The Mental Pivot Newsletter: No.18
In this issue: The joy of reading lists, my 2021 booklist, and an assortment of new links.
I’m a big proponent of maintaining a reading list. Specifically, a list of books I plan to read in the future.
A reading list ensures that I’ve got a steady pipeline of interesting titles to dive into. It minimizes the downtime between books and gives me something to look forward to. I can’t tell you how much I dislike finishing a book only to spend the next week listlessly jumping from one Kindle sample to another trying to find something worth reading. The reading list solves this problem; it’s the antidote to aimless reading.
My reading list comprises no more than 20 titles at any given time. I prefer a list that’s manageable and well-curated. The list titles are each vetted or filtered in some way: strong word-of-mouth recommendations, authors that have been interviewed on podcasts (so I’m familiar with their core ideas or thesis), books that I’ve already sampled, and books that are strongly aligned with my current interests or themes. Doing this increases the likelihood of enjoyment and decreases the probability of abandoning the book.
I revise my list regularly—adding and subtracting from it. It’s fluid, not fixed. The start of the year is a great opportunity to wipe the list clean and rebuild it from scratch, something I managed this past week. Maybe it can inspire your reading list in some way.
My 2021 Reading List:
Note: Titles are linked to Amazon for informational purposes only. I do not run affiliate links and have no financial stake in any clickthroughs.
After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton: Currently reading this historical account of the Sunni-Shia split in Islam—it’s a bona fide page-turner. As an outsider, I’m woefully ignorant to this fascinating religious history. I learned about this book from a Throughline podcast, “War of the Worlds.”
The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth A gentle introduction to Stoicism that considers the primary themes of Stoicism (judgment, perspective, emotion, etc.) and offers commentaries on excerpts from Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius.
Discourses by Epictetus, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: I plan to read the three “biggies” of Stoicism over the course of the year after finishing the Farnsworth book.
Breath by James Nestor: We breathe 22,000 times a day (on average). How much thought have I given this essential, life-sustaining act? Very little. Time to remedy that.
The Politics Industry by Katherine M. Giehl and Michael Porter: Michael Porter (of the well-known “Porter’s Five Forces” business framework) cowrote this book that that examines the duopoly that dominates modern American politics from a business angle.
How Innovation Works by Matt Ridley: If I was still working in the tech industry, I would have finished this book by now. There are excellent podcast interviews with the author. Here’s one with Naval Ravikant and another with Russ Roberts of EconTalk.
Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks: Dicks advocates a practice called “homework for life” which is a kind of daily journaling designed to help people slow down and take notice of the many interesting moments we experience but overlook or forget. Here’s a TEDx talk Dicks gave on the topic.
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant: I’ve enjoyed Grant’s past works (Originals and Give and Take) and am a big proponent of considering what you don’t know (see the introduction to Issue No.10).
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: I enjoyed Fooled by Randomness and, after listening to the Wiser than Yesterday podcast episode discussing it, want to continue with Taleb’s “Incerto Series” (his name for his published corpus).
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols: This 2018 critique on the impact of information and its indiscriminate use and dissemination is more relevant than ever. I expect this title to build on themes from other books like Amusing Ourselves to Death and The Shallows. Nichols is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, so you can sample his writing there.
Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt: A book about lifelong learning and kindling continued curiosity. It remains to be seen if this yet-to-be-published title ends up being more self-help than I want.
How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford: The English economist and journalist of the popular Financial Times column “The Undercover Economist,” writes about numeracy, statistics, and thinking errors. Note that this book will be published in the USA in February under the title “The Data Detective.”
The Hot Hand by Ben Cohen: A book that looks at the existence (or non-existence) of streaks. I’m particularly interested in the stories recounted by Cohen which are reportedly top-notch.
Lest you think I only read non-fiction, not so. I have a handful of fiction titles I plan to read this year: The Stand by Stephen King (currently reading), A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie (grimdark fantasy), Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (fantasy inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas), 1984 by George Orwell (started a reread, but it was hitting a little too close to home). I’ll be tempering this list with some non-fantasy/sci-fi titles in the coming months.
If you have any reading recommendations, let me know. I’m always interested in adding to my reading list.
Lastly, if you’re interested in diving deeper into my thoughts on reading and some of the ideas that have influenced me, I’ll refer you to a handful of articles from my blog:
Superhabits: Personal Project Pipelines: In which I describe my book list workflow and the benefits of maintaining a pipeline.
The Conversation We Have With Books: In which I revisit the lessons learned from the classic by Adler (see next bullet item).
Book Notes: How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler: Classic text on effective strategies for reading non-fiction.
Now onto the updates...
What’s New on the Blog:
A short piece on my chosen theme for 2021, thoughtfulness, and the practices and intentions that I am pursuing to explore that theme (and vice versa).
This is my weekly roundup of interesting links and internet finds. You can read the complete post on the blog, but here are the highlights:
10 Powerful Life Skills for the New Decade: Neil Kakkar considers useful but generalized skills and thinking strategies like systems thinking, specificity, story-telling, efficient sequencing, and more.
30 Years Since the Human Genome Project Began, What’s Next?: Interview with Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
How Claude Shannon Invented the Future: In 1948, Shannon published a seminal paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” which laid the groundwork for the modern information age. A foundational thinker.
”Is This Really Happening?”: The Siege of Congress Seen from the Inside: Five reporters, all on the ground in the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, give a real-time account of the events and chaos witnessed.
Moral Competence: “For the morally incompetent, helping people is more important than the folks being helped.”
No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees: If you’re interested in profitable companies with novel approaches to work/life balance (à la Jason Fried and DHH and Rework), this article about the digital products platform Gumroad is a worthwhile read.
Shamelessness as a Strategy: Article from early 2019 that is as relevant as ever. Shamelessness throws people off, creates confuses and sows uncertainty and doubt among participants by the perpetrator. Moreover, it’s rewarded by traditional and digital media.
Odds & Ends:
Chartr describes their content as “data storytelling.” All I know is that their weekly newsletter features oodles of compelling data visualizations and intriguing charts. I’ve filed this one alongside other favorites like Our World in Data and The Visual Capitalist.
The Cambridge Coincidences Collection is a project run by Professor David Spiegelhalter (British statistician and author of The Art of Statistics). Users have submitted hundreds of curious coincidence stories—ostensibly to help with Speigelhalter’s research—that can be read online.
The New Yorker has a delightful 30-minute documentary on Eddie Goldfarb, prolific toy inventor. Goldfarb invented over 800 toys in a decades-spanning career. His best known inventions include the Yakity Yak Talking Teeth (aka “chattering teeth”), Battling Tops, KerPlunk, and Stompers (I have fond memories of the latter). He’s 99 now and as creative as ever.
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