Justin’s summer reading list

I’m making an effort to double-down on the amount of “productive” pass-times this summer. As Emerson asked, “How much of human life is lost in waiting?” I go further and wonder how much life is lost watching TV and diddling away at the day.

If you’re interested, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months you may enjoy. At the end is my upcoming list of books I’m starting soon.

The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley

I started to look at distractions after hearing Tristan Harris talk about brain hijacking. Harris doesn’t have a book, but Gazzaley does. This wasn’t as eye-opening as I expected, but can see how it might be for someone just thinking about the level of distraction in their life. There is a lot of background on human brain development that can be a chore at the beginning.

 

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

I had high hopes for this book. It’s new, the waitlist to get it at the library was lengthy, and everyone seemed to be talking about it. The writing is approachable and easy, but it’s about Dalio’s life as an investment manager. It’s a huge tome that left me annoyed. He started with access to money, went to Harvard, and continued to have money afterward. It’s hard for a frugal Hoosier like myself to get interested in hearing about how great it was his son could study abroad in China.

 

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

I had low expectations for this book because of its spammy title. But it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read recently. Each chapter is a story unto itself. It’s full of fascinating anecdotes I hadn’t heard before from inside Disney, Pixar, Google, the military, and more. Each with their own point and details about goals, processes, and achievement.

 

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

In 1915 a group of 7 British explorers set out to cross the Antarctic from west to east. It had never be done before. Their ship, the Endurance, became logged in the ice and sank. This story details how these 7 men spent 2 years in the dark, miserable, cold of the South Pole searching for rescue. It’s like a real-life Hobbit movie except it’s real.

 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

Another of one of my very rare 5-star reviews. This book covers the Presidency of James A Garfield, a man you haven’t heard much about because his entire presidency was spent dying. Criss-crossing between the story of his assassin and Garfield, you get the real sense of how the country felt in 1881. You also get a feel for how infuriating medicine was in 1881. As one physician later reported, “Nature did all it could for Garfield, which would have been enough.” He spent two months “basically rotting to death” as the country mourned and screamed for justice. Even more fascinating is how the country mobilized to cure the President, including Alexander Graham Bell and the race to invent the precursor to the X-Ray.

His legacy is one we don’t talk about: a man who was trusted by everyone because he never wanted to be President reunited the North and South as the country rallied behind him. Ulysses S. Grant, General Sherman, and Jefferson Davis all agreed Garfield brought them closer together.

 

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

This book is unapologetically British, so it’s cumbersome and pretentious. But the story of how the dictionary came to be and the insane man behind the idea is fascinating. It’s the original crowd-sourced project where 6 million slips of paper, each with a different word were mailed to one man. Sorting, sifting, and organizing all those pieces into trays, tracing their etymology, and fact-checking each would take 20 years. The initial estimate was 2.

 

What it Means to be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation by Charles Murray

This is the best book I’ve read so far on Libertarian principles and how it would look in the United States as a governing principle. It may seem farcical to some, but it pulls data from a variety of respectable sources and looks to history as a means of determining what the country might look like. (For what it’s worth: I read a lot of books on lots of political philosophies. That’s what thinking people do.)

 

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

This is the first book of Millard’s I read (and is what drove me to Destiny of the Republic). Her writing fits my preferred style and tells a good story. This one is about Theodore Roosevelt’s post-presidency expedition into the jungles of South America. The goal: explore the River of Doubt, which had never been mapped before. He and his team encountered hostile tribes, dangerous wildlife, scarce food, impossibly thick brush and forest that blacked out the sun, and intense heat. This is the trip that nearly killed the Colonel. A story so fantastic, once Roosevelt returned many Americans didn’t believe him or his son, Kermit, because it seemed too impossible that he returned.

 

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker

Now that we have enough history between now and Bush 41, it’s worth looking back. This book blew a lot of things I believed out of the water (like Cheney being the real puppet master). I also have more respect for Condoleeza Rice as being one of the smartest people in the country. We were lucky to have her. This book also covers the lead up to every major decision in the Bush White House. I came away thinking a lot of decisions were just unknowable, a 50/50 coin toss that the country lost time and time again.

