Books I read 2017 – Part 1. Relationships, Learning

This year I read 79 or so books.  Also there are 24 more books that I put down without finishing.  That’s a lot to summarise.  I have already spent more than 15 hours and restarted the process of summarising twice.  This is attempt number 3.

Here they are:

Before I get into the books, let me explain how this many books is possible.

In 2017 I discovered FBReader.  An app for ebooks on android phones (Natural reader is a good app for IOS).  That is FBReader and TTS plugin.  With a bit of getting used to, and tweaking of speed I have managed to read an obviously startling number of books – I even surprised myself.  So many in fact that I challenge myself to be able to remember them all and act in line with everything they have taught me.  This summary and the parts to follow are as much for me as it is for you.  For me – to confirm I took away what I wanted to take away.  For you – to use as notes and evaluations on what is worth reading.  I hope you enjoy, a review of all the books I read this year.

I get asked if I properly take in the information by audio-reading.  The answer is yes and no.  Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I read a book twice.  Sometimes even more times.  Sometimes I don’t need to re-read it.  Overall I am in a much much better position for having read books in the way that I have than not at all.

Part 2: Books I read 2017; Part 2. Psychology, Management

Relationships & Communication

Reviewed here.

The conversation needs to be safe.  For example – “I want to help you as a person and I know how hard it can be to get feedback from other people and I want to make you into a better person.  I have an idea for how you might like to improve.  Before I tell you I want to reassure you that even though this might come across abrasive I want to help you grow and be better in the future…”

This book is about life.  It’s supposedly about conversations which is fine. I mean who needs to have those all the time every day forever to get anything done that is outside of the span of control of one person.  So you want to tell someone something and you have a hunch it’s going to be difficult.  Great!  The first step of being an alcoholic is to admit you have a problem.  After that it’s all rainbows and butterflies.   Except it’s not.  Well.  Without really explaining in detail this book borrows from some of the tricks of mindfulness, ACT Therapy and the book, The happiness trap. Where your job as a person preparing to have a difficult conversation is to recognise that you don’t have the full story.  You have your version of events.  Probably your version with a twist on it that shows that the other person was spiteful or calculated damaging you for one reason or another.  Trouble is that the other person also has a version of the story that explains why they were innocent as well as the hero of their own story as well as the victim of your calculated actions because yes. Without you knowing you are in fact the devil (credit where credit is due right?)

Everything in this book is really a drawn out way of saying that you need to step outside of The Stories we tell ourselves (another book worth reading and a great concept to carry around in your head), and into the 3rd person story that is built from the information as we lay them out.  If you want to steal the strategies and systems around “building a 3rd story” – fleece it for all it’s worth.  It’s got guides, scripts, you name it.  It does take a special kind of person to be able to take the attitude of “we need to build a 3rd story” and roll with it as if it were as powerful as an entire book without reading the damn book so maybe it’s best to read the book to get the idea.  It’s a light read all the same and the book recently featured in my list of models of human relationships where you can find some more words about it.

Reviewed here.

There are 4 types of difficult conversations around communicating a decision:
aConsultation (Bob asks Alice for ideas for the decision he is going to make on his own)
bCollaboration (Bob and Alice make a decision together)
cDeclaration (Bob tells alice the decision he has made)
dDelegation (Bob tells alice to make the decision)

Reviewed here.

There is a two way path between physiological states and emotional states.  Everyone can train emotional intelligence, they need practice.  This includes holding an understanding of your own states as well as being able to notice emotional states in other people.

EI is particularly important when it is particularly deficient.  In the book it talks about anger as a state that (to an untrained person) can cause a reaction before someone knows that they were angry.  Make sure to fix that first before moving to higher levels of emotional management.

Reviewed here.

I always recommend this book to people starting the journey because it’s a great place to start.  These days I have better models but when I didn’t know anything this was a place to begin.  Most of my models are now more complicated applications of the ideas initially presented.  You still need weak models before replacing them with more complicated ones which are more accurate.

The polyamory bible.  It will teach you to consider the things you didn’t initially consider when thinking about poly.  Covers communication, having a toolkit, working with jealousy, setting rules, and a whole lot more that’s hard to put into words.

These are all almost the same book.  They talk about the same thing (NVC) and the best is one of the top two.  Don’t let the name scare you, it’s basically what you are looking for in communication (despite sounding like the opposite of what you want).  If I had to pick one book that made everything all make sense, it’s this one concept.  If you are looking for the keys, look no further than here.  If the name screams “useless” then hopefully it’s time to wonder why I would suggest a book that sounds useless.  Things that now make sense: Guilt, Anger, Upset, Resentment, Apology, Forgiveness, Sadness, How to talk about your interpersonal problems, how to meet your own needs and so much more.  If you only read one book, read this one.  I have probably spent 75+ hours on learning NVC this year, independent of the time spent thinking about it and practicing it in my life.

