Posted: June 14, 2017  by Eli Randel, Director of Business Development and Paul Cohen, Regional Director of Business Development


But first, “to read or not to read” that is the question being hotly debated over a couple of brews at the local tavern.

After a busy day of work Eli and I got a couple pints and discussed life, the Universe and the books we are currently reading. When Eli mentioned that he was waiting for his next book to be delivered, I nearly dropped my beer. I assumed that he, like I, had adopted audiobooks in lieu of carrying around clunky paper books and trying to read them when time provided. He had not. Debate about the best medium for consuming books ensued. Below is how we generally remember it. Who was right? You be the judge……


ER: Call me old school – which is ironic since I’m younger than you – but reading is far superior to books on tape. Seeing sentence structure, grammar, and spelling will make you a much better communicator and writer. Listening can always be distracted by outside events and reading forces you to concentrate which is part of the value.


PC: I can’t believe we are having this debate. Yes, I am older than you but nobody calls them books-on-tape anymore, grandpa. Do you still listen to your gramophone? You are basing your entire argument on sentence structure. That’s like saying I only listen to live music so I can see how they play the guitar!


ER: Don’t get me started on music – also a passion of mine, and I do play guitar. Do you see my hand in front of your face? Good, you aren’t blind. So why are you (exclusively) listening to books? To get through them quicker? What’s the point of being able to get through more books if you aren’t properly absorbing them? There is something timeless about holding knowledge in your hands that won’t disappear when the power goes out.      


PC: You make a good point, blind people certainly benefit from audiobooks so for that portion of the population I am clearly right. As far as absorption, I don’t know that reading vs listening is superior. I think it depends on the individual. Anyway, why are you waiting for a book? Why don’t you just use a Kindle? Let me guess, because it teaches you delayed gratification? You really are old school.


ER: Ha. That’s fair. I could use a kindle. My same points would apply. Speaking of age, do you listen to a Walkman while in the hot-tub on vacation trying to “read”? And yes, visualizing words and seeing how sentences should be written has helped my writing. I owe most of my writing ability to being an avid reader.   


PC: Are you still going with the “I read so I can write” defense? It’s like debating skiing vs. snowboarding and saying snowboarding is better because you look good in baggy clothes. Here are the real reasons for audio: first, you don’t have to lug books around; next, humans are designed to listen to stories, we did it for thousands of years before we were literate; then, there is the sustainability argument; you don’t need to chop down “The hundred acre wood” to read about Winnie the Pooh; and lastly, there is the ability to do other things while you are listening to a book like exercise, drive, or carve soap sculptures!


ER: When you’re doing other stuff you’re not going to properly absorb the content. You’re missing the escape, meditative qualities, and forced concentration and discipline reading develops. An audiobook is like a home workout: yes it works, but it seldom replicates running outside for an hour or going to the gym. Not only are you forced to workout once you get to the gym, but getting there requires discipline which is an added benefit and learned skill set. And yes, writing is important. You’ve seen some of the e-mails we receive from job applicants. There is a generation raised on listening to TV or reading in limited characters who can’t structure good e-mails because of it.  


PC: Driving, running, walking, relaxing in a hot tub - all things I can do while listening to A Brief History of Time. You only have 24 hours in a day so if you can listen to how Howard Shultz started Starbucks while driving thru a Starbucks then I have killed two mockingbirds with one stone. If you think that there is a brain function benefit to reading then I’ll refer you to Daniel Willinghams study. If you believe that reading helps with sentence structure then that would be true if you are reading Melville, Bronte, Faulkner or Twain but the last book I saw you read was that annoying Jim Cramer from Mad Money. Not what I’d call a wordsmith. Anyway, your argument about writing is offset by the benefits of listening which can help with pronunciation and public speaking. The reason why resumes and emails look like they do, is because people don’t write it’s not because they don’t read.


ER: a) How can someone properly write without properly reading? It’s like learning to dance without having seen others do it; b) Confessions of a Street Addict was a good book. Had you read (or listened to) it, you would learn that Jim Cramer was President and Editor-in-chief for the Harvard Crimson before getting his JD at Harvard Law before he became a hedge fund manager; b) my position on writing isn’t about learning how to write elegant prose, it’s about learning how to communicate in written form; and c) listening to a book while doing something less productive sounds like a good way to do two things without your undivided attention.   


