We've been told (especially millennials) that we are in control of our lives - that we can achieve literally anything we desire as long as we put in the right effort. If we try hard enough, we are told, we can achieve anything.
First, I would like to point out that this is a very unusual thing to be taught in the grand scheme of human history. Throughout history, most people lived within maybe a few hundred miles from where they were born and had, for the most part, their career path (if you can really call it a career path) determined at birth. What you would do was determined simply by what your parents did. You were of your parents - you even introduced yourself based on your family lineage. The movement towards a more modern and a more affluent society in most nations after the Industrial Revolution brought many good things to the human condition, one of them being an ability to move around in the world and to move up in the world. You could throw off your past totally and become whoever you desired to be (at least that's what we have generally been told in the last few decades).
Now, some people don't agree with the almost idealistic idea that you can be anything, go anywhere, and achieve anything as long as you work hard enough. Some people, myself included, believe that the luck of the draw plays a big role - you've got to be smart and have some innate talents to be very successful. Many people believe that although you can learn facts and work hard, there is something we're born with that we might not be able to alter (maybe you can call it IQ - but I'm not quite sure). Some of us are born with more innate abilities and some of us are born with less. Some people are very talented and smart and others are just average while others are below average and some are developmentally disabled with no chance to achieve anything truly great as defined by most people. This is just the nature of the world. It's based on biology and the stochastic (random) way genes from parents are combined to create the genetic makeup of an offspring. This might sound unpleasant to some. I understand why it would sound unpleasant. We don't want to think that things are out of our hands. Instead, we want to think that everything is under our control.
Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers takes it a step further. Not only does Gladwell not believe that absolutely everything is under your control, he also argues that even innate talents and skills cannot explain everything - they cannot explain why some people become incredibly successful, why some people become outliers. So, even if you have innate abilities and talents, even if you were lucky enough to be born a genius in math or have world-class music abilities or possess tons of any other useful skill or talent, you aren't guaranteed extreme success no matter how hard you work. To become extremely successful, to become an outlier, Gladwell argues that luck plays a role.
Gladwell discusses what is called the "10,000 Hour Rule" which states that you must do something for 10,000 hours to become a master at it. To be an outlier, you've got to put in your 10,000 hours. Even an absolute genius has to put in their 10,000 hours to realize his or her full potential according to Gladwell. The book is filled with very interesting examples that help to demonstrate Gladwell's theory that circumstances and luck play an enormous role in where you ultimately end up. If you've got to practice for 10,000 hours, won't those individuals who were lucky enough to get that practice early on have an enormous advantage? Additionally, random things can happen that will either put you on the path to becoming an outlier or derail you from that path. Gladwell's Outliers is filled with many real-world examples.
This is a truly remarkable book written by a man with an ability to think outside the box. What makes it great is that Gladwell is an excellent writer in addition to being an excellent thinker, so he is able to convey things clearly and without too much excess dialogue. I highly recommend this book. It was in vogue a few years ago, but it has timeless aspects to it. The book will not only open your eyes by showing you that you might have relatively naive and childish views about what brings on success in our world, but it will teach you to think in a more cause-and-effect fashion.
Further Reading: More Books You Must Read
Are book reviews on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads biased? I'm not sure about this - it's a question I have had for a while now. Let me know what you think about it below in the comments section or email me.
Why do I think that book reviews might be biased?
I think book reviews might be biased because of human nature. When you purchase a book and read it, you are investing a bit of money in and a lot of time into the endeavor. Now, as a human, I feel like we have a cognitive bias to prove ourselves right - we don't want to buy a book and read it all of the way through just to say it was a total waste of time. Is it possible that we will somehow justify the investment and find some kernels of beneficial information to hold up as returns to our investment of time and money? Like I said above, I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was the case.
Further Reading: Book Reviews by Pennies and Pounds - Do you think they are biased?
Peter L. Bernstein's Against the Gods is a book that is on many people's "must read" lists. The book explores humanity's emergence from darkness and into light and prosperity, arguing that a critical factor that caused the modern world to be what it is today is the advent of risk control and risk management.
Bernstein eloquently takes readers on a ride through history, demonstrating the birth of humanity's ability to properly think about risk. That birth has allowed humanity to move from the darkness of its past, where superstition, oracles, and soothsayers dominated the prediction business and into the light of a proper understanding of probability, the stochastic nature of events in our world, risk control, and risk management.
