Over the years, I have become increasingly fond of reading as a pastime. While my favorite genre remains biography, I also enjoy history and economics. I even delved into a bit of psychology this year. Here are some books that were on my nightstand this year.
Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight
This autobiography, penned by Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, tells the story of an American shoe company that succeeds against all odds. Knight’s journey begins as a recent Stanford business school grad who convinces his honorable father to let him ditch his accounting job to backpack the world. To be fair, Knight’s trip is not solely intended for pleasure as he hopes to also turn his business school term paper on the auspices of the Japanese shoe industry into reality. While Knight does have his first business pitch in Kobe, Japan along the way, the adventure turns into a mode of self-discovery. He draws inspiration from a variety of cultures in building his company, most notably naming his company Nike in honor of the Greek goddess of victory, which he encounters at the Parthenon during a visit to the Acropolis.
It’s not until the 24-year-old Knight returns from his travels that his shoe-importing business is conceived. Knight employs the help of Bill Bowerman, his former track coach at the University of Oregon, to establish his brand. Bowerman, who was famous for using his athletes as human guinea pigs–ripping apart sneakers and putting them together again–does the same with the already adept Tiger sneakers from Japan. His designs eventually morph into Nike, which is worth almost $94 billion today. The most compelling moments of the memoir are reading about the group of misfits Knight assembles in building his company. Perhaps Knight’s greatest victory, however, is gaining the approval of his father after his initial resistance.
The Case For Israel, by Alan Dershowitz
When I asked a very knowledgeable friend what I could read to educate myself about Israel further, he recommended Alan Dershowitz’s book, The Case For Israel. The Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus and former defense attorney masterfully argues in favor of the one and only Jewish state. Dershowitz structures the book by asking 32 questions, each with an accusation, the accusers, the reality, and proof for his contention. Interesting chapters include “Were the Jews a Minority in What Became Israel?” and “Are Critics of Israel Anti-Semitic?” In case you were wondering, it’s a negative to each inquiry from Dershowitz. The author quotes American “academics”, Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, professors at MIT and Columbia, respectively, to epitomize criticism from anti-Zionists. While their censure of Israel is easily refuted by the facts, Dershowitz finds that their ideology has gained popularity on college campuses across America, even becoming the status quo with movements like Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) on the rise.
Dershowitz warns of the danger of embracing said campaigns without proper education about the situation. He goes so far as calling anyone who does either ignorant or malignant. Dershowitz, who has garnered a household name as a brilliant legal mind, is especially enamored by the Israeli legal system, spearheaded by its progressive Supreme Court. The highest court in Israel has even restricted non-lethal torture procedures that were previously utilized to save the lives of innocent civilians. This mandate from bench translates to careful military practice by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) even when targeting terrorists, out of consideration for risking the lives of Palestinian noncombatants. In stark contrast with the thriving democracy’s reputation at the United Nations as a human rights abuser, Israel is cast in a favorable light as a leader in humanitarian actions. Although written in 2003, the book serves as a valuable primer of Israeli history and policy for those who hope to fight back against anti-Israel sentiment, which is sadly becoming increasingly prevalent.
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely
From the inception of the study, economic theory has formed around the principle of the rational decision maker who is highly sophisticated, placed in an environment where markets and incentives play a key role in shaping behavior and markets usually allocate resources better than governments. Ariely was a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management at the time of the book’s publication in 2008. He led the behavioral economics department there, which rejects the “as if” assumptions utilized by mainstream economists (consumer preferences, budget constraints, utility maximization) and uses experiments to explain the psychological basis for the seemingly irrational decisions individuals routinely make.
Ariely brilliantly introduces the concept known as anchoring or the tendency to rely heavily on one prior (suggested) piece of information when making a decision. For example, if you were to ask someone “Is the Mississippi River more or less than 70 miles long?” and follow that up with “How long is it?”, their answer is likely to be quite close to 70 miles, when in fact it is 2,348 miles long. The original figures serves as an “anchor” if you will. It turns out we use a similar thought process to price goods, based on our memory of similar products. Another principle of behavioral economics may help students. In order to conduct this experiment, Ariely uses his class to illustrate that students who were given paced deadlines throughout the course of the semester performed better than those given the freedom to hand in all of the assignments on the last day. It should come as no surprise that exerting self-control prevents procrastination. Predictably Irrational will allow you recognize patterns in your own behavior, regulating bad habits to live more efficiently.
12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
This bestseller by YouTube sensation and Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, offers 12 playful rules to complement the ten commandments. Ranging from body language tips like “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” to avoiding shortcuts in “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”, Peterson uses his clinical practice, anecdotes from his own life, and the historical record to argue for his adding these constraints to one’s lifestyle. Peterson pushes back against a culture of incessant discontent and self-righteous judgment of others by asking readers to “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”
Peterson gained a following after releasing a series of YouTube videos in 2016 that condemn political correctness in society. He is said to be a member of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, a term coined by Eric Weinstein to describe individuals with unorthodox ideology, and includes people with a wide range of political views, such as liberal Sam Harris and conservative Ben Shapiro. Peterson lies in the center of the spectrum, neither veering particularly left nor right. He teaches that history has been filled with hierarchies, an inevitable ranking of strength or respect. To deny the natural order of society is to delude oneself of reality, claims Peterson. Speaking of rankings, Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life ranked 7th on Amazon’s 2018 list of best selling books.
Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, by Chris Matthews
The tragic fate that befalls the young president, John F. Kennedy, is shared by his attorney general and younger brother, Bobby. Chris Matthews, who hosts the talk show Hardball on MSNBC, pays tribute to the young politician to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Bobby, the seventh of nine children, is introduced as a reserved “mama’s boy”. He would later admit to being awkward as an adolescent, struggling to make friends as he moved from school to school. After serving in the Navy, Kennedy would later gain admittance to Harvard University, where he would play varsity football and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science. This degree, paired with his education from University of Virginia School of Law, would serve him well when managing the campaign of his older brother for Senate in 1952 and the Presidency eight years later.
Upon taking office, JFK appoints his younger brother Attorney General, in complete disregard for nepotism. Gaining the trust and confidence of the President, Bobby was called “Washington’s No. 2-man” by the Associated Press. From overseeing the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to being a champion of the civil rights movement, Kennedy had his ups and downs but his moral compass–developed through his experience as an altar boy and overlooked younger child–lays the foundation for his pursuit of justice throughout his tenure. Bobby later won a race to serve as a New York Senator, a position that he would use to springboard his 1968 presidential campaign. The night Kennedy scored a major primary victory in California, he was assassinated by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan because of his support for Israel. Kennedy’s premature death is often considered to be a part of the “Kennedy curse”, a series of unfortunate events that has plagued the family.