Monday, December 26, 2022

My Rapid Fire Review of 25 Non-Fiction Books I Read In 2022

It's taken me a while, but I'm finally admitting that one of my "hobbies" is reading. I suppose part of the reason it feels weird to admit that is because, except for two comic book subscriptions, I didn't read a single fiction book. It feels more like learning/studying for my business, not a pastime.

And, if I'm being honest, "reading" sounds like an unexciting cop-out hobby. So be it. I enjoy reading non-fiction books and am embracing that it's my hobby.

So, here's everything I read last year: 25 books, 2 comics, and 1 magazine. Perhaps one of them will pique your interest.


Before I get to the books I read this year, I wanted to share a new tool I discovered. It's called Readwise, and it emails you highlights from books you've read to help you remember key ideas. I typically read on a Kindle, and Readwise syncs all my Kindle highlights. When I listen to an audiobook, I manually add it, and Readwise sends popular highlights (it's not as thorough as I'd like, but it's still helpful).

There are many features, but I like getting their daily emails with 10 highlights. Sometimes it's a simple reminder, an inspirational nudge, or I scratch my head, wondering why I highlighted that part. :)

It's not free, but it helps me get more from the time I invest in reading a book. If you read a bunch of books, I recommend trying it out.

OK. On to the books!

Christian Books

Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Understanding the World of Islam and Overcoming the Fears That Divide Us

By Carl Medearis

I cannot say enough good things about this book. If you're friends with a Muslim and wondering how to converse with them, this book is for you. Medearis' main point is simple: there's a lot in common between Muslims and Christians; focus on that. For example, we both believe there is one God; he's the sole creator of the universe and us. Start your conversation on common ground and go from there. Which, honestly, is good to do with anyone you're talking to. The book has many practical examples, which I found helpful.

Simple Money, Rich Life: Achieve True Financial Freedom and Design a Life of Eternal Impact

By Bob Lotich

Published this year, Lotich weaves Christian principles with personal finance. I particularly liked his section on giving and our heart towards it.

"The world tells us it's in financial independence, having a couple million in your Roth IRA or 401(k), having a vacation house, or retiring at 40. And while there isn't anything wrong with those goals, if we're actually eternal beings who are on the earth only for a breath of time, it seems far smarter to store up eternal wealth in heaven than to focus all our efforts storing up as much wealth as possible on earth. And if that's the case, then we should stop defining financial success the way the world does: by how much we accumulate. As Christians, we should measure financial success not by what we accumulate but by what we give." (Bob Lotich, Simple Money, Rich Life)

It's not as practical as you might want, but my experience is that personal finance success is all about mindset, not how-tos. In that sense, this book does a fantastic job of helping align your thinking with the Lord's.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (re-read)

by Timothy Keller

I continue to love this book and encourage every Christian to read it. It's a beautiful blend of theology and application. Prayer is similar to personal finance in that it's easy to do but also easy to forget. Or, we wait until we feel "moved" to pray. Instead, focus on making prayer a habit.

"Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not... We should pray even if we are not getting anything out of it. Imagine that you are rooming with someone and he or she virtually doesn't speak to you. All she does is leave messages. When you mention it, she says, "Well, I don't get much out of talking to you. I find it boring and my mind flitting everywhere, so I just don't try." What will you conclude? Regardless of how scintillating a conversationalist you are, it's rude for her not to talk to you." (Timothy Keller, Prayer)

Mandarinfish - The Splendor of the Diverse Church

By Ron King

Ron is a new pastor at my church, and he graciously shared his book with me. If I had to sum up this book in a phrase, it would be: cultivate a diverse church to see all the different ways - through ethnicities, socio-economic status, language, etc. - God is glorified. I found his thoughts on multi-language services interesting. Don't create two churches that happen to share the same building. Instead, keep it as one big church, even if the services are in different languages. Then, create opportunities for everyone to interact as one body. It reminds me of Romans 12:4-5:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

The Bible (re-read)

I created a Chronological reading plan that did both the Old and New Testaments in parallel. But in September, my church started an all-church read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. So, I put my plan on the shelf and joined the church. When the church finishes in September of 2023, I'll take my plan off the shelf and finish the year in Chronological order.

Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence: A Practical Guide to Walking with Low-Income People

By Steve Corbett & Briain Fikkert

This year I joined the board of directors at Love INC of Benton County, which is a non-profit that mobilizes local churches to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ. But how do you help in a way that... actually helps?

"[T]he reality is that truly helping materially poor people typically requires a much greater commitment of time, resources, and energy than the common method of simply giving them handouts." (Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence)

It starts with a recognition that we are all broken.

"Poverty is extremely complex, and so is poverty alleviation. At its core, poverty alleviation is the process of broken people in a broken world being restored to the hope and dignity God intends for human beings as His image-bearers. And the people who are broken—the people who need this restoration—are both the low-income people and those who are seeking to help them. Both parties are broken, and both need to be transformed."

The rest of the book goes into practical steps to assess how your church can help while keeping the right mindset. It helped me understand how Love INC operates so that I could be a better board member.

Business Books

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

By Nir Eyal

Earlier in the year, I designed a website and read a trio of books to help my thinking: Don't Make Me Think, Hooked, and Forms That Work. Don't Make Me Think and Forms That Work focus on usability. Hooked applies psychology to website design to explain how successful products create unprompted user engagement - aka habits - where users visit a website repeatedly on their own. I wrote a more extensive summary that goes into more detail about the Hooked Model.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability 

By Caroline Jarrett & Gerry Gaffney

If you create forms for your job/business (digital or paper), you should read this book. It's a textbook that focuses on practical instructions with plenty of examples. I found it helpful for organizing and adding clarity to my forms. Similar to Don't Make Me Think, a big takeaway is never to assume something is "obvious." Be explicit with instructions and sometimes repeat yourself.

One of the things I like about the book is that it focuses on the relationship between the user and the organization.

"When your form asks your user a question, you want an answer—a piece of information that the user has and you do not. This represents an investment, even if it is only a tiny one, by the user in the relationship with your organization." (Caroline Jarrett, Gerry Gaffney, Forms That Work)

Once you think about forms as a social exchange, it helps you think through what you're actually asking people to do. One downside is that you'll start to "see" bad forms and be able to articulate why they're bad and how easily they could be better.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

By Chip and Dan Heath

A defining moment is a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful. Three naturally occurring defining moments are transitions, milestones, and pits. Moments can also be created. This book teaches you how to make the most of those moments. It's a fantastic book that every leader should read.

  • Are you hiring someone? That's a transition.
  • Did you meet a growth goal? That's a milestone.
  • Lose a customer? That's a pit.
  • Is it a customer's first/only/last visit?
  • Are you revamping your company's strategy?
  • Is it the end of the year? A birthday? 5 years of service?
  • Was there a death of a loved one?

There are many moments we let pass by. For some, you may consider going all-out. For others, with a little bit of effort, you can significantly increase the power of the moment (because nobody else does).

For example, when a new tenant moves in, I provide soap and towels at the sinks, a fresh roll of TP, and a mini-notebook and pen to take move-in notes. And for a while, I also gave a gift certificate to take'n bake pizza. I stopped doing that during the pandemic, but I am starting it again because it's an easy way to elevate the moment for my new tenant.

One warning: it's a little too dense to read like a typical book. Instead, read it with a group where you slow down, discuss the concepts, and create concrete plans for your organization. I wouldn't mind re-reading it if you're looking for someone to read it with. :)

Primalbranding: Create Belief Systems that Attract Communities

By Patrick Hanlon

Brands provide a shortcut to expectations and decision-making. Instead of re-evaluating every purchase/decision from scratch, it allows you to take a shortcut. "Last time, X brand's product was good, so I'll use it again." Or, "X brand made a quality Y, so I bet Z will also be high quality."

