Mike Dariano

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Books read in August 2011 (chart)

My reading theme for August was grab books off the table nearest the library check-out and as a result the books were largely pretty bad. My thoughts, from best to worst.

Unbroken: was probably the best book I've read all year. I enjoyed Hillenbrand's previous book, Seasbiscuit, except for it being a bit chewy on the part of the Jockey's lives. This book, like its protagonist, has no fat or excess. It would have been an incredible non-fiction book with the twists, turns, overall story, and the heroes and villains. After reading it I had a better understand of history and wish more of what was taught to me would have been taught like this. The inevitable movie version will be the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan and if done well it will be better. The story is that good.

In the Garden of Beasts: is the story of ambassador Dodd living in Hitler's Berlin. Both this and Unbroken are recent publications which makes now an excellent time to be reading about World War 2. If Unbroken excels in the telling of history this book does well in focusing its light on a small piece. There are probably many books about Germany and Hitler leading up to the invasion of Poland but probably none are as good as this.

The Buffalo Creek Disaster: is the story of the lawsuit following a 1972 coal dam failure that lifted water levels to over 30 feet and killed 125 people. The stories the victims tell of the disaster were the most difficult tragedies I've ever read. Somewhat striking to me, the book written by a the plaintiff's lead counsel, reads quickly though deliberately, a model for any lawyers writing books.

I'm Feeling Lucky: a story of the beginning days of Google. This book wasn't especially well written or compelling on its own. It's about the beginning years of a really incredible company and would probably have been the same story had any one of the first two-hundred people there written it. Very little content on the engineering about not much new about the Google culture.

Strengths and Weaknesses

On Tynan

Something I wrestle with from time to time is whether to focus on my strengths or my weaknesses. On one hand, weaknesses often represent the lowest hanging fruit. If I'm really bad at, say, programming, a small amount of effort can radically increase my abilities. If I was excellent at programming, that same amount of effort would produce negligible results. On the other hand, time spent by a skilled programmer will create usable work, whereas time spent as a poor programmer probably won't produce anything useful.

An interesting thing to consider is that where you spend your time will define who you are as a person. A person who spends all of his time on his strengths will be a very narrowly focused person. He gets good at something and keeps hammering away at it until he's an expert. He who spends time focusing on his weaknesses will have a very broad focus. He'll be fairly good at lots of little things, but not a true expert in any.

So which is better? Well, despite the impression I give in a lot of my writing, not everything has to be extreme. This is one of those cases where an optimal path may lie somewhere in the middle.

For most of my life I've been way on the side of working on my weaknesses. I was terrible with girls, so I became a pickup artist (but quit before I got as good as people like Mystery, Style, Tyler, etc.). I made no money, so I became a professional gambler. Even though I spoke passable Spanish and Chinese, I switched to learning Japanese. I had never traveled, so I spent a year going everywhere. Whenever I saw a big weakness, I would dive into it head on. Once I cross that "decent" threshhold, I'd back off and start something new.

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