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The must-read books of winter 2017.
Posted by: Vesna Ivkovic in: Thoughts

In this blog I give you the recommendation on the books I read during the winter season of 2017. Most often I love to describe in detail the beauty of every book before someone decides to read it, so I hope you will truly enjoy reading these recommendations. The best thing to do is to make yourself some tea, sit back in a comfortable armchair and read slowly, because it will take a while :)


1. THINKING FAST AND SLOW (Daniel Kahneman)

Thinking Fast and Slow is the book written by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who has won the Nobel Prize for his research in the area of behavioural economy.
The book is interesting because it is about two ways of human thinking. The intention of the author was to show the interpretation of functioning of human mind based on the newest achievements of cognitive and social psychology. The essence of the book is about seriousness of decision-making which people assign to certain things and uncertain outcomes, that is, whether our intuitive decisions are logical or not? Actually, the book points to both brilliance and imperfections of intuitive thinking. Two different systems of human thinking are described in this book. The first one is so-called System 1, that is, Fast Thinking (which functions automatically, fast, effortless, we do not sense the real feeling or control). The second one is so-called System 2, that is, Slow Thinking (mental activities which demand effort and attention, things related to concentration…). For example, Kahneman gives examples of System 1: "Bread and… " , "...notice that one object is farther from the other one...", "reading the words on billboards etc..." It is the automatic thinking, effortless one. System 2 is quite slower and demands more focus. The examples are: prepare to shoot from the starter pistol which marks the beginning of a race, tell someone your phone number, fill in the tax for etc. So these are the situations which demand attention and concentration.
What is particularly interesting about this book is the explanation of visual illusions. The author gives the example of Müller-Lyer Illusion, with two lines ending in arrows being of the same length, although at first sight it seems that one is longer than the other one. It looks as if the line below is longer than the line above. However, if we used a ruler to measure those lines, we would find out that the lines are actually of the same length. It means that we naturally believe our eyes. Based on that, the author makes a comparison stating that there are also mental - cognitive illusions.
The book explains misunderstandings which may occur due to the confrontations between the System 1 and System 2. This is an interesting book, closely connected to neuroeconomics, the sector of the economics which has lately become the subject of my interest. Anyway, it is worth to read this book, since it emphasizes some, so far, unfamiliar things. Highly recommended for reading in winter season.

2. WHY NATIONS FAIL? (Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson)

Why nations fail is the book which describes economic inequalities in the world and their noticeable general patterns. The essence of the story is about the extractive and inclusive political institutions. Nations who have extractive political institutions which disrupt or prevent economic growth are not successful ones. The countries where there are inclusive institutions strengthen the technology and education, enabling innovations. If it was not the case, we would probably never hear about Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla.
The authors conducted a thorough research. They mostly compared the countries in terms of their economic development, as well as the differences in population income. The book historically describes the development of civilization. What is also interesting is the example of a story about natives, and the economic situations which in certain points of time were horrible, illustrating it with terrifying arguments "...the situation was so desperate that they turned to cannibalism..."
The book analyses the world from the ancient times to modern age. In that context, the production in Rome was seen as the work of slaves and that there were no incentives for entrepreneurship, since only the slave-owners benefited from that. The authors also point out that economies based on forced labour and systems such as slavery and serfdom are extremely uninventive. Actually, they only made a fortune to rulers. The essence of the story is that innovations come from new people with new ideas who find solutions for old problems.
The analysis of Venice is also interesting. Namely, in Venice, apart from fishing, there is only one economic branch, which is tourism. Citizens of Venice make ice cream and souvenirs for hordes of tourists. The authors vividly describe how "Venice turned from the great economic power into a museum". I agreed with that opinion. Besides these differences, the book also explores the differences in citizens` income, and the way the lives of teenagers in the countries with inclusive and extractive political institutions differ. The focus of research is mostly on England, which managed to achieve the sustainable economic growth in 17th century. It is not a coincidence that the industrial revolution first appeared in England: James Watt (a steam engine), Richard Trewithic (the inventor of a steam railway locomotive), Richard Arkwright (the inventor of a spinning frame), etc.... Anyway, there are certain historical details in the book about some countries, which are very interesting.
Some kind of a conclusion I made: this book mostly resorts to political and economic reasoning. I think there is a lot of things unsaid, or at least one part of the complete picture. Although there are plenty of historical data in the book, statistics and facts can sometimes hide the complete perspective. The reasons why nations fail are not only of economic and political nature. Nations may fail in luxury and splendour, they may give in to immorality which may destroy entire society. How will people use their "useful things" to a large degree depends on their own morality, that is, spiritual norms they were raised by. Sometimes the nation itself plays more significant role than the institutions, but it is not mentioned in this book, and the entire focus of the story from the book is on institutional and political base. While reading it, you have the impression that information is given in too many details, often transferring from one country to another, and it seems that this comprehensive research became too detailed. For that reason I did not find the book completely convincing. However, it is not bad to read it in order to compare some economic stages of human society in the past. Anyway, you will find a lot of historical data in this book about the beginning of the development of countries, and that is why I recommend it.