It's an act of service to your customers to take your brand seriously. How do you do that? You could create an extraordinary product/experience and slap a modern logo on it, but chances are you won't assemble a community of believers with a powerful emotional attachment to your brand.

Hanlon identified 7 assets you can focus on to build your brand. Here they are:

  1. Creation Story: The mythic quest. How/why did it start? Who started it? Where did it start?
  2. Creed: The singular notion that you want people to believe. Why do you belong in people's lives? Why should people care? What do you celebrate? Quality, innovation, performance, or customer service? What do you believe in?
  3. Icons: Concentrations of meaning. Sight/sound/touch/taste/smell. Signals belonging or accomplishment. What's the first/last impression?
  4. Rituals: Repeated interactions. Moments to highlight. These are hard to copy or things others are unwilling to do. Draw a timeline of customer interactions. (The Power of Moments can help with this part)
  5. Nonbelievers: People against what you stand for. Who are you not? What are you trying to avoid? What are you up against?
  6. Sacred words: Specialized words people must learn before people can belong. What words define you? What resonates with customers?
  7. Leader: A person who is the catalyst, the risk-taker, the visionary, the iconoclast. Who is it?

I found it helpful to answer each of these for well-known brands (like Disney, Apple, and Nike). Then, answer them for your organization. Then, share each piece with your customers over time. (see Oversubscribed for a plan.)

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life

By Rory Sutherland

I suppose I was on a bit of a branding kick. :) I read it because people I like recommended it, but honestly, it was lost on me. I like concrete examples, and this book was too abstract for me. There are snippets I appreciate, like the idea that "it is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative." (Rory Sutherland, Alchemy) Yet, we are illogical beings, so you need to think illogically to connect with people.

It's OK. Look up a couple of summaries online first to see if you'd find the book helpful.

The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (audiobook)

By Clayton Christensen

My brother read this book, and it dominated our conversations for a few weeks, so I read it too.

Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. It's a fascinating treatise and provides practical tips to overcome the dilemma. But it's hard, and as the book points out, it rarely happens.

One fun part is that it was initially written in 1997, and he uses his framework to predict the next disruptive technologies. One he looks at is electric vehicles. The other is the idea of a "pocket-like computer." One way you can start to see a disruptive technology coming is when there's excess capacity in a feature. For example, chips are faster than any app needs, the battery lasts longer than needed, or the screen is sharper than the eye can tell. Christensen saw that computers were getting fast and efficient enough that manufacturers could shrink them down without taking a significant performance hit. It turns out he was right!

It makes me think about today's products. Are there features that seem like they have excess capacity? If so, what new capabilities does that enable? It feels like we're on the verge of something with AI because processing is getting faster and faster.

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries (audiobook)

By Safi Bahcall

Loonshots takes another look at disruptive innovations and how to nurture them systematically. I recommend this to leaders running larger organizations with product roadmaps. Like in Innovator's Dilemma, you want to separate innovators from implementers but still create ways for them to communicate. Focus on finding the proper organizational structure and let your people do their jobs.

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

By Oren Klaff

I almost put this in the real estate section, but it's for anyone in sales.

I like the book for a few reasons:

  1. I'm new to the sales world, so I'm learning a lot!
  2. He explains the psychology/neuroscience behind the strategies, which I appreciate.
  3. His stories are unbelievable. I couldn't put the book down for his final example of developing an airport, where he brought all his lessons together.

The idea is to learn how to hold someone's attention so that they can actually hear and process your pitch. It's not about coercing people but meeting them where they're at (which usually includes fewer facts and figures).

The key concept for a successful pitch is frame control: how a person views the world and expects the world to view them. Whoever controls the frame controls the interaction. I'm still learning this concept, so I don't know if I can do it justice, but there are 5 common types of frames: power, analyst, intrigue, time, and prize. The skill is learning to recognize each kind of frame and navigate them.

