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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Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I must admit I may have gone about this backwards… Before reading the book, I read this excellent critique of it by Alex Lynch. It definitely helped me keep from getting sucked in to the passion with which Taleb writes.

This was the first Taleb book I’ve actually read, but I’m told that his stylistic approach is consistent throughout his writing – specifically, he writes with an impressive level of arrogance! Also a bit annoying: the book is littered with latin phrases that add no discernible value other than to scream “I know latin!”

That aside, I recommend this book for two reason. First, skin in the game is a concept with plenty of merit, and should be a requirement in more cases than we find today. Many people have managed to get vast upside potential while dumping downside risk on an unwitting public (i.e. bank bailouts) because our system is flawed. Second, there are plenty of interesting stories and anecdotes in the book. Many of them around the old-world, including the code of Hamurabi. And, if you take Taleb in context, his writing can be pretty entertaining.

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Cryptoassets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond

The cryptoasset field is very new and fast-moving. That’s why I’m especially impressed that a book on the subject is so useful! Whether you’re already an investor in the space, are looking to become one, or are a skeptical financial advisor who wants to keep your clients from throwing away all their money, this book is a great place to start. I was most excited the by deep historical context this book offered on the players and projects that are most often in the news today. This book skips the hype and goes right for the meat of the topic. (View on Amazon)

The Four

Author Scott Galloway does a wonderful job of dissecting the business models and situations for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (often referred to as GAFA in popular press). For each company, he frames their competitive advantages and their vulnerabilities (which are few). I particularly liked his analyses, but equally disliked his “color commentary” on what they should do. His normative statements about what Apple should do with their pile of cash didn’t strike me as useful – I got the impression that he was purposefully stirring the pot to get attention (to his credit, it seems to be working). At the end, he has advice for the younger generation that’s getting into the workforce on how to make the most of their situations. I thought that this advice was really astute. (View on Amazon)

Principles: Life and Work

Investor Ray Dalio likes to talk about principles. He’s been writing his down for decades, and using them to build one of the most successful hedge funds of all time. The first part of this book is basically an autobiography. Ray tells his story of growing up and founding Bridgewater Associates. He then discusses all of his life and work principles. There’s a lot of wisdom here, but to be frank the format doesn’t match with my style. I prefer stories rather than platitudes. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in this book – because there’s plenty to learn from him! (View on Amazon)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

I don’t recall where, but somewhere I heard good things about Matt Ridley’s books. This one didn’t disappoint. He calls himself a Rational Optimist – meaning he’s optimistic about the future of humans and the prospect for our prosperity. There are plenty of things to quibble with, but a lot of validity to his arguments. His approach isn’t scientific in the sense of peer-reviewed research, but it is seemingly fact-based (without references, it’s hard to confirm though). There is, of course, the clear-as-day pattern of humankind seeing material improvements in lifespan and quality of life, despite the frequently fashionable pessimistic predictions of doom. The book could have been shorter without losing its substance, but thankfully I was able to listen to it at 1.25x. (View on Amazon)

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back

This is an eye-opening book that drills down into the history of (probably) every segment of the U.S. healthcare system. I think it’s common knowledge that the system is broken: out of control costs, decoupled from outcomes. The author explains why the business of healthcare has been incentivised toward this for years. The first thing I learned was that health insurers don’t actually have an incentive to keep costs down — in fact, quite the opposite. At the end the author lays out some optimistic strategies for turning this around, but they aren’t necessarily convincing. (View on Amazon)

The Intelligent Investor Rev Ed.

If you’re acquainted with finance or investing, you’ve probably heard of Benjamin Graham’s concept of value investing. It’s also made famous by its very successful application by Warren Buffet. The content of the book can be a little dry in some sections where it gets into the metrics of securities analysis. Still, its content is a much-needed breath of fresh air (or cold shower) whenever seemingly crazy market prices are all around. (View on Amazon)

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

I almost didn’t know which of my “categories” this fell into, because there for sure isn’t a self-help section. Tim Ferris uses the term lifestyle design, so I’ll consider this a topical deep-dive into that process. First, I hate the title. I hate that this book is an example of him practicing what he preaches (half the book is links to apps/services) by selling information. But, I do love some of the core concepts Ferris evangelises: don’t wait until the end of your life to retire, automate everything, and apply the pareto principle ruthlessly. (View on Amazon)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The story starts 70,000 years ago and takes you through the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, and all of the revolutions since then. It starts out with a strong “anthropology” focus, giving insights (and the author’s opinions) into evolutionary traits we’ve developed. The latter half is fairly modern, and offers many views on how our society has evolved and where it’s headed. (View on Amazon)

The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve

Doomsday-ish, conspiracy theory-ish, and most concerning is that it’s eerily hard to dispute a lot of the author’s claims. The author tries (and in some ways succeeds) to make his point that the federal reserve is responsible for many of the tough facets of our economic reality, like boom & bust cycles. As a criticism to his style, he can get very repetitive at times. As a criticism to his theory, he discounts the great technology & lifestyle advances society has been able to make because of the structure of modern finance. (View on Amazon)