3. UNTO THIS LAST (John Ruskin)



Unto this Last is the book which is the inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi started to live according to the ideals from Ruskin`s book and he translated it in his mother tongue, calling it Well-being for All. The book consists of four essays (four articles written by Ruskin) about principles of political economy that were forbidden.
The first essay is about The Roots of Honour. In this essay, Ruskin skilfully breaks down the misconceptions by describing systems which are destructive for a man. Basic doctrines of political economy are questioned in this part of the book. In the second essay, so-called The Veins of Wealth Ruskin writes about "...the purple veins in people" as the basis for any wealth. The third essay is called Qui Judicatis Terram ("They who judge on Earth") and the fourth one is Ad Valorem ("According to Value"). In the essay "According to Value" Ruskin tries to interpret the definition of value, wealth, prices and products.
The fourth essay gets the most interesting extent and intellectual acrobatics. Here he refers to the work of John Stuart Mill, emphasizing that his works are "true and valuable", but also emphasizes that he does not agree with Mill`s personal assumptions, pointing out the potential mistakes on assumptions Mill stated in his researches. In this essay he criticizes David Ricardo by analysing the values. He discovers the meaning of the word "useful", by stating that usefulness in a product and in the use value of a product partly depends on the person using it, in terms whether something will be defined as "the use", "un-use" or "abuse". He also mentions the research conducted by David Ricardo, saying the not even a diamond can be valuable if exchanged with a savage, since in that particular case, a plain needle can be used for that exchange. In that case, the exchange will depend on the amount of knowledge that a savage man possesses and on his disability to recognize the value of the goods. The one who possesses such knowledge is in a certain advantage when compared to a savage. Another example is the value of the water brought from the well next to the Gates of Bethlehem (for those who are unfamiliar with that: that water was paid in blood) which was spilled for that reason.
The essence of Ruskin`s interpretation points to the fact that THERE IS NO OTHER WEALTH BUT LIFE ITSELF. "The life - including all of its power of love, joy and admiration. The richest country is the one which feds the largest number of noble and happy human beings; the richest man is the one who, bringing his life functions to perfection, has the largest favourable impact, both personal and via his own property, to the lives of others."
Ruskin also says that only ignorant people can enjoy in luxury, and that only a blind man can come to their feasts, that the light can come only through tears, and that people cannot be happy until prosperity and the peace of mind are not given "TO THE LAST ONE just like to you".
I almost retold the entire book, maybe some of you will not find it now interesting enough, but I thought that these messages had to be conveyed since they are very significant. I must admit that this book made a deep impression on me. By questioning the truths in which we live, Ruskin broke down some misconceptions, and the book really asks numerous questions before every person. I am not sure whether everyone will understand this book; however, those who are familiar with the basis of political economy will not have a problem in understanding it. You should definitely read it!

4.THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ECONOMICS (Stanko Ilić)



This is one very interesting book I have recently read, written by Stanko Ilic). The Psychology of Economics is the book which points out that the synthesis between the society and the mental energy of an individual is necessary. In other words, all the problems related to a man (directly or indirectly) are connected to a man as an executor of the working tasks. " a man is not only homo laborans, but also homo psihologicus since in the working process he uses his physical strength as well as his psychological capabilities".
What is particularly interesting about this book is the analyses of behavioural psychology of people during shopping, hat is, how men behave while sopping and how women do too. The author says that men enter the shop in order to by already determined products and are not interested in other products (only in case they run into the product related to their hobby. Female shopping psychology is completely different. Women read magazines, catalogues, visit shopping centres even when they do not have the intention to buy anything. When it comes to children, if their parents offer them "a teddy bear" or "a car", a child will insist on having them both, since it is not capable of choosing only one.
I think this is a significant book for all of people who deal with sale. Being familiar with customers` behaviour is the most important element of a good sale. I might say that in this book you will find a lot of things you have already read or heard elsewhere (especially if you studied economy). Nevertheless, this book makes a significant supplement of previous knowledge, because it emphasizes emotional experience of customers during shopping. Also, the book is about the transition, seen as the only way out in the given social and political system. I recommend it.

