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 sign up and join 1.5+ million other subscribers, please click here. It’s easy to unsubscribe anytime.
MY FAVORITE AND MOST IMPACTFUL READS FROM 2021
What I’m reading (longer) — (week of December 28, 2020)
The Art of Seeing Things: Essays by John Burroughs, edited by Charlotte Zoë Walker (@czwalkergil). How do you sharpen the eye and mind? How can you more fully experience the vibrant details of nature? John Burroughs writes beautifully on these and many other topics. He can be heavy on the bird references, but the essay that is the namesake of this volume—“The Art of Seeing Things”—is simply outstanding.
What I’m reading (shorter) — (week of December 28, 2020)
“100 Tips for a Better Life” by Conor Barnes (@Ideopunk). This is a surprisingly good list, despite the generic headline. Thanks to Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) for the recommendation.
What I’m reading (longer) — (week of January 4)
Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez. This is probably my favorite nonfiction book of the last five years. I received it as a Christmas gift, I devoured it in one week, and nearly every page is covered in highlighter. It’s truly that phenomenal. Barry’s mastery of structure and the written word echoes of John McPhee, and the beauty of his prose reminds me of Mary Oliver. Repeatedly, I found myself saying aloud, “Wow. How does someone DO this?” Here’s the description, edited for length: “Humankind’s relationship with the wolf is the sum of a spectrum of responses ranging from fear to admiration and affection. Lopez’s classic, careful study won praise from a wide range of reviewers, became a finalist for the National Book award, and forever improved the way books on wild animals are written. Of Wolves and Men explores the uneasy interaction between wolves and civilization over the centuries, and the wolf’s prominence in our thoughts about wild creatures. Drawing upon an impressive array of literature, history, science, and mythology as well as extensive personal experience with captive and free-ranging wolves, Lopez … immerses the reader in its sensory world, creating a compelling portrait of the wolf both as a real animal and as imagined by different kinds of men. A scientist might perceive the wolf as defined by research data, while an Eskimo hunter sees a family provider much like himself. For many Native Americans the wolf is also a spiritual symbol, a respected animal that can strengthen the individual and the community. With irresistible charm and elegance, Of Wolves and Men celebrates careful scientific fieldwork, dispels folklore … explains myths, and honors indigenous traditions, allowing us to understand how this remarkable animal has become so prominent for so long in the human heart.”
What I’m reading (shorter) — (week of January 4)
“What Is Death?” (Sunday New York Times) by BJ Miller (@bjmillermd). Dr. BJ Miller has helped more than 1,000 people to die. He is a hospice and palliative medicine physician as well as author of A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death. When people ask about episodes of my podcast that deeply affected me, I often mention my podcast with BJ, which was hilarious, heart-wrenching, and transcendent. I still remember many of the lessons, even though it was recorded in 2016. His new NYT piece is an outstanding revisitation of death, alongside the opportunities that lie within our collective and individual experiences of COVID. Here’s a sample: “The cumulative effect [of COVID-19] is shock fatigue or numbness, but instead of turning away, we need to fold death into our lives. We really have only two choices: to share life with death or to be robbed by death.”
Book I’m reading — (week of January 18)
Art Is the Highest Form of Hope. Special thanks to the amazing Susan Cain (@susancain) for sending this beautiful book to me, which is full of bite-size philosophy and much-needed imagination. These days, a little light goes a long way. From the description: “Advice, strong opinions, and personal revelations by the world’s greatest artists—exclusively researched for this new book.”
Essay I’m reading — (week of January 18)
“Still Alive” by Scott Siskind, better known as “Scott Alexander” (@slatestarcodex). This really struck a chord, and if you are considering growing your audience or “platform,” make this essay part of your required reading. This bullet will be a bit longer and more heated than usual, as it reopened old wounds.
Some of my dear friends are journalists, and they’re wonderful people. They measure twice and cut once. They are thoughtful, unrushed, and considerate, despite organizational pressure and incentives to be the opposite. That takes extraordinary discipline, and it’s fucking hard. It isn’t the path of least resistance, and I admire the hell out of them for doing what is right, despite the uphill path. This includes some amazing humans at the NYT. This praise doesn’t mean that they write fluff pieces; it means they aim to be fair and humane and take the time necessary to think about ethics and the Golden Rule.
That said, there is a great-to-terrible spectrum for any professional group, including surgeons, elementary school teachers, politicians, hot dog vendors, and, yes, even journalists. There are people in all walks of life who are spiteful, narcissistic, harried, or simply uncaring. They do what is easiest and best for them personally, and what is expedient, without thought to those vulnerable to their mistreatment. Perhaps it’s from fatigue, perhaps it’s from outside pressure, perhaps it’s from ill will, but the outcomes are often the same. Sadly, there are journalists who earn a living by repeatedly earning trust and betraying it; they are a minority, but they clearly exist. I don’t say this about anyone referred to in Scott’s essay, as I’m not in the know, but based on my personal experience with hundreds of interviews over 10+ years, plus other authors’ similar experiences. There are great people in the unlikeliest of places, and there are bad apples at even the best publications. Don’t assume a good masthead means you are in safe hands.
