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52 books I’ve read in 2019: What, How & Why it’s not such a great idea

The list of 52 books I read in 2019, a simple formula how to tackle this challenge and why in 2020 I want to focus on something else.

At some point of your online life you’ve probably came across 52 books a year challenge, articles that most CEOs read a book a week and that according to Warren Buffett you should read 500 pages a day. This year I decided to give it a try and check whether it provides as much value as I thought. While the typical 52 books challenge has some rules attached (e.g. read one book from the year you were born etc,) I kept myself focused mostly on books that resonates with my self-development plan or interests.

Below is a list of 52 books that I read in 2019 and two short paragraphs with tips on how to tackle this challenge without any super powers and a little bit of background how I ranked these books. Enjoy!

The Myth of Super-Power behind Reading 52 Books a Year

First let’s debunk a myth about super-powers required to read one book a week.

It is estimated that the average person reads two to three book in the entire year. Probably not too much. But does it really require super skills like speed-reading techniques to get through more than 20 or 30 books a year? Nope, here’s some simple math behind it.

Most books are within the range of about 200 pages and 300 words per page so assuming the average person reads 200–250 words per minute, then we are talking about somewhere between 250–300 minutes or 4–5 hours per book. That gives us less than 1 hour a day to go through a book per week: 20 minutes of reading in the morning, 20 minutes before you go to sleep or while commuting and… voila, done!

If you’re interested in playing with these three variables (number of books per year, speed of reading and time per day allocated for reading) I prepared an easy chart below. By increasing your speed of reading to 300 words / minute it is enough to read half an hour a day to reach +50 books. Of course, some books are longer, some are more complex but nevertheless you can clearly see that excuses like „I don’t have time during the day” don’t stand a chance (imagine motivational guru Tony Robbins or Shia LeBeouf screaming „Just do it”).

Ranking 52 Books using Simplified Conjoint Analysis

Before we move to the actual list, here’s a simple tool I use to rank books.

First I tried 1–10 linear scale in an NPS (Net Promoter Score) manner, however it proved to be a little bit useless as I ended up with most of the books falling into 6–7. Instead, I decided to apply a modified and slightly simplified version of conjoint analysis — a really handy technique used in market research and product management to determine perceived value of different attributes.

So how does it work? A respondent is presented with a set of potential products (e.g. iPhone with 3 cameras, smaller screen, price at $1000, iPhone with 2 cameras, bigger screen, price at $759 and iPhone with 3 cameras, bigger screen, at $1100) and asked to order them from least to most appealing. Through this forced ranking we can reveal indirectly participants priorities or preferences towards product. In this case, I found it quite difficult to rank 52 books at once so to help myself I „presented” all of them as pairs and force myself to choose preferred one out of each pair (a little bit like Tinder) so instead of assigning an absolute value, each „swipe right” adds +1 point.

If you want to learn more about Conjoint Analysis I recommend watching this short video What Can Conjoint Analysis Do for You?

With 52 positions compared one to another we get 1326 pairs [n(n-1)/2] presented in a form of matrix. Each „1” indicates that book in the column is preferred more than book in the row and other way round — „0” means that book in the row is preferred more than the one in the column. The next step is to sum up how many 1s each book gets in the column and how many 0s the same book received in a row (0s in the row are like 1s for columns). The highest the number the more preferred the book is and the more likely I’m to recommend it.

Moving further, I sorted books descending and divided into 4 quartiles. 1st quartile are the books that I probably would recommend immediately and that are must-read on my list. BUT just because a book falls into 4th quartile doesn’t mean that it sucks — just in comparison with other books I’m less likely to recommend them.

