What We’re Reading

Hey there,

Here’s a list of articles, books and podcast we liked.

Care to recommend us a great read? Please do.

+ [Book] Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions, by Alberto Manguel

Another book for book lovers. Manguel is an essayist, novelist and Director of the National Library of Argentina. He bought a house in France, in Châtellerault, restored it and packed in it his library containing 35,000 volumes. He wrote Packing My Library inspired by the process of packing the library when he was moving to Canada. In the book he discusses his personal attachment to books, and makes wonderful digressions on the nature of books and reading in general. 

Finally, you might see that the title of the book is a digression upon a famous essay by Walter Benjamin – Unpacking my library. [MD]

+ From UFO cults to Nietzsche: John Gray picks the best books on atheism and faith

Book recommendations from the philosopher John Gray.

+ [Book] This Is Not the End of the Book, by Jean-Claude Carriare, Umberto Eco, Jean-Philippe de Tonnac

The best book I have read this year. Eco and Carriare are both extremely erudite, each known for their libraries of around 50.000 titles. 

In this book, they talk mostly about – well, the books. The discussion spans from why books are more reliable than technology, to their favorite pieces of antiquities.

A fascinating thing I learned from the book is both Eco’s and Carriare’s obsession with human stupidity. In fact, as Eco says, the best part in his library consists of books which are about the wrong beliefs and theories, mostly from the Middle Ages. In there I found out about another book by Carriare (and purchased it right away) – The Dictionary of Stupidity. Unfortunately, looks like the book isn’t translated into English. [MD]

+ [YouTube] BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content, by Max Joseph

In this video, the author goes on a quest to find out how to make more time for reading and fight his choice anxiety. You’ll see internet-famous avid readers share their reading habits and hacks, peek inside some of the most beautiful bookstores around the world, hear from the worlds fastest reader about why you should read slower, and learn from Dr. Ruth J. Simmons how reading is a form of meditation.

A true delighter for every book lover. [DZ]

+ [Podcast] Jim Collins at The Tim Ferris Show

This is how Tim introduces Collins: a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors. He has authored or coauthored eight books that have together sold 10+ million copies worldwide, including Good to GreatGood to Great and the Social SectorsBuilt to LastHow the Mighty FallGreat by Choice, and his newest work, Turning the Flywheel.

Even if you don’t have a taste for business writing, this episode is worth listening even if just for Collins’ systems for achieving a lifelong productivity. A particularly interesting idea – keeping track productive hours every day and committing himself to 1000 productive hours in any given period of 365 days. Rather than judging your productivity for each day on its own, give yourself a chance to average out the bad ones with great ones. [DZ]

+ [Article] The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online by David Perell

If you ever considered writing online, David lays out reasons why you absolutely should, and several useful pointers on how to start. [DZ]

+ [Article] The Happiness Boomerang Effect: When Positive Activities Backfire by Megan M. Fritz and Sonja Lyubomirsky

Expressing gratitude, performing acts of kindness for others, or spending time savoring the moment are all positive activities that can increase happiness.

Unfortunately, the story is not as straightforward as we would hope. The science behind how positive activities work also yields insights about when striving to become happier may backfire.

+ [Book] How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

If you’ve never heard of The School of Life make sure to check their Youtube channel. Watch any of the 5 minute videos and you’ll get a feel for de Botton’s style of writing. Short, witty and insightful, de Botton cleverly finds wisdom for everyday life in history, literature and philosophy.

How Proust Can Change Your Life is both a short biography and a literary essay, drawing life lessons from both Proust’s life and his writing. Proust is widely recognized as the master at uncovering the most intimate thoughts, fears and dilemmas of his characters, but that comes at a price for the reader. The sheer level of detail at which Proust can write an internal monologue makes you wonder what the hell is this book about, but at the same time leave you in awe at how any single person can know so much about human nature. All this amounts to one of the longest novels ever, which makes it daunting, but de Botton is sure to make you understand why a book that nobody wanted to publish at the time is now put among the greatest pieces of writing ever produced. [DZ]