This entire essay by Scott can serve as a cautionary tale about public exposure, fame, privacy, and living life. The “don’t kick me in the balls” section speaks to deeper truths and risks of the spotlight. Personally, I’ve been misquoted by tier-one newspapers and even threatened by one writer at a newspaper of record. Why was I threatened? Because I asked that he only include my answers if he quoted them in full, instead of pulling single sound bites out of context, which he’d done before. This was for an online piece, so there were no space constraints. He got very upset and wrote directly, “You are not in control,” and proceeded to explain the power dynamic. Endearing, eh? I immediately saved and drafted that exchange as a just-in-case blog post, which I still have. Thankfully, I didn’t need it then, and I can only guess that he realized the liability of explicitly typing what he did. That’s an edge case. There are tougher cases that don’t leave as obvious a paper trail. For example, I’ve had fact-checkers at a magazine famous for fact-checking *not* make the corrections I provided via phone, which resulted in a grossly inaccurate profile that will sit in Google results for years and probably decades. Lesson learned: only do fact-checking via email. For these reasons and more, I rarely do print interviews any longer, and if I do, I use email or insist on also having recordings of the conversations. Pro tip: ensure you ask to record on your side and have your own audio (via Skype, QuickTime, Zoom, or other), as I’ve also had several writers promise to send their audio and then never do so, despite multiple follow-ups. As Mike Shinoda (@mikeshinoda) says in Fort Minor’s “Get Me Gone”:
“After that I made it a rule:
I only do E-mail responses to print interviews
Because these people love to put a twist to your words
To infer that you said something fucking absurd
Now I’ve got the interviews on file
Which people said what, which number to dial”
Again, in the world of media, as in any group of humans, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are some beautiful humans and some deplorable humans, and a vast majority fall somewhere in between, depending on which side of the bed they wake up on. Plan accordingly. And if you want more scary bedtime stories, alongside some tactical points, consider reading 11 Reasons Not to Become Famous.
Fame, even micro-celebrity, is like a razor-sharp scalpel with no handle; it easily cuts both ways.
[Just for the hell of it, I turned the above bullet into a short blog post here.]
What I’m reading — (week of January 25)
Meet the 19-Year-Old From Kazakhstan Who Remixed ‘Roses’ Into a Hit (NYT). Sometimes it seems impossible to beat the odds. And sometimes the ruts seem too deeply dug. But when you come across someone like Imanbek Zeikenov, you gain a little hop in your step and a little optimism in your spirit. From the NYT: “Imanbek Zeikenov [@realimanbek] is 19 years old and lives with his parents in the small village of Aksu in Kazakhstan. He studied railway engineering at school, and until last December, held a day job at his local train station. But everything changed in the summer of 2019, when he discovered a song called ‘Roses’ by the Guyanese-American rapper and singer Saint Jhn.”
What I’m reading (short) — (week of February 8)
Ketamine for Depression: What the Treatment Reveals About the Brain by Lauren Tanabe (@lauren_tanabe). This is one of the best pieces on ketamine therapy that I have read. It covered some familiar ground for me, but it also surfaced several possibilities and combinations that I’d never considered. One such combination is ketamine plus rapamycin, an immunosuppressive drug widely used for organ transplants, which also happens to have profound life-extension implications in many species:
“He [Chadi Abdallah, MD] and his colleagues recently published a study that found that giving rapamycin, an anti-inflammatory drug, to people prior to intravenous ketamine, prolonged the antidepressant effects; at two weeks, remission rates were higher in the pre-treatment group. Rapamycin may have protected new connections by reducing inflammation, but it does other things too that could potentially explain the findings. For example, it can increase autophagy, ‘the process through which cells remove toxic materials and dead elements in tissues,’ says Abdallah. In other words, it helps to clear the neurons of any junk, which may also help to preserve new synapses.”
What I’m reading (long) — (week of February 8)
About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory by Barry Lopez. I have fallen in love with Barry Lopez’s writing. If you’re new to his work, I would suggest reading Of Wolves and Men or Arctic Dreams first, as they are nonfiction at its best. About This Life is a mostly autobiographical collection of essays. In descending order, my favorites thus far are: “Learning to See,” “Orchids on the Volcanoes,” and “Apologia.”
What I’m reading — (week of February 15)
The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible. I love The Moth (@themoth), and you get a snapshot of pure genius and pure emotion in this collection of short stories (i.e., hit talks). I’ve been reading 1–3 chapters per night, right before bed. Here’s the description: “Carefully selected by the creative minds at storytelling phenomenon The Moth, and adapted to the page to preserve the raw energy of stories told live, onstage and without notes, Occasional Magic features voices familiar and new. Inside, storytellers from around the world share times when, in the face of seemingly impossible situations, they found moments of beauty, wonder, and clarity that shed light on their lives and helped them find a path forward. From a fifteen-year-old saving a life in Chicago to a mother of triplets trekking to the North Pole to a ninety-year-old Russian man recalling his standoff with the KGB, these storytellers attest to the variety and richness of the human experience, and the shared threads that connect us all. With honesty and humor, they stare down their fear, embrace uncertainty, and encourage us all to be more authentic, vulnerable, and alive.”
