This post will share the most impactful articles and books that I’ve read in the last 12 months.
If you’d like to learn more about how I read, keep track of things, and review highlights, you might enjoy this YouTube video.
The below descriptions originally appeared in my free newsletter, “5-Bullet Friday,” which I send out every Friday. It’s a short email of bullet points that describe the five coolest things I’ve found or explored each week. “5-Bullet Friday” often includes books, gadgets, quotes, experimental supplements, and useful stuff from all over the world. To subscribe and join 1.5+ million other people, please click here. It’s easy to unsubscribe anytime.
MY FAVORITE AND MOST IMPACTFUL READS FROM 2020
What I’m reading — (week of December 30, 2019)
How Kepler Invented Science Fiction and Defended His Mother in a Witchcraft Trial While Revolutionizing Our Understanding of the Universe. Maria Popova (@brainpicker) is simply amazing. Her prose is worth reading for its beauty alone (keep in mind that English is not Maria’s native language!), and the stories in this essay highlight just how brilliant, stupid, ignorant, and insightful humans can be… sometimes all at the same time. Hat tip to JZ for the recommendation.
What I’m reading — (week of January 6th)
Having Kids by Paul Graham (@paulg). Here is one of my favorite sections: “I remember perfectly well what life was like before. Well enough to miss some things a lot, like the ability to take off for some other country at a moment’s notice. That was so great. Why did I never do that? … See what I did there? The fact is, most of the freedom I had before kids, I never used. I paid for it in loneliness, but I never used it.”
Article I’m reading — (week of January 13th)
The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin, Science, December 13, 1968, 1243–1248. Thanks to Shane Parrish (@ShaneAParrish) of Farnam Street for pointing me to this. This is an incredibly thought-provoking read. Even if you think you understand the concept of the “tragedy of the commons,” this original piece that introduced the phrase offers a lot of food for thought.
Article I’m contemplating — (week of January 20th)
Reality has a surprising amount of detail by John Salvatier (@johnsalvatier). This 2017 beauty was sent to me by my dear friend, Pineapple-Eating Cat (long story). It made me recall my conversation with Tim O’Reilly and his daily habit of pausing to take a photograph of a flower. If you read this article (and it only takes 5–10 minutes), be sure to read to the end. Here’s a teaser paragraph:
This means it’s really easy to get stuck. Stuck in your current way of seeing and thinking about things. Frames are made out of the details that seem important to you. The important details you haven’t noticed are invisible to you, and the details you have noticed seem completely obvious and you see right through them. This all makes it difficult to imagine how you could be missing something important.
What I’m reading — (week of January 27th)
Why Is Joe Rogan So Popular? (Atlantic) by Devin Gordon (@DevinGordonX). This is one of the best explorations of Joe that I’ve come across. Devin captures the zeitgeist—with real insight into Joe and his format—better than anyone I’ve seen to date. Here is one of many sections that struck me, slightly edited for length:
[One journalist wrote,] “If traditional media were pissed about anything relevant to the Musk-Rogan interview, it was the extent to which Rogan got played.”
Played! Imagine writing that about one of the most discussed and downloaded podcasts of 2018. Rogan, the one who handed Elon Musk a spliff, on camera, and got him to smoke it, thus earning national headlines for himself and millions of listens for his advertisers, got played. In order to reach such a conclusion, you have to begin with the presumption that interviews must always be a form of combat, with winners and losers….
The hard truth for some of Rogan’s critics in the media is that he is much better at captivating audiences than most of us, because he has the patience and the generosity to let his interviews be an experience rather than an inquisition. And, go figure, his approach has the virtue of putting his subjects at ease and letting the conversation go to poignant places, like the moment when Musk reflected on what it was like to be Elon Musk as a child—his brain a set of bagpipes that blared all day and all night. He assumed he would wind up in a mental institution. “It may sound great if it’s turned on,” he said in his blunt mechanical way, “but what if it doesn’t turn off?
