Cool Books in 2020

Here are some books I found interesting in 2020.

  • Principles (Ray Dalio)
  • Good work if you can get it (Jason Brennan)
  • Kochland (Christopher Leonard)
  • Daniels’ Running Formula (Jack Daniels)

Principles: Life and Work

This book has two parts: a brief overview of Dalio’s story of success, followed by some principles he derived from the success story. It seems like many highly successful CEOs like to summarize principles — some examples are Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Jack Ma at Alibaba. These principles, when learned by the employees, would help to cultivate the culture of a company, and help the organization to run correctly.

I skipped the first part since I am already familiar with Bridgewater’s successful stories. There are some impressive principles in the second part. I’m writing some below.

  • Be radically open-minded and transparent. Imposing judgements restricts the information intake. Dalio takes a step further, and recommends “just don’t waste time with the close-minded people”. However, understand that people are wired very differently. Test and sort people around you to build the right culture (if you are the boss).
  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. Spend time “lavishly” to synchronize. During synchronization, make sure that everyone understands the big pictures of the projects, but don’t dive into the details unless necessarily. Clearly designate the responsibilities.
  • There are also some suggestions on improving the executability and avoid procrastinations. Specify precise goals. Identify and solve problems. Design and execute the actions relentlessly.

Good work if you can get it

This book ruthlessly describes the difficulty of getting a job in academia. There are also suggestions (as a tenured professor in Georgetown University) towards this path. There are some interesting perspectives:

  • A job in academia is a job, similar to other jobs. It’s good that one can get it, since this job is stable, respected, and has freedom. On the other hand, this job is competitive, demanding, and low-paid. If someone can find a job in academia, they can probably get twice as much salary in the industry.
  • PhD is a duration of professional training. The main purpose is to build a stellar curriculum vitae containing a lot of good publications, and many teaching experience. In this way, one can stand out among all candidates, and demonstrate they are the suitable one for this job. Specifically: (1) Be ready to start publishing papers in the first year. Don’t postpone writing publications. (2) Take the courses seriously, so that you will be prepared to teach them in the future. In other words, learn not only what is taught, but also how the professors teach it. (3) Don’t just do course projects. Do high quality course projects that are ready to be turned into paper submissions at the end of the semester.
  • To diagnose and improve the working efficiency, log down the timing consumption on every tasks every week.
  • There are also many suggestions in finding teaching positions, including handling the interviews, practicing job talks, etc. I will revisit this part prior to applying to jobs in my final year.


In this book, the author describes some stories during the process of Koch Industries growing from several companies into a giant, formidable goliath that has profound impacts on not only the daily lives of American people, but also the government. The Koch Industries is a privately-owned company, so they don’t have to reveal the revenue, expense, and other data to the Wall Street shareholders. Although the employees are given some “internal stocks”, they are only entitled to the dividends instead of the voting rights. In contrast, the CEO, Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch (who basically agrees with Charles) take the control. Similar to Dalio (“The Principles”) and Bezos (“The Leadership Principles”), Koch also shapes the culture with his own principles (“market-based management”).

Daniels’ Running Formula

Running is basically the only possible outdoor exercise during COVID “lockdown”1. Also, I feel that training the cardiovascular systems might also help improve robustness against respiratory diseases. So here I am, searching for running books. This book is one of the most popular textbooks in running. There are two major components: the theory and the practice parts.

In the theory part, the author discusses the principles of run training (progressive overloading). He also introduces the variable V-dot-O2 to depict the ability of running. For each V-dot-O2 value, running at different efforts (e.g., Easy, Long, Threshold, Marathon) corresponds to different speeds. The theory part includes many tables correlating various V-dot-O2 values to the corresponding speeds. We don’t have to browse through the pages to find the numbers — there are convenient calculators online.

In the practice part, there are many programs designed for runners ranging from no experience to competitive runners. I am mostly interested in the “no experience in running” programs. The initial weeks contain 30-minute sessions (which can fit in the timetables of most of us) of E runs and walks. I hope to be able to progress to further weeks next year following this program.

In comparison to the running programs I did in high school and dragon boat teams (where there were intense, 5 mins or 10 mins bursts of runs), the program in this book feels “slow and easy”. The author does this on purpose. It seems like the goal is to prepare the body for longer running, and to build up stamina while preventing injuries.

Other books

  • Too much and never enough (Mary Trump)
  • Functional Training (Juan Carlos Santana)
  • 幸福(李葆春)
  • 薛兆丰经济学讲义
  • Linguistic fundamentals for NLP 2: 100 essentials from semantics and pragmatics (Emily Bender)
  • Pragmatics: a multidisciplinary perspective (Louise Cummings)
  • Linguistic Semantics: an introduction (John Lyons)
  • Cognitive Rhetoric (Sam Browse)


  1. 1.I put quotation marks around the "lockdown" since in an ideal lockdown, we should not go out at all, work from home, and buy grocery through delivery. But this strict scenario can't last for a long time. Given the "flatten the curve" policy and the prolonged time -- one lasting for more than a year, a semi-lockdown policy allowing outdoor exercising is more realistic.