Few Weeks of Reading

I quit my full time job early in September. Naturally I have much more free time than before. Previously I passed time on Reddit, Hackernews, or Youtube. That never felt fulfilling. I realized the time on those websites did not create residual value. I was aimlessly passing time. This was not OK with me. I decided to change my default activity to reading books.

Reading made me happier, more intellectually engaged, and more fulfilled. I’ve settled into a reading routine over the past couple of weeks. This had the positive impact of reading more! These days Hackernews, Reddit, or Youtube usage has dropped to virtually zero. I also disengage from those activities quickly. It’s too easy to mindless scroll reddit/hackernews and come away with nothing. Those activities don’t engage my mind (likely many other people’s) like books do. I’ve read more books in the past three weeks than I’ve read in the past three years! That is a marked improvement and I’m proud of that.

Here’s what I’ve read so far. My queue started with politics (due to my increased engagement since the orange baffoon took office). This also a conscious decision to shift away from reading about software/technology. I had just quit my job, I wanted a break away and explore other topics. I filled my queue by exploring the Intercepted and Waking Up podcast (which is astoundingly interesting compared to the former).

The Once and Future Liberal

It chronicles the change in American liberal politics from pre WWII days up to this point — specifically the toxicity of identity politics. My favorite quote, which I’ll paraphrase for now, goes something like this: even if you adopt identity politics, then the only way to drive change for your group is to bring people over to your side; or in other words to reach out beyond your identity. It’s an easy read. You can also get the gist from Waking Up podcast episode.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

This is another pickup from the Waking Up podcast. The author is no green horn. He’s studied revolution and European dictators in many countries. The book summaries his advice based on historical analysis of how figures like Hitler came to power. The book does not specifically mention Trump, instead simply refers to the “president” which makes the text more timeless. I think it’s concerted effort to remind that reader that any current leader can be a gateway to tyranny, not just known historical figures. The book shortly after Trump was elected. My favorite passage comes from an editorial written in newspaper for German jews shortly after Hitler was elected. The editorial says do not take Hitler’s comments on Jews at face value. Even if the Nazi party could do what they want, they’d have to go through numerous government institutions before it would become legal. This would be too costly political so it should be considered generally impossible. History shows out that turned out. The Nazi party simply changed the government and the rest is history. Don’t be surprised when people do what they say (even if it sounds absurd!). You can check out the Waking Up podcast episode for spoiler free context and discussion.

A People’s History of American Empire

This a graphic novel version of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”. I found the book through the American Empire Project and picked up because a historical graphic novel sounded interesting. Zinn lays out America’s path to empire starting with its treatment of Native Americans, domestic policy, cover and overt operations at home and abroad, and the public/private power structure. The book was a perfect companion to the Ken Burn’s “Vietnam” and “In The Shadows of the American Century”. The combo shows the true cost of (bygone) American exceptionalism — as if it were anything more than illusion in the first place.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

This is quick easy business book read. Each chapter ends with a bullet point summary. I appreciated this since it summarized each chapter well enough and was automatically note material. The author’s discuss the “WRAP” method for making decisions. First, Widen your options. Second, reality test your assumptions. Third, attain distance before deciding. Lastly, prepare to wrong. Honestly there is nothing earth shattering in the book. It’s just a good assessment of how our mind works and how to make more well informed decisions. I liked their “10/10/10” test for assessing options. Example: how would you feel about this in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. It helps frame risk and understanding the impact. Personally I kept many notes and plan to revisit the WRAP method. A similar text for groups/teams would be highly useful for professionals.

Journal To Self

A quick guide on why journaling is useful and suggestions for how to maintain one. This is not a prescriptive in anyway. It’s more a reference you can flip through for ideas and insight. Example topics are “unsent letters” which good and bad examples. All in all a nice reference for those interested in self introspection.

How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them: 11 Rules for Winning the Argument

I came across Ben Shapiro through the We the People Live podcast. He could articulate (philosophically) conversation positions and concrete policy so I figured I’d give his book a try. It was nothing earth shattering, just examples of identity politics and character attacks. However I’m sure people on his side will use it as a playbook. He did present one interesting tactic. Leftists will try to characterize you as unfeeling or unsympathetic if you disagree with them. So instead give them something or agree with them in the beginning. This mitigates that tactic and drives the discussion in another way. Honestly I see left leaning people use this tactic on cable news so that’s sad. I don’t think the same tactic works well in print. Regardless it was worth to gain insight into how others potentially see me — specifically slotting me on the left and stereotyping my positions. Don’t pick this up if you want to learn to debate though.

Non-Book pick: Vietnam

Ken Burn’s Vietnam is simply a masterwork. Watching this documentary feels like getting a PHD on the topic. The 10 part film series starts out in the 50’s with American involvement in the country through France’s colonial government and goes up to the end. You need to check this out if you’re interested in documentaries or want to learn about the Vietnam war. I assure you that you will learn something. I learned that I had no idea about Vietnam. It’s no surprise that US continues the strategy (to the same level of success — not much) in the Middle East.

In Progress

There are few books on-going:

  • In the Shadows of the American Century: This is my favorite book so far. The author dives deep into the American power structure and how it will all come down. I’ve not seen anything this deep or far reaching before.
  • Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know: I picked this up because I think climate change is one the largest problems facing the planet. The author was on the Waking Up podcast. He is exteremely knowledge on the topic. His book on written in question-answer form and presents the most up-to-date science on the issue to bring you up to speed on the situation. The text is not entirely solution based, instead it’s about understanding the current situation and how and why we know what we know.

Next Up

Here’s my queue in no particular order. Your suggestions are welcome, specifically if you can help me avoid my own confirmation basis in exploring topics I’m interested in.

I found that I need to alternate between light and heavy reads. “In the Shadows of the American Century” requires deep focus and that’s not easy to achieve at any point in the day. I switched between that and “Decisive” depending on my mood which worked out well.

Anyways, if you’re not reading then please try. In the best case you’ll improve your life and build new habits. In the worst case you’ll learn something.