 

Coming up on the list

  • Creative Mischief by Dave Trott
  • Managing the Professional Service Firm by Davis Maister
  • Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram
  • 1776 by David McCullough
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Having twice your income saved by 35 is not obnoxious

When I was 20 I no longer worked a jobby-job with the State. So I needed to roll my retirement account savings into a new account. I found Jim Fleming nearby and we’ve been loyal to each other ever since.

During our initial conversation, I asked Jim, “How much money should I be saving each month to have a comfortable retirement?”

“That depends on a few factors. Let’s run some numbers based off when you’re 60, 65, and 70 years old,” he said.

He flipped his computer screen around and said, “These numbers assume that Social Security will exist in some form as it does today, with some modest increases in inflation.”

The numbers for what my annual retirement outlays were around $60,000 inflation-adjusted dollars per year. Keep in mind, my reported income the first year I started my business in earnest was $17,000.

“How much should I be saving then, of my own money, each month?” I asked again, driving at the real number.

Without so much as a stutter: “About $300-$350 a month”. That, on top of what we hoped would remain of Social Security, was what I needed to be saving each month.

I didn’t hit that goal at 20 years of age and $17,000 a month. Yet when I started my business I made room for retirement savings. “Let’s start with $50 a month,” I said.

That, coupled with my rollover money from the State was a start. If you’re curious, I think my retirement savings at that point amounted to around $4,000.

Each year Jim would call to check in and each year or two I would bump the amount of money I was saving by $25 or $50. An extra $25 a month wasn’t noticeable to me. I had expenses under control. I took the risk of foregoing college when I couldn’t pay out of pocket anymore so I never had loans. I got rid of my car. I lived in a modest house in the city, but at a low rate and rented out a spare bedroom. On any given month I could pay for utilities, insurance (pre-Obamacare), groceries, and some small business expenses on about $650 a month. For a while I didn’t use a cell phone, instead opting for an iPod Touch and Skype calls over WiFi. I ate a lot of tuna sandwiches in 2010.

Last year I set a life goal to get to that magic $300 a month number. I hit that in March. Looking at my retirement funds, I have a healthy amount of money in there. I’m fortunate to be able to say that. I get that some people don’t have that luxury. In fact, a lot of people don’t.

For ten years I have harped on anyone who is leaving college to “immediately start saving something, anything, for retirement.” I usually get dumb looks. I might as well be telling my friends they should hop on one leg from now until they’re 65.

The Twitter story about having twice your annual salary saved by 35 struck people as obnoxious and rude*. I don’t think it is. I think it’s math. Some people are naturally stuck in a terrible spot because they had to go to college to get a decent career. Others are there because they didn’t do the work earlier to prepare and drive a $20,000 car.

Like hours in a day, we (everyone using Twitter anyway) have some level of income. It sounds preachy, but this has to be a priority. We can’t even assume Social Security is going to be there for us.

Don’t blame education. I didn’t know any more or less than any other 19 or 20-year-old. No one is surprised to find out they get old and things cost money.

The savings advice is not rude or obnoxious. It’s not even unrealistic. It is possible, just like losing 100 pounds is possible for a 300-pound person. Don’t lament it or mock that math. Assess and take action.

* What’s obnoxious and rude is the jackass that said millennials don’t own homes because we spend it all on avocado toast.

Things on the wall are slowing down

My journal entry for May 8, 2018. A text transcription is at the end:

May 8, 2018 Journal Entry

 

A text transcription of the above:

On the wall in my office is a collection of random notes, cards, tickets, & badges. It’s almost a history of my life.

It includes tickets to Aerosmith & stones concerts. One of the few photos I have of my mom and me. A photo of Jake & me at a Japanese restaurant holding a birthday pineapple (it wasn’t my birthday).

There are also many notes- many handwritten- that clients and friends have sent.

I realized yesterday the rate I’m adding to this wall is slowing. Perhaps it’s cultural. Printed tickets are rare now. Perhaps clients don’t feel a need to write now that I’m solidly “not a kid” anymore.

Regardless, it makes me sad to think these connections are getting few and far between.

I’ve made an effort over the years to regularly write to people. To compliment their work, keep in touch, or just say hello. I rarely hear back. When I do, it’s usually a digital note through a text or Facebook message.