What I’m rereading — (week of February 22)
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I’ve long been fascinated by Mary Karr (@marykarrlit), and I originally picked up her book on the craft of memoir writing after a recommendation by Michael Pollan. It applies to much of life, and I’d consider it a philosophical guide in many respects, replete with the dead serious (e.g., how to communicate past abuse) and spit-up-your-coffee funny (e.g., catshit sandwich metaphors). If you work with the written word in any capacity, I highly recommend. For more Mary, check out my recent podcast interview with her.
What I’m reading — (week of March 1)
The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life by Boyd Varty. This is a wonderful and short book. It found me at exactly the right time, and I read it in two afternoons. Here is my favorite tracker maxim from its pages, from Renias Mhlongo: “I don’t know where we are going, but I know exactly how to get there.”
Articles I’ve been reading, all themed around NFTs — (week of March 8)
“Banksy Work Physically Burned and Digitized as NFT in Art-World First” and “The Non-Fungible Token Bible: Everything you need to know about NFTs” (especially sections 1, 2, and 3, as a lot has happened since this piece was published).
“NFTs are a dangerous trap” by Seth Godin. Quick note and questions related to Seth’s post — The current energy costs of crypto/blockchain appear to be enormous. For the crypto-literate engineers out there: How should we think about the promise and feasibility of Proof of Stake as a remedy, and how much of the energetic costs might that mitigate? The creator of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, recently discussed concrete timelines for some related scaling here. One more question for the same engineers: Do you expect most “modern” blockchains moving forward to use PoS, as Top Shot has done, to name just one example? How else might we otherwise think about solutions for the known problem of ecological/energy costs? If you have thoughts, please let me know on Twitter @tferriss and use #blockchain so I can find responses. Thank you.
Last, if you want a very quick definition of NFTs, you can listen to this 90-second clip from Katie Haun.
Book I’m reading — (week of March 15)
The Overstory by Richard Powers. This unusual novel has been recommended to me multiple times. I made two attempts but put it down each time because the first pages made little sense to me. Finally, it was Hugh Jackman who, during our conversation on the podcast, gave me the best advice on how to approach this book: “Stick with it. It works on you in the way nature does. It’s patient, and it’s in no rush. It’s slow and it’s steady and it’s true.” Now, I’m in the middle and enjoying it tremendously. Here is a shortened description: “The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of―and paean to―the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”
Articles I’m reading (short) — (week of March 15)
“Oregon Is Blazing a Psychedelic Trail” or “Can Magic Mushrooms Heal Us?” (The New York Times) by Ezra Klein (@ezraklein). Both links go to the same article, as it has had two headlines. The subheadline is “A very promising mental health experiment is taking shape in Oregon,” and the entire piece is excellent. Five-minute read.
“Sounding the Alarm on Compass’s Interference with Oregon’s Psilocybin Therapy Program” by David Bronner. This combines well with the above to provide a fuller picture of what is at stake and what is possible.
What I’m reading — (week of March 22)
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (@charliemackesy). This short and beautiful book was gifted to me by my mom. “This book is for everyone, whether you are eighty or eight,” as the Introduction puts it. It looks like a children’s book, and you can read it in 30 minutes, but it’s replete with wisdom for adults. To give you an idea of how popular this book has become, it has 88,245 ratings on Amazon and an average of 5 stars.
What I’m reading — (week of March 29)
“Lost in Thought” by David Kortava for Harper’s Magazine. I would have dismissed this article were it not for my personal experience with retraumatization and breakdown at a silent retreat in 2017. I recount this experience at roughly 12:11 of my podcast episode on healing from childhood abuse. This is a very well-researched piece on the largely ignored risks of meditation and, more specifically, the enhanced risks of longer retreats for some populations. I still regularly meditate, but I do find there to be a point of diminishing returns, as well as a point (i.e., extended retreats) where the risk-benefit ratio can change dramatically.
What I’m reading (short) — (week of April 5)
“The Four Buddhist Mantras for Turning Fear into Love” by Maria Popova (@brainpicker). Thanks to JZ for the recommendation.
What I’m reading (longer) — (week of April 5)
“This Oddball Chef Wants to Serve You Wild Animals” by Daniel Duane (@danielduane) for Outside. Josh Skenes and I became friends circa 2011, just before the creation of The 4-Hour Chef, and he appears extensively in its pages. I love his unorthodox approaches to both cooking and life. He’s still pushing the envelope. Trigger warning (pun intended): if you’re vegetarian or vegan, this article might not make for the most compatible reading. But if it whets your appetite, you can find more wild tales from Josh in my podcast interview with him.
Article I’m reading — (week of April 12)
“A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics” (The New York Times). The subheading gives you the gist: “Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.” To dig deeper, or if you have issues with the above link, visit this link and see the accompanying short video.
Breaking news that I’m exploring — (week of April 12)
“Magic mushroom compound at least as good as antidepressant in UK study” (Reuters) and “Psychedelic drug worked for depression as well as common antidepressant, small trial finds” (NBC News). These articles discuss the first head-to-head comparison of psilocybin therapy and the antidepressant escitalopram, also known as Lexapro. There is a lot of confusing media coverage, but the above two pieces are well done. What is the simple summary? Below is a snippet of how one researcher uninvolved with the study, Dr. Alexandre Lehmann (Scientific Director at PSFC, Cognitive Neuroscience PI at McGill University), put it. I’ve bolded an important contrast that is under-discussed in the buzz online:
“Results published in one of the world’s top medical journals [The New England Journal of Medicine] demonstrate that two sessions of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy were as effective in treating depression over the course of six weeks as daily intake of SSRI antidepressants combined with psychotherapy. Additionally, remission rates were twice as high in the psilocybin group as in the escitalopram group. Furthermore, psilocybin appeared to outperform escitalopram on a number of secondary outcome measures. However, in secondary measures, the methodology used does not allow to assert this with the highest statistical standards.
