Category Archives: Books

My favorite books of 2015

I’d like to share my favorite books from 2015. I don’t mean my favorite books out of the ones that came out in 2015, just the ones I personally read in 2015. I have four favorites.

4. Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

This book will probably only interest my business owner friends…luckily, that’s probably most of the people reading this blog.

As I understand it, Claude Hopkins was like the O.G. of split testing, among other practices. Scientific Advertising was written in 1923 but it reads like it might as well have been written yesterday. To me, understanding advertising is mostly about understanding psychology, and human nature doesn’t really change over time.

Let me see if I can recall some of my key takeaways from this book:

  • Long copy has been shown to outperform short copy, pretty much always. The longer the better, it seems.
  • Any attempt to sell is met with an equal resistance.
  • Exclamations are counterproductive.
  • Vague claims like “best food in town!” don’t work very well. Better to make very specific and precise claims.
  • Traced ads are better than untraced ads, although I didn’t need to read this book to know that.

On the cover of the book there’s a quote from David Olgilvy that says, “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.” I do plan to read the book at least one additional time. I’m sure my list above leaves off at least half the important lessons from the book.

By the way, notice how most of the ads you see are short and contain vague claims with exclamation points at the end. I’m almost sorry I read this book because now I’m annoyed with how obviously terrible most advertising is and how ignorant most ad writers must be of the most basic principles.

By the way, around the same time I read Scientific Advertising I also read Olgilvy on Advertising. That was a great one as well. Scientific Advertising is available as a two-pack with another Claude Hopkins book called My Life in Advertising, and the two-pack is the version I read. If I remember correctly, Claude Hopkins was born in Michigan. He certainly spent some portion of his life here, and he talks about various places in West Michigan in My Life in Advertising.

3. The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms by Philip Morgan

For a long time I’ve been trying to raise my freelancing rate to $150/hr without much success. There seems to be some invisible barrier between $100/hr and $150. After reading The Positioning Manual (and after learning some things from some other sources) I believe that the secret to escaping the $100/hr range is to stop charging by time and start charging by the project.

Raising your hourly rate is easier said than done. Going from hourly billing to daily or weekly billing is also easier said than done, since so many clients have such a strong expectation that their vendors are going to charge hourly. Going from hourly billing to project-based billing is also easier said than done. What about scope creep? What about the fact that software is notoriously hard to estimate?

I’ve found that if I find clients on job boards, they’re going to want hourly billing, but if I find clients at, e.g., business networking events, those clients usually want a business problem solved as opposed to wanting a programmer, and those are the kinds of projects that are decoupled from typical vendor expectations and market rates.

My plan is to find businesses that use Excel in an at least partially manual way, and automate away their inefficiencies. I plan to do relatively small projects, and I plan to do similar projects over and over if I can. If the projects are small and repetitive, that helps mitigate the scope creep and estimation problems. The fact that the client wants a business problem solved means I can charge based on value rather than based on time.

I’m not very far along in my positioning journey. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

2. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden

Historically I’ve had pretty low self-esteem. I bought this book as a way to try to fix that problem, and somewhat surprisingly, it seems to have worked to a large extent. I need to read the book again in order to be able to describe it very well. Its lessons helped me but I don’t actually remember very clearly now what those lessons were.

I guess one of the strongest lessons was the idea of accepting your actions and your personal attributes (which doesn’t mean you necessarily have to like those things). If I did something bad, I should admit that I did that thing and accept the fact that I did it. By acknowledging these things I can drive them into the open where they dissolve.

One thing I found interesting about this book was that the author himself seems to have led kind of a fucked up life that seems incongruent with what he teaches. I don’t mind, though, because his material seems self-consistent and has definitely worked for me.

1. Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman

This is another book I need to re-read. I first developed an interest in learning about nutrition in 2009 when I decided I had had too many days of feeling like shit most of the day. I read a really good book around that time called Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Walter Willett. The book was eye-opening because I discovered that the USDA food pyramid is total bullshit. Grains/rice/bread/pasta shouldn’t make up the base of your diet. Animal products are pretty bad for you. The food pyramid was created to benefit agribusiness, not our bodies.

Eat to Live was similarly eye-opening. Its content was not quite as surprising to me as that of Eat, Drink and Be Healthy when I first read it, but I was struck by the author’s apparently depth of knowledge. So much nutrition “information” out there is just such absolute bullshit. It’s hard to know what to believe. I could tell Walter Willett’s information was based on sound science. My impression was that Joel Fuhrman has gone even deeper.

Eat to Live basically recommends a vegan diet, although the word “vegan” appears maybe twice in the whole book. I was pretty surprised by all the adverse health effects described of pretty much anything that’s not an unprocessed plant food. I wish I could whip out some specifics but I don’t remember. This is another book I’ll have to re-read. But basically, the lesson is if you eat the Standard American Diet, which is heavily based on animal products, you can pretty much count on developing cancer, heart disease, and/or some other pretty bad stuff. The author claims that a plant-based diet can prevent or even reverse some of those things.


