Insights from the 105 Books I read in 2016 – [On Self-Education]

reading

Introduction

I read and listened to 105 books in 2016, which is ~20 more books than in 2015. I have no intention to set another PR in 2017 because reading is not a marathon for me. I enjoy the process and I don’t speed read.

I attribute my ability to go through so many books in 2016 to prioritization, and not to increasing the speed with which I go through the books. In fact, I think I’m a slow reader, and I don’t mind that.

The majority of the books I read were non-fiction: textbooks, biographies, computer programming and other science related books.

I do most of my reading on my tablet. I have a nice app and a stylus-pen that make the experience of reading extremely enjoyable. When I’m in NYC, I mostly read paper books that I borrow from NYPL. I explained this here.

Most of the books that I listen to are biographies and books related to psychology and behavioral economics.

Aside of these 105 books, I also reviewed and re-listened to books that I read previously. There are a couple of books that I go through every once in a while. They represent reference books to me.

The 2016 List

Here are few books from my 2016 list that are worth mentioning:

  1. Richard Feynman – Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman

This is a biography of Richard Feynman, the physicist and Nobel Prize winner in 1965. I’ve been profoundly inspired by the way Feynman approached life and everything around him, with an ever increasing curios attitude. He was a life-long learner…

  1. Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow

This book and a few others have influenced my interest toward rational thinking, cognitive fallacies and the default state of the biased human brain. Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002:

“…for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty” [source]

This is one of my reference books. Similar books on this topic that I went through in 2016: Misbehaving by Richard Thaler, Mindset by Carol Dweck, 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely, The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazzaley, and Suggestible You by Eric Vance.

  1. Bernard Carlson – Tesla – The Inventor of the Electrical Age

This is a recent biography of Nicola Tesla.

  1. Josh Mitteldorf – Cracking the Aging Code

A current, fairly inclusive, perspective of senescence, aging and longevity. Some researchers in the field of aging, who I talked to, found this book ‘somewhat’ controversial.

  1. Kathleen McAuliffe – This is your Brain on Parasites

I read this book in paperback in NYC, immediately after it was published. It was not a best-seller at that time. However, it’s been on best-seller lists over the past few weeks.

While reading this book, I kept posting on social media against reading it. You don’t want to find out that your behavior and how you live your daily life is so very often hijacked by parasitic worms or heavily influenced by the bacteria in your gut.

If you want a more gentile introduction into human behavior and the gut-brain axis, look into the research or view lectures presented by John Cryan of University College Cork in Ireland. He’s doing work in neuro- and psycho-pharmacology and the human microbiome. He is very entertaining in his lectures.

  1. James Welsh – Sharks get Cancer, Mole Rats Don’t

One of the many non-controversial books that I read on cancer in 2016. Why non-controversial?

Because it doesn’t get into diet-and-other-fads-cure-all-cancer. It approaches cancer management from a research related approach.

I specifically liked how the author looked at cancer development, proving many examples from the animal kingdom; how the elephant genome carries 20 copies of the p53 gene and what this could imply, and how mole rats have more than 5 times higher the concentration of HMM-HA (high-molecular-mass hyaluronan acid) – which is thought to confer protection against cancer; these are only two of the great topics in this thick book.

  1. Leonard Mlodinow – The Upright Thinkers

I read several of Mlodinow’s books in 2016 and this is a great one, because it takes you through the lives of scientists throughout human history. I like how he unveiled rarely-seen aspects of Leonardo Da Vinci and of Isaac Newton’s lives. And I particularly like how he built the 19-20th century picture of physics around the figures of Albert Einstein and Max Planck.

  1. Nick Lane – Power, Sex, Suicide – Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

If you skip the subtitle and only read the title of the book, you may think this is some sort of social dominance manifesto book. But it’s less romantic than that…

The Vital Question was the first book I read from Nick Lane and both in that book and in this one, the author reveals the complex and fascinating sub-cellular life, with big emphasis on mitochondria – the cellular power-plant.

  1. I also have to mention some of the 20+ books on computer programming that I went through, with a hands-on approach (coding along). Noteworthy are:

Advanced Python for Biologists by Martin Jones
Automate the Boring Stuff by Al Sweigart
Understanding Network Hacks by Bastian Ballmann 
Biopython Cookbook  
Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV by Kurt Demaagd 
Obfuscation by Finn Brunton
Python GUI Programming Cookbook Burkhard Meier

Concluding Thoughts

The majority of these book are technical are non-popular and they may be inaccessible or unreadable without prior solid knowledge of the topic. Somewhat more accessible are the psychology and the biographical ones.

In the end I want to reiterate (from a previous post) on a few ways to self-educate:

  1. Read books 10 – 100 on the skills you want to develop. Meanwhile, practice.

Reading personal development books will get you nowhere, unless you want to become a motivational speaker. Read specifically.

  1. Take Online courses from Top Universities

Many are free: Coursera, Edx, Udacity, Udemy, and other MOOCs. Most also provide paid certifications, if you need a ‘formal’ way of recognition.

  1. Watch online lectures and seminars

Youtube can be a learning too, unless you use it to watch vlogs and cat videos. Many prestigious universities from all over the world post their full courses and lectures on Youtube; and it’s free. Knowledge is free, you have no excuse not to self-educate. Subscribe…

  1. Follow people who are better than you

Instead of scrolling-down through meaningless status updates, social media can be a powerful tool to connect with like-minded people.

  1. Attend local live events (not too many) and connect with people

Lookup Eventbrite and Meetup for events that are in your interest.

In the end, there’s no excuse not to master a skill in the highly-connected world of today. The only requirements are: willingness to go through the unpleasant and burdensome process of consistent and deliberate knowledge acquisition and practice; I talk about this in the last chapter of my recent book.

And I’m gonna end in a positive note here. Mastery of something is a very long and tedious process, carries little immediate gratification, is uncomfortable and unpleasant, and requires deliberate practice. This is probably why so few people can be considered masters of a given skill. 🙂

Hey, leave me recommendations for similar books if you know of any…


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Comments

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3 Responses to Insights from the 105 Books I read in 2016 – [On Self-Education]

  1. Costi says:

    That’s madness. I am impressed by your investment in reading.

  2. David Herz says:

    You mention the books, but you haven’t really shared any insights. How do you see the world differently now because of this reading? What in that can you share with us so that we can all have a better life?

    • Chris Chris says:

      I believe I did. The few words about each book is considered an insight, by my means. I dont see the world differently. In fact, I want to see it as it is. More importantly, the world doesnt revolve around me. To satisfy your interrogation, in my current view, to have a more interesting life is to question your beliefs, to challenge them, and to expose yourself to novelty often.

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