“Even if psilocybin turns out to be ‘only just as good’ as SSRIs, but can provide long-term relief after a few doses, with fewer side effects, and be effective in the estimated 30% of patients who do not benefit from SSRIs … ” that would be a very big deal, indeed.
As Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris (@RCarhartHarris), the lead author of the paper, elaborates in the NBC coverage: “The receptors SSRIs work on seem to inhibit responses in the brain, particularly stress responses, and we think that takes the edge off so you can tolerate stress better. … With psychedelics, it’s almost the opposite. It’s almost like a brutal confrontation with the root of your suffering, which can allow people to better understand where their depression stems from.”
What I’m reading — (week of April 19)
“I was hospitalized for depression. Faith helped me remember how to live.” by Michael Gerson (@mjgerson) for The Washington Post. If you prefer video, you can watch the original sermon here.
What I’m reading — (week of April 26)
“99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice” by Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly). It’s Kevin Kelly’s birthday this week, and he is arguably the real-life most interesting man in the world, so I jumped on this piece as soon as it was published. For more KK life tips, see his “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice” from 2020.
What I’m reading and celebrating — (week of May 3)
“MDMA Reaches Next Step Toward Approval for Treatment” by Rachel Nuwer (The New York Times). This is a very big deal, and the results further reinforce why I became involved with these Phase 3 trials, the first conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy. Huge thanks to all of you who supported the campaign! Thus far, the data represent a home run. Here are just a few highlights, and bolding is mine:
“Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group.
MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite.
‘This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,’ said Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. ‘There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.’”
“An estimated 7 percent of the U.S. population will experience PTSD at some point in their life, and as many as 13 percent of combat veterans have the condition. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spent $17 billion on disability payments for over one million veterans with PTSD.
For the approximately half to one-third of people who do not find relief through treatment, PTSD can become chronic, lasting years or even a lifetime.
The 90 participants who took part in the Phase 3 trial included combat veterans, first responders, and victims of sexual assault, mass shootings, domestic violence, or childhood trauma. All had severe PTSD and had been diagnosed, on average, for more than 14 years. Many had a history of alcohol and substance use disorder, and 90 percent had considered suicide. The trial included data collected by 80 therapists at 15 sites in the United States, Canada, and Israel.”
What I’m reading — (week of May 3)
Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch by Dan O’Brien. From the description: “For twenty years Dan O’Brien struggled to make ends meet on his cattle ranch in South Dakota. But when a neighbor invited him to lend a hand at the annual buffalo roundup, O’Brien was inspired to convert his own ranch, the Broken Heart, to buffalo. Starting with thirteen calves, ‘short-necked, golden balls of wool,’ O’Brien embarked on a journey that returned buffalo to his land for the first time in more than a century and a half. Buffalo for the Broken Heart is at once a tender account of the buffaloes’ first seasons on the ranch and an engaging lesson in wildlife ecology. Whether he’s describing the grazing pattern of the buffalo, the thrill of watching a falcon home in on its prey, or the comical spectacle of a buffalo bull wallowing in the mud, O’Brien combines a novelist’s eye for detail with a naturalist’s understanding to create an enriching, entertaining narrative.”
What I’m reading (funny but not practical) — (week of May 17)
“Dear Bill and/or Melinda” (The New Yorker). This caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud. The funniest part—and least funny part—is how many emails I actually receive that are some version of this.
What I’m reading (not funny but very practical) — (week of May 17)
“Introduction to Effective Altruism [EA].” I wanted to reread the basics of EA, as it’s been a few years since my podcast with Will MacAskill, one of the originators of the movement. This review came about because I was invited to join a psychedelics-focused Ask Me Anything (AMA) on the Effective Altruism Forum, alongside Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan), bestselling author of How to Change Your Mind, and Dr. Matthew W. Johnson (@Drug_Researcher), professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. Huge thanks to the community for all of the wonderful questions. I learned a lot and had a blast.
What I’m reading — (week of May 24)
“Amazon, Walmart…..Chinese potting soil…..and the 34th Amendment….” by Deep Throat. This one is long but well worth the time.
What I’m reading — (week of May 31)
Mike Tyson says psychedelics saved his life, now he hopes they can change the world (Reuters).
Autobiography I’m reading for the first time — (week of June 7)
The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss by Dennis McKenna, PhD (@dennismckenna4). This has been on my to-read list for years. It’s a blast to finally dig into Dennis’s stories of family, experimentation, revelation, and life lessons.
Sci-fi and fantasy I’m revisiting — (week of June 7)
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang. I’ve previously recommended Ted’s incredible collection of short stories titled Stories of Your Life and Others. Despite the fact that Ted started off as a part-time science-fiction writer with a full-time technical writing job, he is the equivalent of Martin Scorsese or Wayne Gretzky in the sci-fi world—he has won four Hugo, four Nebula, and four Locus Awards, among others. The hit film Arrival (94% on Rotten Tomatoes), one of my favorite recent movies, is based on one of Ted’s short stories. Gizmodo has written that “the arrival of a new piece of short fiction by Ted Chiang is always cause for celebration and parades and wild dancing.” Exhalation, his newest collection, may be even better than his last. It’s just ridiculously good.