This book is about creating the necessary vulnerability needed to form social connections.  How do you bond with people?  By having something to connect over.  How do you do that?  Share your vulnerability (not in a DUMP-FEELINGS way but) in a way that fosters bringing people closer to you.  And also recognise other people being vulnerable and appreciate it, even if it doesn’t meet your specifics for how to connect.

A whole book on the psychology of apology.  Ties in very well to NVC and Difficult conversation.  It’s everything you need to know about apology to get it right.  Most apologies don’t need to be perfect but I know that having this book under my belt means that I can craft a well-thought-out apology that hits on all the psychological needs of the offended person and allows healing to happen.

A book about the hard-to-explain activity of “circling”.  Something like a cross between group meditation and hailed as the fastest way to build close connection with people in a short period of time.  It’s not creepy or mysterious, just hard to explain because it’s about sharing present experience. I feel my breath as I was thinking of an example.  The amazing thing about present experience is that we all have them, so we all have a glimpse at understanding them and connecting to them is something we can all do.  I recommend circling (which is built on NVC) to everyone.  Just get a glimpse of something different.

Gottman is a mathematician who decided to study relationships.  While some of his statistical methods may be questionable he still offers a few good models in this book.  Models I use daily.  Emotional bids, 4 horsemen, repair attempts, love maps, positive sentiment, turn towards/turn away, solvable/perpetual problems and many more.  If you want to know how to make relationships work, this book has most of what you need to know.

Some good ideas about measuring relationship satisfaction.  CBT about beliefs in relationships.  Have a growth mindset not a fixed mindset around your partner.  A warning to beware of the “stories we tell ourselves” and don’t live in those stories (Agrees with NVC). We probably cause the exact problems we are trying to solve, don’t expect to solve the problem by doing the exact same thing as you just did.  Humans have a bad habit of missing obvious details like how exactly we cause the problems.  This book has more but having read all the other books, these things feel like overlap with the other books.

It’s a sex book!  Includes good models and information such as,

“take a mirror and investigate your genitals” because that’s interesting and most people have not.

Non-Concordance between mental desire and physiological response (thinking I am not into it when I am hard/wet.  Or being unable to get hard/wet when I want to be into it).

Accelerator and Brake as a model – Some factors turn you on, some turn you off but they don’t always interact.  Example: stress might turn you off but a sexy partner might turn you on.  But these are independent factors.  You may need to relieve the stresses and encourage your partner to be more sexy to get this going.  Make a list with your partner of accelerators and brakes, then swap lists and see if you can help each other.

Aim for an enjoyable experience.  Get naked with your partner and just enjoy cuddling and touching and don’t have any pressure to have sex.  Then gradually add in more, explore and enjoy each other.  Don’t overthink it (NVC message, stay in the concrete experience).

The whole book is laced with a message of “you are probably normal and less stressing about your sex life and experience actually makes it better because you are not stressed”.

I don’t know if I am relatively inexperienced in reading sex books but this one had a lot that I didn’t know yet.  Which is good.  I hope to grab more in the near future.

Relationship books I didn’t finish

Book about Free Open Source communities online and variously how to run a community.  I really wanted to look up one or two specific things so I didn’t get deep into this book.  but it’s still the bible of community building.

I read this years ago.  It was hogwash then and it’s hogwash now but it maybe has useful ideas of identities we can choose to play to.  “needs babying” “needs to be an adult” as identities.  But really I think NVC works better.

I want to finish this book!  And there are a small handful of books by this name.  It’s about the story of judgement about our concrete experiences.  If you live in a world of judgement, “he hates, she is mad at” you will live in a lot more pain than if you live in a world of concretes.  Living in “this happened/that happened” not “this happening implies he was mad at me” (looks a lot like fundamental attribution error).

The world you end up spending time in is the world that defines your meaning.  Which is, if you live in the world of conspiracy, those are meaningful and you can win and lose in ways that make for joy and pain.  If you live in the world of stoic, concrete experience you can’t lose, and everything is joyous in a way that is very hard to describe.  Anyway read NVC, read this, read all the other similar books and everything makes sense together.

I really wanted this to be a good book.  On the tail of giving up on The Black Swan, I wanted my next book to actually last.  I have heard many people say promising things about this book but unfortunately it didn’t carry it’s own weight.  I got about 150 pages in and was pretty sick of armchair evolutionary psychology ideas self justifying just so theories with no basis whatsoever that is even marginally better than a BAHfest entrant.  How they sold so many books and got into so many minds is beyond me.  I know what I didn’t find was some good reading on sexuality, polyamory or evolution.  It’s a shame because it came so well recommended.  I will not read the rest.


