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Reading Recommendations

The Passage

Summer Reading Series: Fiction

The Passage by Justin Cronin

As a high-schooler, I discovered the writing of Stephen King. I have a distinct memory of a summer in the mid-1980s, where I worked evening shifts, would often return home after midnight, and read The Stand through the dark hours until dawn. Consuming what at the time may have been considered King’s masterwork was made particularly memorable because of my weeks-long, vampire-like existence.

Now deep into middle age, I’ve been drawn in by a King-like author who writes about vampires. Justin Cronin has created a science-experiment-gone-wrong, post-apocalyptic world where an engineered virus nearly wipes out humanity. The unleashed walking dead are far more treacherous (and intriguing) than zombies.

The Passage was written in 2010 (the first of a trilogy) but the subject matter manages to tap into abeyant concerns of today’s post-pandemic reality. While the plot itself is absorbing (and wonderfully haunting), the masterful writing delights. At various points, characters debate the reasons for persisting in a seemingly forsaken world. How apropos.


North Woods: A Novel

Summer Reading Series: Fiction

North Woods: A Novel by Daniel Mason

I often find myself thinking about life and our earth on a large scale. Where do we as humans fit in with the incomprehensible and fleeting passage of time? What is my individual relationship with this world and what impact am I having on our planet? But then again, I am a dreamer.

In North Woods: A Novel by Daniel Mason, we are taken through passages of time that involve centuries, in a western Massachusetts town. The history of the inhabitants of a cabin and what becomes of the land and home is revealed over time.

Mason’s writing has a kind of magical quality which pulls you in with details of nature and wildlife and invokes a sense of wonder about small moments in time as well as vast passages of time, dispersed with some humor as well.

Through introspection, Mason examines the depths of life, love, and transgressions through the portrayal of the spirits of the inhabitants of the land (including a cougar). The mystical aspect of his story will take you to another world – a great story for a summer read.


The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

Summer Reading Series: Fiction

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: A Novel by James McBride

Chicken Hill is a run-down neighborhood of Jews and African Americans in Pottstown, PA. This is a rich, compassionate story of characters whose lives intertwine.

The story revolves around two key dramas: the institutionalization of a deaf boy in a home for the mentally ill, and the discovery of a skeleton at the bottom of a well. The author weaves a story that shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.


Thinking in Bets

Annie Duke knows a thing or two about risk and how to manage it.

As a former World Series of Poker champion, with total tournament winnings of over $4 million, Duke draws from her experiences at the card table to share methods for embracing uncertainty and making better decisions in her book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts.

For example, Duke contends that we, as humans, are bad at separating luck from skill. We are uncomfortable knowing that results can be beyond our control. And we often create a strong connection between results and the quality of decisions preceding them.

One of my favorite stories about the quality of decision making is told within the first few pages. Duke highlights events of the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. The Seattle Seahawks, with twenty-six seconds remaining and trailing by four points, had the ball on second down at the New England Patriots’ one yard line.

The Seahawks had three chances to walk the ball over the goal line, and a touchdown would likely have sealed the victory. But the Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll called for a pass. The Patriots intercepted and won the game.

Carroll was vilified by the press the next day. The Seattle Times opined that it was “the worst call in Super Bowl history.”

But considering clock management and end of game considerations, Carrol’s call was defensible.

Also, empirical evidence supported the call. In the previous fifteen seasons, the interception rate in that situation was about 2%. The bottom line was that it was a good decision with a bad result.

Duke tells us that Pete Carroll was a victim of our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome. Poker players call this “resulting”. It is a routine thinking pattern that trips up most of us. Drawing an overly tight relationship between results and decision quality affects our decisions every day.

As a Pats fan, I was certainly pleased with the outcome of that game.

More importantly, though, the lessons Duke teaches throughout her book are useful for developing a better understanding of the behavioral aspects of decision making and can be directly applied to investing and risk management.


Happiness, and its Price

How happy are people around the world?

A comprehensive study on the subject, the World Happiness Report (WHR) is produced annually and measuring happiness around the world.

Below is a heatmap of happiness by country.

The 2024 edition of the WHR focuses on the happiness of people at different stages of life. In the West, the received wisdom has been that the young are the happiest and that happiness thereafter declines until middle age, followed by a substantial recovery.

Two findings that may be of particular interest:

  • There is a lower level of happiness among people born since 1980
  • The greatest plague in old age is dementia, and new research demonstrates that higher well-being is a protective factor against future dementia

The WHR also reflects a worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and well-being as criteria for government policy. It reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness.

The academic findings, social insights, and policy implications of the report are fascinating and important. But how about the price of happiness?

Fortunately, this is easy to determine.

Happiness costs $50 per hour and relates to a visit to the Golden Dog Farm in Jeffersonville, Vermont. This short video explains. Watching is free. Click on the link or the picture below. Hopefully viewing it will deliver a bit of happiness, or at least a smile!


Measuring Your Life

For people accustomed to relying on intuition and ‘trusting their gut’, the question How Will You Measure Your Life? might seem strange. Is it possible to measure one’s life? If it is, how would one approach the task? And anyway, is life worth measuring?