Article I’m rereading — (week of June 7)
“The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist” (The New Yorker). After my previous mention of the Sour Grapes doc in 5BF, my brother, who’d also read The Billionaire’s Vinegar, said, “Oh, if you like that, I have something you’ll really like.” He sent me this New Yorker piece. It blends theft and art in more ways than one.
What I’m reading — (week of June 14)
Quotes from the writings of John Steinbeck. John is a master, and his hilarious Travels with Charley: In Search of America is one of my favorite reads of the last several years.
What I’m reading — (week of June 21)
“Psychedelics Weren’t As Common in Ancient Cultures As We Think” by Manvir Singh (@mnvrsngh) for VICE. This is a great piece, and it taught me a lot. I don’t agree with every sentence or every sentiment, but if you only read things you totally agree with, you’re reading the wrong stuff. This article points out a number of seductive narratives, historical fallacies, and other fictions that spread easily throughout the psychedelic ecosystem. As iconic physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman famously said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Many of the compounds that psychedelic practitioners want to have millenia-old indigenous roots simply do not; 5-MeO-DMT from the Sonoran Desert toad (often referred to as “bufo” or “toad”) is one such example. As chemist and filmmaker Hamilton Morris texted me via SMS: “There is absolutely no evidence of B. alvarius smoking before the publication of Ken Nelson’s pamphlet [in 1983], the evidence for any form of indigenous use of B. alvarius is highly speculative, and I find none of it convincing. … The smoking of B. alvarius venom among Seri people appears to be a modern practice that is almost universally attributed to outside influences.” For more thoughts on toad-derived 5-MeO-DMT, please read this. That all said, there appears to be good evidence, including some confirmation with carbon dating, suggesting human consumption of select hallucinogens and other psychoactive plants from 1,000+ years ago. For those who’d like to dig deeper, I encourage reading the above VICE piece, as well as these three sources as a counterpoint:
“Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America”
“Radiocarbon Dating of Atacama (Chile) Snuff Trays: An Update on Stylistic and Chronological Correlations”
“The oldest archeological data evidencing the relationship of Homo sapiens with psychoactive plants: A worldwide overview” (Despite a few typos, this last publication does a nice job of explaining different types of direct and indirect evidence.)
What I’m reading (short) — (week of June 28)
“How do you ask good questions?” by Tyler Cowen (@tylercowen). Tyler always impresses me. His succinct answers linked above will make you a better thinker and, by extension, a better conversationalist. For more Tyler, find our long-form chat here.
What I’m extremely excited about — (week of June 28)
“Harvard Lawyers Will Study the Legal Questions Around Psychedelic Treatment” (VICE)
“Harvard Law School Launches First-Ever Research Initiative on Psychedelics and the Law” (The Harvard Crimson)
This has been in the works for a while, and I really hope people read the full articles. In the meantime, here’s the short version…
Law and regulation determine the rules of the game. This is true in nearly all fields. Right now, the good actors in the psychedelic ecosystem have one arm tied behind their backs, and the bad actors have few checks and balances. The next 1–3 years will be a critical window, within which this nascent field can be shaped for enhanced innovation or stymied innovation; for more affordable access or more monopolistic, expensive access. And despite research advances, as Mason Marks, senior fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, has said, “You can advance the science as much as you want, but unless you change the law and the regulation, you’re still going to be constrained by … outdated policies from the 1970s that have been effectively hamstringing psychedelics research for half a century.” So how do we change things for the better? There are many possible levers, but it helps all of them to have a great team assembled outside of the private sector—one with incredible credibility, excellent high-leverage focus, and proper resources.
It is my hope that the brand-new Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, a first of its kind, will become a trusted source and force on the playing field of evidence-based psychedelics law and policy. This could affect a lot. As written in The Harvard Crimson piece, “POPLAR will focus on areas including ethics in psychedelics research and treatment, the intersection of psychedelics and intellectual property law, federal support of psychedelics research, increased access and equity of psychedelics, and the function of psychedelics in mitigating trauma.”
Special thanks to Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt), the founder and CEO of Automattic and a founding developer of WordPress, for joining me in this initiative and providing half of the funds. He has been a long-term supporter of many key initiatives in the space, including the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
Be sure to check out the official Harvard POPLAR website, which includes a description of the team and more: The Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR).
If you only read one full article, take a look at this VICE coverage.
Other mentions and coverage: I. Glenn Cohen, Mason Marks, Petrie-Flom Center, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Marijuana Moment, Psilocybin Alpha.
Absolutely excellent article that I’m reading — (week of July 5)
“How Should We Do Drugs Now?” (NYT Opinion) by Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan).
What I’m reading — (week of July 12)
“Terence McKenna’s Memes” (VICE). I first read Terence McKenna when I was 15 and 16 years old, reading The Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods, respectively. Both had an impact on my trajectory. The Irish bard of psychedelics loved wordsmithing and enjoyed controversy. Two of my favorite memes from the above linked article are Worry is preposterous; we don’t know enough to worry and Nature is not mute; it is man who is deaf.
