10% Happier

Author: Dan Harris

The subject of this book is meditation. It’s a personal story written by Dan Harris, a TV media personality who’s been a journalist, a morning show host, and an anchor.

Dan’s story is especially interesting because of his early professional experience as a religion reporter. He was the stereotypical skeptic and cynic. He spent much of his time on the road scouting out stories of people with (seemingly) bogus beliefs and shining bright media sunlight on them. So the fact that someone like this was sucked in to the world of meditation and mindfulness by characters like Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle is interesting.

Since I read this after having become a believer in the power of mindfulness (based on research presented mostly in The Science of Mindfulness), it didn’t do much to influence my thinking on the topic. It was just a neat story. But if you’re still on the fence, Harris does a nice job of detailing his personal experience with mindfulness.

One part that I found novel and interesting was his journey to a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Hope you enjoy it!

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Blitzscaling

Authors: Reid Hoffman, Chris Yeh

Not every startup need burn ridiculous amounts of cash to get as big as possible as quickly as possible. But some should, and Reid Hoffman explains exactly how to identify them.

Reid is the founder of LinkedIn, a venture capital investor at Sequoia, and a former early employee at PayPal. He knows a thing or two about the topic of scaling.

The book argues that for startups that operate in winner-take-all or winner-take-most markets, the need to grow quickly to capture market share far outweighs the need to operate a business efficiently. The trade off is to optimize for speed to market and growth at the expense of financial and operational efficiency, because absent winning the market there’s no hope for the business.

This is not a book of hypothetical musings. It’s actionable advice based on real examples of companies that “blitzscaled” to win sustainable competitive advantages – most often based on network effects that create customer lock-in and competitor barriers to entry.

Read this book to understand the mentality of venture capital fueled businesses, the stakes they play for, and maybe most importantly the conditions required for this path to make sense. Most businesses should not take this path!

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The Coming Storm

Author: Michael Lewis

Let’s set the record straight: I’m no weather geek. I picked this up because of an admiration for the author’s research and writing on other topics. And I’m glad I did.

Lewis tackles the topic of weather forecasting from a number of angles including:

  • Storm predictions to trigger evacuations
  • Weather predictions to help farmers
  • The business of weather forecasting
  • The politics of weather forecasting

The political angle is interesting and possibly divisive – Lewis highlights the choices the Trump administration has made to put someone with deep financial conflicts of interest in charge of the department that owns and releases all of the public weather data.

Obviously the title of the book can be interpreted as a double entendre.

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How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Author: Michael Pollan

Author Michael Pollen weaves together a lot of science, stories and experience into an intriguing narrative about psychedelics. I read this shortly after finishing a science-based book about meditation. It seems both methods – mindfulness and psychedelic chemicals – are an effective way to quiet the ego that lives in the brain’s default mode network. Why would anyone want to do this? It tends to be the case that once people accomplish this they are better able to cope with the daily trials of life.

LSD, mushrooms and other psychedelics earned a bad reputation in the US after the counterculture movement of the 60s. It was interesting to learn that before that movement, there was much legitimate research into the benefits of these substances. Many studies showed effectiveness of these chemicals at treating depression, addiction (including alcoholism and cigarettes), and fear of death.

This books comes at a time when acceptance of the benefits of psychedelics is once again growing and the restrictions of their study are loosening. I’m excited to see the scientific community dig deeper and uncover more about how these substances can be used for our benefit, and what their underlying mechanics can teach us about how our minds work.

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The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being

Author: Ronald Siegel 

I’ve tried meditation a few times in my life, but not yet with the dedication that I apply to other areas. Partly, I’ve been skeptical of its effects. And partly, it’s hard to do! I decided to read this book because the author is a Professor and clinical psychologist at the Harvard Medical School. I figured if anyone could make a believer out of me, it’d be a well-credentialed academic and clinician.

Well, it worked – I’m now a believer that effective mindfulness can really help people improve outlook on life. It’s eye-opening to learn (from this book) about the many controlled studies that have demonstrated positive mental effects of this practice. It’s been demonstrated to effectively treat depression, help people overcome trauma, and generally come to terms with the stream of thoughts that constantly flow through human brains.