On the other hand, for quantitatively oriented individuals, the idea of not measuring everything that can be measured may seem odd. Measuring provides information, information allows for analysis, and analysis enables optimization. Who doesn’t want to lead an optimized life?

Innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen spent his life studying businesses and how people behave in business settings. He was troubled by his observation that people with great potential (his Harvard Business School classmates, for example) often made choices that resulted in disharmony and unhappiness in their personal lives.

In How Will You Measure Your Life?, Christensen refrains from recommending that we measure everything in our lives that can be measured.

Rather, he suggests that we can use theories which have been rigorously examined and used in organizations all over the globe to help us with decisions that we must make as individuals.

The book seeks to answer the question: “How can I find happiness in my career?” But it gets at deeper issues, guiding us to consider what it means to lead a fulfilling life, and offering frameworks for helping the reader find fulfillment.


100 is the New 65

There are many facets to longevity.

A philosophical (and perhaps scary) part is that it raises issues associated with our own mortality. A promising development is that doctors and scientists are discovering new approaches that increase the likelihood of living longer and healthier lives.

A practical component is that longevity is a key input into the financial planning equation. A longer life implies a greater need for resources to support that life.

I’ve previously recommended Dr Peter Attia’s book Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity.

For this month, journalist Wiliam J. Kole provides other viewpoints on longevity, in his book The Big 100: The New World of Super Aging.

Chapters include:

  • How Science Lengthens Our Lives
  • The Luck of the DNA Draw
  • Growing Old in a Youth-Obsessed Society
  • Exceptionally Old, With Extreme Influence
  • Who Will Care for Us, and Who Will Pay

For those of you who’d like a more in-depth preview, or prefer listening to reading, you can hear Kole discuss his ideas on longevity, and provide some interesting anecdotes, in the October 20 edition of WBUR’s On Point podcast entitled: 100 is the New 65: The New World of Super Aging.


Extremely Online

I don’t get out often. But when the opportunity presents itself, I value direct social interaction with the group I’m with. Recently, I visited my son in Chicago. We got together in a hip hotel lobby bar near the University of Chicago to catch up and enjoy one another’s company before dinner.

As I scanned the crowd in the bar, I expected everyone to be similarly engaged. But probably half the patrons were engaging virtually on mobile phones, rather than actually with the people they were standing or sitting near.

This struck me as curious. And was a reminder of how powerful the allure of online platforms can be.

In an effort to better understand the power of the online platform by learning more about the people who’ve been successful in creating compelling content, I’m planning to read Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet.

Author Taylor Lorenz is a Washington Post reporter, prior New York Times reporter, and social media editor, who’s viewed as an authority on internet culture.

I’m always reticent to recommend something I haven’t yet delved into myself. But the subject matter is timely from a personal perspective, and this book will be released during the first week of October.

If you decide to dive in, please let us know what you think.



The Education of a Coach

The Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam is well known for his work as a New York Times reporter who challenged the upbeat news coming from the United States mission in South Vietnam, and for his book The Best and Brightewherst, which focuses on the consequences of US foreign policy in Vietnam during the Kennedy administration.

In total, Halberstam wrote twenty books before his accidental death in 2007, seven of which covered personalities and events in sport. The last of his sports books, and only one focused on football, was The Education of a Coach, about Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.

In the introduction to the book, David Maraniss discusses some elements of football that disturbed Halberstam, including “the cultural hyperventilation that transformed the sport from recreation to religion” and “the overwhelming pile of money that made it a business more than a game”.

Despite its detractions, football displays feats of human speed, strength, and athletic skill. Maraniss tells us Halberstam was captivated by this. And through the book, Halberstam attempts to understand Belichick’s traits of excellence and originality which he uses to lead others, build cohesive teams, and affect positive outcomes.

For those of you who enjoy the game, and who count yourselves as Patriots fans, here’s hoping those traits will inspire New England’s team as we enter a new football season.


Getting the Message with A New History of Humanity

I like books and tend to accumulate them. Because of time constraints, though, I spend less time reading them than I’d like to. Which means I must be selective and find engaging material, because typically my reading time begins after 10 PM.

From time to time, a book makes it to the top of my nightstand pile serendipitously. For instance, during a cold stretch in winter, I laced up my Bean boots for a snowy walk to my neighbor’s house.

As I unlaced in his entryway, he dropped L.L. Bean: The Making of An American Icon in my lap. Leon Gorman’s book then became immediate, required reading –

much to my delight.

This past week, I was on a Zoom call with clients who needed to boost their computer monitor to get a better look at some details being shared on screen. They retrieved a copy of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber (anthropologist, deceased) and David Wengrow (archaeologist) to aid in the task.

Holding up the book, they sang praises for the work before slipping it under their monitor.

This book is visually distinctive in two ways: it is a large volume, and its jacket is bright orange with bold red font. I recalled that I had an unread copy sitting on my bookshelf, gifted to me in 2021, which I retrieved and waived in front of my video camera. We both had a laugh.

And I got the message. Graeber’s and Wengrow’s book migrated to the top of my reading list. I dove in that night, delighted once again. Perhaps you’ll join me for this broad-in-scope read that one well-known author has called “an intellectual feast”.

May August bring you serendipity, too, and many joyful turns of the page.