What I’m reading and sharing — (week of July 19)
“In The Light Of Dying Stars” by David Alder. If you have any interest in psychedelics or the psychedelic ecosystem, I consider this story to be required reading. It’s an impressive combination of prose and illustration.
What I’m reading — (week of July 26)
“Corrections to Misinformation Being Spread about MAPS and IPCI” by David Bronner. I consider MAPS and IPCI to be two of the clear good guys in the psychedelic ecosystem. I know the founders and leadership well. There appears to be a smear campaign afoot, and the claims are ridiculous and unfounded. Nearly everything devolves into a zero-sum game if we let human nature run reflexively without pause. It takes extra effort—sometimes a lot of effort—to remain on guard against our lesser instincts.
What I’m reading — (week of August 2)
The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 by James Fenimore Cooper. I absolutely LOVED this book, which I just finished yesterday. First published in 1826, the story and characters still come vibrantly to life in these pages. The poetic and over-the-top language of Cooper evokes beauty, horror, and hilarity in equal measure. This is an old book and certainly not politically correct by today’s standards, but it contains moving tales of love and loyalty that transcend race, gender, and creed. It’s one hell of a novel.
From the back cover (and edited to remove some spoilers): “A massacre at a colonial garrison, the kidnapping of two pioneer sisters by Iroquois tribesmen, the treachery of a renegade brave, and the ambush of innocent settlers create an unforgettable, spine-tingling picture of American frontier life in this classic eighteenth-century adventure—the most popular of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales.
First published in 1826, the story—set in the forests of upper New York State during the French and Indian War—movingly portrays the relationship between Hawkeye, a gallant, courageous woodsman, and his loyal Mohican friends, Chingachgook and Uncas. …
Imaginative and innovative, The Last of the Mohicans quickly became the most widely read work of the day, solidifying the popularity of America’s first successful novelist in the United States and Europe.”
Note that the Kindle version I read contains a few dialogues in French without English translations, but this hiccup has little effect on the story. You can slog through it like a Yengeese (you’ll learn all about that term) and still be rewarded with a page-turner of an adventure.
Book I’m reading — (week of August 9)
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) and Max Gladstone (@maxgladstone). This fast fiction read has won just about everything: the Nebula Award for Best Novella of 2019, the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and more. DO NOT look at the Amazon description, any reviews, or any overviews of the plot. Just buy it and dive in. The less you know beforehand, the better, and its 150–190 pages will fly by. Try the first 20–30 pages, and you’ll see what I mean.
What I’m reading (short) — (week of August 9)
“Remember to Remember: Take Away Lessons from My Interview with Tim Ferriss” by Dennis McKenna (@dennismckenna4). I found this article to be a powerful reminder of powerful reminders. Even if you never hear our conversation, this short read has tremendous value. P.S. I’m part of a related panel that has been submitted to SXSW. If you’d like to see it happen, please upvote it here. The video intro is somewhat odd, so if you watch it, you can skip ahead to the 40-second mark.
Short book I’m reading — (week of August 16)
The Other Face: Experiencing the Mask, edited by Wendy Drolma and Brent Robison (@brentrobison). The short excerpt from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde alone makes the read worth it.
Description: “Assembled by a mask maker and a fiction writer, this eclectic mix of prose, poetry, and art explores the meanings and metaphors of the Mask. From historical overview to educated debate to fanciful imaginings, these writings traverse psychology, culture, and spirit to give us enlightening glimpses into a fundamental human condition.”
What I’m reading — (week of August 30)
The Artists’ Prison by Alexandra Grant (@alexandragrantstudio) and Eve Wood (@evewoodstudio). This book was given to me by fiction author Soman Chainani (@SomanChainani), and it was recommended to him by Laurence Fishburne. Here’s the description, edited for length: “Imagined through the heavily redacted testimony of the prison’s warden, written by Alexandra Grant, and powerfully allusive images by Eve Wood, the prison is a brutal, Kafkaesque landscape where creativity can be a criminal offence and sentences range from the allegorical to the downright absurd. In The Artists’ Prison, the act of creating becomes a strangely erotic condemnation, as well as a means of punishment and transformation. It is in these very transformations—sometimes dubious, sometimes oddly sentimental—that the book’s critical edge is sharpest.”
What I’m reading — (week of September 6)
“The Collapse of Wild Red Wolves Is a Warning That Should Worry Us All” by Jimmy Tobias (The Nation). Thanks to Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) for the recommendation. This is a compelling story of a canary in the coal mine: wild red wolves. Even if you’re a hunter, as I am, it’s a critical preview of what’s coming for many other species if we don’t make important changes soon. It’s also a complete case study on many fronts.
What I’m rereading — (week of September 13)
“I Think You’re Fat” by A.J. Jacobs (Esquire, 2007). This is a classic, and it never gets old. Be prepared to laugh. To make it twice as nice, check out my podcast interview with A.J., in which we discuss his many extraordinary and hilarious experiments.
