Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
I knew that high-frequency trading (HFT) was a thing, but I had no idea what is was all about. This book delivers a lot of eye-opening material. One company, hell-bent on finding the most direct path between futures markets in Chicago and the stock exchanges in New York City, wheels and deals and digs its way through the Midwest and Appalachia to shave milliseconds off communications, in an effort to land trades faster.
The author describes all the counterintuitive incentives various stock exchanges offer to entice brokers to trade on them, later carefully explaining exactly why that was so. Further, the amount of information gleaned by exchanges and brokerages on where trades landed and in what amounts becomes rich data that provides insight into moves traders are looking to make.
Finally, a plucky group of Wall Street folks come together to and bring fairness back to trading, by brinding issues to light and even starting their own exchange. This was a fascinating read. Michael Lewis’ style kept the information approachable and the story flowing.
Lefties: Former Title, Sinister People by Jack Fincher
I got this as a Christmas gift fom my in-laws (I’m left-handed) and I fully expected it’d be a so-you’re-left-handed-here-are-other-notable-lefties type book. In reality, it blew my mind with the idea that the entire universe could be “handed” in one way, shape or form. Drawing on anthropology, physics, and psychology, the book goes deep into attempting to understand why handedness exists and whether there are benefits (or detriments) to either. The book is a bit dated and I’m sure there is a lot more science to draw on, but this was still and interesting, if sometimes heavy, book.
Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
I picked this book up after a conversation with a colleague about business lifecycles. I’ve always been curious about the stages an organization goes through as it progresses from a startup and possibly on to a full-fledged blue chip. This book provides some really interesting analyses of several industries and the companies that existed, survived, and or folded based on how well they manage both sustaining and disruptive technologies. This has only whetted my appetite for learning more about business lifecycles.
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
I was really pleased with Flash Boys that I decided to pick this book up too. I didn’t really know much about collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and, honestly, I’m still not totally clear. But this story does a solid job describing the events and people that were involved in the subprime mortgage crisis that crashed. While I have some more research to do before I fully understand these complicated instruments, one insight I gleaned was that for an industry awash in data, not many people were able to analyze and classify CDOs (and related securities) at the granularity they needed. A lot was taken on faith and a lot was lost as a resut.
The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error, 2nd Ed. by Sidney Dekker
Truth be told, I started this book last year, but I only finished it this Spring!
This book is a must-read for all engineers, at a minimum. I think any professional can take away some new learnings from this book. If one learns nothing else but how to better approach incidents with a non-judgemental outlook that aims to understand why people act how they do, the read is worth it.
Dekker’s book describes the Old View (Bad Apple Theory) and New View of human factors study. Where the Old View seeks to assign blame to one or more individuals, the New View strives to understand why people make decisions and take actions in the face of challenges that have led to various accidents. Focusing on airline incidents (Mr. Dekker is a pilot), the reader comes to learn that hindsight bias is a powerful detractor from learning the truth. Hindsight does nothing to help explain what actors were experiencing, or what knowledge and experience led them to take the actions they did at the time. In other words, people act in a locally rational way: they did what made sense to them at the time.
Endeavor to uncover the details of the unfolding situation, what people knew and were seeing, as well as the constraints they were operating in, and you stand a better chance of understanding what went wrong (and what went right) duing accidents. That information, in turn, can make a difference in improving the systems and environments in which people operate.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW
At the end of 2014, I wrote a post about my experience truly making myself vulnerable in a work situation. My wife read it and said, “Oh, you’re gonna love this!” and handed me her copy of Dr. Brown’s Daring Greatly.
Dr. Brown studies what it means to be whole and human. She has spent years working with people to understand the source and impact of shame and what it can mean to embrace our vulnerability. She writes from a place that is familiar, including offering up some of her own experiences. What struck me most about the book was the way she gave equal time to issues of vulnerability and shame faced by men and women, often the result of folks having difficulty dealing with gender-specific behavior expectations.
I don’t easily share my innermost feelings; this book declares there is strength in doing so.
Elon Musk - Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
This was a fun, fast biography following Elon Musk’s (mostly recent) history, accomplishments, and failures. I enjoyed it even though it appeared to be written by someone smitten with the subject.
At Day’s Close - Night in Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch
I initially picked up this book because I’m really interested in sleep. The author describes how people used to sleep in two distinct phases: the first started at dusk and ended somewhere in the middle of the night, whereupon folks would talk, play games, visit friends, and more, before retiring for the second sleep.
Mr. Ekirch cobbles together a picture of night life before the light bulb using information gleaned from diaries and public records. It’s fascinating as it details how much has changed since the introduction of artificial light while at the same time recognizing that many aspects of life are much the same as they’ve always been after the sun goes down.
The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
I learned of Nate Silver during the 2012 U.S. election cycle where he had an impressive track record predicting the outcomes of nearly every race he reviewed, including the presidential contest. Eager to learn more about his methods, I thought I’d give this book a try.
It was very interesting to learn that Mr. Silver started out tracking baseball statistics and developing software to help gauge scouting strategies. He later parlayed his experience there into politics. Currently he and his team lay out their predicitions at fivethirtyeight.com.
I got a decent introduction to Bayesian analysis (enough to whet my appetite for more). The most important takeaway from the book was that for any given forecast, it’s important to be a little skeptical, being mindful of the quality of data used as inputs and understanding what, if any, underlying biases and motivations go into making such predictions.
Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weinersmith
Ostensibly, I backed this Kickstarter project for the kids. As I read a chapter to them each night, it became apparent it was a little old for them (they’re in 1st grade and kindergarten). Honestly, I don’t think they appreciated the dad jokes as much as I did!
I finished the book myself and loved it. Augie is a smart, plucky girl that goes on an adventure in the forest behind her house. She comes across a giant and decides to teach him and his kingdom about science and government. It’s quite a silly story that is very enjoyable. Notably, it’s the only fiction book I read this year. For myself, at least.
It also features gorgeous illustrations by Boulet.