Despite all of this information, I must admit that I haven’t yet restarted my efforts at regular practice. Something unknown is holding me back. But next time I try, I think it’ll be easier to stay motivated knowing there’s a real basis for it demonstrated in scientific research.

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How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

Authors: Michael Greger, M.D., Gene Stone

I’m way too busy (or lazy) to verify the quality of the myriad scientific papers and studies referenced throughout this book. I haven’t counted them either, but there are surely hundreds of them. So, instead I’ll just assume that at least half of what I read in this book can be discarded as flimsy. That still leaves the unignorable other half, which is a lot.

My take-away from the book is that a plant-based diet is shown repeatedly in research to improve the quality of human health. In general, I am convinced of this. At the same time, I recognize that there’s an asterisk on much of this because of the challenges inherent in nutrition research.

Personally, since I am a big fan of fruits and veggies, it’s not too hard to make them the bulk of my diet!

If you’re interested in nutrition, I think this book is worth reading. The author definitely unearths some obscure research about different foods and diseases. If you read it and happen to take the time to fact-check his sources, please let me know!

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Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Author: Matthew Walker PhD

We all have a relationship with sleep. We tend to understand that sleep is important, but I think many don’t give it enough credit. This book hit me early with a profound fact: “Without exception, every animal species studied to date sleeps, or engages in something remarkably like it.”

The author of this book, Matthew Walker, is a sleep researcher. He doesn’t think his profession has done a good enough job communicating the science of sleep nor the implications of not sleeping enough. So he wrote this book. I, as a reader, am thoroughly convinced.

Walker references dozens of studies that all highlight aspects of the same core conclusion – sleep is critical to high physical and mental performance, and there’s no way to cheat it.  If you are sleep deprived at all (even 60 minutes matters), you aren’t functioning at your best. Moreover, if you’re sleep deprived you are opening the door to all sorts of diseases because your immune system isn’t operating at 100%.

I think this book is applicable to everybody – whether you’re already a good sleeper or not – for the insight that it brings around how to improve sleep quality.

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I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

Author: Ed Yong

What an eye-opener this book is! Microbes like bacteria and archaea are everywhere. They live on pretty much every species and surface. And, their lives impact ours in myriad complex ways.

Our species has co-evolved with many of the bacteria we live with today. So much so that if we were born in sterile environments, we’d turn out abnormal!

We still know arguably very little about the myriad species of bacteria that live in and among us, but scientists have started realizing their importance and digging in to learn more.

New techniques for DNA sequencing have opened the door to better classification of the microbe species. This book offers a great introduction to the world of microbes. If you’re into health, biology, or science in general – this one is for you.

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Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

I loved Sapiens, so I naturally had to give Yuval’s sequel a shot. He picks up where Sapiens left off – it’s the 21st century, our species is here, and we’ve figured out how to cooperate well enough to build some impressive technology.

So where is the species Homo Sapiens going? Well, Yuval makes his case for a possible future where the species evolves into Homo Deus (pronounced: day-us), a more advanced species that is amortal (no death of natural causes) and extremely intelligent. Basically, where humans are gods (in the Greek mythology sense of the word).

While Homo Deus book didn’t wow like Sapiens did, I still liked it enough to recommend. I think the main difference is that Homo Deus seems significantly more speculative. Maybe this is natural because subject matter is the future, but nevertheless an issue for me.

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Authors: Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

A couple years ago I watched some of Hans Rosling’s TED talks and found them captivating. He was a Professor of Public Health, and had an amazing way of bringing statistics about the world to life. He focused on busting commonly-held but outdated myths about the world. He passed away near the completion of this book, and luckily his collaborators (his son & daughter-in-law) were able to press on to its publication.

Factufulness means having a fact-based world view. Because humans take so many mental shortcuts (see: cognitive bias), we often fall into patterns of thinking that are just plain wrong. The authors break down our errors into 10 human instincts, some of which are pseudonyms for commonly-documented heuristics (The Straight Line Instinct, The Generalization Instinct), and others are cousins (i.e. The Blame Instinct, The Urgency Instinct).

The surface message of the book is that globally the world has been improving at a rapid pace. The deeper message is that we should acknowledge evidence of how our world is evolving and  update our world view (i.e. practice Factfulness)!

The best way to decide if you should read this book is the 3-minute quiz below:

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