What I read last week
The Singapore Story (Lee Kuan Yew)
Singapore is a singular nation. This read makes clear why Lee is regarded as its founding father. Filled with intricate political maneuverings, The Singapore Story revolves around the vision that Lee had for his country and how he came to execute it. The story begins with an overview of Lee’s early years, offering a glimpse into a privileged life in a British colony. From these beginnings, the plot turns to a first-hand account of Lee’s life under Japanese occupation, which would come to greatly shape his views on governance and human nature. After liberation and Lee’s election to the Singapore parliament, the bulk of the book is devoted to his careful efforts to balance the ethnic tensions and subversive pro-communist movements on the island. Lee’s story reaches a crescendo with the 1965 expulsion of the city-state from the Malaysian federation, which he recounts with great lucidity. This book is by no means an easy read – I frequently had to look up all the politicians and parties being referenced – but it is well worth the read for seeing how one man set forth his convictions for a new kind of country.
The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
The Secret History was a pretty fun read, unlike anything I’ve encountered so far. Having started at the scene of the crime, Tartt weaves an unexpectedly convincing story of how a strikingly unsympathetic group of coke-snorting, Aeneid-reading, and sexuality-questioning classics students end up committing acts of crude evil. The tempo leading up to the obvious climax makes the book a nice page-turner, and it’s easy to get caught up in the lives of the group despite their depravity. In the end, I would have preferred a greater sense of contrast between the main characters, and the second half dragged on too long for my taste. All things considered, The Secret History is a dark and thrilling read made unique by just how relatable Tartt manages to make such a contrived situation.
The Evolution of Cooperation (Robert Axelrod)
It’s rare to see a treatise bridge the realms of theory and practice well, which is hard especially when economics are involved. The Evolution of Cooperation is perhaps one of the best examples of how to execute this coupling. Starting with a brief overview of the prisoner’s dilemma, Axelrod launches into a discussion of the remarkable success of the tit-for-tat strategy before establishing a firm theoretical background of how cooperation can emerge among selfish actors. From there on out, he and guest authors devote the book to an analysis of how the principles of cooperation theory might be applied to scenarios ranging from interpersonal relations to the regulation of oligopolies. Along the way, additional abstractions like class structure and territorial layouts are applied and integrated well. It’s a great read if you’re looking for an intro to game theory with perspectives on politics and rational behavior.
Lean Analytics (Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz)
The core of the lean startup methodology is to build, measure, and learn. Lean Analytics covers the measure part of this cycle, offering a collection of technical advice backed by real-world scenarios of companies learning to listen to their data. The book devotes a section to each business type (SaaS, two-sided market, media sites, etc), providing not only industry-specific advice but also useful benchmarks for common metrics like churn and virality coefficients. In addition to being broad, the authors also review all steps of the startup maturation timeline, ranging from sophisticated user interview advice to notes on how to optimize revenue and achieve effective scaling. Overall, Lean Analytics offers a great supplement to resources such as YC’s Startup School curriculum, offering a complete view of how to build a data-driven business. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to develop a dispassionate approach towards starting a company.
What I’m reading this week
Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)
Growing up, I was a big fan of Bourdain’s travel shows where he sampled cuisines around the world with surprising receptivity. In this memoir, Bourdain, who worked at various restaurants before becoming an executive chef himself, provides an unfiltered glance at what really goes on in the kitchen.
A Still Forest Pool (Ajahn Chah, compiled by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter)
Ajahn Chah was a monk who was integral in spreading Theravada Buddhism to the West. This book is a collection of Dharma talks (public sermons on Buddhism) given by Chah and recounted by two former monks.
Unconventional Success (David F. Swensen)
David Swensen is famous for his management of Yale’s endowment fund, where he delivered returns far above that of the university’s peers. In this book, he provides some advice for individual investors on how to overcome the challenges they face in the market.
How to Read a Book (Mortimer J. Adler)
I’ve realized that I never got solid advice on how to read books. I’m pretty decent at reading short passages and chapters alone thanks to English classes and the SAT, but books are a different story. Therefore, I’m hoping to find some helpful advice in Adler’s How to Read a Book.