The actual list: my 52 books in 2019 ranked from the most to least preferred (+ some notes)

1. John Doerr, Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

  • Unquestionable top in 2019: changed my approach to setting goals and made me feel embarrassed that I hadn’t read this book earlier
  • If you ever felt like setting goals is mundane chore that brings more frustration than good I strongly recommend to start 2020 with John Doer.
  • John Doer — one of the most prominent venture capitalist in Silicon Valley — lays out a goal-setting system called Objective and Key Results (OKRs) introduced by Intel’s CEO Andy Grove. The formula is dead simple: Objective stands for „Where do I want to go?” and Key Results „How will I know I’m getting there?”
  • My favorite example of a moonshot objective is one by J.F. Kennedy: “Before the decade is out, land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth”
  • Doerr shows how OKRs work for Google but also other organizations focused on outcome and result like non-profits. Nevertheless, for me the biggest value that implementing OKRs brings to any entity is transparency (everyone has an access to each other’s OKRs), flexibility (Objective remains the same but Key Results might change every quarter) and alignment — especially challenging in bigger organizations.
  • “If it does not have a number, it is not a Key Result.” Marisa Meyer

2. John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose — The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership

  • I was recommended to read this book by our HR Manager after internal training on coaching for managers as a starting point and wasn’t dissapointed.
  • Not the most exhaustive but probably one of the best introduction to the concept of coaching.
  • The biggest take away: GROW model (Goal Reality Options Will Do) framework that I began using for myself and my team members

3. Hermann Simon, Confessions of the Pricing Man: How Price Affects Everything

  • Did you know that if Sony raises its prices by 2% without any loss of volume, its profits would increase 2.36-fold?
  • Simon points out that managers allocate only 10% to price issues and for most of them the most „popular” profit driver is volume or unit sales whereas sometimes the price itself could have a dramatic effect.
  • His advice is to focus on profit — quite refreshing statement especially in tech world focused so much on growth, maximizing revenue and market share (Uber, WeWork?).
  • Full of case studies along with practical tips & strategies for price positioning backed by research in microeconomics, psychology and years of practice (for me the balance between theory and practice is perfect but some people might find Simon’s style „thick” and a little bit academic).

4. Reid Hoffmann, Ben Casnocha, Chris Yeh, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age

  • Another book that literally changed my perspective on hiring.
  • Here’s the main point: the model of lifetime employment has become antiquated so we must factor in attrition in every employment cycle. In order to deal with that Reid Hoffman introduces a concept of „alliance” — a mutually beneficial deal with explicit terms, time-bounded, between independent players to build powerful business and careers.
  • So what does it mean? The relationship between employer and employee should be based on how they can add value to each other and both parties agree on „tour of duty” that promises specific career benefits. I guess the best example that illustrates this mindset is the question we should ask during the interview: „What is the next company you’d like to work for? How can we help you get there?”
  • On that note, employees are treated as allies on a tour of duty (a term that comes from the military, where it refers to a single deployment) that can have 3 forms:
  • Rotational — finite, entry-level employees, rotation is expected in this case (e.g. Intern)
  • Transformational — 2–5 years mission, transforming business and careers (e.g. Employee’s goal is to eventually start their own company so over the course of 2–5 years the company will provide him/her opportunity to excel at skills required to start their new business but in turn he/she will be committed to get current company to a new level)
  • Foundational — full alignment between employee and company where company mission overlaps employees goals & value (e.g. Such employee is a good material for a co-founder)

5. Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0

  • People who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are 6x as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than 3x as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. Conclusion? It’s much more effective to focus on developing strengths than eliminating our weaknesses — if you’re naturally good at basketball, don’t spend too much time practicing chess (unless you like it).
  • StrengthsFinder assessment consists of more than 170 questions that help you discover top five talents out of 34 themes that you have a natural gift for.
  • Once you have completed the test and received your results you can look at both talents (e.g. being Relator or Achiever) and areas of lesser talents that you can either work on or partner with someone who has more talent in this area
  • Side note: really recommend taking the test with your team members — might be a great input for personal development plan for 2020.

