Recent Reads: McConnell and Soros, Productivity, Cambridge Analytica, and Paul
The Long Game - Mitch McConnell
It seems like Mitch McConnell came into the public eye overnight. Since 2016, and the dawn of “Cocaine Mitch” he’s become a household name. But Mitch McConnell has been planning for this moment his entire life. Behind his unrelenting process of approving judges and overseeing the President’s impeachment, McConnell is an ambitious, thoughtful, and inspiring man, and his story is one of perseverance, risk, and huge rewards. He’s also a brilliant tactician. I really enjoyed his early years in politics - he did a stint in the mailroom for John Sherman Cooper - and his time as the Senate majority leader during the Obama years. I found this book to be a helpful insight into the lives of one of 2019’s most prominent politicians.
In Defense of an Open Society - George Soros
I know, I know - George Soros? The boogie man behind the far left? I’m not interested in an echo chamber, and I want to understand the ideas shaping our world. Soros offers an intriguing blend of personality and philosophy in this series of addresses. You’ll be surprised to know that most of his thoughts on Open Societies would be shared across the political divide. But sometimes his methods are less than stellar. He’s also open about his ego. The longest chapter in the book is a recollection of how his selfishness has fueled his philanthropy. It’s interesting to think alongside one of the world’s most successful investors, even as he styles himself a philosopher, as he approaches issues like China, Big Tech, and the new world order he’s trying so hard to create. I know now where and why I disagree with Soros, but I really enjoyed the book.
Ploductivity - Douglas Wilson
For a long time I’ve been curious/envious of Doug Wilson’s productivity, and up to this point, I’d only been able to glean insights from his article, “How I Don’t Get Everything Done” which was extremely helpful, and incomplete. Ploductivity was a step closer. Unlike a lot of productivity books, Wilson doesn’t believe that a string of life hacks and pro-tips are really going to change anything. For the majority of the book, he gives a biblical overview of work, productivity, media, and tools - which gets to the core beliefs we hold about our work, which is the only way to actually change things. There were times I wished he would give us a little bit more insight into how he goes about doing all of the things he does. His daughter, Rebekah, whets your appetite in the foreword, “Patience—with a bomb shot of ambition, or possibly ambition that is ruled and tempered by patience—is the surprisingly powerful combination that has made his work so unbelievably fruitful.” She also had the unique experience of going to the school her dad started for high school and college; “It wasn’t until much later that I reflected that most high school girls don’t have dads who will just whip up a college before their freshman year—particularly not a successful one.” All this and never flustered.
The Man Who Solved the Market - Gregory Zuckerman
Jim Simons is the most successful investor you’ve never heard about. Renaissance Technologies has consistently delivered better returns on their Medallion fund than anyone else on Wall Street and nobody talks about them. As you read the book, you see why. Simons started as a world class mathematician; that’s what initially intrigued me about him. Along with the majority of the employees at Renaissance, Simons didn’t start out in finance, he started in differential geometry. After he built the math department at SUNY Stony Brook, he built a similar team to gather and assess big data and use it to predict the markets.
Mindf*ck - Christopher Wylie
After watching Brexit on Amazon Prime, I wanted to dive into the story of Cambridge Analytica, the firm who weaponizes people’s personal data in the 2016 elections. Wylie is a whistleblower, or a defector depending on how you read the story, who worked on political campaigns in Canada and the US and eventually worked for CA. I was blown away by how they actually acquired and used data on Facebook to influence voters. They created apps and games to get people’s consent, discovered their personality based on the 5 factor personality model, targeted ads to each personality type and tried to sway voters based on their underlying motivations. Pretty genius, pretty evil. Wylie wears on you as a narrator. While he built some of these systems, he constantly tries to exonerate himself from any wrongdoing. It gets to be the equivalent of burglar telling you to take your problems up with your home security system. Beyond that element, he’s telling an important story. The world is changing and big data is only going to become more important.
Paul and the Giants of Philosophy - Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Brionnes
There’s a budding field of study in New Testament, situating Paul in his first century Greco-Roman context. This popular level book summarizes a wave of scholarly books and dissertations comparing Paul with contemporaries like Seneca, Cicero, Plutarch, and others. What I kept coming back to was the method of the book. In the opening chapter, Brionnes writes, "It's easy to believe a truth claim in isolation. People do it all the time. But when a person with a very different perspective disagrees with you, it forces you to know what you believe, why you believe it, and why you don't believe what they believe." (5). I can't help but think more books should be written this way. It reminds me of the way Plutarch opens his book on Pericles; “The good creates a motion towards itself, and everyone who comes across it is drawn to it, but here's what he observes, our character is not shaped by imitation alone, but by a thorough investigation. This is what gives us a defined sense of purpose.” The classics are so important, especially set in comparison and contrast to Paul’s letters. I would love to see this field continue to expand.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.