What I’m reading — (week of February 3rd)
Digital nomad: this is the reality of living the ‘dream’ Instagram lifestyle by Elly Earls (@ellyjearls). This piece highlights some of the risks of working remotely, as well as the incredible importance of community. Pair it with “Remote Workers Are Not All Digital Nomads” by Weiting Liu (@weitingliu).
Article I’m reading and rereading — (week of February 10th)
Body Count” by Epsilon Theory/Ben Hunt (@epsilontheory). This was sent to me by one of my smartest and most connected friends. It paints a spooky picture of the Chinese reports of what has informally been referred to as “Wuhan coronavirus.” Per the WHO at the time of this writing, the official virus name is SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes is COVID-19, much like HIV causes AIDS. Here is one portion from this essay (edited for length), and I suggest reading the entire piece:
From a narrative perspective, China is fighting this war against nCov2019 exactly like the US fought its war against North Vietnam. … They convince themselves that the people can’t handle the truth, particularly if the truth ain’t such good news. They convince themselves that they can buy enough time to win the real-world war by designing and employing a carefully constructed “communication strategy” to win the narrative-world war. That strategy proved to be a social and political disaster for the United States, as the cartoon tail (gotta get more NV casualties for Cronkite to report) ended up wagging the policy dog (send out more counterproductive search-and-destroy missions). I think exactly the same thing is happening in China. And I think the social and political repercussions will be exactly as disastrous.
Personally, I am not panicking, but I’m curtailing unnecessary travel and group interactions for the next 2–3 weeks to see how things shake out, particularly given the asymptomatic “incubation period” of up to 14 days. Might that be an overreaction? Might I be misinformed? Totally. But then again, how many head-on car accidents have I had? Zero. I nonetheless put on my seatbelt every time that I drive, and we have great data on traffic fatalities. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen? Would you accept $100 to get rid of it? $1,000? I wouldn’t. As unlikely as a kitchen fire might be, the extreme known consequences of an out-of-control fire easily justify a fire extinguisher, even if it gathers dust forever.
Even though some folks think of me as a “risk-taker,” I self-identify much more as a “risk-mitigator.”
I dislike the unknowns on SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, and—like putting on a seatbelt—it’s easy for me to mitigate a lot of downside risk until the data paint a clearer picture. Videos like this (hat tip to Naval Ravikant) lead me to think that wearing an eight-point harness for a few weeks isn’t the worst idea.
I am constantly looking for such “seatbelts” in many areas of my life…
[The above bullet ended up going long. I just put the full version on my blog here.]
Book that I’m revisiting — (week of February 10th)
The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. This short and powerful book was first recommended to me by famed investor Ray Dalio. At fewer than 150 pages, it can be digested in a few sittings and offers an impressive overview of human nature, as well as the rise and fall of civilizations. Here’s the official book description: “A concise survey of the culture and civilization of mankind, The Lessons of History is the result of a lifetime of research from Pulitzer Prize-winning historians Will and Ariel Durant. With their accessible compendium of philosophy and social progress, the Durants take us on a journey through history, exploring the possibilities and limitations of humanity over time.”
What I’m reading and forwarding to all of my friends — (week of February 17th)
Business gets ready to trip: How psychedelic drugs may revolutionize mental health care by Jeffrey O’Brien (@jeffreyobrien) in Fortune. I don’t do much media these days, but I made a huge exception for this one, as it should be huge: 12–16 pages in the print edition, making it the largest feature in the issue.
It’s one of the best articles on psychedelics I’ve seen in years, and it covers a lot of important ground: business, nonprofit, scientific, and investment considerations, among others. As one friend said about the piece: “Finally, this is the article I can send my parents to explain why this is so important.” If the article resonates with you as well, please consider sharing it. It can have a large impact.
