What I read during 2017 and a few book recommendations

For the third year in a row I’m sharing a selection of books I enjoyed reading from the previous year. In past years this list included 60-70 books (1 book or so per week; here are the 2015 and 2016 lists) but 2017 was in the 40s. Writing my own book took up a lot of my already limited free time, so something had to give. As I mentioned before writing it was an amazing experience, especially reflecting on something personal and how it shaped my life. Below is the 2017 list with some commentary, hope you’ll enjoy it.

P.s. 2018 is looking better. Below I’m including a list of books I’ve read so far.


What I Read During 2017


Business and Investing


Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference: best negotiation book I’ve ever read. Hands down. It’ll not only improve your negotiation but also your listening and communication skills. It was one of the books I’ve gifted the most last year. Buy it today

Randy Komisar – The Monk and the Riddle: as someone described it to me “part personal essay, part fictional narrative and part meditation on the nature of work and life”

System1 – Unlocking Profitable Growth: this book summarises the approach of System1 (formerly Brainjuicer) to marketing and brand building, which draws heavily on Daniel Kahneman’s ‘system 1 & 2’ work. Here is a 5-part webinar on the book with lots of examples. P.s. the content is better than the cheesy title

LJ Davis – Billionaire Shell Game: the subtitle of the book is “How Cable Baron John Malone and Assorted Corporate Titans Invented a Future Nobody Wanted” and it was written in 1998. For anybody interested in a historical perspective on the industry this is a must read

Walter Isaacson – Innovators: just got around listening to it. I really appreciated the details and the historical perspective on the creation of computers and the Internet

Peter Bevelin – Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: brilliant little book about the wisdom of Mr Holmes

Tony Robbins – Money: great for beginners and advanced practitioners of money management alike (even better for the ones who think they are advanced practitioners…). Warning: it’s very long. I loved the interviews Tony had with the group of investors, hedge fund managers etc

Tim Ferriss – Tools of Titans: this was a great read and my notes from the book total pretty much the same length as the book. There are many great chapters in the book but my favourite by far was Robert Rodriguez’s. Here is a great quote:

“They think, ‘Well, I don’t have an idea, so I can’t start. I know you’ll only get the idea once you start. It’s this totally reverse thing. You’ve to act first before inspiration will hit. You don’t wait for inspiration and then act, or you’re never going to act, because you’re never going to have the inspiration, not consistently.’”

Tim Ferriss – 4 Hour Work Week: classic. I enjoy revisiting it every once in a while

Matthew McCleary – Viking Raid: Still fun as far as sequels go (the Shipping Man was great)

Chris Guillebeau – Happiness of Pursuit: good little book on how to go about starting out on your own quest in life




Brian Grazer – A Curious Mind: I’ve first read about (legendary Hollywood producer) Brian Grazer in Michael Eisner’s Working Together book about partnerships. I was struck by his habit of, what he calls as, ‘curiosity conversations’. When he was starting out in his career he’d call people up he was interested in meeting and say:

“Hi, my name is Brian Grazer. I work for Warner Bros. Business Affairs. This is not associated with studio business, and I do not want a job., but I would like to meet Mr. So-and-so for five minutes to talk to him…” And I always offered a specific reason I wanted to talk to everyone. My message was clear: I worked at a real place, I only wanted five minutes on the schedule, I did not want a job. And I was polite.

Through this simple change in habit he met thousands of people and received free education about many different aspects of life. I thought that this sounded like a lot of fun, so why not try it. Over the years I have been very fortunate to meet successful entrepreneurs, health coaches, nutritionist, doctors, spiritual teachers, real estate developers, investors, chefs, graphologists, authors, farmers, teachers, VCs, bankers, philanthropists, artists, photographers and on and on and on. The first few approaches and conversations were weird (…I mean you talk to total strangers and tell them that you want to ask a bunch of questions and no, you are not a reporter). But I learnt that people are really interested in people who are really interested in them. With that the weirdness disappeared. I gained more friends and increased my knowledge in those areas. More importantly, over time, I was also able to return the favour to these kind people who shared their time with me by making introductions, helping them with their problems or finding investors/employees/advisors etc. Through this small shift in habit I’ve become better at connecting the dots. Here is a short interview with Brian