6. Julie Starr, The Coaching Manual: The Definitive Guide to The Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching

  • A bit surprised this book has only 2 reviews on Amazon given it’s super practical formula: apart from frameworks and theory on coaching mindset, the best parts are probably examples of real-life coaching conversations and how to deal with difficult or unexpected situations.
  • If you go through „Coaching for Performance” then „The Coaching Manual” is the next one

7. Michael D. Watkins, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded

  • In my opinion this is the type of book one should re-read every 2 years: after every promotion, while moving to a new position, changing the department or joining a new company. From middle manager to CEOs, I guess everyone will benefit from stories and tips on how navigate through changing environment
  • Despite negative connotations of term „office politics” I would argue that that was also the best book on „office politics”, „managing expectations” and „managing stakeholders” I have read so far.

8. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

  • Unpopular opinion: I still consider Yuval Harari as Paolo Coehlo of anthropology but it’s hard to deny that the amount of effort he put into writing this book deserves some recognition. Nevertheless, it’s rather full of Harari’s own opinions and feelings on society dressed up in quasi-scientific theories. He introduces a claim and then finds anecdotal or a little bit farfetched arguments to support it but… well, this book has almost „Game of Thrones” series status so you better read it before someone asks you „Have you read Harari?”

9. Sheryl Sandber, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

  • Sheryl Sandberg, leader, COO of Facebook, mother, wife gives some great insights on her career, challenges she faced on her way and also how women perceive themselves and their roles (although it’s worth to mention that the book is written from the perspective of a white female from middle class)
  • I guess the key message I got from this book is that we need to accept differences between men and women in terms of their perspectives, needs and the way we operate and try to build an environment that supports these difference. Sheryl suggests to visualise your career as a jungle gym (instead of a ladder) where you jump from one to another area (employment, motherhood, leadership position) and that „having it all” is impossible but that shouldn’t be the source of guilt.
  • “Hell has as special place for women who do not support other women in the workplace”

10. Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business

  • We have up to 19 different nationalities in our office in Krakow, Poland (350 people) so getting more understanding around the way other cultures communicate became one of my priorities for 2019.
  • Erin Meyer presents 7 dimensions (e.g. Egalitarian/Hierarchical, Consensual/Top-down) that every culture can be somehow described with so I must say reading her book’s been a fascinating journey and source of insights about all the nuances we are normally not aware of.
  • For example: Americans are considered quite diplomatic when it comes to feedback (Indirect Negative Feedback) and tend to focus on positives first while Germans are more straightforward in providing feedback (Direct Negative Feedback). One could also notice that Germans are also a little bit more hierarchical than Americans who are always on a first-name basis with everyone from janitor to CEO.So you would probably assume that straightforwardness and hierarchy imply the same approach to decision making, right? Surprisingly, in case of these two cultures it is completely opposite. Despite common „egalitarianism” in American culture deciding is more top-down („let’s cut this discussion and do it this way”) meaning each decision is not vividly discussed as in German culture where everyone wants to take their time to see the situation from different points of view.

11. Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

  • „Get rid of all stuff you don’t need otherwise you are just reshuffling”
  • Start with clothes and stop fooling yourself you’re going to put this sweater on some day. If you can’t throw something away, hug it and say „You were good to me dear sweater but it’s time for you to move on” (ok, I didn’t do that but you get the point)
  • Things like to stand vertically so roll all the clothes instead of stacking — really helpful and let me finally see all the clothes I have in my closet
  • Categorize. All electric devices put together with electric devices, sweaters with sweaters, buy boxes when necessary.
  • Remember to sort clothes from darkest to brightest (way more easier to match outfit and buy new stuff