Much gratitude to Jeffrey for diving so deep in this writing, and huge thanks to Alexandra and Steven and team at the Cohen Foundation (@cohengive), Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt), Blake Mycoskie (@blakemycoskie), and Craig Nerenberg for helping set such an ambitious example at Johns Hopkins. Just wait for the rest of 2020… there are some BIG things coming.
And for fun, here’s the Fortune sub-headline: Silicon Valley legends. Billionaire financiers. Patent attorneys. They’re all awakening to the massive potential of an industry preparing to emerge from darkness.
Article I’m reading and thinking about a lot — (week of February 24th)
How Sia Saved Herself by Hillel Aron (@hillelaron). After my short tweetstorm on the dangers of public exposure, reader Bryan Elliott (@BryanElliott) recommended this to me. What does fame look like without a face? Is it possible to be a pop star while breaking many of the supposed “rules”? Read this and find out. Excellent piece.
A short article that is definitely worth reading — (week of March 2nd)
How Public Health Policies Saved Citizens in St. Louis During the 1918 Flu Pandemic. I strongly suggest reading the entire piece. And huge thanks to David Stewart (@davidstewartNY) for highlighting it.
[AFTERWORD: The above link was shared the same week that I posted this tweet about the 100,000-plus-attendee SXSW festival.]
What I’m rereading — (week of March 16th)
Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature. This book was introduced to me under unusual circumstances that I’ll write about another time. For now, I can offer this context: I ordered it in response to a therapist saying to me, “I suggest you explore art, music, and so on. You know the problem with most books? TOO MANY WORDS!” If this exact book sells out, nearly all of Andy’s books are gorgeous, and this trippy documentary also does a good job of profiling his life and art. It’ll blow your mind.
What I’m learning more about — (week of March 16th)
Why coyotes and badgers hunt together by Russell McLendon (@russmclendon). One paragraph to give you a taste: “Each member of the hunting party has a distinct set of skills. Coyotes are nimble and quick, so they excel at chasing prey across an open prairie. Badgers are slow and awkward runners by comparison, but they’re better diggers than coyotes are, having evolved to pursue small animals in underground burrow systems. So when they hunt prairie dogs or ground squirrels on their own, badgers usually dig them up, while coyotes chase and pounce. The rodents therefore use different strategies depending which predator is after them: They often escape a digging badger by leaving their burrows to flee aboveground, and evade coyotes by running to their burrows.” I also highly recommend watching the following video: Coyote and Badger Caught Playing on Camera. For some reason, I find this short clip so uplifting that I bookmarked it and often watch it when I’m feeling down or overwhelmed.
What I’m reading — (week of March 23rd)
A Stoic’s Key to Peace of Mind: Seneca on the Antidote to Anxiety by Maria Popova (@brainpicker).
What I’m rereading — (week of March 30th)
Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat (@mgawdat). This was recommended to me by a type-A MD who runs his life at 200 mph. He is also an engineer and strongly dislikes most woo-woo thinking. He gave this book his highest recommendation. To my relief, it doesn’t require any technical background. Here is part of the description, slightly edited for space: “Mo Gawdat, Chief Business Officer at Google’s [X], applies his superior logic and problem solving skills to understand how the brain processes joy and sadness—and then he solves for happy. In 2001, Mo Gawdat realized that despite his incredible success, he was desperately unhappy. A lifelong learner, he attacked the problem as an engineer would: examining all the provable facts and scrupulously applying logic. Eventually, his countless hours of research and science proved successful, and he discovered the equation for happiness.” I’ve found it very impactful, especially his portion on “I am, therefore I think” as a more useful version of “I think, therefore I am.”
Brilliant and surreal piece I can’t stop thinking about — (week of April 13th)
Steak-umm’s Twitter Account Is a Brilliant, Bizarre Voice of Reason in Our Coronavirus Era. Thanks to Kelly Starrett for sending this over. Caution: Steak-umm may pull you into a vortex.