"Identify and label social frames. Notice the frames that are coming at you on every level of your life. Power frames, time frames, and analyst frames are everywhere, and they crash into you on a daily basis. Develop your ability to see them coming, describe them, and discuss them with your partner." (Oren Klaff, Pitch Anything)

It's a skill that can be developed.

Now, I need to practice what I've learned, which will probably include re-reading it next year.

Oversubscribed: How To Get People Lining Up To Do Business With You

By Daniel Priestley

How is this book not on more must-read book lists?! It might be my favorite book of the year.

The idea is to create more demand for your business than you can supply.

"You don't need everyone on the planet to see you as highly valuable; you only need enough people who can drive your price up. Separating from the economy and from your industry requires that you turn your attention to those people who find you highly valuable – and then serve them better than anyone else can." (Daniel Priestley, Oversubscribed)

One way to accomplish that is by finding your unique niche.

"Creating your own market is about solving bigger problems for people than others do. Being unique is not about performing a task at a high standard; it's about having a unique ability to get things done. When your business is seen to be unique in the market, you'll make money regardless of what everyone else in your industry is doing. Even if there's thousands of other people who can technically do what you do, it won't impact on the price you can charge. Your price will be determined by your own market."

It starts with Collins' Hedgehog Concept (see Good to Great) of providing real value. Then you communicate it well. Building the assets described in Primalbranding also helps. The trick is to do it efficiently. There are three pieces of research on how "know, like, and trust" is formed:


"research into bonding behaviour suggests that spending more than seven hours with someone moves you beyond the "acquaintance" category and towards being a "friend.""


"when people had about 11 interactions with a brand, they were considerably more likely to buy from that brand."


"Seeing people in different places is another way stronger bonds are built... The magic number is four locations according to research into trust building."

So, we can put it all together:

"If we spent 7 hours together, had 11 interactions between us and met up in 4 separate locations there's little doubt we would feel a bond. It would seem like we are more friends than acquaintances... The more people you can clock up time, interactions and locations with, the more people will see you as different, unique and part of their tribe. Through this lens, a famous person is merely someone who has used media and technology to 7‐11‐4 people."

What does this mean practically? Create credible and valuable content while weaving in branding assets across different media.

"What they are looking for is credible and valuable content. They want insights, stories, examples, demonstrations and interesting facts. If it's possible for a person to spend a day researching your business and finding content worth delving deeply into, you have the foundations in place to build a passionate customer. If, however, it's impossible for someone to gorge for even a couple of hours on your ideas or they can only find sales collateral, it will be very difficult to build an engaged group of people who care about what you're up to."

Oh my, there's so much more! This is just the beginning. Priestley goes into the timing of messages and signaling to people what you're going to do before actually doing it, which allows them to enjoy the anticipation as well.

One final thought on the reality of our current economy:

"Maybe you don't think of yourself as a media or technology business with a daily focus on content creation, media distribution, software, data and automation. However, that's a foolish position to take these days. No matter what your business is, you are also a media and technology business."

But it doesn't have to be about entertainment; education is powerful because it builds trust, understanding, and engagement. "Trainings, seminars, webinars, workshops, manuals, reports, statistics, thought leadership, guidance, consultation and measurement are all tools for educating your interested people." So aim for 80% education with some light entertainment at the edges.

If you're running a business and want more customers, read this book (a couple of times).

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't (re-read, audiobook)

By Jim Collins

I enjoy listening to Collins' book. I find them helpful in getting my mindset right. Some ideas are harder to implement with a small business, but it's still useful for me.

