I’ve been travelling a lot for the past 6 months. One of the perks of travelling is that you spend a good chunk of your time in transit. Good use of this time for me is to read.
This long vacation has been good for me. I’ve experienced for the first time in many years how it is to have unlimited free time. How it feels to be able to do everything you want, when you want, without being pressed by deadlines and other commitments. It felt awesome.
I haven’t found new wisdom or the meaning of life or whatever, but I found it’s easy to take things slow and enjoy them. Below is a list of books I enjoyed reading this summer.
1. An edible history of humanity
- Author: Tom Standage
- Published: 2009
An edible history of humanity was one of the most entertaining and educational books I’ve read this summer. Tom Standage walks you through the history of humanity, but it doesn’t focus on nations, wars or important rulers. Instead, it focuses on small and long-term changes in the way people produced food, and how these changes affected our history.
The author walks you through prehistory and how people slowly started to change their lifestyle from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Then, millennia later, how the spice trade affected the history of Europe and Asia. How bringing potatoes and other crops to Europe increased its population and also freed up manpower to work not only in agriculture. How the production of nitrogen fertilizers and the green revolution allowed the doubling of the world population and also increased pollution.
The book is a bit long, but it’s easy to read and entertaining.
2. Food, Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto – The promises and perils of the biotech harvest
- Author: Peter Kringle
- Published: 2010
Food, Inc. is an interesting history of the war on genetically modified foods. The author tries to keep an equal distance between the promotors of GM foods (e.g. Monsanto, Novartis) and the ones against them (like Green Peace).
It also walks you through how the genetically modified organisms appeared. The first breakthroughs, the promises some foods offered, like the yellow rice containing vitamin A that could prevent million child deaths in Asia, but failed to take off.
It has scientists that have to work with big corporations because of the lack of funding. Also, big corporations that are too arrogant to explain to the public what are the risks of GM foods, like new allergies, or possible resistance to antibiotics. Also, nations faced with starvation that refuse to receive food from the US because the foods are genetically modified.
There’s also a part about the patent wars, and how patenting food started in the US. How some foods shouldn’t be patented, but it’s too expensive for farmers to fight in court.
I feel this book only scratches the surface, and it left me wanting to read more about the subject. It’s a good intro book into the genetically modified foods and what are the main pros and cons of creating them.
3. The new geography of jobs
- Author: Enrico Moretti
- Published: 2012
The new geography of jobs was a good book on how the dynamics of cities evolve and why some of the cities are successful and expand while others lose residents and become poor.
Written in 2012, it talks about how US cities either became innovation hubs or low-wage, poor communities, due to the changing economy. How successful businesses attract other businesses and innovation. And it also tries to find the perfect recipe for reviving a city’s economy and make it successful.
It raises an interesting point on how remote work while appealing is not entirely feasible. Because people need to be around other people in order to compete and innovate. That’s why most of the startups go to Silicon Valley, even if hiring is more expensive there. That’s also why engineers move to Silicon Valley, even though living costs are a lot higher than almost anywhere in the world.
While it revolves around the US cities, its rationale can be applied to Europe as well. This book provided me with an interesting point of view on how the world works and where it’s headed.
4. Hired: 6 months undercover in low-wage Britain
- Author: James Bloodworth
- Published: 2018
This book is one frightening look at the dysfunctional jobs climate from the UK. How society separates into either people with very high wages or people with wages so small they barely make it through the month.
The author takes different odd jobs for half a year and tries to survive like any other worker would with the paychecks he receives. He works in an Amazon warehouse, as an elderly care assistant or as an Uber driver, and writes about the difficulties he encounters in each of these jobs. How workers are treated and why they accept to be treated badly, how any small hiccup in receiving your paycheck could land you on the streets.
It makes you think if this is the world you want to live in.
5. Disrupted: ludicrous misadventures in the tech-startup bubble
- Author: Dan Lyons
- Published: 2016
This was a very entertaining and fun to read book. Working in a corporation, I could relate to many of the situations Dan Lyons describes in his book and he made me feel somewhat sane because I’m not the only one thinking many corporate habits are not normal.
The book is a good portrait of Silicon Valley and the startup ecosystem. Fired from his job as editor and hired as a “marketing guy” in a startup, he describes his experience of not fitting in.
The author makes fun of how buzz words can be used to make everything sound cool. How the startups function and how some people in high positions are so incompetent. How profits don’t matter as long as the company goes through an IPO and VCs get their money back.
6. The complete guide to investing in bonds and bond funds
- Author: Martha Maeda
- Published: 2008
This is a good book to learn everything there is to know about bonds. It covers the basics, types of bonds, how you buy them, investment strategies. how to evaluate bonds, etc. Its intended public is from the US, but the basics of bonds are the same everywhere in the world, so I found the book very educational.
7. Introduction to index funds and ETFs
- Author: Richard Whelton
- Published: 2012
I’m not a big fan of ETFs and index funds, as I love picking stocks and invest in each one individually. However, this is a good book to read and make your own informed decisions on if and what ETFs to invest in
It covers basic strategies for passive investing. types of ETFs and problems with stock picking. I might need to come back to this later or to a similar book, and also learn more about the reasoning behind different investment strategies.
8. The WSJ Guide to the 50 economic indicators that really matter
- Author: Simon Constable
- Published: 2011
The WSJ Guide is focusing on not widely known economic indicators like Big Mac Index or the Vixen Index, misery index, Texas zombie bank ratio or underemployment rate. It describes how each of these indicators could be used to predict if an economy is going into recession, or if some industry is going to soar.
It’s a short and interesting read and it provides some weird rules of thumb on getting a feel about how the market and the economy is doing.