Short PDF I’m reading — (week of April 13th)
Howard Marks’ latest memo. Howard Marks (@HowardMarksBook) is co-chairman and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a leading investment firm with more than $120 billion in assets. Warren Buffett has written of Howard Marks: “When I see memos from Howard Marks in my mail, they’re the first thing I open and read. I always learn something.” This is his latest, and I think it poses some of the smartest questions I’ve seen related to these wild times. Here’s one standout line, variously attributed: “Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Catholicism without hell.” For those who’d like to learn more about market cycles from Howard, here’s an entire interview woven around the topic.
Book I’m revisiting — (week of April 27th)
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. This is one of the books most frequently recommended by podcast guests. Long ago, Naval Ravikant (@naval) highlighted for me the protagonist Siddhartha’s response to “What can you give?” His simple answer is “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.” There’s much more to his response (search “Kamala” here for a good excerpt), and I think about it often. Skip the Amazon description, as it gives away too much plot, but consider reading or rereading this short gem. If you’d prefer an even shorter read, try this: Can We All Be Like Texas? by David Byrne (@DBtodomundo).
What I’m reading — (week of May 4th)
68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly). Kevin is arguably the real-life most interesting man in the world, so I jumped on this piece as soon as it came out.
What I’m reading — (week of May 11th)
Survey of entity encounter experiences occasioned by inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine: Phenomenology, interpretation, and enduring effects. Here’s one notable line: “More than half of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards.”
What I’m reading — (week of May 18th)
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir No. 1 in the Paris Review. This is a simply stunning interview of Mary Karr (@marykarrlit) from 2009. I’ve read it multiple times, highlighted nearly every page, and saved my scans to Evernote. That’s how much goodness I think it contains. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny.
What I’m reading — (week of June 1st)
James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78 from the Paris Review, Issue 91, 1984. James Baldwin (1924–1987) was an incredible storyteller and weaver of culture into words. He was also a tortured soul, and I’ve been fascinated by him since college. I recommend reading his Wikipedia page before the Paris Review interview for more context, including the fact that he was discriminated against within the civil rights movement for being gay. One aspect of James that drew me to him is that he doesn’t oversimplify in his writing; another is that he strove to uncover messiness both within and without.
This interview contains a lot of gold (e.g., his interactions with painter Beauford Delaney, his thoughts on writing and the self), but it’s not an easy read. The subject matter can be hard, and on top of that, you’ll need to get through language from the interviewer at the beginning like this: “We lunched on an August weekend, together with seasonal guests and his secretary.”
But “The Art of Fiction No. 78” covers a mountain-load more than writing. This interview gives you a glimpse into the life and thinking of a unique human and someone who fought like hell—and struggled like hell—to change both the world and himself.
What I’m reading — (week of June 8th)
Little, Big by John Crowley. Little, Big is simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and even that doesn’t do it justice. It is, as one reviewer put it, “mysteriously affecting.” Read a few of the Amazon reviews here to get a glimpse of what I mean. On top of that, I feel like it put me in an altered state of consciousness that often lasted for 6–12 hours, best described as a deep feeling of serenity. And yet, I’ve hesitated for weeks to put it into “5-Bullet Friday”! Why? Because I think it’ll only grab 10–20% of you. In fact, my brother gave me the paperback version in 2018, and I tried reading it three or four times over the past two years. I put it down after fewer than 50 pages in each attempt. So how’d I end up finishing it this time? This go-round, I committed to reading at least 100 pages, reading daily, and reading the Kindle version. Why? It’s partly because the prose is stunningly beautiful, but it’s unusual and requires close attention. It’s partly because there are a lot of characters introduced in the first 100 pages, and you need to keep them straight, which is why I also posted a pic of a family tree (the last of the three photos in the post) to help everyone out. Last, author John Crowley uses exquisite and poetic vocabulary, but I needed the Kindle built-in dictionary quite a lot (borborygmus, anyone?). It all sounds like a lot of work, and—guess what?—it is a lot of work. But hot damn, the payoff is just so, so delicious that it’s hard to describe. If you try it, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 8 out of 10 of you will think I’ve lost my mind. But 2 out of 10 will find this tale of hyperreality, unreality, concrete jungles, fairy tales, and dreams to be nearly magical in its effects. This book is special.
