Book Notes Digest #3
June 23, 2019
I’ve been busy with the new job, but was able to squeeze in a couple of reads since my last update—although some I may have finished during the tail-end of traveling 😬
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And h/t to Rishabh for Why Nations Fail, and Aaron/Lauren for gifting me The Tiger.
Until next month,
1 - Why Nations Fail
Having recently read Guns Germs and Steel, Why Nations Fail turned much of what I had learned on its head. Acemoglu and Robinson attempt to explain why there is systemic inequality in the world, in an effort to encourage better and more creative solutions to eradicating poverty. Their theory is simple: that economic institutions shape incentives for businesses, individuals, and politicians, and these institutions are created, preserved, or destroyed by political institutions. Economic and political institutions are often self reinforcing—in virtuous cycles, political freedom yields more economic opportunity, which yields more freedoms. In the “vicious circle”, extractive political institutions ensure that wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few oligarchs.
2 - The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
A captivating story of the hunt for a man-eating tiger. Along the way you are introduced to the history of tigers in Asia, the poverty and struggle for survival faced in Eastern Russia, post-Perestroika, and the challenges around wildlife conservation. The mental space of the hunters particularly resonated with me—they need to be totally self-sufficient, comfortable with extreme isolation, and be able to read signs and signals that most would fail to recognize. Overall a great read.
3 - East of Eden
My favorite Steinbeck book to date—the epic scale of the story, California setting, and timelessness of the message, all but ensures that I’ll read this one again at some point.
The story revolves around Adam Trask, a former soldier who eventually finds his way to the Salinas Valley, where he buys land and starts a family. But beyond Adam, the people who enter his orbit—his father, brother (Charles), wife (Cathy), children (twins Aron and Caleb), neighbors (the Hamiltons), and live-in servant (Lee)—truly make the book memorable. Without spoiling the story, it is a tale of good and evil—what it means to be an angel or a devil, and whether we are doomed to be one or the other, or have the volition to choose our own path.
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?
4 - 7 Powers - The Foundations of Business Strategy
A good reference manual for assessing the strategic position and capabilities of a firm. The 7 Powers framework is a nice tool to add to one’s toolbox in that it aims to be “simple but not simplistic”. It’s a model that you can fit into your head and apply to a variety of contexts.
At its core, strategy, “is a route to continuing Power in significant markets,” where Power is “the set of conditions creating the potential for persistent differential returns.” By using the framework, you can evaluate whether a firm has a “route to continuing Power,” and if not, what can be done to put it on such a path.