9 minutes to read (and in a format easy to cherry-pick from)
#1: The Network State by Balalji Srinivasan
Profoundly insightful and pioneering. Most will disregard—and for varied reasons. Upon the quality and precision of thought, I find it hard to believe many books have ever been written of this magnitude.
It feels like it ends abruptly given the high focus on foundation setting and a 30,000 ft view look at how such incredible transitions might happen. It’s an idea that many will laugh at. I don’t at all claim to know the future, that Balaji does, or that this isn’t far out there. He sets an excellent framework though. This book notably was far more focused on how (broadly) and why immense transitions of power and influence have occurred and will occur than when. I’d be very interested to see a second edition on how a network state mingles in power with legacy nation states since my assumption is they will inevitably collide and possibly cohabitate in large part for most of my lifetime. I think humans tend to over-predict total reversals/downfalls. Balaji doesn’t do this in the book actually—he just lays a foundation for why indicators point this way.
I gather the majority of critics will not even take the first steps to consider ideas like this. Things that have never been done before are hard for the human mind to comprehend (especially the closer one gets to the now truly massive modern establishment), but I will say that Balaji did a great job showing how our post-WW2 world and even the “nation states” world actually isn’t that old.. and in summarizing the many transitions of power, wealth, and influence that have occurred in recent history to medium-term history (ie last 20-100 years). All considered, plus some of the most articulate writing that I’ll ever read, the plausibility of entire new countries forming becomes is dramatically more believable. And it serves as a point of optimism, as we now live in the effects of two massive global bureaucracies.
#2: The Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser
This is one of the most important Christian books of the last decade, but it’s not without flaws or controversy. What makes it so incredible is its expansive and deep wells of insight upon rigorous academic study, yet still reasonable fitness for a wider audience. Insight runs from one cover of the Bible clear to the other, and it’s probably the best resource in the world today on weaving together all the confusing supernatural passages in the Bible in a well-researched and convincing manner.
It’s both dense and very evident that a solid decade+ of work went into this, as the life work of a great man (whom I hope the next generation of leaders and thinkers builds upon). It’s so seminal that it’s difficult to say that one could do a solid study of ancient, Biblical, and spiritual themes in 2023 without taking this in. In fact, for a class by Gerry Breshears, this was the primary material required to be read cover-to-cover.
He engages deeply with the solid 30+ confusing passages that are ignored, omitted, and forgotten with unconvincing explanations (across sermons, studies, and commentaries) and weaves it all together. Where this book primarily falters is overstating the level at which these view enhancements reframe everything. Pioneers are extra prone to this fallacy, and Heiser seems to have fallen to it. He’s very passionate about what he writes, so I at least empathize with where he was coming from. He also doesn’t do a great job at creating hierarchy among his assertions—the book would have been much better served to have some assertions made strongly and others held far more loosely.
(ps: the Bible Project’s spiritual beings series that has reached many millions is explicitly based upon this material as the primary source, though they do a much better and more intentional job at building bridges with common existent foundations (and misunderstandings).
#3: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
Borderline prophetic (in the secular, broader application of the word - I did a whole ChatGPT thread trying to find a better word to use but I could not find one) in terms of its uniqueness of thought, even on the actual topic of prophets. I will definitely read it again. It sometimes leans too ranting and hopeless, as Taleb thoroughly excoriates much of what’s broken in a world of enormous corporate bureaucracy, its chaos and misaligned incentives compounding for many decades now (and very “fragile”). I would have really liked more elaboration on what practical answers look like beyond more abstract concepts of skin in the game, removal of highly unethical misalignment of exposure to upside/downside among the advantaged and taken advantage of (one of the most profound and far-reaching implications of the whole book). It’s really hard to not give this a 9 even in light of any shortcoming (brashness.. the typical complaints people make.. ) given its commitment to truth-telling and modeling even at personal expense. PSA: the opposite of fragile is not robustness, you hooligans, it’s antifragility. Robust is the neutral case haha.
#4: Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers
9.0/10 - While reading this, I already knew it would break top 5 in the metaphysical category, which roughly splits half of all subject matter for me. I loved the historical analysis and deep dive on France. Also the parsing through many of humankind’s worst atrocities, tracing the theme of the chaotic, heroic leader (ones without the spirit and sacrifice of Jesus). His takes on leadership—an overabundantly covered and often dilute topic—are profound, unique and deeply spirit and truth-informed. My center has been shifted by his painting of what sacrificial leadership means, where it comes from, and why it matters. This book seems like it will prove to be one of the great works of his life (it ties deeply to his personal life story), and I hope it’s read by many leaders to come. His natural bent toward imagery and metaphor shines throughout. For anyone who thinks more black and white, it may be difficult to receive, but it does stay grounded. His choice of words is amazing. The extensive vocabulary doesn’t always make things flow, but the depth and value of insight always tips the scales in its favor.