Jon Krakauer – Into the Wild: a fascinating book about stepping out of convention and living life on your own terms. Reminded me a bit of Cheryl Strayed’s book called Wild, though this has a more dramatic ending. Recommend reading it if you are deciding on making changes in your life. There is also a movie with the same title

Phil Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air: this book is about the process of coming to terms with mortaility. The author is a truly gifted writer and the way he tells his story, how him and his wife dealt with the news of cancer then the ensuing treatment and the absolute miracle of their daughter’s birth is heart wrenching. As a former cancer patient I can absolutely relate to their story. I can guarantee that you’ll read the book in one sitting (also if it doesn’t make you cry then there is something wrong with you)

Jennifer Clark – Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty: I have a fascination with family businesses and this book was a great overview of the Agnelli family’s history. It would be great to have a more updated one soon since the family has most definitely not been resting

Michael Dobbs-Higinson – A Raindrop in the Ocean: this was a surprisingly good read. It’s the story of a British businessman, who grew up in Africa, travelled to Asia to learn Buddhism, ended up in investment banking and now involved in start-ups. Besides the biographical part the book is also about the understanding of the ego and the practice of surrender

Bill Browder – Red Notice: anyone who comes from east of Europe has probably an understanding of how that part of the world functions post the late 1980s, but Bill Browder’s (who runs Hermitage Capital, an EM focused hedge fund) is eye opening story of a foreign investor on the ground in Russia during the 1990s/early 2000s

Phil Knight – Shoe Dog: I felt that this was one of the best business biographies I’ve read in a good while. It’s a very honest take on what went right and wrong with the building of Nike (certainly no ten step plans of starting a successful business here). It’s one I might read again in a few years

Richard Branson – Finding My Virginity: very good read but hard to top Losing My Virginity


Philosophy and Spirituality


Douglas Abrams – The Book of Joy: this book is a journal of a week-long meeting between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in Dharamsala. The book delves deep into the topics of fear, strength, anger and introduces the Eight Pillars of Joy. On a lighter note the two protagonists are two of the wisest people living and also the most hilarious. One of my favourite sections in the book was about the difference between hope and optimism:

“Hope is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial and liable to become pessimism when circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper. I say to people that I’m not an optimist because that in a sense is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings but on firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakeable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head.

To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind baring one’s chest to the elements knowing that in time the storm will pass.

Michael Puett – The Path: practical application of classical Chinese philosophy from a Harvard professor. There is a very good lecture on Google talks, which gives a good intro to the book

David Hawkins – Power vs Force and Transcending Levels of Consciousness: I received Power vs Force as a gift from a dear friend and it was truly eye opening (especially the map of consciousness). This book took my spiritual exploration to the next level

Mitch Albon – Tuesdays with Morrie: a wonderful book that deals with mortality (it’s the second on the list). The author tells the story of how he rediscovered his mentor and long-lost college professor in the last few months of his professor’s life. This short book is full of lessons, but not about dying, rather living. Two quotes that really impressed me:

“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

Eckhart Tolle – New Earth and Power of Now: the author is definitely at a place where a lot of spiritual practitioners dream to get to. Total acceptance and surrender. Read both

Kapleau – Three Pillars of Zen: introduction to the history and discipline of Zen. Dense. Go slow

Ross Jackson – Kali Yuga Odyssey: this book came to me in a very odd way. Over the summer I learnt about a Danish organic cosmetics business called Urtekram, which I noticed was sold to a Swedish company in the same sector. I couldn’t help myself to look up the terms of the transaction, history of the business, founders etc and it turns out that the founder was an avid explorer of spirituality and personal development and that he also wrote this book back in the 1990s. I got the book and read it in one sitting on a flight back to London. It’s an honest account of a personal journey of discovery. Highly recommend it

Donna Fahri – Bringing Yoga to Life: very good book on why yoga is not just a form of exercise

A Course in Miracles: the Course is a complete self-study spiritual thought system that teaches forgiveness as the road to inner peace. The textbook is very dense, so go slow, but the daily exercises in meditation and practice had a huge impact on my life. Perhaps the most recognisable teacher of the Course is Marianne Williamson (she is not the author, as people often suggest) and if you haven’t been to one of her lectures or seen one online I highly encourage you to do so. She is amazing

Gerald G. Jampolsky – Love is Letting Go of Fear: brilliant book that uses some of the key concepts and lessons of the Course to talk about love (not in a romantic sense). Would recommend it to anyone new to it

Michael Singer – Untethered Soul: once a year I read either this or the Surrender Experiment (both are great)

Seneca – On the Shortness of Life: 

“It is not that we have a short time to live but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. 