12. Andrew Campbell et al., Operating Model Canvas

  • Business Model Canvas created by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur and described in their book „Business Model Generation” is probably the most popular and handy tool to visualize the business on one page.
  • Business Model Canvas consists of 9 blocks but you can divide them into two bigger sections: Value Proposition (Revenue Streams) and Operating Model (Activities and Resources).
  • The Operating Model is basically the back end of the Business Model Canvas (the left side) that includes all the activities and resources resulting in Value Proposition.
  • Why this book is so important? Because in pursue of innovation and sound ideas we usually forget about the left part of the Business Model Canvas (at the end of the day it is cost generating part) but it’s impossible to deliver „What” without a well oiled „How” behind (organisation structure, location strategy, suppliers management system etc.)
  • The book contains more than 20 examples (from big corporations to small organisations and charities) and up to 15 tools like value chain map or process owner grid so I’d recommend it not only for consultants, CEOs, entrepreneurs but also everyone working in the organisation going through transformation or change

13. Glenn Elliott, Debra Corey, Build It: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement

  • Contrary to „The Culture Code” this book introduces more developed and action oriented model calledEngagement Bridge™ , similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The model highlights areas that one should focus one while building a highly engaged company culture which starts with Workspace and Wellbeing through Pay&Benefits up to Learning and Recognition.
  • I personally like this very practical approach with ready-to-use insights or actions and the fact that the model have been developed through cooperation with more than 2,000 organizations worldwide adds some more credibility.
  • Although you can argue whether the hierarchy presented in the bridge model is the right one but the overall structure is a pretty handy framework.

14. Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

  • The key components of a healthy culture are Safety, Vulnerability and Purpose — another Maslow-dervied model. Safety let people be honest, Vulnerability is achieved by leaders admitting their flaws and being OK with asking for help and finally the Purpose — the pinnacle of every culture that gives team members a sense of mission.
  • Inspiring, probably not very inventive and full of common business stories without real science behind but the model is so simple that every leader can implement it right away. Although as you can see, the main point fits into one paragraph.

15. Wojciech S. Wocław, Business Etiquette (Etykieta w Biznesie)

  • Only in Polish but definitely recommend reading equivalent book in English.
  • Thankfully I grew up from thinking that hoodie and sneakers are synonymous of being smart and innovative, I still make some small mistakes by wearing wrong suit or watch that are not suitable for particular occasions .
  • One practical tip: if you are about throw a party with cocktail tables avoid dishes that requires fork and knife, the last thing you want are guests sitting on the stairs trying to cut their steak.

16. Nikki Highmore Sims, How to Run a Great Workshop: The Complete Guide to Designing and Running Brilliant Workshops and Meetings

  • I had a chance to run couple of trainings and workshops in my career but none of them was backed by any book so in 2019 I decided to move from intuition towards some theory and practical knowledge.
  • “How to Run a Great Workshop” isn’t a guide for professional facilitators but rather managers who are looking for a simple step-by-step process to put on or facilitate a workshop. Full of ready to use scenarios and agendas so if you have little to no experience with running a workshop (or have only 2 hours to brush up your skills) this is the book.

17. Slavoj Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies

  • I haven’t read Zizek since my graduation so it’s been quite refreshing to go back with memories to student times filled with idealism and naive hunger for knowledge.
  • Although Zizek’s goal is to explain Lacan (French psychoanalyst and philosopher) through applying his theory to modern facts or examples from pop culture like movies, it is hard to go through his analysis without having some background in Lacan’s work beforehand.
  • Anyway, „The Plague of Fantasies” is a bunch of essays filled with humor devoted to interpretation of some aspects of politics, culture, racism, antisemitism and broadly understood civilization through Lacan’s psychoanalysis. In such cases there’s always a risk of reductive approach but surprisingly Zizek managed to avoid that risk with his wit… and very obscure narrative.

18. Focus (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

  • One productivity hack that stuck with me: whenever you experience a work crunch try to think about the task in terms of loss-aversion instead of trying to achieve something extra. What does it mean? „I’ll get fired if don’t finish this slide deck by tomorrow” instead of „I want to give the best key note ever with wonderful slides but where should I start…?”. That probably pushes you to focus on basics and priorities.