There are a lot of great concepts, like being a level-5 leader and first thinking about who, then what. But my favorite is the Hedgehog Concept. You want to find the intersection of 3 questions:

  1. What are we passionate about?
  2. What can we be the best in the world at? (might be local or highly focused)
  3. What drives our economic engine? (profit per X)

"The good-to-great companies at their best followed a simple mantra: "Anything that does not fit with our Hedgehog Concept, we will not do. We will not launch unrelated businesses. We will not make unrelated acquisitions. We will not do unrelated joint ventures. If it doesn't fit, we don't do it." (Jim Collins, Good to Great)

Good To Great And The Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great

By Jim Collins

A "monograph" is a fancy way of saying it's a really short book (35 pages). It's a follow-up to Good to Great that answers questions from leaders in the social sectors. I found it helpful to think through the hedgehog concept and the economic engine. The critical question isn't "How much money do we make?" but "How can we develop a sustainable resource engine to deliver superior performance relative to our mission?"

It also shows that if I wanted to write a helpful book, it doesn't have to be 250+ pages. (Though, to be fair, it's a follow-up to a 400-page book)

How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (audiobook)

By Jim Collins

Like a diseased body, there are 5 stages of decline:

  1. Hubris from success: People forget what made them great. They take success for granted.
  2. Undisciplined pursuit of more: Organizations overstretch and jump into areas they can't be great. Often it comes from an unreasonable quest for growth.
  3. Denial of risk and peril: There are issues, but leaders ignore them because the overall results are still good.
  4. Grasping for salvation: At this point, the decline starts. Do you get back to the fundamentals that made you great? Or do you panic and make big leadership or strategic changes? 
  5. Resignation to downfall: The company dies, usually by selling to another company.

If you want to see how this happens, read the book Losing the Signal, which is about Blackberry (see below).

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

By William Poundstone

This is one of those psychology books that can upset you because you suddenly realize how many pricing games are played in your life. Here's one example:

"[C]oherent arbitrariness. This says that consumers really don't know what anything should cost. They walk the supermarket aisles in a half-conscious daze, judging prices from cues, helpful and otherwise. Coherent arbitrariness is above all a theory of relativity. Buyers are mainly sensitive to relative differences, not absolute prices." (William Poundstone, Priceless)

I think we're all aware of shrinkflation right now. Companies keep product prices the same, but you get less.

For a historical example, "Puffs tissues shrank the length of their product from 8.6 to 8.4 inches." It doesn't say it, but they could also keep the box the same size! But, "[t]his ruse can go on only so long." 

So, what do companies do?

"introduces a new, economy-size package. In size, shape, or other design features, the new package (and its price) is difficult to compare to the old."

Remember, the price game is all about the comparison and making it harder to compare. This is why Southwest doesn't allow their fares to be aggregated. And it's why other airlines include/exclude baggage/meal/seat choices in their initial prices.

"One of the things that price consultants have learned is that what consumers say and what they do are not the same thing. For the most part, memories of prices are short, and memories of boxes and packages shorter."

The book is a fun romp through the history of studying pricing. The experiments are insightful, and there are quite a few lessons to learn if you do pricing.

My rental listings are in aggregator marketplaces like Facebook and Craigslist, where rentals can seem the same. I currently show an all-inclusive price. But perhaps it makes more sense to break out utilities into a separate bills. Sure, that'll be more work for me, but I could potentially increase my profits (and probably annoy tenants...).

Harvard Business Review Magazine

I started subscribing last year and am still enjoying it. They have specific agendas they like to push, but I still find their articles helpful overall. It's not so much a resource I use to implement changes in my business. Instead, I look for operational and strategic trends that larger and smarter companies are pursuing, and I use that as a jumping point to learn more.

Real Estate Books

Financial Freedom with Real Estate Investing: The Blueprint To Quitting Your Job With Real Estate - Even Without Experience Or Cash

By Michael Blank

I became interested in real estate syndications this year. Michael Blank has a coaching program I wanted to sign up for, and reading his book was a cheap way to test-drive the program. I found the book super helpful, with a complete overview of the syndication process. And now, I'm in the coaching program and can ask specific questions about my situation.