Article I’m reading — (week of September 13)
“Pharmaceutical companies should pay for raiding nature’s medicine cabinet” (The Lancet). Nature is the source and inspiration for many blockbuster medicines, but the ecosystems that provide the original molecules have received very little support in return. Imagine if someone were to take a public domain novel, add 5% new pages in the form of 10 illustrations and an appendix (i.e., make a small tweak to the molecule), copyright it, and earn millions of dollars. If the family of the original author were living in destitution, might it be viewed as a moral obligation for the new author to send at least a small portion of that income to the family of origin? I think so. This doesn’t make me anti-capitalist, as I believe capitalism is the best economic system we currently have (I invest in and support a lot of companies), but it does reflect a belief that greed constrained only by the law and uninformed by ethics is the path to moral bankruptcy. There are many companies that I believe could do a lot of good—and increase shareholder loyalty—with a more explicit commitment to reciprocity. I think such a move can increase both stock prices and positive impact.
Short article I’m reading — (week of September 20)
“We See As We Be” by Jamie Wheal. This is a hilarious, smart, and on-point read. If you’re dismayed by the hyper-polarity and “truthiness” of today’s discourse, or if you sense something isn’t quite right but can’t put a finger on it, this article might strike a chord.
What I’m reading — (week of September 27)
“It Is Obscene: A True Reflection in Three Parts” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (@chimamandareal), the award-winning Nigerian author of books including We Should All Be Feminists. She is one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People” (2015) and a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” recipient. This was sent to me by Ryan Holiday, who found it tucked away in Anne Applebaum’s piece on “The New Puritans,” which is also excellent.
Everyone should read this essay. It’s a taste of things to come on a much larger scale. Social media will breed more of this, and few people are immune.
Twitter threads I’m studying — (week of September 27)
The first two get decently technical. The last is a good overall primer.
1) “6529 ~1 month old 🥳 Some of you know me from somewhere else 👀 My views on NFTs in the thread below” by 6529
2) “1/ Tokens are a new digital primitive, analogous to the website 🧵” by Chris Dixon
3) “Had a call w a very smart investor who dismissed NFTs, trading cards, collectibles as Beanie Babies + I nearly fell out of my chair, but I get it, if you’re not tuned into the power of culture (esp internet culture) this all looks like a fad, a blip. I need to do a video on this.” by Alexis Ohanian
What I’m celebrating — (week of September 27)
“It’s official. I just received a U01 grant from NIDA to study psilocybin for tobacco addiction. To my knowledge it’s the 1st grant from the US government in over a half century to directly study therapeutics of a classic psychedelic. New era in legitimacy of psychedelic science.” This is a tweet from Dr. Matthew W. Johnson, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins. It is a HUGE deal and decades in the making. This has also been a primary hope/target of mine for the last several years. Congratulations, Matthew and team!
Additional coverage: Breaking News: US Gov to Fund Psychedelic Research For First Time Since 1970s.
And don’t miss the cover of the new issue of Newsweek:
“Magic Mushrooms May Be the Biggest Advance in Treating Depression Since Prozac.” This brand-new October 1st cover story includes the depression study originally sponsored by my 2016 CrowdRise campaign, which many of you contributed to. I put my own separate funding in as well, and it was my first-ever bet on a scientific study involving psychedelics. The article features the positive stories of research participants, as well as mentions of Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research team members Dr. Matthew W. Johnson (Associate Center Director) and Mary Cosimano (Director of Guide/Facilitator Services). Much has changed in a few short years!
What I’m reading — (week of October 4)
“Texas Is the Future of America” by Steven Pedigo (@iamstevenpedigo) for The New York Times. This article probably isn’t what you think it is. Based on demographic changes and more, I think it helps you to peek around corners into the near future.
What I’m reading — (week of October 4)
“34 Mistakes on the Way to 34 Years Old” by Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday). For more life advice recapped on birthdays, see Elder Jedi Kevin Kelly’s “99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice” and “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice.”
What I’m reading — (week of October 11)
“OpenSea: The Reasonable Revolutionary” by Mario Gabriele, founder and editor of The Generalist. Pair this reading with “Punks, Squiggles, and the Future of Generative Media” by Derek Edws and Stephen McKeon. If you think this stuff is crazy now, just wait…
What I’m reading and sharing widely (shorter) — (week of October 11)
“Psychedelic therapy: a roadmap for wider acceptance and utilization” (Nature Medicine) by Mason Marks (@MasonMarksMD) and I. Glenn Cohen (@cohenprof), both associated with the Harvard Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School.
“A Strategy for Rescheduling Psilocybin” (Scientific American) by Mason Marks (@MasonMarksMD).
Art book I’m enjoying — (week of October 18)
Heaven. Description: “Masaaki Hatsumi: Dojo Giga | Heaven is an art book featuring paintings [and calligraphy] by the Bujinkan Dojo’s Head Instructor, Masaaki Hatsumi. Each of these artworks is like a koan—meditating on them helps us see from Sensei’s perspective.” I found the art and philosophies within—as well as wonderful Japanese wordplay—to grab my attention more than the martial arts. You can find buying options at the bottom of this linked page. It’s truly a beautiful book. そろそろ 日本 に いかなきゃ…
What I’m reading — (week of October 25)
“Revisiting The 4-Hour Workweek: How Tim Ferriss’s 2007 manifesto anticipated our current moment of professional upheaval” by Cal Newport (The New Yorker). This Instagram post from The New Yorker does a good job of teasing it: “In 2007, Tim Ferriss published a book called The 4-Hour Workweek. In it he argued that the busyness of the pre-recession 2000s—when everyone was acquiring mortgages to be repackaged into debt instruments, or typing furiously into suddenly ubiquitous BlackBerrys—was nonsense. If you concentrated on the efforts that actually mattered, Ferriss suggested, your professional contributions could be compressed into a handful of efficiently planned weekly hours. The rest was just for show. Ferriss’s book ‘delivered a prophecy that many were not yet receptive to,’ Cal Newport writes. ‘The pandemic has changed this reality.’”