5. AFRICA RISING (V. Mahajan, R. E. Gunther)



Vijay Mahajan, the author of the book Africa Rising is a consultant for international business, and a former dean of Indian Business School, and is one of the most quoted researchers in domain of economy. He advised companies from the list Fortune 500 and is an exceptional researchers. Considering that he worked as a marketing professor at University of Texas, he was giving lectures all around Asia and Middle East. In this book you will find stories about African entrepreneurs and healthy entrepreneurship spirit of people who solve problems. If you take away electricity from them, they will sell generators. For any problem, they will find a solution, through optimism. In this book you will find a lot of information about circumstances for business in Africa, starting from retail and mobile phone companies to banking, from music to drugs in the market. This is an unexpectedly a very good book. It contains a lot of information on Africa that you did not know. Africa is actually much richer market than we thought. Rediscover Africa through reading this book. You must read it!

6. 50 COGNITIVE BIASES (Predrag Stojadinović)


An unusual book which helps sharpening the sense of logic, recognize the truths and misconceptions that people are constantly exposed to, through filtering the received data. In each part, the author describes 50 types of cognitive biases which must be known generally in life, and particularly by those who deal with economy. For example, in the chapter The Curse of Knowledge, a dress salesman (who possesses the curse of knowledge, that is, he believes that everyone else knows what he knows), while selling an elegant, expensive silk dress should know how to transfer the message to an uninformed buyer. A buyer has no information on the dress, except for the price and the visual view of the dress itself. However, the salesman thinks that the buyer knows what he knows (that is his curse of knowledge).
There are some other analysis that are pretty funny, such as, for example, so-called IKEA Effect, when a buyer assigns a priceless value to something he made on his own entirely, or at least partially. IKEA Effect can occur with the beginners, as well as the experts who consider themselves professionals. That leads to the effect of sunk costs, the investment into the projects which are no longer important. The effects of negativity and the effects of positivity, on the other hand, describe how people can inaccurately filter received information. There are many other effects as well. One thing is for sure: you will definitely discover something new in this book. The book is read pretty quickly, since it was written simply and concisely.

7. THE OBSTACLE IS THE WAY (Ryan Holiday)



The Obstacle is the Way is the book about the way of turning the obstacles into a victory. At first sight, this book seemed to me as too ordinary book from the area of popular psychology, and I personally have never been interested in "bombastic titles" of the books with no depth. However, after going deeper into its contents, I realized that this book is not superficial at all, and that it contains significant historical information that we can use. The book is based on the long-established principle, established by Marcus Aurelius, who used to say that an obstacle on the road becomes the road itself. In other words, he used to talk about how to turn challenges into advantages. For example, the author says that better pilots were the ones whose eye sight was not good enough, which is an interesting explanation of practicing endurance and persistency. It is particularly interesting when the author talks about the importance of contemplation about his own death. I really liked the following quote: "When a man knows that he is to be hanged in two weeks, it concentrates his mind wonderfully". Defeats are education, whereas facing death eye to eye is a relief, but also the inspiration. The story about a French nobleman Montaigne, who thoroughly studied death. Memento mori (Romans used to say) - Remember you are mortal. Just then, a man starts to think differently. All in all, it is one very optimistic book worth reading.

In the end, one bonus book:

8. MIRACLES NOW (Gabrielle Bernstein)

And in the end, as a bonus, Miracles Now is a typical book for larger part of female population, but it is also the book which tells us how to reduce stress in the world of business.
There are 108 lessons in the book. At the end of each lesson, there is a wise sentence with hashtags for sharing on social networks. I think it is a great idea for promoting the book;) Some lessons on meditation, given by author`s spiritual coach, I personally did not like, but there are some life lessons which are not bad at all. The book was published by Hey House, I read it in English, but I think there is a translation in Serbian as well. It is not bad to start your day with this book because it is positive, and you will not find many boring opinions.
The book is about strategies for controlling the stress. The day should never begin by opening the mail and drinking coffee (that is, stressors and stimulants), which is exactly what a great number of people in the modern business era does. The book was written in a form of short life lessons, with a message contained within every lesson. It includes the research conducted by psychologists who claim that we have 60.000 thoughts a day, and that 95 to 99 percent of those thoughts are repeating. How to erase old thoughts and set the new ones is actually what this book is about. The details on quantum physics give a special charm to this book. All in all, it one very positive book.
Anyway, this book is pleasant for reading, it slowly relaxes the reader. My favourite quotes with hashtags in this book are the following:

#Pray before you pay.
#Share your light with the world.
#Celebrate your small successes.
#The F in Forgiveness is for Freedom.
#Be the happy learner.
#Make money and miracles.
#Respect your money and your money will respect you.
# Your energy speaks louder than your words.
#To teach is to learn.

That would be all for this books recommendation. I hope that you will use your time during winter creatively and read some of the books from my recommendation list:) Enjoy! :)

Dec
27
2017

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