All posts filed under “Books

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Hacking the GMAT

I was thinking recently that it was only about a year or so ago that I finally decided to apply for business school. Registering (and paying!) for the GMAT was a first big step into making it real.

For those people that are reading this and have yet to take the GMAT, I have just a couple of simple tips for hacking the GMAT.

However, before all that, are you aiming to get into a top-tier school? Get a 700+ and you’ll be setting yourself up for success. You can certainly still get into top schools with significantly poorer scores. In fact, I’ve heard of a student who got into a top school with a GMAT score in the 400’s. (What happened in that case was the GMAT wasn’t at all consistent with the person’s CV/resume and work history. The interview clearly showed that the GMAT was an outlier; the person turned out to be a superstar.)

That said, the higher score you get the easier it is for schools to accept you.

Tip 1 – Challenge yourself

My first and most important tip is to really challenge yourself. If you really want to kick ass on the GMAT, forget 90% of the study books out there. Those are written for people who want to do above average on the GMAT, not kick ass. If you want to get that 700+, only go for the books that are trying to get you the mythical 800. Kaplan GMAT 800 is the book that I used.

Why do this? Well, instead of picking a representative sample of test questions, it only focuses on the really difficult questions. This is what you need to get comfortable with and master if you’re going to hack the GMAT. Forget your other study books; focus on the ones that challenge you.

Tip 2 – Prepare your body and mind

The second and final tip is to be very careful in the days before your exam. Get good sleep, and not just the night before the exam. Make sure your head is in the right place by getting good sleep consistently for a few days before the exam. Whatever you do, don’t be stupid and try cramming so much that you lose sleep the night beforehand.

So that’s it… my tips on how to Hack the GMAT. A good score won’t guarantee you entry, but neither will a bad score necessarily prevent it. But the better you can do, the easier it is for your chosen schools to accept you.

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Meditations – the start of a series

I picked up a book recently that’s been both a fascinating and inspirational read: “Meditations,” by Marcus Aurelius. (This book is the translation I actually own, which is a bit newer and has an unnecessarily pompous title.)

I’ve found it a great little book to keep with my bag as I ride the Tube into work. There are a lot of short but important thoughts that help remind me of what’s important in life and what I really need to be focusing on.

To be fair, it’s also clear it was written over 2000 years ago, so certain bits aren’t very applicable. Some of it is on the metaphysical side, some on the nature of physics, etc. But so much of it is a leader meditating on how to be a better person, and still rings very true today.

I’m going to periodically post quotes from this book; things that I find interesting or important. Perhaps you’ll find them as intriguing as I do!

Today’s closing quote:

Claim your right to say or do anything that accords with nature, and pay no attention to the chatter of your critics. If it is good to say or do something, then it is even better to be criticized for having said or done it. Others have their own consciences to guide them and will follow their own lights. Don’t be gazing after them, but keep your eyes on the straight path ahead of you, […]

-Meditations, Book Five, #3

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A couple of recent reads

I wanted to write about two books that I’ve read recently. The Nine, by Jeffrey Toobin, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

The Nine: Nine.jpgInside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

I bought “The Nine” a number of months ago as I browsed in a Washington DC bookshop. I’m fascinated by the Supreme Court, though I have zero interest in becoming a lawyer. (While I don’t have any irrational hatred of lawyers at all, it’s just not work that suits me.)

This book goes into really interesting detail about all of the recent Supreme Court justices. They each have really interesting personalities and approaches to the law. The book does a great job of really rounding out their personalities, with both positive and negative elements. But a couple of justices just don’t come out looking so well… Thomas and Kennedy in particular. Kennedy seems to be quite a shallow person, and interested largely in his image. Thomas comes off as a man obsessed by his critics, and quite isolated professionally.

Strangely I found myself fascinated by David Souter. He’s a man who seems very defined by his home state of New Hampshire. A life-long bachelor who still lives on the family farm/homestead, doesn’t use a computer or the internet, writes with fountain pens, and allegedly never even plugged in his television! (He wasn’t in attendance for Chief Justice Rehnquist’s funeral simply because no one could get in touch with him in time.) But underneath those personality quirks, he comes across as deeply devoted to judicial principles and stability, so much so that he seriously contemplated resigning after the debacle of the Bush vs. Gore decision in 2000. His role in landmark decisions such as Planned Parenthood vs. Casey is explored in much more detail that I have seen elsewhere.

What I found most interesting in the book was the balance of power issues, and how various blocks of justices come together to hash out agreements on opinions, and the diplomatic tactics used within the Court to make that happen. It’s really fascinating, and could itself serve as an excellent study in organisational dynamics.

Unfortunately the core of this book ends around the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist and the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor. While it covers Samuel Alito and John Roberts, there’s little detail there as they had just gotten to the Court as the book was finished.

Overall, I highly recommend it!

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

ImperialLife.jpgMost recently I read Imperial Life in the Emerald City. This book blew my mind! If you are at all interested in what the hell went wrong in the Iraq occupation, you MUST read this book. It’s only after this that I began to understand how many different ways the United States screwed up the aftermath of the original invasion.

This book details the year and a half or so at the end of the Iraq invasion and the beginning of the occupation; particularly the Coalition Provisional Authority. If the stories that the author tells were in a fiction book, it would be high black comedy. Unfortunately, they’re all true.

The crux of the problem that the author describes is an unyielding ideology. People weren’t selected because they would do an outstanding job; they were selected to go to Iraq because they had excellent Republican/neo-conservative principles. (Those that were extremely qualified but not reliably conservative were often prevented from these jobs.) This led to such things as a 24-year old recent university graduate (with no background in finance) being put in charge of getting Baghdad’s stock exchange up and running! WOW!

There are so many excellent vignettes of complete incompetence, but also of extreme competence trying to do their best in the environment of incompetence. It was a great read from beginning to end.

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Incredible bookstore!


A while ago I read about this absolutely INCREDIBLE new bookstore in the Netherlands. (H/T to John at Brand Autopsy.) An old (essentially unused) church in the heart of this city was turned into the most incredible bookstore you’ll likely ever see.

The building hadn’t been used as a church for years. In more recent times it had been used for bicycle storage, of all things, which seems like an inappropriately poor use for a building of that significance.

Well, a bookstore has now moved in and really done a good job of melding a bookstore into the space and beauty of a good-sized cathedral.

These photos are fantastic.


[UPDATE]- More photos on the BLDG BLOG here.