So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. […] when wealth however modest, if entrusted to a good custodian, increases with use, so our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly.

Ryan Holiday – Daily Stoic: it’s a great book if you are looking for a neat way to have the key lessons from the various Stoic texts in one place and review them on a daily basis. The quotes are great but I felt that some of the explanations/calls to action were a bit forced

Philippa Lubbock – Healing Power of Life Alignment: I had the pleasure of learning about Life Alignment as a spiritual practice a few years ago and this book does a very good job of distilling its essence


History (and a few others)


Will and Ariel Durant – Lessons of History: this is a 100 page summary of the Durants’ lifetime research, captured in the 11 volume series called the Story of Civilisation. It’s one book that’s going on my ‘re-read’ list

Julia Lovell – The Opium War: one of the best books I’ve read so far, which explains why China’s current motivations are driven by, to an extent, revenge for the humiliation it had to endure from Western empires during those decades

Arthur DeVany – The New Evolution Diet: practical philosophy book about the ‘paleo’ lifestyle from the perspective of an economist

Rolf Potts – Vagabonding: very practical book on extended travel. As my wife and I are looking to embark on a similar trip this was very useful


Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018


Chris Hadfield – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: this book was unexpectedly great. What I appreciated the most is that the book wasn’t a romanticised fantasy with space rather an honest, first-hand account of what it is like to train for and participate in a space mission (hint: it’s very similar to any significant endeavour in life but in a zero-gravity environment). My favourite quote from the book:

“In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform.

Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered what’s it like to brush your teeth in space check out this video

Andre Agassi – Open: one of the best biographies ever – honest and humble considering the achievements of Mr Agassi

David Michaelis – Schulz and Peanuts: I never appreciated the complex character of the creator of the Peanuts comic strip and this book does a superb job in juxtaposing his creativity with (what seems like) complicated family life and relationships

Jordan Peterson – 12 Rules for Life: I was not aware of him at all prior to his now-famous Channel 4 interview but after that I’ve dived deep into his books, lectures and Self Authoring programme. Highly recommend checking anything out from him to get a sense of his work

Sam Zell – Am I Being Too Subtle?: this book definitely makes my list of top business biographies. It’s an honest, to-the point and no non-sense book about business, deal making and most importantly risk management with Zell’s real life case studies. Brilliant

Richard Solomon – Chinese Political Negotiating Behavior: this is a now-declassified CIA document on negotiating practices. Fascinating historical read. From a New Yorker piece: “Solomon, whose study was later declassified, noted that some of China’s most effective techniques were best described in the nineteenth century, when a Manchu prince named Qiying recorded his preferred approach. “Barbarians,” Qiying noted, respond well to “receptions and entertainment, after which they have had a feeling of appreciation.” Solomon warned that modern Chinese leaders “use the trappings of imperial China” to “impress foreign officials with their grandeur and seriousness of purpose.” Solomon advised, “Resist the flattery of being an ‘old friend’ or the sentimentality that Chinese hospitality readily evokes.” (Henry Kissinger, he wrote, once gushed to his hosts, “After a dinner of Peking duck I’ll agree to anything.”)”

Jim Rogers – Investment Biker: I’ve read this book many years ago and re-reading it again in the context of our future adventures. Would be great to make an updated version of this

Tony Robbins – Unshakeable: short version of Money. My favourite was chapter 2, which dealt with the cost of not being invested in the market (and trying to time it). From the book: “The greatest danger is being out of the market. From 1996 through 2015 the S&P returned 8.2% p.a. but if you missed the top 10 days your returns would have been only 4.5% p.a.. If you missed the top 20 it would have been 2.1% p.a.. If you missed the top 30 your returns would have been 0. A JP Morgan study found that the 10 best trading days happened within two weeks of the 10 worst.” As an investor I’m conscious of this but a clear reminder is always helpful

Robert Cialdini – Influence: classic. Wanted to read it again before Pre-Suasion

Peter Drucker – Managing Oneself: re-read. Still great

Peter Thiel – Zero to One: no introduction required I believe. One more book I just got around reading