What I’m reading — (week of June 15th)
Can MDMA help to treat addiction?, a short interview with Dr. Ben Sessa of Imperial College, London. Here is one of my favorite portions:
Why then do psychedelics seem to do better in the treatment of addictions than conventional treatments?
Because underlying addiction, and many if not most chronic mental disorders, is rigidity. Stuck rigid mental narratives about self and the world, which arise early in life as a result of early experiences, in other words, the very core building blocks of our personality, which stay with us for life. The majority of mental health treatments, and certainly all the medicines we use, like SSRIs, don’t do anything to those narratives, they just paper over the cracks and treat the overlying symptoms. In my experience, psychedelics are the best new form of pharmacology that we’ve come across that has the potential to actually tackle those narratives and allows people to build them up in a new, more positive way.
Interested in learning more on this subject? Be sure to see this.
What I’m reading — (week of June 22nd)
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This was first recommended to me by Caroline Paul (@carowriter), an incredible writer in her own right, who was also one of the first female firefighters in San Francisco. This is one of her favorite books because, as she said, “A lot of [O’Brien’s] writing, at least initially, was about Vietnam in thinly veiled autobiographical form, but fiction. That book actually got me back to reading. When you go to college, reading gets kicked out of you a little bit. You have to read all of these things, and I didn’t [start reading again] until my friend Eric, a whitewater rafter with me, handed me this book.” Be forewarned that it contains beautiful prose and graphic violence in equal measure.
Interview I’m reading — (week of July 20th)
From Productivity to Psychedelics: Tim Ferriss Has Changed His Mind About Success in GQ (@GQMagazine). It might seem strange that I’m reading an interview with myself, but it’s only 90% narcissism. I seldom do interviews these days, and I was very curious to see how this one would turn out. Why? There are rare times when I feel “on,” and this conversation with Clay Skipper (@SkipperClay) was one of them. In the end product, we discuss rethinking productivity, my quarantine philosophy, why not everything that is meaningful can be measured, and how the success I set out to find 13 years ago looks quite different from the success I’m focused on now. The article only includes ~15% of what we covered over a 1–2-hour call, so perhaps we’ll do something with the full audio later. Thanks for plumbing the depths, Clay.
What I’m reading — (week of July 27th)
The Four Quadrants of Conformism by Paul Graham (@paulg). Pair this with Paul’s 2004 essay “What You Can’t Say,” which features The Conformist Test: “Let’s start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers? If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you’re supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn’t. Odds are you just think what you’re told.”
What I’m reading — (week of August 3rd)
John McPhee on Writing and the Relationship Between Artistic Originality and Self-Doubt by Maria Popova (@brainpicker). Here is one of my favorite quotes in the piece: “As Auden observed in one of his singular strokes of wry perspicacity, ‘some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.’”
What I’m reading — (week of August 10th)
100 Things I Learned in 10 Years and 100 Reads of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations by Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday).
What I’m reading and celebrating (Wall Street Journal) — (week of August 17th)
Silicon Valley and Wall Street Elites Pour Money Into Psychedelic Research by Shalini Ramachandran in WSJ, which should also be going to print today. This is a great piece with some notable and surprising names. That said, the headline doesn’t capture the most important part to me: ~2,500 donors participated, in amounts ranging from one dollar to $5 million, to raise the $30 million needed to complete clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for trauma/PTSD. My sincerest thanks to each and every one of you who helped make this happen! Every donation mattered and made a difference. ? NOTE: This is a special URL provided to me by WSJ just for you guys. (Thank you, WSJ!) For the next ~48 hours, you can read the entire article and simply close any pop-ups (e.g., “Continue reading your article with a WSJ membership”) by clicking “X.” After 48 hours, you’ll need to create an account to read the article.
