“One of my students (who was majoring in, of all subjects, economics) asked me for a rule on what to read. “As little as feasible from the last twenty years, except history books that are not about the last fifty years,” I blurted out, with irritation…” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Most of the books published this year will be useless or forgotten soon (if they’re not already). With this in mind, I decided to take Taleb’s rule wholeheartedly. In 2015, every second book I read has to be at least 1000 years old.
As I mentioned in this post, “The thinking goes, if something was good to last for a thousand years (or, in modern times, 20 years!), then it must be really good.”
The Histories, by Polybius
All through October I’ve been reading Polybius’ monumental Histories, which covers the history of the mainly Rome and Greece from 264 BC to 146 BC, roughly the period when Rome starts building its empire first in Sicily and then across the Mediterranean. The Histories are long – not as much as Livy, but Polybius still wrote over 40 “books”, of which only the first five survive completely and many others with substantial (or very few) fragments. I first got a compilation called The Rise of the Roman Empire, but I ended up reading the unabridged work online as I found many of the fragments left out too good to miss out on. It’s a work I’ll probably keep reading through November as well.
Polybius is not as an easy read as Livy, yet is not as bad as he’s put out to be. He’s special for three reasons:
1- He offers one of the few, if any accounts of the First Punic War, the first round of the titanic struggle between the Romans and the Carthaginians. Unfortunately Livy’s account is lost.
2- He wrote an “universal history” – so it’s not just Roman history, but the whole history of the Greco-Roman world in that period. He goes even to cover battles and events in Bactria (modern Afghanistan/Tajikistan)
3- He was a close friend from the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus (or the Scipio Africanus the Younger), the guy who destroyed Carthage and probably the best and most renowned general and statesman of his generation. Access to Scipio gave Polybius the unique change of being an eyewitness to the burning and sacking of Rome’s arch-enemy. He’s a primary source of a monumental event that happened over 2.000 years ago, like – how cool is that?
The more I read the classics, the more I enjoy them. Polybius strays out of history and gives his accounts on the character of the elder Scipio, Hannibal and gives his opinions and insights of why the Romans rose. Cool read!
Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers
I’m very skeptical of all modern “entrepreneurship” books and accounts. They’re almost all the same, so it’s good this one stands out, as Derek Sivers stands out from other entrepreneurs. I’d heard about Derek before, I knew he was a respected voice in the startup ecosystem, and now I get why. In this a short, good hearted account he goes through how he built and grew CDBaby, an online CD store for independent musicians. Sivers is by all means inspiring, refreshing and at the same time unconventional. He shares a good handful of his personal stories which are very worth a read.
Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, by Robert Cialdini et al
Cialdini’s Influence is a classic and for a good reason. The six principles presented in Influence – reciprocation, social proof, commitment and consistency, liking, authority and scarcity – are immensely powerful and govern the way we interact with other people. In this book, Cialdini, along with some other folks, go through fifty ways to put the six principles of influence into action – a treasure trove, by all means. This is a good companion book for Influence and highly recommended for everyone. Even if you’re not planning to use the influence tactics yourself, it will help you to stop when the same tactics are used on you.
The list feels short, but need to blame Polybius’ immense scope for it. Besides this, I’ve gone through the audio of Trump’s The Art of the Deal once more – a classic, and a very good read, and went through some recordings of Jim Camp’s Camp Negotiating System which I found online for free and which were very interesting as well.