Read some of these non-fiction books in 2021

Sonnie Bailey

1 January 2021

As with 2020, I'm starting the year with a list of books that I'm delighted to recommend. These seem to be popular articles with the types of readers I love hearing from!

One of the big filters I've applied is that I've chosen books that many people may not be aware of. So: nothing from Lee Child or Malcolm Gladwell, or anything of that nature. Just good books. 

Optionality by Richard Meadows.

Conor White-Sullivan, co-founder and CEO of Roam Research (#roamcult), says it best: "Richard Meadows is a goddamn genius. Buy this book.”

I'm massively biased: I'm in the acknowledgements and even on the back cover (for the first print at least; I'll probably be replaced by Tim Ferriss or Nassim Taleb for later editions). 

But hand-on-heart: this is one of my favourite books. Buy it, read it, and internalise its messages. 

The Precipice, Toby Ord

This book is a masterpiece. It's also incredibly uplifting and optimistic for a book about existential risk.

An excerpt:

"If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Humanity is about two hundred thousand years old. But the Earth will remain habitable for hundreds of millions more—enough time for millions of future generations; enough to end disease, poverty and injustice forever; enough to create heights of flourishing unimaginable today."

Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

This book is really charming. Barker is also excellent making an argument for both sides of an argument, and trying to find middle-ground between two seemingly opposing views. 

This book contains:

"crazy cyclists, people who don’t feel pain and fear, oddball pianists, serial killers, pirates, prison gangs, Navy SEALs, Toronto raccoons, Shaolin monks, how long you can be Batman, Erdös numbers, Newton and Einstein, Ted Williams and Spider-Man, radar wars between Harvard and MIT, ghost armies and hostage negotiators, the emperor of the United States (may he rest in peace), confident chess computers, Japanese wrestlers with orange hair, Genghis Khan, and a guy who flew around the world just to say 'Thanks.'"

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, collated by Eric Jorgenson

This book is thought-provoking and inspiring in equal parts. 

Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff

Whether we like it or not, attractive people tend to have better life outcomes. This book explores this phenomenon and much more.

(I have dozens, if not hundreds, of draft articles up my sleeve. ("Blog" doesn't stand for "web-log" – it's short for "backlog"...) One of these articles is about the tangible value of investing in appearance. TBC.)

The Natural History of the Rich, Richard Conniff and Richistan, Robert Frank.

I consider these two books to be companion pieces. No doubt the specifics are out of date, but the deeper themes are probably timeless. (I was reminded of these books – which I read some time ago – when a very wealthy client mentioned Richistan and said it rang true to that person's experience.)

Bluefishing, Steve Sims and Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield

These are also companion books, in the sense that they are great motivational books. There is quite a bit in these books that doesn't 100% resonate with me (in fact, there's a lot that doesn't resonate with me in Pressfield's writing), but they are still motivational. 

I read Turning Pro while I was on holiday in Ohau this year. As well as escaping massive fires in the middle of the night, I had been reflecting on its lessons and the concept of "when you say 'yes' to something you say 'no' to other things" and its corollary: "when you say 'no' to something you say 'yes' to other things". In conjunction with a few other things, this was the book that helped me decide to go "straight edge" – to stop drinking alcohol, soft drink, and energy drinks. (By saying "no" to these things, I'm saying "yes" to better sleep, improved memory, and hopefully better long-term health outcomes.)

The Underachiever's Manifesto by Ray Bennett MD

I liked this book so much I wrote an article about it.

The Fitness Attitude by Bevan James Eyles

This book gets bonus points for being written by a Kiwi – and a Cantabrian at that. To be candid, I had low expectations, but it's a lot more thoughtful than I expected it to be.

I especially like Bevan's emphasis on black & white rules, establishing achievable targets, and his insight that the fitness industry fails most people because it only creates products for fit people – which appears to have informed his own business, Extra Mile Runners.

An excerpt:

"One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt... about goal-setting is that there is no single way to be successful at it. To say that everyone has to set goals a certain way is neglecting to see that we all have different ways of being successful."

Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

I don't volunteer at soup kitchens. One of the ways I contribute is by trying to make a difference regarding how the financial services industry is regulated. When laws or rules are likely to change, I make submissions, trying to provide a voice for regular Kiwis, paying special attention to potential second-, third-, and n-th order consequences.

I felt validated while reading this book; bad regulation and ineffective enforcement can have tragic societal consequences. 

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