, it’s no surprise, but she did a great job of knitting together a number of different themes, in depth, to make her points. She also uses the book to make clear suggestions about what to do to improve things, although she holds off from being preachy, which is also nice.

Interestingly, I’ve heard criticism, including some that I’d categorize as aggressive, from several men I know. There doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern in the criticism, although some of it seems to be a reaction to several of the specific stories. In one case, I’d categorize the criticism as an effort to debate morality. In another, I heard an emotional reaction to what was categorized as an ad-hominem attack on a friend of the person. But I haven’t been able to coherently synthesize the criticism, and interestingly I’ve only heard it from men.

As I’ve been marching slowly through historic feminist literature recommended by Amy, I realized that I had read three contemporary books in the last few months that materially added to this list. In addition to Emily’s book Brotopia, I read Sarah Lacy’s book A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug: The Working Woman’s Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy and Ellen Pao’s book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change.

While Sarah and Ellen’s books are written from deep, personal experiences, I thought all three books were important, very readable, and bravely written.

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Feb 27 2018

Book: A Second Chance

Cat Hoke’s book A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us is out.

I wrote a long post about it in October when I read a draft of it. Cat is remarkable and she lucked out by partnering with the amazing Seth Godin on this book (Seth is the publisher).

I’m sending a copy to every CEO in our portfolio. We’ve got a pretty regular Foundry Group book club thing going at this point, as I know Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman’s book The Startup Playbook is also going out to a bunch of the CEOs. And each of my partners is getting a copy of Lee McIntyre’s Post-Truth this week.

I read a lot and encourage everyone around me to join in on the good stuff. Cat’s book is definitely good stuff. She mixes her own life journey with the mission of Defy Ventures along with the impact that Defy has had on so many people – both “entrepreneurs-in-training” and the volunteers who work with the EITs.

I’ve talked about Defy Ventures a lot on this blog and Amy and I have become significant supporters through both The Anchor Point Foundation and my volunteer engagement. I’m particularly proud, however, of my partner Jason and his wife Jenn who have picked up the mantle as co-chairs of Defy Ventures Colorado and launched the Colorado program. I was in prison with them, 50 volunteers, 50 EITs, ten people from the Defy team (including Cat), and Governor Hickenlooper two weeks ago.

All of this has been inspired, and led, by Cat. I didn’t know much about the US prison system prior to meeting Cat several years ago. My own journey with this has been incredibly powerful. Being able to experience it with other entrepreneurs and investors, including Jason and Jenn, a number of the Techstars team, and many others who I know has been wonderful.

If you want a pre-book taste, the Reboot podcast that I did with Jerry Colonna and Cat is a good start.

But, do yourself a favor. Buy Cat’s book A Second Chance. Read it, let it into your life, and ponder what a second chance really means.

P.S. I have several people in my life who I need to give a second chance to. I’m not ready yet, but I hope I will be at some point. And yes, the book will help you go deep on what this means for you.

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