Bunch of Books from October 2023

How to think clearly. Plus, lessons from the greatest tycoon.

Clear Thinking, by Shane Parrish

The book’s core message is that improving decision-making is more about getting control of our default behaviors than deploying complex decision tree frameworks. Shane identifies four kinds of defaults – emotion, ego, inertia, and social – and shares strategies for diagnosing when you might get trapped in them and how to break free.

Improving your judgment, it turns out, is less about accumulating tools to enhance your rationality and more about implementing safeguards that make the desired path the path of least resistance.

The book, of course, also includes details on how to systematize decision-making. One that stood out as low-hanging fruit for most knowledge workers is splitting the problem definition from solution exploration. Too often, we see a problem and jump into “solution mode,” missing subtleties and underlying causes. By focusing only on defining the problem, we can dig deeper and gain a better understanding, which will, in turn, allow us to devise effective solutions.

As valuable as the decision-making strategies are, the first part of the book, on knowing yourself and developing character, stood out to me. It felt like a parting gift from a parent to a child about to set out on their own. It delivered the kind of tough love that only someone interested in your long-term success would dispense, including: Complaining is not a solution; You are not a victim; Not your fault? It’s still your responsibility.

Finally, the overarching theme of long-term thinking profoundly resonated:

Good judgment is, above all else, about being effective at achieving what matters—not what matters in the moment, but what matters in life.

Hidden Potential, by Adam Grant

Compared to Adam Grant’s previous book, Think Again, this was a disappointment. It came across more as a collection of stories of underdogs achieving outstanding results than a robust framework for personal development. I only made it halfway before deciding to shelve it.

In the portion I read, most of the advice was extrapolated from the experience of the exceptional characters he interviewed rather than sound science. A sample size of one or two people is good for inspiration but does not live up to the book’s subtitle, “The Science of Achieving Great Things.” The little “science” I encountered was a sprinkle of observational studies and a few meta-analyses.

Having said that, there is helpful advice padded between all those stories. You just need the patience to find it. The “Actions for Impact” at the end of the book is a handy bullet point summary of the chapters. I reckon reading it will give you 80% of the substance, bypassing all the storytelling.

Character is your capacity to prioritize your values over your instincts. […]

The true test of character is whether you manage to stand by those values when the deck is stacked against you. If personality is how you respond on a typical day, character is how you show up on a hard day. […]

After studying the character skills that unleash hidden potential, I’ve identified specific forms of proactivity, determination, and discipline that matter. Traveling great distances requires the courage to seek out the right kinds of discomfort, the capacity to absorb the right information, and the will to accept the right imperfections.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

John D. Rockefeller is an ambiguous figure. For some, the embodiment of capitalism and all that is evil; for others, the greatest philanthropist that ever lived. Regardless, his story is captivating, and Chernow does an excellent job at recounting it. As one reviewer put it, this biography reads like a novel.

Rockefeller is among the greatest managers who ever lived. His stewardship of Standard Oil, despite some of the unethical tactics employed, is an inspiring showcase of playing the long game, moving steadily ahead, and effectively coordinating a network of businesses.

Disgusted by a suspicious error in a plumber’s bill, he told Sam Andrews, “Hire a plumber by the month. Let us buy our own pipes, joints, and all other plumbing material.” The refinery also did its own hauling and loading. Such was Rockefeller’s ingenuity, his ceaseless search for even minor improvements, that within a year refining had overtaken produce as the most profitable side of the business. Despite the unceasing vicissitudes of the oil industry, prone to cataclysmic booms and busts, he would never experience a single year of loss.

Rockefeller’s management style is also worth studying. He was undoubtedly “the boss” but had a detached position and led by convincing people, seldom exerting authority. Apparently, he never once raised his voice.

He reportedly joined executive meetings, taking a back seat, often stretching out on a lounge and closing his eyes. Sometimes, he never said a word, but, as a member recounted, “next day when he came down he had digested the whole proposition and worked out the answer—and he always worked out the right answer.”


Thrawn: Ascendancy – Lesser Evil was a worthy and satisfying conclusion to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Ascendancy trilogy. But reading such well-crafted books only makes it more bitter to see where the character has been taken in the TV adaptation. All the subtlety, emotional depth, and clever strategizing are lost, not to mention the world-building and possibility of expanding it with more stories. Will the Grysk succeed in destroying the Ascendancy? We might never know.

Rather to his surprise, Samakro had slowly learned to respect Thrawn. Even more important, he’d learned to trust him. And trust was what made a warship function. Trust between the commander and his officers, trust among the officers themselves. Knowing one another’s strengths, knowing one another’s commitments, was what let them charge confidently into battle. It was what let them face off against a fleet of giant alien ships without hesitation or qualm. It was especially what enabled them to win.

Substitute “warship” with “team,” “commander” with “lead,” “officers” with “individual contributors,” and “battle” with “project,” and this is sound business advice—minus the giant alien ship part.


My six-year-old (he’d tell you he’s almost seven) finally realized he can read books by himself whenever he wants to and proceeded to devour the entire Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (his favorite, restarted from the first volume) and Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys graphic novels.

My daughter and I have enjoyed reading Thea Stilton: The Treasure of the Sea. The charming monster books (Lazy, Silly, Hungry, and Sleepy) by Kate Bucknell and Julia Seal were also bedtime favorites throughout the month. As a parent, you can’t help but smile when little Zack comes home from school and becomes a ravaging monster until Mom prepares afternoon tea, or Tilly morphs into an annoying beast teasing her brother and only a puzzle and book with Dad can bring her back to normal. It is a cute allegory for daily life with young kids.