This book is not technical at all, so everyone should feel welcome to enjoy Bernstein's excellent work. You will very likely come out with an interesting new way to look at our world after reading Against the Gods.
Title: The 48 Laws of Power
Author: Robert Greene
Publication Date: 1998
Genre: Historical Non-fiction - How-to Guide
In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene takes the reader on a spectacular journey throughout history, stopping at a plethora of interesting destinations to demonstrate the use (or lack of use) of his 48 Laws.
The books roughly follow a basic pattern:
The book conjures up images of Sun Tzu's Art of War for those who are familiar with that ancient title. Of course, Greene's work is far more accessible to the modern reader and more entertaining also, due in part to the historical examples. Another interesting feature is that Greene's work can be read through from start to finish, but it also lends itself well to a more casual approach by a reader who likes to skip around and choose to read about whichever Law takes his or her fancy at that moment.
The book can be a how-to guide for those who seek to understand the secrets of power, but it can also be an incredibly entertaining read for those interested in history. I have not fact-checked the book so I am not sure if the historical examples are all accurate, but even if Greene took some liberties with them, I don't think they would greatly diminish this excellent work.
Title: The Age of Miracles
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Publication Date: 2012
I rarely read fiction books and I'm not quite sure why. It might be because I feel that I have a lot to learn and that I shouldn't spend time reading fiction books when there are still so many popular and educational non-fiction books that I have yet to read. It might be because I feel that fiction books are more for entertainment purposes, akin to watching a movie, while non-fiction books help you learn and grow. When I pick up the right fiction book, however, I realize how wrong the above statement is. The right fiction book can entrance, educate, inspire, and entertain all at once unlike anything else because the characters live both on the pages of the book and in your imagination. This is what I found in Karan Thompson Walker's debut novel The Age of Miracles.
I came across this novel when I was browsing Apple's iBooks Store on my iPad and saw The Age of Miracles as a new and recommended book in the summer of 2012. I quickly read the book's summary and was intrigued by the scientific aspects of the story and decided to read the book despite it being about a pre-teen girl, which not my usual choice of protagonist in the fiction books I read.
The book follows a California girl named Julia, who is 11 years old when it is discovered that the Earth has begun taking longer to complete a rotation. The phenomenon obviously comes as a shock to humanity and is not able to be explained despite efforts by governments and scientists to do so. As the days become longer and the nights longer also, the government of the United States announces the adoption of something called "clock time," where a day will still be 24 hours just like before the "slowing" even though the days get longer and longer. In “clock time” it might be dark outside at 12 p.m.
When I started reading the book I already knew that the world's rotation in Julia’s universe would slow down from the book's summary and I was very interested to see how this enormous change would affect people’s lives. The book mainly focuses on the life of our protagonist Julia, who lives in what seems to be an upper-middle class family in a relatively pleasant California suburb. After the government announces “clock time,” two groups of people emerge: those who are on clock time and the "real timers," who live their lives by the sun and ignore the artificial "clock time.”
Julia's life changes because of the Earth's changing spin, but I believe her life also changes because she is a young girl and at that age life can be difficult and quickly changing even if you have all you needs met and even if the Earth’s rotation is the same. Julia loses friends, makes new ones, has turmoil and difficulty within her family, and finds what seems to be young love. In thinking about her existence and about everything that has been happening to her, Julia says the following quote which I am intrigued by:
"There is such a thing as coincidence, the alignment of two or more things with no causal connection. Maybe everything that happened with me and my family had nothing to do with the slowing..."
What intrigued me about this quote is that it reminds me a lot about economics. I know that Walker probably wasn't thinking about economics at all when writing the above quote or her novel in general, but I was still excited to be able to relate it to economics. The quote is about coincidences and causal connections. Economists strive to understand how the world works and in doing so they attempt to find causal connections between events, but this is incredibly difficult in general and especially difficult in a field such as economics, where experimentation in the traditional sense is not possible. Sometimes economists foolishly believe there to be a causal connection when in fact there is a mere correlation and no evidence of a causal connection. It is in fact very difficult to determine causal connections. Does A cause B? Or does C cause both A and B? That's one simple example. The field of econometrics, which is like a combination of economics and calculus-based statistics deals with these type of questions. Part of what econometricians do is gather data and run what is called a regression analysis to determine correlations. People also mistake correlations with causal connections in their daily lives all the time. It can be useful to recognize the difference between correlation and causation so that one can live a life that is more informed.
