What I’ve Been Reading Recently – My Bookshelf #10

Reading a book at the beach


I read more than 70 books this year (as of August 2016). I don’t speed read. I allocate sufficient time every day to ‘parse’ books. I mostly read non-fiction. Some of the books are in audio format. Obviously I do not listen to textbooks and programming books. I choose the audio format for the non-technical and more practical ones.

My current interests: genomics, bioinformatics, machine learning, and human irrationality.

Additionally, for knowledge acquisition, I also:

– read research studies
– listen to interviews
– watch lectures and seminars
– take online courses

You can find all past book/reading related posts: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 and #9

Current philosophy:

The more I read, the more I realize the little I know.
Reading is not a hobby; it is part of my daily routine.
I avoid being superficial. I don’t want to skim through the books I read.
I read 7-10 books at a time.
I think that with practice I’ve been able to develop the skill of reading faster (!=speed reading).

The List #10

  1. Woodrow Barfield – Cyber-Humans: Our Future with Machines

This reads like a textbook, but unlike a textbook it has the potential to get you really excited if you have the mindware tuned to the opportunities waiting to be tapped today and in the near future.

“The orthopedic implant market, for instance, is already growing at twice the annual rate of 5 years ago.”

Think of 3d printing for example. Web-search ‘diy 3d printing’.

Consider this as you develop or decide to invest time and money into a skill. Most of the stuff we do today can be done by robots.

“Machines that perform surgery, design life-saving drugs, write news articles, and work in a range of industries; in other words, do what we humans do with our mind and bodies, already exist.”

I’d suspect that developing critical thinking skills is a good avenue; though it is not easy to follow. But I think that what comes easy in life has little real value attached to it.

Book I listened on the same topic: Walter Isaacson – Innovators.

  1. Leonard Mlodinow – The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives

Mlodinow’s book, though not an entertaining read, builds on what I said earlier. Good thinking skills will become priceless. Is it just me and my confirmation bias? It could be, but nevertheless…

“Making wise assessments and choices in the face of uncertainty is a rare skill. But like any skill, it can be improved with experience.”

We take for certain we are good thinkers. Oh, but how sweet is this self-deception. We do not come into this life in the same package with rationality. Instead we come packed with heuristics (mental shortcuts) and cognitive biases that in theory should ease our existence. Thank ‘evolution’ for that. They might have proven beneficial for the perpetuation of the human species in a hostile primitive environment. But the world we live in today is nothing close to being hostile.

“It is easy to concoct stories explaining the past or to become confident about dubious scenarios for the future. That there are traps in such endeavors doesn’t mean we should not undertake them. But we can work to immunize ourselves against our errors of intuition. We can learn to view both explanations and prophecies with skepticism.”

Instead of providing woo-woo-cheap-self-help talk, Mlodinow offers a dose of optimism via statistics, in its most basic form:

“What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success.”

Books I listened/read on the same topic: Richard Thaler’s Nudge and Daniel Khaneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (take your time to digest it).

  1. Akerlof and Shiller – Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception

I guess the title is self-explanatory for the contents of the book. Shiller and Akerlof are two scientists who I esteem. I think my interpretation for the following quotes is not necessary.

“Free markets make people free to choose. But they also make them free to phish, and free to be phished. Ignorance of those truths is a recipe for disaster.”

“Social psychologist/ marketer Robert Cialdini has written a book full of impressive evidence of psychological biases.22 According to his “list,” we are phishable because we want to reciprocate gifts and favors; because we want to be nice to people we like; because we do not want to disobey authority; because we tend to follow others in deciding how to behave; because we want our decisions to be internally consistent; and because we are averse to taking losses.”

Books I read on the same topic: Michael Shermer’s Skeptic and David Helfand’s Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age. I also wrote a short post relating to Helfand’s book.

  1. Michael Gazzaniga – Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience

I remember someone said that biographies are the ultimate self-help books. I could not agree more. Though I might say this because of my hindsight bias (lol).

Prof. Gazzaniga of UC Santa Barbara is known for his contributions to the fields of split-brain research and cognitive neuroscience. I know about him from his 2011 book Who’s in Charge where he analyzes free will through the lenses of neuroscience. His most recent one though can be considered a biography.

“IN THE FIFTY YEARS since the first studies on Case W.J., which I will describe along with many others, I have studied many neurologic patients with all kinds of illuminating conditions. Of all those patients, this book will focus on the six split-brain patients who have changed how we think about how the brain carries out its work.”