PC: Well, I usually do something that doesn’t require my attention while listening to a book like exercising or driving. Last night I was watching the NBA finals on mute while listening to Crushing it in Real Estate at 1.5x speed. We’ll agree to disagree. I want efficiency and you want enlightenment. Talking of enlightenment, what books are we recommending?





Pick 1 (PC) The Real Estate Game by William J. Poorvu. A Harvard professor retells stories of Investors and developers as they “play” the game of real estate.  Well written (so you can practice your writing, E) and easily accessible. Highly recommended for the Real Estate broker who dreams of being a developer/owner.


Pick 2 (ER) Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. Excellent book to prepare someone for a life in entrepreneurialism and business. Many assume Nike rose to greatness at birth, but readers will learn about the challenges faced and the persistence required to overcome those challenges. The book is a reminder of my father’s motto said every day when he got home from work: “Nothing’s Easy.” Once you learn that lesson, which Phil Knight illustrates in the book, you are more prepared for a business or entrepreneurial life. In addition to being a great story, Shoe Dog is also a great study in corporate culture and the real life cast of characters is unique and inspiring.  


Pick 3 (PC) Confessions of a Real Estate Entrepreneur by Jim Randel. Once you’ve finished the Real Estate Game; the next stop on your way to being a master investor is Jim Randel’s confessions. This is a more personal account of investing. It covers Jim’s wins but also talks about some failures. It’s not your usual “Get rich in real estate BS” but a practical guide.


Pick 4 (ER) Leadership Legacies (Lessons Learned From 10 Real Estate Legends). Not a long or complex book, but a great introduction to 10 legends who helped shape the modern commercial real estate industry. Zell, Hines, Crow and more. Many of us have heard of some of these legends and know them as the icons, but lack a background on how they became icons or what unique traits they’re famous for. The sections are not in-depth looks, but good starting points. ULI’s book is a great entry level look into the impact the ten legends made on our industry.


Pick 5 (PC) Crushing it in Commercial Real Estate by Brian Murray. Here’s another investing book. I enjoyed the read and I like Brian’s story. Started out as a teacher and then just hustled his way through his first deal. Now he runs a fairly large property company in Watertown, NY. (


Pick 6 (ER) Am I Being Too Subtle? by Sam Zell. Many know the Gravedancer (as he’s been known) as a self-made billionaire but often a rough or crude man, however in my opinion Zell is full of heart and character and has made a career as a contrarian who looks right when everyone is looking left. I don’t always agree with his politics (although he is often right and has predicted many future economic events), but I agree with his general moral compass as described in the book. Zell discusses loyalty, reputation, friendship, and independence from the pack. Like him or not, he’s one of a kind and his successes are in-deniable.      


Pick 7 (PC) The Deal by Adam Gitlin. The only novel on the list. Adam will deny this but I think his Jonah Gray character was modeled on me. In this real estate saga the protagonist, Jonah Gray, is offered a deal too good to refuse. 


Pick 8 (ER) Zeckendorf: The Autobiography of the Man Who Played a Real-Life Game of Monopoly and Won the Largest Real Estate Empire in History by William Zeckendorf. Confession: I have not read this book. It is on my “to read” list as it was recently recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value. Read the Amazon reviews and judge for yourself. Zeckendorf was an Icon and is responsible for shaping a city and industry. I wouldn’t normally put a book I haven’t read on a list like this, but I only recently heard of it and am confident it’s a book real estate professionals should read.


Pick 9 (PC) The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King by Rich Cohen.  Not a real estate book per se, but a great rags to riches story to get you motivated to take on the world (once you get back from vacation).  Well written and an easy read. It follows the twists and turns of Samuel Zemurray as he builds his banana business and takes on the market leader.   Also a great insight into US foreign policy at the turn of the last century.  Inspired by Sam the Banana man, you’ll realize that there isn’t a problem you can’t solve.


Pick 10 (PC) Commercial Real Estate Brokers Who Dominate by Rod Santomassimo. I thought I’d better include a book about brokerage. This is one of the best because it uses real examples of some of the top brokers in the country. Santomassimo breaks down 8 traits and then uses different brokers to illustrate an example of those traits.


What books did we miss? Recommendations are always graciously accepted. Is anyone still reading out there or are you, like me, adapting to more efficient ways to consume information? We would love your feedback.

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