19. Michael Bungry Stanier, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

  • Okay, “The Coaching habit” could have been more concise and the author is a little bit too pushy when it comes to advertising his other books and trainings but full-page „haikus” summarising coaching mindset are definitely worthwhile:
  • ”Talk less and ask more, your advice is not as good as you think it is”
  • „Answers are closed rooms and questions are open doors that invite us in”
  • „Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached”
  • „Stick to questions starting with What’”

20. Shaun Walker, The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past

  • It’s always interesting for people from former soviet block like me to see fresh perspective on state of affairs in Russia from western journalists’ point of view. Shaun Walker did an amazing job by presenting picture of complex political situation in Putin’s Russia and Ukraine along with broader context (e.g. a national founding myth of Soviet victory over fascism brought back to life by Putin).
  • A compulsory reading for everyone trying to get more understanding on today Moscow, annexation of Crimea and consequences of Soviet collapse that are sometimes missed by western narrative.

21. Jason Little, Lean Change Management: Innovative practices for managing organizational change

  • Starting point for everyone preparing for transformation or member of a bigger organization that is about to go through such.
  • Apart from various change management models and business frameworks (e.g. McKinsey’s 7S framework etc.) I guess the biggest value out of this book is practical and down-to-earth approach to transformation full of tips, examples and one big reminder: resistance is inevitable part of human nature and every transformation is prone to that.

22. Sunni Brown, James Macanufo, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers

  • As the title suggests — it’s a playbook full of games and activities to break the ice, improve communication or generate new ideas. Although the first part of the book is an introduction that defines what games are and their dynamics, it’s not a theoretical book. With more than 80 games I would treat it as a great source of ready to be applied activities for a little bit more advanced facilitators.

23. HBR’s 10 Must Read on Strategy

  • A quite eclectic collection of articles (including famous „What is Strategy” and „The Five Competitive Forces that Shape Strategy” by Michael E. Porter or „Blue Ocean Strategy”), some might be a little bit outdated (Balanced Scorecard, anyone?) but great starting point to get yourself familiar with general concepts and gain more understanding around the various aspects of strategy that is applicable to both multinational corporations and small startups

24. Brandy Agenbeck, The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide: How to use your listening, thinking and drawing skills to make meaning

  • Written by professional Graphic Facilitator and full of practical examples so I must admit it broadened my abilities to present an idea or process using a funny picture instead of diagram (which saves time and make the meeting easier to remember)
  • Nice reminder that most of us are visual learners and it’s sometimes useful to go beyond words even during a very, very serious business meeting

25. George Zelina, Wokrshops that Matter: How to Plan and Run Relevant, Productive and Memorable Workshops

  • Short and perfect for a start with some ready to go scenarios, detailed schedule and ice breakers. If you have an extra hour and you are about to run your first 2–3 hours workshop, start with this.

26. Modern World Conflicts (Konflikty Współczesnego Świata)

  • Very concise and factual book on ongoing conflicts (although it might be a little bit outdated — book was published in 2008) on each continent.
  • My main conclusion: the world hasn’t changed that much since the beginning of humankind — conflicts still revolves around resources, territory, ethnicity and religion. The only thing that changed are methods (including terrorism).

27. HBR’s 10 Must Read on Change Management

  • It’s a little bit prescriptive and one would say that it „lacks meat” so all the articles are more likely to give you a theoretical background.
  • However, one thing I liked is a pinch of salt and healthy realism surfacing out: „Change is hard, People are more resistant than you think and most transformations will fail and that’s ok — all you can do is minimise the risk of failure and prepare yourself”

28.Nancy Duarte, HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

  • Very practical and concise with each concept presented in couple of pages chapters with example so even a skilled presenter or seasoned consultant with outstanding skills in Power Point would find something useful (given the short format you can digest it in 1 hour so definitely worth it)

29. Willemien Brand, Visual Thinking: Empowering People and Organisations through Visual Collaboration

  • The title sounds quite inspiring but this is just a handbook of visuals and tips on how to present or simply draw ideas instead of writing them down. Still, if you are facilitator or coach or you just like to draw a lot, have a read.