It also makes me want to write my own book...

Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat: The BRRRR Rental Property Investment Strategy Made Simple

By David Green

David Green hosts the popular BiggerPockets Podcast. This book was on my list for a while, and I wanted to read it to help me systematically think through value-add deals. Plus, if I'm honest, I wish this was how I invested in real estate when I started.

There's only one problem with this book: it's 2-3 times longer than it should be. It's as if Green transcribed himself talking and then forgot to remove all the little rabbit trails from his stream of thought. Or, it's like there are two books: the BRRRR Strategy and his philosophical reflections on life, leadership, and business. I know they're related, but I regularly found myself skimming to get back to the BRRRR Strategy (you know, THE TITLE of the book).

My guess is I'm not his target audience. He wrote it for beginners who also need a mindset/inspirational shift. In contrast, I wanted tactics to implement in my existing business.

Raising Capital for Real Estate: How to Attract Investors, Establish Credibility, and Fund Deals

By Hunter Thompson (a different Hunter Thompson than you're thinking)

In my journey to syndications, it became clear that the one skill I didn't have was raising capital for real estate. Blank's mentor program is good, but it didn't go as in-depth as I wanted. But through the program, I met a very successful investor and asked him how he started. His answer was simple: "Read Raising Capital for Real Estate and do as Thompson says." Mic drop.

So, I read the book and am implementing his recommendations.

If you're a real estate investor and ran out of money to keep building your business, I recommend this book (also, Raising Private Capital by Matt Faircloth)

Fun Books

Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You're Not): A Parents' Guide for Kids 3 to 23

By Beth Kobliner

Our kids are at an age where they can start learning how to manage money. I bought this book to help me wrap my head around the lessons we want to teach them. One thing I like about the book is that it breaks the lessons up by age category.

So now we give our kids money each week for them to manage. It's 3 dollars, and they have 3 envelopes: giving, saving, and spending. We tell them they should give something as a way to trust what God just gave them. Then, they can decide what to do with the remaining balance.

The best part is that we saved all the money they received as babies and infants and are now giving it back to them. So it's not really an allowance; it's more like giving back what they already have. :)

If they put it in savings, we take the envelope for the week and return it with a quarter for every dollar saved. Spending is on fun things, but as they grow up, we'll give them more spending responsibilities (and money). The goal is for them to leave the house having practiced managing all aspects of personal finance.

Back to the book: It was helpful for Jessi and me to get on the same page. And you can start as early as 3 years old!

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry (audiobook)

By Jacquie McNish & Sean Silcoff

Back in my podcast days, my brother and I regularly talked about Blackberry and how awful they did in the smartphone wars. So, I thought it would be fun to get the insider story. What happened to cause such a dramatic fall?

In short, I think it was two guys who happened to hit on the fastest-growing market in history - and they weren't ready for it. Not only did it stress their IT infrastructure, but their organizational structure wasn't designed to handle the rapid growth. And the rapidly growing market attracted a lot of competition, which required near-perfect execution. To be clear: all but a few phone manufacturers crumbled, but Blackberry was the king of the hill, so it felt particularly bad.

It's fun to listen to. I recommend reading How The Mighty Fall and then using this as an example of a fallen company.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (audiobook)

By Alfred Lansing

What a fantastic listen! It's a thrilling TRUE STORY account of Ernest Shackleton and his crew's attempt to cross Antarctica. The ship was found in March, which is how I learned about the book.

For the crew, things went bad fast, and they constantly fought for their lives. It's incredible! I don't think I'm strong enough to survive what they went through. It's the kind of story where you think things can't get any worse... then they do! If you liked The Martian, I highly recommend this book.

Superman & Action Comics

Comics are fun. Something is satisfying about the semi-short form storytelling drawn out over multiple months. Plus, Samson enjoys flipping through them. I'm a fan of Superman, but I hear Batman is great if you're into detective types of stories.