#5: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
Incredible book with near-universal applications. Probably the #1 book on negotiation when you factor in quality and ability its advantage of building on the past. And it’s still top 3 as far as I perceive in influence. This is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand and interact with humans in a health-maximized way—across both internal and external corporate endeavors, friendships, marriage, and parenting. I highly recommend this to anyone who reads books, and it’s an easy read.
Honorable Mention 1 of 3: The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
Some of the best portraits of human rejection of true and infinite joy with white-knuckled grasp that will ever be written or painted. Thought-provoking in terms of how little we actually know about the contours of what comes next—which should ideally create charitableness for other faiths and traditions and a bit more unity.
Honorable Mention 2 of 3: Beholding by Strahan Coleman
Exceptional book and very fit for our time. It broke into my “worthy of a second read” tier. I’m between an 8.5 and a 9, but we’ll leave it at a 9 due to the immaculate writing style I’d like to learn from and his highly-satisfying New Zealander voice. The key illustration on the Divine Hongi never really landed for me or for my wife. And him being so warm to Pentecostalism+traditional religions/broadly accepting makes it a little more difficult to recommend this with confidence, given the frameworks people will bring into their reading.
But as the saying goes—enjoy the fish, spit out the bones. I hope that increasingly people will be able to think critically, judge with charity, and take what gold is in a book like this without getting too caught up on a few phrases (it’s definitely not a book on either Pentecostalism or more liturgical faith traditions).
Honorable Mention 3 of 3: Live No Lies by John Mark Comer
As is typical with John Mark, very thoroughly researched. Concisely communicated. Meets a broad audience on critical subjects. Every person will either be ruled by lies or truth. And it’s at in all times and circumstances a mixture. One can never become too wise in this sphere given the many layers of deception/nature of the best deception being that which is totally unknown and undetected. And Comer will doubtless leave you with takeaways.
Others of Note (8)
- The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell - It’s an audio-first book! Listen to it if you can. This was my closest for an honorable mention #4.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie - Good for sure. Just a heavyweight list and this book would have changed me more if I’d read it years ago.
- My Years at General Motors by Alfred Sloan - A 21 hour long slog. So boring. Whole book is written as engaging as corporate meeting notes. But its coverage of key events and decades is valuable.
- A Grief Observed by CS Lewis - Moving to read as a now-married man to an incredible woman. Don’t die on me, Christiana!
- The YouTube Formula by Derral Eves - Written by a guy behind MrBeast (who did foreword), The Chosen, and Squatty Potty (what an odd trifecta!) It’s a good book, but it’s written to an audience that knows almost nothing about either marketing or basic rational metrics interpretation. I understand why he’d write to this audience—I just didn’t gain much at all from it.
- Cradle to Cradle - Challenges assumptions that environmental materials and creation are inherently anti-industry. Good. But at the end of the day, materials shifts take decades.
- Cold Start Problem by Andrew Chen - Great subject. Wasn’t nearly as profound as a Balaji or Taleb though.
- High Growth Handbook by Elad Gill - Gorgeous print (I split between print and audio since the print is so well done - stripe.press take my money!!!), and it’s good but the content density may not deserve a print reading.
What Happened in 2023?
We bought a house! And moved from Waco (wife finishing grad school in speech language pathology) to North Austin. I got a new job at an insane tech startup called Fragile that repeatedly over-performed best-case expectations and landed a seed round of funding from Khosla Ventures. It’s been surreal to be ground-level at such a best-practice-meeting (and sometimes defying) startup. Nana got a job with the public school district, and it hasn’t been going well, so she’s leaving at the end of this year. Transitioning out of Rider Guide over the summer was a very trying and difficult storm (with the industry headwinds and much more).
Previous years list → 2022
Next years list → 2024 (see you in Jan ‘25)
See My Top 5 For Other Years (or Top 20 all-time)
- Jekyll and Hyde - Legendary, ominous, thrilling book.
- The Art of War - Sun Tzu. Good artifact of history and a quick read.
- Perelanda by Lewis - Good book. What do you expect?
- 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare by Clinton Arnold - Hard to get a copy, but among the 4 books I read for a class, this was the best for a wide audience concisely, fairly presenting multiple views.
21 mentions! And I read 31 this year. So once again, I only managed to not mention about 33%. Oh well. I demoted 4 of them to this new section, so let’s call it a clean 17.