Bunch of Books from September 2023

Turning up focus to unreasonable levels, how counterfactuals can help explain the world, and wisdom from a 19th century industrialist.

Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara

In 2017, Eleven Madison Park earned the title of “Best Restaurant in the World” under the stewardship of chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara. In Unreasonable Hospitality, Guidara tells the journey that led to that achievement and shares the business lessons he learned along the way.

The secret to Eleven Madison Park’s success, Guidara reveals, was the relentless focus on hospitality, with a dedication that others would consider unreasonable.

That word “unreasonable” was meant to shut us down—to end the conversation, as it so often does. Instead, it started one, and became our call to arms. Because no one who ever changed the game did so by being reasonable […]

Look across every discipline, in every arena—sports, entertainment, design, technology, finance—you need to be unreasonable to see a world that doesn’t yet exist.

As far as a business book goes, there’s nothing new. Operate with purpose; have a clear vision and a strategy that implements it; treat people fairly; listen to your customers; sweat the details. Still, it was interesting to see those ideas in action through the lens of the “best” restaurant in the world.

There’s something intriguing about approaching business with an “unreasonable” mindset. Whatever you are aiming for, what would turning it up to an unreasonable level look like?

The Science of Can and Can’t by Chiara Marletto

This book is about counterfactuals, statements about what can and cannot happen. Up to this point, physics – the most profound way we explain and understand reality – has been operating through laws of motion. Chiara Marletto moves forward and offers a richer mode of explanation.

The Science of Can and Can’t reframes and advances concepts, including information, quantum information, knowledge, work, and heat in the framework of counterfactuals, moving them beyond useful abstractions and into concrete properties of physical systems.

Adopting counterfactuals brings entities that look superficially like immaterial abstractions into the domain of physics.
[…] a bit is not an abstraction, independent of the physical world: whether or not something has those properties [having state and supporting copy-like operations] depends entirely on the laws of physics.

The book is accessible and easy to follow. Each chapter comes with a companion short story, a neat way to illustrate the concepts and make them memorable.

A book like The Science of Can and Can’t is the perfect read for those curious to understand the world more deeply. Chiara Marletto takes our best understanding of the world and asks, “What’s next?” Few of us are building quantum computers or need to account for heat-like energy transfers in the systems we engineer, but this kind of intellectual journey is mind-expanding and leaves you with a better understanding of the world and what it means to live in it.

Knowledge and knowledge-creating entities are singled out as significant properties of our universe; but this is not, as in religious explanations, because of some dogma; it is because of a physical explanation.

The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

Carnegie was a mighty industrialist in the late 19th century. He came from humble immigrant roots and worked his way from a “dark cellar running a steam-engine at two dollars a week, begrimed with coal dirt,” up to founding and leading Carnegie Steel Company, one of the largest and most profitable steel manufacturers of the era. He accumulated vast wealth, which he systematically redistributed to the community.

Throughout the book, he shares advice on how to run businesses and treat employees that sounds enlightened for the time and still applies today. Stay focused; never compromise on quality; invest in making your processes more efficient; treat people fairly and respectfully. (You’ll notice they are pretty similar to Will Guidara’s fine dining wisdom, but delivered with less fanfare and romanticisation.)

Here is a remark on how “the manufacturing man” (the material for the book was compiled in the early 20th century) should avoid speculating on the stock exchange:

His mind must be kept calm and free if he is to decide wisely the problems which are continually coming before him. Nothing tells in the long run like good judgment, and no sound judgment can remain with the man whose mind is disturbed by the mercurial changes of the Stock Exchange. It places him under an influence akin to intoxication.

The same could be said today for the knowledge-generating person, with the additional challenge that we have far more effective and devious “mercurial entities” threatening to disturb our minds. See for example Attention Span from last month’s recommendations.


I continued the journey in a galaxy far, far away started a few months ago thanks to Timothy Zahn’s storytelling with the middle chapter of the original sequel trilogy, Dark Force Rising.

Concentration, focus, long-term thinking—those are the qualities that separate a warrior from a mere flailing fighter.

Something I appreciate from Zahn’s work in Star Wars is how it brings some rigor into spaceflight. Distant places take longer to get to, gravity is something to be taken into account, bigger ships are less agile because of their higher inertial mass, etc.


My son loved the latest installment of the all-Australian treehouse series, The 169-Storey Treehouse written by Andy Griffiths and illustrated by Terry Denton. Hilarious, silly, witty. It’s guaranteed to make young kids burst out laughing.