What I’m reading — (week of August 24th)
Joe Rogan Is the New Mainstream Media (New York Times) by Bari Weiss (@bariweiss). For those seeking extra credit, you can read Bari’s powerful resignation letter from the NYT, which followed just 50 days later on July 14th.
What I’m reading — (week of September 7th)
How to Find the Side Door: Startup Lessons from RXBar, 5-hour Energy, and More. This post from Guy Raz of How I Built This explores how RXBar, 5-hour Energy, and other unorthodox startups created their own categories—and billions of dollars of value—by “taking the side door.” Sometimes the best way to beat the competition and win… is to sidestep competition altogether.
What I’m reading — (week of September 14th)
Draft No. 4 by John McPhee. This is one of the best books about non-fiction writing that I’ve ever read. Be forewarned that it skips the hand-wavy platitudes and gets straight to the nitty-gritty details, as all McPheesian stories do. From the official description: “Draft No. 4 is a master class on the writer’s craft. In a series of playful, expertly wrought essays, John McPhee shares insights he has gathered over his career and has refined while teaching at Princeton University, where he has nurtured some of the most esteemed writers of recent decades. McPhee offers definitive guidance in the decisions regarding arrangement, diction, and tone that shape nonfiction pieces, and he presents extracts from his work, subjecting them to wry scrutiny. The result is a vivid depiction of the writing process, from reporting to drafting to revising―and revising, and revising.”
What I’m reading and definitely needing this week — (week of September 21st)
9 Common Traits in the Lives of Stoic Leaders by Stephen Hanselman (@SteveHanselman).
Audiobook that I’m listening to — (week of September 28th)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by the one and only Stephen Fry (@stephenfry). Stephen Fry makes this audiobook incredible; it’s one of the best voice performances I’ve ever heard. Like many people, I’d come across this book now and again for decades, but I was turned off by the goofy cover. Shame on me, but… perhaps it was perfect that I landed on the audiobook, which has been an uplifting mood shifter as the days get colder and darker.
Book I’m revisiting — (week of October 5th)
Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity by David Lynch (@david_lynch). Filmmaker David Lynch describes his personal methods of capturing and working with ideas, some of them hinged on the immense creative benefits he has experienced from the practice of meditation. This book has been recommended to me by many high-calibre creatives.
What I’m re-reading (very short) — (week of October 12th)
On Needing to Find Something to Worry About. This brief blog post provides me with an afterglow of extended calm for at least a few hours (sometimes much more) after each reading. The quote from Donald Winnicott packs a wallop, so don’t miss it.
What I’m reading (longer but fascinating) — (week of October 12th)
14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. From the abstract: “Biophilic design can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize, these qualities are ever more important. Theorists, research scientists, and design practitioners have been working for decades to define aspects of nature that most impact our satisfaction with the built environment. ‘14 Patterns of Biophilic Design’ articulates the relationships between nature, human biology and the design of the built environment so that we may experience the human benefits of biophilia in our design applications.”
What I’m reading — (week of October 19th)
Why Private Eyes Are Everywhere Now by Patrick Radden Keefe (@praddenkeefe) for the New Yorker.
What I’m reading — (week of October 26th)
The Psychedelic Election by Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish). Greek civilization, a mysterious once-in-a-lifetime ceremony at the Temple of Eleusis, and a cameo by Marcus Aurelius… what’s not to like? This fascinating piece touches on a lot, including how people in D.C. or Oregon can, just possibly, be part of the next Renaissance.
What I’m reading — (week of November 2nd)
Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. This book was first recommended to me by the phenom that is Safi Bahcall, a former physicist and founder of a publicly-traded biotech company, who also knows hypnotism and a dozen other fields inside and out. It took me more than a year to dig into Joyful Wisdom, as I was turned off by the title. I expected another rinse and repeat of the usual Buddhist bag o’ tricks, which have never quite clicked for me. Much to my surprise, I quickly found insights, analogies, and practices that *did* stick in the first 100 pages.