This book is amazing.  It will teach you how to think about learning any problem in the realm of difficult human.  Difficult human is “there is something that some people can do with their bodies.  It takes iteration and practice to solve a difficult human problem.  Like balance, chopping vegetables, juggling, playing music and many more.  This book has guidelines for learning that.  It’s based on tennis but that helps to show how well it applies to any skill.  If you want to know how to learn.  Read this.

This book is the story of how Tim Galloway basically discovered Daniel Kahneman’s Two System model from Thinking Fast and Slow.  Except he did it years earlier while trying to work out how to teach people to play tennis.  If you are interested in teaching or learning any skill at all ever – I would recommend this book because chances are it’s one of those skills like tennis where your body (system 1) just kinda plays the game and your planning and calculating System 2 basically takes a back seat.

Reason being if you have to think about every ball coming towards you, chances are tha t while you do the geometry on the projectile motion trajectory they will hit you in the face.  However if you train that part of your body that worked out how to walk via a variation on trial and error – that’s what’s going to make an ace or a dunce tennis player.  The ability to “feel” or intuit what’s next (using that other part of your brain) and act accordingly.

That’s not all.  It’s great to say that tennis is an intuitive game but standing on the court for 200 hours wont teach you very much.  Not without the effective feedback loops and the repeatability (See Peak – The book by the man who is the god of experience and practice).  There is a fiddly balance between the system that can calculate the spin on the ball, and why it went out (s2) — and the system that knows how to use muscle memory to respond to that (s1).  This book is a guide on how to balance the two systems and use them to work towards the goal, not against each other.

It’s a pretty great read which alternates between explanations and small anecdotes where Tim discovered the concepts behind the theory, this book is light on the anecdotes and heavy on the concepts.  It’s less of a book all about “ME ME ME” and more of a book about “here learn this”.  If you are looking to learn something, this is a must read.

This book is the semi-autobiographical book by Josh Waitzkin as he describes his journey through chess championships and then through Tai Chi [Taiji Push Hands (Taiji Tui Shou)] championships.  The great thing about his story is that it’s not often that you find a double champion to give a good eyeballing.  In any discipline at championship level you have certain meta-skills that creep in.  and Josh talks about what it’s like and how to do it.

There is a lot about “focus on your own style” and “turn inwards to your experience when learning”.  Also keep it fun, get lots of fast feedback, the ability to keep cool under pressure, the ability to see your own mistakes and learn from them and many more pieces of advice.  Which is basically why he called the book The Art of Learning.  Inspired by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and distinctly with some similarities but with a more fun story and a more practical adventure.  Think less smug and bitter character, and more – Journey of discovery being shared as he works it out along the way.

If you look at what Josh is up to now, it seems like the book helped springboard him into an organisation that helps with revolutionising teaching styles so that they match the student.

Like any young genius I was raised on a diet of chess and science so I get what he talks about when he talks about the mindset of the game.  I too had experiences of watching my opponents make themselves lose the game.  I too learnt everything I know about the world via a chess board.  Maybe that’s why I loved this story.

Maybe it was all confirmation bias to hear his story, maybe it was reading about the mental game that ties into The Inner Game of Tennis, NVC, The Talent Code, Stories we tell ourselves and many more…  But if you get the idea that he knows what he is talking about, this is a great hero’s story of how a man conquered the world.  He starts on the idea (also found in Tony Robbins’ – Uncertainty, as well as Jordan Peterson – Chaos), that growth comes out of mistakes.  I wrote about it before when I said, mistakes bad enough that you learn but not bad enough that they kill you.

Other things mentioned include ideas that are also in peak about tight loop feedback, deliberate practice and 10,000hours of training.

One day you stop being able to follow other teachers, you become your own teacher.  You are the master of your own agency.  Then you need to ask yourself what next?  How do I get better?  How do I take a step forward?  This book talks about that.  And I would strongly recommend it.

Overall – definitely a fun read and firmly in the set of books I would recommend to read if you want to know about learning.

This book was probably made better by the fact that I had previously read Anders Ericsson’s earlier book – The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise which is essentially a compilation of papers about being an expert.  As you might expect from a compilation of papers – it was dry as all hell and was very difficult to extract value from.  Which is why I was thrilled when I found out about this book.  Peak is one of those fun story books about brilliant people and how they got to where they are, Mozart, “Steve”, Chess masters… And I love a good chess story.

Anders tries to build a story-mode version of the list of instructions on page 225/700, which ideally should have been on page 1 but that’s okay, he does it this way.  It’s fun all the same to read about all the masters and how they got to their 10k hours.  That’s right Anders is the 10,000 hours guy.  Well.  He’s the deliberate practice guy, and combined with the inner game of tennis, you can basically teach yourself anything by following these 7 principles.

  • Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert performers and with how those abilities can best be developed.

  • Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.

  • Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. Once an overall goal has been set, a teacher or coach will develop a plan for making a series of small changes that will add up to the desired larger change. Improving some aspect of the target performance allows a performer to see that his or her performances have been improved by the training.

  • Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. It isn’t enough to simply follow a teacher’s or coach’s directions. The student must concentrate on the specific goal for his or her practice activity so that adjustments can be made to control practice.

  • Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback. Early in the training process much of the feedback will come from the teacher or coach, who will monitor progress, point out problems, and offer ways to address those problems. With time and experience students must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly. Such self-monitoring requires effective mental representations.

  • Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more. Mental representations make it possible to monitor how one is doing, both in practice and in actual performance. They show the right way to do something and allow one to notice when doing something wrong and to correct it.

  • Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance. Because of the way that new skills are built on top of existing skills, it is important for teachers to provide beginners with the correct fundamental skills in order to minimize the chances that the student will have to relearn those fundamental skills later when at a more advanced level.

So yeah!  Just commit that to memory and you’ll be set!  Following an expert, Outside your comfort zone of what you know, specific goals, deliberate and conscious actions, short feedback loops, mental models of what you are trying to do and modifying what you already know to make it better.

It’s as easy as building a mnemonic and chunking that down right?  (nope, it’s just annoying to try to recall that list.  It’s still a good list though).  It does have some good ideas like finding an expert and doing some analysis to see what you are doing different and why.  There are lots of bits to expertise, and they are really well covered in the book.

Two other concepts that Ander’s destroys really confidently are, “zero to hero” sort of out-of-nowhere stories and savantism.  The short version is that there is no free lunch.  Even savants worked thousands of hours to get where they were.  Unfortunately it was probably more of a compulsive repetitive behaviour than an enjoyable learning experience.

Joshua Foer accidentally won a memory competition.  He was a journalist investigating the subculture when he decided to play and used Anders Erricson’s help to get so good he won.  The story of his journey is excellent!  If you like books that take you on a journey, like The Art of Learning – this one is a lot of fun.  It’s a bit of a boys book in that the whole “memory scene” as he describes it is a bunch of boys trying to do something stupendous.

The book is littered with details of our understanding of how memory works.  It’s fun to play along and try to recall syllables or phone numbers.  Also if you want to go into memory palaces, this book is a good place to start.  Even if you just want to know more so you can decide it’s not for you, that’s fine too.  Investigate if you are keen to memorize decks of playing cards or other irrelevant memory feats.  (also I wrote the list of techniques to help you remember names a while before reading this)

This book has some excellent models around how to become a master in your field.  Including several phases of learning.  The transition from “apprentice”, to “scientist”, to “master”.  The steps of being an apprentice through
passive”, “practice” and “experimentation”.

Find a mentor who is doing what you want, ask them for advice then throw most of it out.  Pay attention to what they do, not what they say.  Emulate the things they do that you see working.

Robert green indulges in many examples of masters and the training they went through including Darwin, Mozart, Da Vinci and many more.  Whether it’s possible to coherently posit a connection between as many “masters” as he does and continue to present a thesis. That’s an exercise left up to the reader.  He certainly has a solid method for achieving mastery.  Whether that’s the best way… It’s not the only way, but it’s certainly food for thought.

Less good than all the above.  A few simple ideas about how to get people into the passion of a skill and how to keep the joy alive.  In theory the fundamentals of passions.  Whether it delivers… is up to you.

A book by a non-mathematical person on how they learnt to learn math.  Many good insights.  Goes well with deep work, and generally working on “hard things”.  talks about diffuse vs focussed mode thinking.  Basically the reason why shower-thoughts work so well at solving problems.  And how to get that without having to shower just to get on top of your problems.  Or alternatively the suggestion to shower as often as necessary.

This book is aimed at a simple level and is filled with exercises that can be tried out once.  It doesn’t necessarily guide you how to apply it to your own life.  While it’s neat insight to know that focused and diffuse modes exist it doesn’t do the most obvious of things of telling you to implement it in your working process.

If you are like me and have read at least 5 books on productivity, this book probably overlaps with one or more of them.  In that sense it’s not novel but it is good at covering the variety of relevant information.  I feel like Feynman covers his stuff in his own books, Joshua Foer covers his knowledge in Moonwalking with Einstein.  A poor copy is not ideal but for someone entering the field maybe it’s a reasonable summary?

This is part 1 and it’s over 5k words.  If I don’t split this up I can assume it won’t get read.  It’s phenomenal that it’s actually being published after months wrestling with it.  I’d say this could have taken anywhere from 5-15 hours in the fray of writing and rewriting and restructuring.

Cross posted:

Part 2: Books I read 2017; Part 2. Psychology, Management

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