9. The Forbes/CFA Institute investment course
- Author: Vahan Janjigian
- Published: 2011
I like to read from time to time an intro book on investment. While I might think I already know all there is to know, there are always some parts in any new book that give me additional knowledge.
This book is a good general guide on markets, stocks, ETFs, bonds, mutual funds. It’s also a good guide on reading financial statements. cash flow statements, balance sheets, compute financial ratios, check if a company is undervalued or overvalued, with real company examples.
10. The myth of the rational market: A history of risk, reward and delusion on Wall Street
- Author: Justin Fox
- Published: 2009
This book tells the fascinating history of modern financial economics. It walks you through the story of how the most brilliant mathematicians and economists in the world tried to decipher and predict the stock market since the beginning of the last century. And how they wanted to put the market movements into mathematical equations (and failed to do that).
It was useful for me to learn about the history of value investing, technical and fundamental analysis, and it was also a good reference for other finance-related books to read.
11. The basics of bitcoins and blockchains
- Author: Antony Lewis
- Published: 2018
This book was an Amazon bestseller in 2018, and it deserved its spot. If you only have 7 hours and you want to know all the basics on bitcoins and blockchain, this is the book for you.
It covers broad topics like the history of bitcoin, the bitcoin blockchain, buying, selling and mining bitcoins. It describes in detail how transactions and blockchains work.
It also covers what investing in cryptocurrencies means, what are the risks, how to identify scams, understand cryptocurrencies exchanges, digital wallets and regulations.
While the book mostly covers the basics, it covers them in great details, presenting both the good things and the caveats.
12. Rich dad poor dad
- Author: Robert Kiyosaki
- Published: 1997
What a waste of time! A heard about this book since I was in college, but I never got the chance to read it. Until now.
Rich Dad Poor Dad is Kyiosaki’s fictional story of growing up with two dads (his real one and the dad of his best friend) and the way these men shaped how he thinks about investing and money.
The book’s main idea is to have money working for you, instead of you working for your money. It also dismisses the idea that you need to earn lots of money in order to be rich. You only need to invest more.
The book is entertaining and motivating but it doesn’t contain any piece of tangible wisdom. Too bad this guy is just a fraud who made his fortune by selling books on how to become rich. He’s been in Romania a month ago, doing some presentations and expensive seminars. It makes me sad when I see so many people falling for his tricks.
- Author: Robin Sloan
- Published: 2017
After so many non-fiction books I needed a break and went back to my beloved fantasy / science-fiction books I usually enjoy reading. The following 3 books are great reads, but they won’t offer you any value form an educational point of view.
I was planning to visit San Francisco in June, and since Sourdough’s action is happening in San Francisco, I thought it a great way to get a feel of the city.
I’m in love with a tech girl who also bakes good cookies and the main character of the book is also a tech girl getting involved in the world of baking. So, I liked the setup.
The book has all the right ingredients: a bit of fantasy, a bit of SF, and some good humour. It was a nice afternoon read.
14. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore
- Author: Robin Sloan
- Published: 2012
After reading Sourdough, I found Robin Sloan interesting and searched for another book of hers. That’s how I found Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore.
This book also happens in San Francisco and follows the story of a young web designer hit by the 2008 recession. He lands a job in a library, and the job has some weird requirements. He’s not allowed to open the books he’s lending to their customers, and he needs to take notes on how the customers look, how they’re dressed, what questions they ask.
Mistery gets even deeper, people start unravelling a great secret, Google gets involved, a secret society gets involved. All good ingredients to make it a great fantasy book. I read it in one go.
15. Red Mars
- Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
- Published: 1992
It’s been a while since I read a science fiction book, and Red Mars seemed like the perfect book. It’s the first book of a series describing how mankind conquered and terraformed Mars in the 21st century.
I love good SF books that mix entertainment with a good and plausible portion of science. It was interesting to read how Mars has formed, how its geology evolved and how habitats for human life could be set up on Mars. And I also got plots, and intrigues, and wars, and global politics and an Earth economy in shambles.
It took me a few days to read the first part and the second (Green Mars) but then I needed a break before reading the last part. All 3 books have around 700 pages each, so this read is definitely a long commitment.
A few words on reading while travelling
I still have my stack of books at home, waiting to be read. My Bookster subscription at the office still awaits for me, and last year I borrowed a bit over 50 books. When I go into somebody’s home, I always look at what books they have and what I might borrow from them. And occasionally, I step into a library and shop for books like a girl looking for new clothes.
My stack of physical books is big, but I couldn’t carry it in my backpack. Books are heavy. But I could read as well on my phone or my laptop.
I haven’t ordered a single book on Amazon in 6 months. When I walk into a library, I am tempted from time to time to buy something, but then I remember I need to carry everything in my backpack and quickly change my mind.
My Kindle is great up to a point. At the rate I’m reading, buying digital books is a very expensive habit, so I’m trying to limit that. I could use Kindle Unlimited, but the books available there are shitty. So, I mostly have classics on my Kindle, and you can never go wrong with them, but there are not that many times you can read Great Expectations and still enjoy it.
These months have been great to really use my Scribd subscription. Their selection of books and audiobooks is amazing and I could find any book I was looking for (they do have around 40 million titles).
It costs me 9 USD per month, but I share my account with my SO, and this makes it an even better value for money. The thing I like the most is that I can pause my subscription and not pay anything whenever I don’t feel in the mood for reading books on Scribd (or I already have a stack at home that would keep me busy for weeks).
If you want to try out Scribd, you can use my referral link and get 2 months of free reading. More importantly, you’ll also get me 1 month of free reading and help me save some money.