Those were my favorite books from 2015. Here are the other ones I read, some of which I’ve already read at least once before.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • The BFL by Roald Dahl
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer
  • Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane
  • Double Your Freelancing Rate by Brennan Dunn
  • Olgolvy on Advertising by Claude Hopkins
  • How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis
  • The Power of Ambition by Jim Rohn
  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (this should actually maybe be on the favorites list)
  • Traction by Gabriel Weinberg
  • The Go-Giver by Bob Burg
  • The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
  • SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
  • The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy
  • A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russel
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell


One of the books I finished not long ago was Napoleon by Andrew Roberts.

I like to read biographies of famous/successful people in order to learn what they did to become so successful so that I might copy what they did and emulate their success.

Napoleon, like many “great” men, seems to have been a professional success (until his decline) but somewhat of a failure in his personal life. He cheated on his wives and didn’t seem to be a very good dad.

I did have at least one good takeaway lesson from the book. Napoleon had a number of “military maxims” as I remember it, and one of them stated that you should concentrate all your forces in one place instead of dividing them. I think this is a good rule. Once in a while I remember a certain friend of mine who has something like three different businesses. Last I heard, not one of those three businesses was successful. It would probably be better just to focus on one business and make that one successful.

I have two businesses by necessity. One, Ben Franklin Labs, provides income now but can’t provide long-term wealth. The other, Snip, can provide long-term wealth but doesn’t yet have much income. I don’t want to make things any more complicated than this. I often have ideas for other businesses or projects, and in fact I’ve worked on other projects in addition to BFL and Snip, but it’s probably not a good idea.

I can also think of how the “concentrate your forces” rule could apply inside a single business. There have been times in the past when I’ve spun up a Google AdWords campaign on Snip, only to get cold feet and pause the campaign shortly after starting it, truncating any positive effect it might have had. I’ve also had stretches of time where I would dabble in several different areas of Snip – coding on the product, tweaking the website, interviewing industry influencers, etc. – rather than focusing on just one area at a time. Focusing on just one area at a time is probably best. Thanks, Napoleon.

The E-Myth Revisited

I read kind of a lot of books. I thought it might be a good idea to jot down some thoughts on each book I’ve read to a) help crystalize any knowledge I might have absorbed from the book and b) share the book and some of its knowledge with the people who read my blog. (Yes, to my continued astonishment, there are people who actually read this blog.)

Today I finished The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. I listeded to the audio version on Audible, which I’m glad I did, because it was read heartfully by the author. I don’t say this too often but this book was a mind-blower and a life-changer for me. I’ll explain why.

I’ll start by explaining what “The E-Myth” is. The E-Myth, as I understand it, is that small businesses are started by entrepreneurs. The truth is that small businesses are started not by entrepreneurs but by “technicians experiencing an entrepreneurial seizure”. Instead of creating a business for himself, the technician creates a job, often a shitty job. I found this insight interesting because I’m a technician and I’ve created a job for myself. I’m mostly doing the technical work of a software engineer rather than the work of an entrepreneur.

Michael Gerber contrasted this job-masquerading-as-a-business picture with that of McDonald’s which apparently calls itself “the most successful small business in the world”. The product McDonald’s sells is not hamburgers and french fries but the unique way it has developed of operating its stores. Because McDonald’s has a system that’s been proven to predictably produce the right results, McDonald’s stores can be operated by teenagers with no work experience.

The author’s suggestion is to apply the franchise model to your small business. He doesn’t mean to literally turn it into a franchise. He just means to turn your business into a prototype of a franchise with a documented system describing how it works. Instead of thinking of yourself as someone who works in the business, think of yourself as a stakeholder outside the business. Of course, there’s work that needs to be done, and early on, the founder will be the only person available to do it. The author says to come up with a complete org chart for your business including all the roles that need to be filled. For me and Ben Franklin Labs, that might include programming, marketing, web design, sales, and accounting, for starters. Then I would assign myself to each individual role and design and document the system that describes that role. After I developed a system for each role that was proven to produce the right result, I could hire someone else to fill that position and I could move onto the next position, and repeat.

There was more to the book that I’m not summarizing here but those are the broad strokes that I remember off the top of my head. This is definitely the kind of book I plan to go back and re-read and study, just like I’ve done with How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The E-Myth is exciting to me because a) the author recognizes the fact that people like me tend to create jobs for themselves, not real businesses, and b) he describes a path for escaping jobhood and creating a real business, e.g. a business that doesn’t require my constant presence.

I’ve already started with the org chart for both BFL and Snip. Looking forward to seeing where this takes me.