Newsletter I’m subscribing to — (week of October 25)
The Microdose from Michael Pollan and the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. Description: “Every Friday, The Microdose will bring you a handful of brief takes on developments in the field of psychedelics, covering everything from scientific research and policy to business and culture. On Mondays, a second installment will offer a Q & A with a newsmaker in the field—it might be a person you’ve heard of or someone you need to know about. Our goal is to keep you up-to-date and informed, whether you’re in the field or simply curious. The newsletter is free to everyone.” The head writer is Jane C. Hu (@jane_c_hu), and Michael Pollan will also be making contributions. As a reminder, applications for the The Ferriss – UC Berkeley Psychedelic Journalism Fellowship open on December 1st, so please mark it in your calendar if you’re an interested journalist.
What I’m reading — (week of November 1)
“Information for People Seeking Training in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy” from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (@MAPS). If you’ve wondered how you might become a therapist or facilitator who works with patients using psychedelic compounds, this is a good overview of current training options.
Book I’m rereading — (week of November 15)
Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. This short book has completely captured me since it was first recommended to me by Peter Mallouk, who said it gave him durable peace for weeks at a time. I originally grabbed the Kindle version with low expectations. I devoured it in three days, and a shelf in my guest bedroom is now permanently stocked with copies for friends. It won’t resonate with everyone, but it found me at the right moment. I’ve now read it roughly a dozen times.
What I’m reading — (week of November 22)
“Brain in a Vat — Making Philosophy Manifest” by Steve Jurvetson (@jurvetson). If you want a glimpse of the future, take five minutes and peruse this. I also strongly suggest following Steve on Twitter. He has an uncanny ability to see around corners. For more from Steve, listen to my wide-ranging interview with him on quantum computing, nanotechnology, and much more.
What I’m reading — (week of November 29)
“The Ice” by William L. Fox with photographs by Shaun O’Boyle (@oboylephoto). Overview: “Governed by international treaty and dedicated to science, Antarctica is the driest, windiest, coldest, and highest continent on the planet. To photograph in such a place is tantamount to practicing art on another planet.”
What I’m reading (feature article) — (week of December 6)
“Steve Young Is an Athlete Who’s Actually Good at Finance” by Alex Sherman (@sherman4949) (Bloomberg Businessweek).
What I’m reading (short) — (week of December 6)
“Wolves make roadways safer, generating large economic returns to predator conservation” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
Recent breakthroughs I’m tracking closely — (week of December 13)
“The chase for fusion energy: An emerging industry of nuclear-fusion firms promises to have commercial reactors ready in the next decade.” by Philip Ball (@philipcball) for Nature. If you prefer video, check out this excellent overview by Matt Ferrell (@mattferrell), which covers the recent excitement in fusion: “Exploring Why This Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Matters.”
Poem I’m rereading — (week of December 20)
“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. Take a few minutes and read this again. It’s worth the reminder. And if that’s too highbrow for ya, I’m also reading Pornhub Insights’ “2021 Year in Review,” which shares analytics like unusual search density in each US state. Louisiana is my favorite.
What I’m reading — (week of December 27)
“An Infamous Psilocybin Patent Has Just Been Challenged” by Shayla Love. The outcome of this particular situation will affect the entire psychedelic ecosystem. Whether you’re anti-capitalist or die-hard capitalist, the implications described in this article are important to understand. Highly recommended.
On a related note, here is one of the latest developments in a separate journal, and I’ve excerpted a key snippet: “Furthermore, revision is recommended on characterizations in recently granted patents that include descriptions of crystalline psilocybin inappropriately reported as a single-phase ‘isostructural variant.’ … In this article, we show conclusively that all published data can be explained in terms of three well-defined forms of psilocybin and that no additional forms are needed to explain the diffraction patterns.”
P.S. In 2022, would you like one reading recommendation each week? Sign up for “5-Bullet Friday” and join 1.5M+ people who read my free weekly newsletter. Each Friday, you’ll get a short email of five bullet points, sending you off to your weekend with fun and useful things to ponder and try. It’s easy to unsubscribe anytime.
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5 Replies to “My Favorite and Most Impactful Reads from 2021”
Thank you for resharing the “How to Remember What You Read” video. Curious how you process/take notes from/remember Audiobooks if you do?
I love your content but the intro music is enough to make me turn off the podcast everytime. Is there a way to skip it?
I would have to agree, that’s actually the only thing that makes me cringe (aside from the long ads..)
This is an incredible list. Thank you for compiling this all into one post. Such a great resource. Your impact on the way I read, and in turn, think about what I read, is measurable to say the very least. Thanks Tim.
Thank you for sharing this approach to engaging the material! What modifications do you recommend for retaining notes/index from borrowed books?