30. Leil Lowndes, How To Talk To Anyone 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships

  • One can argue that since Dale Carnegie all the books on self-development are just notes based on his concepts, however in every book you can probably find something new. This book could fit into 20 or 30 pages so by omitting some unnecessary paragraphs and too long stories you will find valueable insights or at least a simple way to categorise someo obvious techniques for a small-talk.

31. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

  • An almost classic book on self-acceptance that even despite being allergic to a high-spirited tone one could find full of useful concepts that could help you to deal with people around: partners, co-workers, kids etc.
  • Guilt is „I did something bad” while shame is „I’m bad” (Shame is „intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”)
  • “When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

32. Lukas Bärfuss, Koala

  • Probably the best novel I read in 2019 with amazing narrative.
  • A Swiss writer found out about his step-brother’s suicide and tries to understand why. They haven’t spoken in years so he tries to recall scenes from their life, interviews his friends to get the answer. When he reminds himself of the brother’s old scout nickname „Koala”, the narrative turns into a semi-essayic tale of British colonisation of Australia and the story of an obsessive attempt to eliminate a useless species — Koala bear.
  • Through this analogy Barfuss questions the nowadays goal oriented society and asks if there’s a place for any passivity or to what extant it is considered a crime towards utilitarian society.

33. Sándor Márai, Embers

  • A 1942 novel by the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai about male friendship destroyed by love triangle. An old friend from military school who disappeared for 41 years visits an elderly general for dinner that turns into a trial.

34. Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

  • I would probably buy this book as a gift for a nephew in elementary school instead of adult.
  • Nevertheless, the concept of “eating the largest frog” as a way to face the hardest task is quite catchy.

35. Bohumil Hrabal, Closely Watched Trains

  • A novel full of humor mixed with a pinch of sexual piquancy and tragedy set in last days of the Second World War in Czech village. The narrator, young Milos working at the train station tells the story of his ancestors (the grandfather who tried to stop the Germans by hypnosis) and grotesque love affairs while the war is coming to an end.

36. Ivan Misner, Givers gain: The BNI Story

  • BNI, an organisation that amassed more than 240,000 people all over the world and generated $14.2 BLN through recommendations without being an MLM is definitely something quite unique. Pretty inspiring story of the founder and his journey on building the organisation through discipline and values.

37. HBR Guide to Project Management

  • Nice and neat overview of fundamental principles of project management with basic concepts presented in a clear and succinct way. But nothing more than that.

38. HBR Guide to Getting the Right Work Done

  • Just like the previous guide — nice overview but limited in details. Good starting point to look for additional pieces of information or techniques.

39. Empathy (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

  • Three useful concepts I noted down:
  • Cognitive empathy: the ability to understand another person’s perspective
  • Emotional empathy: the ability to feel what someone else feels
  • Empathic concern: the ability to sense what another person needs from you

40. Deszö Kosztolányi, Kornel Esti

  • What if your doppelgänger / naughty alter-ego decides to step into your life, accompany you and maybe write a book together with you?

41. Mike Rohde, The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking

  • Mike Rohde admits that taking detailed notes became a burden for him so he gave up and tried technique called Sketchnotes.
  • It’s not that inventive but I changed my approach to taking notes after reading it (or going through as the book consists mostly of sketches) and now use more pictures and charts in my personal notes.

42. Honoré de Balzac, The Skin of Sorrow

  • “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Mark Twain
  • …but I love Balzac and maybe one day I’ll go through the rest of La Comédie humaine

43. Piotr Szarota, The Anatomy of Dating (Anatomia Randki)

  • In the era of Tinder and plethora of dating apps I would expect deeper and more complex analysis that this book provides. I guess 180 pages could be squeezed into an 8 minutes YouTube video and would be as exciting.

