What they’re reading now

Real estate pros share their pick of books for business and fun

Where do you look for inspiration and insight? This month, The Real Deal polled leaders in the industry to find out what they’re reading, how the book was recommended to them and what they’ve found most compelling about it.

Jonathan Mechanic
Partner and chairman of real estate Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson.

What are you reading right now or what did you finish most recently?

“Liar’s Ball,” by Vicky Ward. I thought it was fabulous. It’s the story of the GM building, from the beginning to [near] the end: from the initial assemblage of the site to the sale of the building by Conseco to Harry Macklowe. We represented Harry buying the building from Conseco, and selling some years later — it went through a number of iterations. Ultimately, he ended up selling the building in a contested situation, and we kind of lived through the whole thing. 

What spurred you to read that book?

It was near and dear to me, because it was a personal, unbelievably accurate story about people, places, and history, using as its focus one building, an iconic building — the General Motors building.

Has anything you read in it stuck with you? Would you recommend it to others?

It’s the story of New York City real estate — so vivid and so real. The woman who wrote it, it’s like she was there. I think I would have noticed her! She has an English accent; I think I’d have remembered. Anybody involved in New York real estate who doesn’t love this book, well, they’re not working in the same industry as me.

Robert Reffkin
Founder and CEO, Urban Compass

What are you reading right now or what did you finish most recently?

“The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers,” by Ben Horowitz.

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What spurred you to read that book?

Ben Horowitz has a reputation for being a substance-over-style guy, and I had heard a lot about his definitive stance in this book on what qualifies as a “good company,” so getting to dive deep into his perspective on this question was a no-brainer.

Has anything in it stuck with you?

Two themes really stuck with me: making the tough, right choice and not quitting. Horowitz says it best, “In life, everybody faces choices between doing what’s popular, easy, and wrong versus what’s lonely, difficult, and right.” I’ve found that the path of least resistance leads to mediocrity, and that there are many easy paths to mediocrity but very few tough paths to greatness. … Horowitz’s assessment that perseverance is the common denominator of success really rang true for me, and is intrinsically linked to never lowering expectations of performance standards. Horowitz says, “When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in 10 or one in 1,000; your task is the same.” What we deliver has to be great to compete, and you can only get to that performance level by sticking at it and making tough choices.

Jennifer Roberts
Co-founder, J/R Luxe, Coldwell Banker Previews International 

What are you reading right now or what did you finish most recently? 

I just finished reading “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” It’s a fascinating case study about what factors make things go “viral.” It’s grounded in hard facts and also sociology. It really makes you view our world differently.   

What spurred you to read that book?

I heard the author, Jonah Berger, speak at a University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater) function last year, and again last month at Coldwell Banker’s annual conference in L.A. He was incredibly motivating. 

What stuck with you most? “Contagious” is an interesting read on why things spread, and it gives you examples with analysis outlining six factors that make ideas or products “contagious.” I would definitely recommend it. I walked away with a slew of ideas that I have incorporated into my business.