The Art of Learning; Collapse; Promoter Mind, Hustler Heart; The Last of the President’s Men

Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning. Discussed in depth here. This was my second reading of The Art of Learning, and I got much more out of it the second time. Most of the book is stories about Waitzkin’s past, which is engaging enough. After reading it the second time, though, it occurred to me that Waitzkin’s writing, and not just his philosophy, is strongly influenced by ancient eastern philosophy. The book is little organized, or rather, organized around mantras rather than the structure of any theory. But there is gold in there. You just have to read carefully and dig it out.

Shaun Gold, Promoter Mind, Hustler Heart. I try to read books by people who have very fundamentally different perspectives than I have. Shaun Gold is a Miami party promoter, so he qualifies. That said, there wasn’t much to this book. He sprinkled a few aphorisms throughout about hard work and not showing weakness, but, ultimately, it just read like a Miami party promoter talking about himself. Lots of stories about being a self made man, very few paragraph breaks. Mr. Gold does not consider the possibility of survivorship bias, by name or otherwise.

Jared Diamond, Collapse. I bought this book during the 2009 financial crisis and never got around to reading it, until last week. I ended up liking it. It was at times very informative and engaging, and occasionally self-indulgent. I thought the sections about the societies that actually collapsed (Easter Island, the Anasazi, Greenland Norse) were phenomenal, while the sections about places he had previously lived that merely faced environmental challenges (Australia, Montana), not so much. Learned a lot from the discussion of deforestation and Tokugawa-era Japan. Worth reading, but don’t feel bad about skipping the chapters you don’t like.

Bob Woodward, The Last of the President’s Men. This one came heavily recommended from Brad Feld, so I figured I’d check it out. Didn’t disappoint. The book tells the story of Alex Butterfield, deputy assistant to Richard Nixon, the man caused Nixon’s downfall by telling the world about the secret White House tapes in 1974.

In 1968, Butterfield was an ambitious, high-ranking officer in the Air Force working in Australia who wanted to be “in the smoke,” or near the action, so that he could distinguish himself and rise through the military ranks. He found out that an old college buddy, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, had been named as Nixon’s Chief of Staff. And so he flew to Washington and asked for a job. He had wanted a military job, but instead was offered a job as a deputy assistant to the president. He’d be working intimately, every day, with Richard Nixon. He accepted and moved to Washington immediately.

I’ve heard Nixon described before as paranoid and insecure, but the anecdotes in this book are great for giving color to those characterizations. Butterfield tells so many stories that make Nixon seem both sad and grossly removed from reality. To give just one example, Butterfield’s job was to serve as intermediary between Nixon and his own wife. If Pat Nixon wanted to go shopping, or travel to New York, or have a certain band play at a reception, she would ask Butterfield, who would then ask Nixon, whom she would almost never see. Just a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale of what I can only hope was the most sordid administration in US history.

Highly recommended