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joshkaufman comments on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject - Less Wrong

167 Post author: lukeprog 16 January 2011 08:30AM

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Comment author: joshkaufman 17 January 2011 08:37:17PM 17 points [-]

Business: The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman.

I'm the author, so feel free to discount appropriately. However, the entire reason I wrote this book is because I spent years searching for a comprehensive introductory primer on business practice, and I couldn't find one - so I created it.

Business is a critically important subject for rationalists to learn, but most business books are either overly-narrow, shallow in useful content, or overly self-promotional. I've read thousands of them over the past six years, including textbooks.

Business schools typically fragment the topic into several disciplines, with little attempt to integrate them, so textbooks are usually worse than mainstream business books. It's possible to read business books for years (or graduate from business school) without ever forming a clear understanding of what businesses fundamentally are, or how they actually work.

If you're familiar with Charlie Munger's "mental model" approach to learning, you'll recognize the approach of The Personal MBA - identify and master the set of business-related mental models that will actually help you operate a real business successfully.

Because making good decisions requires rationality, and businesses are created by people, the book spend just as much time on evolutionary psychology, decision-making in the face of uncertainty, and anti-akrasia as it does on traditional business topics like marketing, sales, finance, etc.

Peter Bevelin's Seeking Wisdom is comparable, but extremely dry and overly focused on investment vs. actually running a business. The Munger biography Poor Charlie's Almanack contains some helpful details about Munger's philosophy and approach, but is not comprehensive.

If anyone has read another solid, comprehensive primer on general business practice, I'd love to know.

Comment author: lukeprog 06 November 2011 12:13:14AM 5 points [-]

My summary of chapter 9, for anyone who cares:

Fear kills work. Inspire coworkers by showing them appreciation, courtesy, and respect. Show them they're important. Get them to work in their comparative advantage, and where they are intrinsically motivated. Explain the reasons why you ask for things. Someone must be responsible and accountable for each task. Avoid clanning; get staff to work together on shared projects and enjoy relaxation time together. Measure things, to see what works. Avoid unrealistic expectations. Shield workers from non-essential bureaucracy.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 23 January 2011 10:16:23PM 3 points [-]

I like the book so far, it seems to pretty much a solid implementation of Munger's approach.

Spends a bit too much energy dissuading me from business school, including some arguments I found rhetorical (e.g. biz. schools started from people measuring how many seconds a railway worker does something or other. by this logic we should outlaw chemistry), but it might be useful to someone (though there are quite a few people in line to take their places).

Comment author: lukeprog 18 January 2011 01:49:08AM 3 points [-]

Rather phenomenal Amazon reviews you have, sir.

Comment author: FrF 18 January 2011 02:41:14AM *  2 points [-]

I remember the interview Josh did with Ben Casnocha as being very interesting. (Site contains links to streaming video and MP3 download + written interview summary.)

Comment author: joshkaufman 18 January 2011 08:47:16PM 0 points [-]

Thanks - glad people are finding it useful.

Comment author: MichaelGR 18 January 2011 05:11:42PM *  2 points [-]

I've added it to my list. I'm currently reading Poor Charlie's Almanack and liking it a lot so far.

The best business book I've read is probably The Essays of Warren Buffett (second ed.), but it's certainly not exhaustive in what it covers.

Update: I've got my copy from Amazon.ca (really fast shipping - 2 days). Will probably have a chance to read it in February.

Comment author: Cyan 18 January 2011 02:42:33AM 2 points [-]

I'm reading it now. I fully endorse this recommendation, but I haven't read any other business books, so take that for what it's worth.

Comment author: Duke 21 July 2011 03:17:46AM 3 points [-]

This book, or, to be accurate, the 20 or so pages I read, are terrible. For someone who prefers dense and thorough examinations of topics, The Personal MBA is cotton candy. It is viscerally pleasing, but it offers little to no sustenance. My advice: don't get an MBA or read this book.

The mistake I made was considering the author's appearance in this thread as strong evidence that his book would offer value to a rationalist. In fact, the author is a really good marketer whose book has little value to offer. Congratulations to him, however, since he got me to buy a brand-new copy of a book, something I rarely do.

Comment author: joshkaufman 27 July 2011 05:08:43AM 9 points [-]

Wow, Duke - that's a bit harsh.

It's true that the book is not densely written or overly technical - it was created for readers who are relatively new to business, and want to understand what's important as quickly as possible.

Not everyone wants what you want, and not everyone values what you value. For most readers, this is the first book they've ever read about how businesses actually operate. The worst thing I could possibly do is write in a way that sounds and feels like a textbook or academic journal.

I don't know you personally, but from the tone of your comment, it sounds like you're trying to signal that you're too sophisticated for the material. That may be true. Even so, categorical and unqualified statements like "terrible" / "cotton candy" / and "little value to offer" do a disservice to people who are in a better position to learn from this material than you are.

That said, I'll repeat my earlier comment: if you've read another solid, comprehensive primer on general business practice, I'd love to hear about it.

Comment author: Duke 08 August 2011 03:52:45AM 5 points [-]

For the sake of clarity, my criticism of Josh's book was developed within the context of Josh promoting his book in a LW thread titled "The Best Textbooks on Every Subject."

Comment author: joshkaufman 10 August 2011 09:23:01PM 6 points [-]

Useful clarification. In that case, you should know that the book is currently being used by several undergraduate and graduate business programs as an introductory business textbook.

The book is designed to be a business primer ("an elementary textbook that serves as an introduction to a subject of study"), and business is a very important area of study that rewards rationality. At the time of my original post, no one had recommended a general business text. That's why I mentioned the book in this thread.

I appreciate your distaste for perceived self-promotion: as a long-time LW lurker, my intent was to contribute a resource LW readers might find valuable, nothing more.

If you're interested in the general topic and want a more academic treatment, you may enjoy Bevelin's Seeking Wisdom. I found it a bit disorganized and overly investment-focused, but you may find it's more to your liking.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2011 03:19:09AM 3 points [-]

I upvote you solely for the chutzpah of your self-promotion.

Which, in hindsight, is mostly what you're selling.

Comment author: Duke 28 July 2011 03:16:05AM 3 points [-]

I think the title--and especially the subtitle, " Mastering the Art of Business,"--signals that the book will be a thorough examination of business principles. As well, I think that hocking your book in a thread called "The Best Textbooks on Every Subject" signals that the book will be, at least, textbook-like in range, complexity and information containment. You now call your book "not densely written or overly technical." I call it cotton candy.