I did not read as many books as I’d have liked to read in 2023, but there are six out of the books I read that I want to highlight with small texts. Reading is such an important tool that it amazes me how people don’t get it. There’s no successful person ever in history who did not read, all the way from the Biblical times (Daniel understood by the books) through this time. Reading is such a gateway to the world and I encourage you to pick up this habit this year. Start with one book at a time.
Think Again by Adam Grant
Grant talks about kindness in a way that gives form to an abstract idea and I have been a lucky beneficiary of that. One of the greatest acts of kindness I’ve received in recent times came from Adam Grant. He sent me a DM on Twitter (now X) offering me a free copy of his book, and within a couple of weeks it was delivered to my door step at no charge. It’s a book I could easily afford but the thoughtfulness to reach out to me made it a very invaluable gift and it’s stayed with me.
Perhaps, this is the biggest idea in the book, the fact that we need to rethink age-old ideas of how things have always been done and think, again. I loved this book because it made me rethink so many things that I’d believed without ever questioning their origin. I learnt about the psychology concept called the First Instinct Fallacy which essentially says that most times, our first reaction to events is rarely the correct one (random but TD Jakes has a book on Instincts that I read a long time ago, and this concept essentially goes against what Jakes mentioned in that book although Jakes was coming from a spiritual/religious perspective and not a psychological one). There are too many gems in this book; another good one was Grant’s opinion that we should embrace the rigour of evidence over the lessons of experience as those can be very subjective. (I learned so much from this book that I made it into a full-on standalone article here).
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
During my days in the VC world, when I spoke to startup founders, the way I gauged their intellectual sagacity was by asking them if they had read “the Peter Thiel book”. It’s that good of a book. I read it many years ago but I’m not sure I finished it back then so I decided to read it again this year and it still feels so refreshing. Read this book if you want to understand technology and how things are built. I am a builder at heart so I resonated with this book. Peter Thiel actually lays down the framework for innovation and creation and dives deep into the true impact of technology on today’s world. There are seven questions you must answer before you set out to build a company and like Peter advises, do it in small groups, don’t do it alone. There’s no one successful company today that was not built in small groups. This is an all-knowing book on product management, distribution, hiring and innovation. No surprise that this book was from a series of lectures he delivered to Stanford students. Proper stuff. I read this book again this year as I had to build and upgrade a lot of digital products and because I had read Adam Grant’s book earlier in the year, I wanted to be sure I was “thinking again” and not just relying on my years of product management experience to do the same things over and over again. I wanted to spice things up and this book was so good, one of the key takeaways was that I was very focused and intentional on the distribution of the products I built and their path to critical mass. I did not want to build socially acclaimed products that were not hitting bottom-line targets. This book definitely set me up well and my team and I went on to build amazing products. If you want to build the future, read this book.
He-Motions – TD Jakes
One profound quote I can’t forget from this book is this “before you scream at darkness, consider lighting a little candle”. I heard a preacher recommend this book 12 years ago and it took me another nine years to finally buy it and then a further two to read it. It was worth the wait. Personally, with the kind of year I had, it was the best time to read it. TD Jakes breaks down the agony of manhood in a way that is not vindictive like you see on social media these days, instead, he focuses on lighting little candles. Being a man is an arduous task and it comes with a sinusoid of emotions. To handle these emotions, you first need to know what they are, how to spot them and acknowledge that you go through them. TD takes the reader on a journey to discovering their true self and the responsibility they carry and how to walk in the light of that newfound knowledge to be the man God has truly called you to be to your partner, your kids and your community. Worth reading for every man and for the women seeking to understand men.
Standing Strong by Ken Nnamani
2023 was a very political year for Nigeria and one of the things I set out to do was “think again” (no surprise that Adam Grant influenced me so much). One of the ways I think again is by studying history, whenever I take on a new project, my first task is usually to find books that have been written within the context of the project so I can arm myself with the revelation and arsenal of history. Ahead of the tumultuous elections, I read Senator Ken Nnamani’s memoirs on his sojourn into politics. It was such an easy book to read and the anecdotes made it so interesting that I couldn’t drop the book, I read through the 400+ page book in one weekend. One of the things you will learn about the book is that Nigeria’s political scene is going through a stasis, things never really changed. They have remained the same and our politics is filled with too many vested interests interest and the fights are never for the common good. I also found the book a little self-serving as Nnamani seemed determined to paint himself as a hero of democracy for thwarting the famous “third term” agenda and it’s so easy for the reader to fall for his version of events over how he led the 5th Senate but I was alive when he ruled over that Senate and I know that they were not as pristine as he painted them. That Senate was also corrupt and had lots of issues. Believe what a Nigerian politician tells you at your own risk. (It’s the same way I read Olusegun Obasanjo’s book and the man dedicated a whole chapter to debunking the third-term agenda that we all witnessed in real life. What an attempt to rewrite history). Anyway, I liked Nnamani’s book for the history he provided pre-1999 and how political positions were shared by godfathers. I didn’t know Nnamani had a successful private career and I liked the linkage between the people he met as a private salesman and how those relationships helped him when he became a politician.