44. Beata Modrzejewska, Directors. They run TV (Prezesi. Oni rządzili TVP)

  • Interviews with directors of Polish State Television channel who witnessed the whole transformation Poland’s been through since 1989.
  • „Good journalists needs to have two things: own views and healthy liver”

45. Thomas Bernhard, Walking. Amras

  • Two novels by Thomas Bernhard. First the narrator and his friend called Oehler talk about the nature of thinking, understanding and existence during the walk in a stream of consciousness mode. The second one is history of two brothers who lost their parents as a result of mass suicide and fled to their uncle’s castle to contemplate their past full of bitter memories.

46. Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts

  • I reached out for Annie Duke’s book right after “Black Swan” and “Antifragile” looking forward to a nice follow up to Taleb’s philosophical point of view but I was a little bit disappointed as she keeps recycling the same thought over and over again („get comfortable with uncertainty and make better decisions as a result”). The general idea resonates with me (I always preferred playing backgammon instead of chess because of uncertainty element) but the whole book — doesn’t.

47. Modern Italy. State and Society (Współczesne Włochy. Państwo i społeczeństwo)

  • A bunch of articles on modern Italian state and society I’ve read on my way to Rome. Two conclusions: mafia is a political power and Berlusconi was probably the most entertaining guy in XXs century Italian politics.

48. A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin, Playing to win: how strategy really worksPlaying to Win: How Strategy Really Works

  • Someone noticed that this book is like a gigantic P&G ad and self-promotion of the authors and I couldn’t agree more. Long-winded and a little bit too basic.

49. Mike Bourne, Pippa Bourne, Handbook of Corporate Performance Management

  • Outdated and lacking the details. Probably there are better books to spend $30 on…

50. William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • Well, don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed the comedy and still impresses me how many times shakespearian characters still echo in modern plots, dramas and comedies (did you realize that Lion’s King is full of parallels with Hamlet?). It’s just the fact that other books took the reins in 2019.

51. Robert Steven Kaplan, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

  • Given the fact the author is ex-Goldman Sachs exec and Harvard Business School professor I truly expected more. Rather fluffy stuff mixed with truisms and overly general tips that reminds me Polish business books in the beginning of 90s after the collapse of communism when every concept around managing beyond the stick and carrot was new to people moving from planned economy into arms of capitalism. Probably groundbreaking in 1989 but disappointing in 2019.

52. HBR Guide to Finance Basics for Managers

  • My least favorite position. Not because I don’t like Finance or not interested in this area but I got the feeling that the collection of articles don’t strike the balance between beginner and proficiency level — it’s like transition from mid-level manager in non-finance department to CFO of a small company. So most likely my knowledge in finance still requires improvement as I couldn’t follow it.

Ok, is 52 Books a Year Challenge Worth It?

Nah, not quite.

Of course, having read many books always sounds impressive given aforementioned average. Of course, every piece of knowledge consumed is worth it. But taking into account opportunity cost it’s good to ask oneself: was this time spent in the best possible way?

More than 25% of books I had a chance to go through this year didn’t bring as much value as I’d have expected so it’s important to separate „reading fast”, „reading a lot” and „being smart” as these three areas don’t always go hand in hand. So instead of gobbling up another tome in 2020 I’ll probably focus on diversifying source of knowledge e.g. by watching documentaries, online classes, meeting or interviewing new people, visiting places, experiencing.

The second „New Year resolution” for me will be to strike the balance between input (reading, consuming) and output (writing, journaling, creating). I remember that always the best way for me to understand and memorise a new piece of knowledge was to write about it or teach someone else. Conclusion: read enough to stay updated and most importantly put it in practice.

Happy 2020 and enjoy it no matter if you are about to read 1 or 100 books ;-)

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Site Director at Grand Parade Poland (part of William Hill). Previously CEO/Co-founder of Sigmapoint and KoalaMetrics.

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Kamil Stanuch

Site Director at Grand Parade Poland (part of William Hill). Previously CEO/Co-founder of Sigmapoint and KoalaMetrics.