What I’m reading — (week of November 9th)
Politician Cyrus Habib Leaves Office to Join the Jesuits (New York Times — @nytimes). Have you ever fantasized about walking off and leaving it all behind? This is the amazing story of one man, on track for ever-growing prestige and power, who did just that. Kudos to Frank Bruni (@FrankBruni) for a great piece. For more on Cyrus, here is his Wikipedia page.
What I’m re-reading — (week of November 16th)
The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan by Craig Mod (@craigmod). This remains one of my favorite pieces ever published by WIRED. I printed it out more than a year ago and reread it often, continuing to highlight new things. If you feel overwhelmed by the noise, or if you simply fantasize about being a stranger in a strange land, this is a wonderful transporter. Told through the lens of an ultra-marathon walk through Japan, Craig’s story contains a lot of gems, including paragraphs like these:
I have configured servers, written code, built web pages, helped design products used by millions of people. I am firmly in the camp that believes technology is generally bending the world in a positive direction. Yet, for me, Twitter foments neurosis, Facebook sadness, Google News a sense of foreboding. Instagram turns me covetous. All of them make me want to do it—whatever “it” may be—for the likes, the comments. I can’t help but feel that I am the worst version of myself, being performative on a very short, very depressing timeline. A timeline of seconds.
In the context of a walk like this, “boredom” is a goal, the antipode of mindless connectivity, constant stimulation, anger and dissatisfaction. I put “boredom” in quotes because the boredom I’m talking about fosters a heightened sense of presence. To be “bored” is to be free of distraction.
What I’m reading — (week of November 23rd)
How to Think for Yourself by Paul Graham (@paulg). I have recommended many of Paul’s essays over the years, including The Risk of Discovery, Having Kids, Keep Your Identity Small, and, perhaps more than any other, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. How to Think for Yourself is a fabulous new addition to the list. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from it: “Treat it as a puzzle. You know that some accepted ideas will later turn out to be wrong. See if you can guess which. The end goal is not to find flaws in the things you’re told, but to find the new ideas that had been concealed by the broken ones.”
What I’m reading (longer but easy) — (week of December 7th)
Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching-Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years. Sometimes I learn, and absorb usable truths, best through time-tested fiction. Most stories in this book are only 1–5 pages long. Description: “Dervish tales are more than fable, legend, or folklore. For centuries, dervish masters have instructed their disciples by means of these teaching stories, which are said to increase perception and knowledge and provide a better understanding of man and the world. … Idries Shah spent many years traveling through three continents to collect and compare oral versions of these remarkable stories. This anthology…contains stories drawn from the repertories of dervish masters over a period of more than a thousand years.”
What I’m rereading (short) — (week of December 7th)
Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain by Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) for the New York Times.
Article I’m revisiting — (week of December 21st)
Michelin restaurants and fabulous wines: Inside the secret team dinners that have built the Spurs’ dynasty (@espn). This piece is FANTASTIC. It is wonderfully written and full of takeaways if you read carefully. Hat tip to @bakerlink for the recommendation. Here’s a short teaser from the beginning:
As much as [Coach] Popovich knows about hoops, he really knows food and wine. “I don’t know that he doesn’t know more about wine than he does about basketball,” former Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo says. Popovich scouts restaurants and wine lists as obsessively as he might any opponent. Before games, in his office, he can be found watching the Food Network. Sommeliers and restaurateurs claim to owe their careers to the man.… As absurd as it seems, one of the greatest basketball coaches in history might be more revered in the culinary world.
Read the whole thing, as the ending is killer. Coach Popovich has been on my mind as a possible podcast guest for years. This piece just reinforces the interest, but I know how much he dislikes most media. Perhaps some day…
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