My Life by Ahmadu Bello
This book was so difficult to read because of the syntax and structure with which it was written. The book was written in 1962 so you can understand and excuse the Sardauna. The Sardauna was the Premier of the Northern Region of Nigeria but at some point, he was probably th most powerful politician in all of Nigeria. He details his journey from a school teacher to a reputable politician. However, this book was so shocking and disappointing at the same time. The Sardauna as far back as 1958 was spewing hatred and bigotry against the Igbo, the disdain with which he constantly described the Nigerian South was appalling. I read this book because I wanted to understand Nigeria’s history before Independence and trace where we got it wrong given that Nigeria’s political scene is so disjointed. The book revealed a lot about Northern Nigeria and how that region was formed politically; I didn’t know about the war with the French Troops on our borders nor the intricacies of how early governance was formed in that region. The way infrastructure was also built in that early stage was revealing. We seem to have lot a bit of that and the forced union of the House of Assembly (the North and the South) was the beginning of our problems with political organization. It was tough to finish the book given the reasons I mentioned earlier but I will advise anyone who’s keen to understand Nigeria to read the book, I guess.
Vantage by Olumide Soyombo
Nigeria’s tech scene has gone through a lot of evolutions and has been so instrumental to the new generation coming out of Nigeria, however, very few books have been written about that sector. Some people put their life savings on the line to grow this industry, literally putting their money where their mouth was and they deserve to be celebrated. It was a big risk at the time but they must have seen the future and believed that despite Nigeria’s political uncertainty, there was gold to be mined. Olumide Soyombo is one of the pivotal figures that spearheaded this new generation of venture-backed technology companies and I am happy he wrote a book about it. People who have first-hand roles in building this industry need to be brave and bold and tell their stories before we have non-actors tell distorted stories. I couldn’t drop the book until I was done with it. Olumide details his life as a young boy and how a combination of luck, preparation and street smartness propelled him to where he is today, sharing that vantage position with the reader. If you want to understand how Nigeria’s Silicon Valley morphs, read this book.
Big Nine by Amy Webb
AI was the buzzword of 2023 and as a builder at heart, whenever something is in vogue, my first reaction is to go deep and understand the origin story behind that phenomenon. There was no better book to read to understand the origins of AI from a technical level than Amy Webb’s book. This book was gifted to me many years ago and I never took it off my shelf until this year when AI became mainstream. I realised I had a book that’d do justice to the topic. If you want to understand how AI works, and the various phases we have gone through to get to the point where we talk about Superintelligence, then Amy hits the nail on the head. Amy wrote this book in 2019, way before chatGPT and she boldly makes predictions about AI for the next 50 years. I loved her scenario building and I compared her 2023 predictions with what we experienced, it’s not quite armageddon as she portrayed but she got the basics of it right. One of the things people don’t realise is that the AI craze of 2023 was not sudden, it was years in the making and the G-MAFIA and BAT (as Amy calls them) have spent resources and years working to get us to where we are today. China also seems to be more prepared for AI than the US given how lax the US government had been towards AI. Read this book before jumping into any AI conversations this year; learn the basics of ANN and DNN and become well informed.
There were so many other books I wanted to read that I wasn’t able to, I found that reading on flights was not a thing I liked to do so I couldn’t take advantage of the numerous travels I did in 2023. I instead preferred to listen to Podcasts. This year, I will make a list of my favourite podcast episodes and do a review of them as well. For books, I am hoping to read more fiction this year and especially the classics. I am starting the year reading Dostoevsky and it’s been such a good start. I have a list of books I want to finish in this first quarter but I won’t jinx it by listing them.
Till next time, Miracle!