Mary Rose Cook's notebook

The public parts of my notebook.

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Books I read in 2020

Poor Charlie's Almanack, Charlie Munger

A series of talks in which Munger explains his approach to investing, which is really an approach to evaluating companies, which is really an approach to understanding complex systems.

A mental model is way to explain or predict a set of observations. For example: the idea of scale can be used as a partial explanation for Coca-Cola's success. Munger's intellectual approach: array a set of inter-disciplinary mental models on a latticework. The lattice is both a place to describe the relationships between the models, and a place to hang experience.

There is a lot of nonsense on the internet about the value of mental models. "Think better by learning these 47 mental models", where each is accompanied by a one paragraph explanation. Munger's book shows why these posts are bullshit. For example: he talks about the model of "scale" as a rich, deeply interconnected idea, in contrast to the blog post one shots like, "the simplest explanation is usually the right one".


Object-Oriented Design Heuristics, Arthur J. Riel

A collection of crisp, nuts-and-bolts guidelines (heuristics) for better object-oriented designs. It's cool that it was written twenty-four years ago. Amazon

Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance

I don't remember much from this. Wikipedia

Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt

I took two ideas from this. First, a precise definition of an imprecisely used word. A strategy is a method designed to solve a well-defined problem. Second, the elements of a business should be coherent. A Walmart competitor thinking that they can be successful by imitating the practice of using stores as distribution centers is doomed to failure. They don't see that this is just one part of an approach to making prices as low as possible. Amazon

The Pragmatic Programmer, Andy Hunt and David Thomas

A pretty good set of agile/craftsman rules of thumb about designing better software and building developer skills. I wish I'd read it earlier in my career. Wikipedia

Facebook, Steven Levy

Insanely Great and Hackers are two of my favorite books. Levy's Google one was good, too. This book was disappointing. There were some interesting sections about how parts of Facebook were designed (the wall, people you may know). But way too much of the book is about privacy stuff which, I'm afraid to say, I found quite dull. Amazon

Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

Uses the lens of playing games to talk about the value of intrinsic motivation and perniciousness of extrinsic motivation in all aspects of life. Gives enough of a jerk to be one of those books that lets you see some of the stuff you don't normally see, if only for a bit. But the theories get more and more contorted and more and more dependent on word play. For example, "A finite player puts play into time. An infinite player puts time into play." Wikipedia

By far the best idea is the book is the value of taking complete responsibility for the outcome of projects you lead. No excuses. If something goes wrong, even if it wasn’t your “fault”, it’s your responsibility that it happened and your responsibility to fix it and make sure it doesn't happen again. I found this idea - owning everything in your world, as they put it - pretty powerful. Amazon

Insanely Simple, Ken Segall

The fact that the author capitalizes the words simplicity and complexity tells you a lot about this book. Even the Steve Jobs anecdotes couldn’t keep me reading. Amazon

Superintelligence, Nick Bostrum

It's frustrating when a book about something exciting makes it boring. The idea that we might be not very far away from a point where AI can enter a closed do-reflect-adjust loop with itself is so exciting. This book is plodding. Wikipedia

Patriots, James Wesley Rawles

A survivalist training manual in the form of a novel. [Wikipedia](

Great By Choice, James Collins

Uses statistical analysis to discover the behaviors of successful companies. The successful behaviors were quite vague. The statistical analysis felt a bit suspect because of small sample sizes. Amazon

Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff

I wrote this to my Dad:

I'm finding Metaphors We Live By to be magical. Probably because it lays an order - a system - on something pervasive, making me feel like the universe has order and is understandable. E.g. On p45, they talk about how metaphors can be organized into a hierarchy. At the bottom, are the specific expressions. "We're like two ships in the night." Above that is some organizing concept like the idea of a journey. And there may be other organizing concepts above that, like the concept of passing.


The Manager's Path, Camille Fournier

An overview of the roles and responsibilities of different levels of management, with some tips. I found it helpful now I’m doing more management. Amazon

High Output Management, Andy Grove

Includes nice intros to process management (limiting steps, specialization etc), goal setting and measurement, leverage, and approaches to fostering certain behaviors in an org. I didn’t find it as revelatory as some people seemed to. Amazon

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