+ [Book] The Books in My Life by Henry Miller

Henry Miller’s “Books In My Life” is a wonderful read for any book lover. First of all, you will probably discover some new authors. Through this book, I have discovered Blaise Cendrars – a writer who worked in around 36 different jobs. He would write a half of a sentence and then just leave to hang out with people.
Miller’s book itself is filled with wisdom, in terms of how you should approach life, books and reading.[MD]

+ [Book] Hermit by Eugine Ionesco 

The only novel written by Eugene Ionesco. He is a master of unmasking the absurdities of human existence. The novel is about a guy who inherits a solid amount of money from a distant relative, so he quits his job and starts doing things which will make him more fulfilled. [MD]

[Podcast] The Replication Crisis, BBC Radio 4 Analysis

A short and insightful overview of the recent phenomenon happening in social sciences. Scientist are failing to reproduce results of several famous experiments and that catches attention of the popular media, but there are reasons why near half of published research might be false.

But is it really that bad and what is being done about it? This episode sheds some light on the problem.

In addition, in this episode of Making Sense podcast by Sam Harris, the great Daniel Kahneman shares his thoughts on the replication crisis and explains some of the underlying mechanisms.

+ A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you

A pessimistic perspective on the general idea of meritocracy in today’s society. Although thought-provoking, I don’t agree with the author about completely abandoning it as a social idea. It certainly helps to disillusion ourselves by understanding that by definition an ideal can’t be reached and that luck and circumstances play a significant role in success. But suggesting to completely abandon an idea without contrasting it to its less glorious alternatives is what the author missed. [DZ]

+ Cities and Ambition by Paul Graham

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder. The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. 

In this essay Paul Graham dissects his observations of how living in different cities affects our world views. In there you can also find an interesting way to assess your liking of a city – by the quality of eavesdropping. [DZ]

+ José Ortega y Gasset – “Thoughts on Technology”

Ortega y Gasset discusses what separates humans from other animals, and how human uniqueness gives birth to technology. According to Gasset, man always needs to invent himself – and that’s always different from an animal – eg. an elephant is always an elephant. Contrary to that, man is never sure what he is – that’s what we constantly need to invent what we want to be. Written back in 1930’s, Gasset claims that it is the time characterized by the “the crisis of wishes”: man has lost the ability to imagine what he wants. [MD]

Eric R. Dodds – The Greeks and the Irrational

Eric Dodds challenges the traditional view of ancient Greek culture as a culture of rationality. Through exploration of Greek literature and everyday practices, he gives various examples of omnipresent irrational customs and beliefs present among the Greeks. [MD]

A Study on Driverless-Car Ethics Offers a Troubling Look Into Our Values

In June of 2016, the [MIT] Media Lab launched a Web site that invited people from all over the world to play a game called Moral Machine.
In the game, players are presented with a version of the trolley problem: a driverless car can either stay its course and hit what is in its path, or swerve and hit something else.
In the next two years, more than two million people—from some two hundred countries and territories—participated in the study, logging more than forty million decisions. It is the largest study on moral preferences for machine intelligence ever conducted.

+ You’re reaping what you sowed, liberals

As an expansion on the ideas presented in the John Gray article above, here’s a historical perspective on the modern liberal humanist ethics of freedom. 

Like the progressive Russian intelligentsia to which Dostoevsky initially belonged, early 21st-century liberals believe the human future will be shaped by science and values that are somehow derived from science. Religion and everything connected with it must be rejected an obstacle to progress. A naïve version of this sort of nihilism is presented in the writings of Steven Pinker.

+The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

A 1984 novel by the the Czech-born French Kundera, tells life stories of its several main characters, set in the time of Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.

As a historical novel, it gives us Kundera’s disturbing depiction of the invasion period, strikingly resembling Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As a psychological novel, it presents the great dilemmas faced by the characters, the power of emotions over reason and the complexities of human desires and relationships. Short chapters, each ending with a profound observation on human nature, make the book incredibly captivating.

Philosophically, Kundera questions the meaning and weight we put on our decisions and our entire lives. Having his characters face irreversible choices, we’re left wondering what would have happened had they acted differently. But Kundera firmly reminds us that this is a futile question:

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.