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

Libraries Are Funny Things

Libraries are a funny thing in my small-government world. I support libraries. I utilize the services of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library all the time. I even have a book checked out from the library right now. I think the world would be a better place if libraries actually had more patrons, as we’d all be a little more educated at the end of the day.

But, there’s a problem with libraries. They’re expensive. Budgets are failing and libraries are being forced to close or dwindle the number of services they offer.

To be fair, some services just seem silly, like movie rentals. Have you ever taken a hard look at movie rentals from a library? The wait list is huge, and even though it’s free, most people prefer to get Netflix to get them sooner, despite it costing $10 a month. Why? Even before Netflix, people still supported Blockbuster more than libraries for movie rentals. Why?

It may have something to do with that evil profit motive. Blockbuster, and now Netflix, negotiate deals with movie studios that call for the studios to supply a bunch of DVDs to the rental companies for nothing, and then Netflix and Blockbuster pay a small portion of the rental fee back to the studio on each rental. You pay $10 a month to Netflix and $4 of it goes to the studios, $2 goes to postage and the rest goes to Netflix (or some formula like that). It encourages the studios to produce more disks so they can get to more customers, faster. Thus, no huge backlogs and it’s all for a cheap price that virtually everybody can afford.

Libraries, on the other hand, buy a movie at a price of $80 or more for “public licenses”. They buy it once and rent it out forever and ever for free. This means that it’s cost-prohibitive for libraries to buy a whole bunch of the latest movie and they can only “break even” on their purchase after it’s rented by a hundred or more people. Plus, they never get any incentive to make sure it is rented or any revenue streams.

The same goes for books. In Indianapolis, the library charges $75 in some cases for a lost or stolen book. Why $75 for a $9.99 book? Because the library paid $75 to get the rights to distribute it for free and that’s why they have at most, only a handful of any given book. I’ve been on waiting lists for books at the library as long as 5 or 6 weeks.

That’s horribly inefficient and so inconvenient that most people don’t bother with the library. The business model could be so vastly superior, even if they charged a small usage fee for book rentals. They’re some websites that mail books like Netflix mails movies, like bookswim.com and booksfree.com, but their selection is still small. I hope they can get to a point where the price drops and the selection improves. I’m sure it will. If it does, it’s another problem for libraries’ relevancy.

They’re other services the library provides, like access to copy machines and computers. However, copy machines can be found all over the place. My local grocery stores have them and fax machines for 25 cents a copy – the same price as the library. Internet access is a plus, but only because the library has the computers, too. To be honest, I don’t have an answer to where people can go for the use of a computer free or not. Although, I’m sure something could be developed.

I like libraries, but frankly, only because so few people use them. Libraries have nothing to gain from increased usage and in fact are harmed by increased usage. “More money” isn’t necessarily the solution there, as you’d still be buying books and media for insanely high prices. A sliding scale for library patron fees may be a solution. And, ideally, a more central or regional approach may be in order, too. A sort of “national library”, if you will, whereby one or two competing organizations strike deals with publishers on behalf of libraries across the country or a state, similar to how Netflix strikes deals for the entire US.

Libraries need not fight for more money so much as they need to be fighting to innovate by securing deals and agreements and making better use of increasingly popular eBook readers. Innovation in a business model that hasn’t changed much since the founding of our nation is a solution that everyone can agree to get behind for the sake of our wallets and our minds.