I was slightly disappointed that the novel only briefly discussed how the Earth’s slowing rotation affected other people in other cities, other states, other countries, and people in other socio-economic positions. I was interested, in starting the book, to see the macro changes that would occur. Although the book does discuss this somewhat, I wish it did so a little more.
Additionally I would like to point out that I've read online that some of the scientific facts or conclusions in the book are not totally accurate. I think it might be important to note this possibility, but I don't think it's a major flaw of the book because the book is about how the life of a girl and the people she knows changes by the Earth’s slowing rotation. Even if the facts are a little bit off, the emotions and the psychological effects will likely not change much if at all. The physical effects described might be slightly different, but I doubt they would be so different that they would materially change the book's main thrust.
A broad range of people will enjoy this book, both for its simple and high quality writing and for its unique plot.
Title: The Richest Man in Babylon
Author: George Samuel Clason
Publication Date: 1926
Genre: Financial Advice/Money Management/Wealth Building
The Richest Man in Babylon, written by George S. Clason is an interesting, relatively brief, and useful read that will educate those new to money management and wealth building and entertain those who already know a lot about building wealth.
Through a series of short stories and parables that take place in the once great city of Babylon, Clason teaches readers about saving, investing, and spending. The stories are short and engaging and help illustrate fundamental principles of money management and wealth building. Even though I already knew a lot about saving and investing and would consider myself a sophisticated reader when it comes to books on finance and money management, reading Clason's The Richest Man in Babylon reinforced some principles in my mind and got me even more excited about saving and building wealth. It feels like the main strength of the book, beyond the basic financial principles that is espouses, is to put the reader in the right mindset for saving. Among the various things taught in this book are The Seven Cures for a Lean Purse and the Five Laws of Gold:
7 Cures for a Lean Purse
Start thy purse to fattening. Begin saving a portion of your income instead of spending all that you earn. This might seem almost too simple, but there's magic in the boldness of beginning something. Soon you will see your purse and your savings grow and this will make you feel good.
Control thy expenditures. Controlling your spending is half the equation, because even if you earn a ton of money, if you spend it all you'll still be broke. Control your spending and live below your means.
Make thy gold multiply. Once you start saving and have some money put aside, make the money work hard and earn more. Invest your money wisely so that your savings grow.
Guard thy treasures from loss. A lot of opportunities for investment will come along, but not all of these opportunities are worth your time and your hard-earned money. Security is a vital part of investing, so make sure your principal is safe. Additionally, consult with experienced, intelligent, and wise individuals so that you may learn from them and be guided properly in your investing.
Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment. If you always pay rent you will have nothing to show for it at the end of your life. If you pay a mortgage you will have a house to show for it at the end of your life. So, "own thy own home."
Insure [Ensure] a future income. It is important to make sure that you have money in old age and that your family will be provided for in case of your demise. Saving diligently and purposefully for retirement and purchasing life insurance can help to protect yourself and your family.
Increase thy ability to earn. A person must set concrete goals and work hard to achieve them. These goals should be to both advance your position and to make yourself a more knowledgeable and wiser person. A person should also pay his or her debts, be compassionate, make a will, and take care of his or her family.
The Five Laws of Gold
1. Gold cometh gladly and in increasing quantity to any man who will put not less than one-tenth of his earnings to create an estate for his future and that of his family.
2. Gold laboreth diligently and contentedly for the wise owner who finds for it profitable employment, multiplying even as the flocks of the field.
3. Gold clingeth to the protection of the cautious owner who invests it under the advice of men wise in its handling.
4. Gold slippeth away from the man who invests it in businesses or purposes with which he is not familiar or which are not approved by those skilled in its keep.
5. Gold flees the man who would force it to impossible earning or who followeth the alluring advice of tricksters and schemers or who trusts it to his own inexperience and romantic desires in investment
These are just some of the many interesting things you will learn in The Richest Man in Babylon. Although the book proffers what many already agree with and understand, it provides excellent motivation to really move forward with wealth building and financial success.
The book is a quick read even though it is written in a somewhat artificially-archaic style in what seems to be an attempt by Clason to add some kind of ancient mystique to his work. It can be finished in less than a week and even less than a single day if one is so inclined. The book will likely earn a permanent place on your bookshelf and be a source of future inspiration when inspiration is needed. You'll also likely end up recommending the book in the future to someone who is starting out or who wants to learn about wealth building and financial success.
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