This is the valuable-and-specific advice that is on my radar:

“Even back in those relatively simple days, the normal nine-to-five workday became hectic, way too short, and endlessly interrupted, and so the work stretched late into the night. To solve the problem, I took to going to work at midnight and going home the next afternoon to sleep at six. The nights were wonderful times to work, no interruptions, time to think and time to build the new devices I needed. I kept this schedule for a long time.”

Books I listened on the same topic: Roy Baumeister’s Willpower and Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness.

  1. Justin Sonnenburg – The Good Gut

In my view the Sonnenburgs, Justin and Erica are contemporary researchers (gut microbiota) with proven critical thinking skills. I suspect these skills arose from their extensive reach (research + personal experiences) in their fields of expertise. There are way too many passages that I highlighted in this book, but for the sake of decency, I’ll post a minimum few:

“As scientists we write papers about our research on the microbiota, but this information is conveyed in a way that is not easily accessible to the public at large. In other words, it’s geeky. Scientists are trained to be highly skeptical, so it is not in our nature to provide recommendations unless they have been put through the rigors of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. “


“Those who have studied the Hadza estimate they consume between 100 to 150 grams of fiber per day. To put these numbers into context, Americans typically eat only 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day.”

If you think your 2 – 3 cups of vegetables per day are enough to feed and develop a diverse microbiota, think again…

“While fructose has received a bad reputation, it’s important to think about the form in which you are consuming fructose. In its polymeric form, like inulin, it can provide sustenance to the microbiota. Many prebiotics are simply purified forms of dietary fiber and therefore are also found naturally in abundance in plants. For instance, inulin and fructooligosaccharides, or FOS, along with many other carbohydrate polymers, are abundant in onions, garlic, and Jerusalem artichokes. “

Butter will not efficiently serve this purpose:

“To feed your microbiota and generate short-chain fatty acids, you need to consume MACs. The more MACs you consume, the more fermentation you will have taking place in your gut and the more SCFAs you will produce.”

I often hear from extreme diet promoters the argument of the Inuit, the Hadza, the hunter-gatherer, or any other isolated population. Do you live in a polar region so that you could justify your use of an extreme diet? Think about it.

Additionally, what is the rationale behind being Paleo (eating like a caveman) while you carry an Ipad around; nothing more than an example of twisted logic.

“The other important fact to keep in mind is that because of their geographic isolation these individuals may have accumulated adaptations in both their own genome and that of their microbiome, allowing them to remain healthy on a meat- and fat-rich but fiber-depleted diet.

Perhaps as with the effect of dietary nori in Japan, the Inuit microbiome accumulated genes allowing it to thrive in this extreme environment. These adaptations, assuming they had occurred, would not be present in the microbiota of the average Westerner. Much more information is required before the Inuit can serve as an effective counterargument for the necessity of increased MAC consumption.”

See more about The Sonnenburgs at their Stanford Lab Research page. Most important, I currently highly recommend reading this book.

A similar book that I read on the topic of the gut microbiota is Lustgarten’s Infectious Burden.

A more technical (medical terminology) book relevant to the topic is William Paul’s Immunity. It reads like a textbook.

Book I listened relevant (and funny) to the topic: Mary Roach – Gulp.

  1. David Moore – The Developing Genome: An Introduction to Behavioral Epigenetics

In my pursuit to better understand the science behind epigenetic, I stumble upon this wonderful work by David Moore. In his explaining of the concepts behind/in the book, he is highly conservative.

You will not see the overly-hyped messages like ‘change your thoughts will change your biochemistry because epigenetics.‘ You will also not encounter the word ‘epigenetics’ in the same context with words like ‘quantum’, which is often used by self-entitled gurus to appear smart and unintelligible to the uneducated masses.

Moore tells you what this book is all about:

“My primary concentration will be on behavioral epigenetics, the branch of epigenetics that studies how epigenetic effects influence psychological processes like emotional reactivity, memory and learning, mental health, and behavior.”

To contradict myself, there may be a certain connection between behavior (self-imposed) and epigenetic alterations, but, to my knowledge, this area of research requires much further investigation:

“Of course, Gotlieb understood that Dawkins was right to some extent; genetic activity influences neurons, neurons influence behavior, and behavior influences people and things in the environment.”

He also extensively touches upon the subjects of DNA methylation and histone acetylation. More importantly, he investigates a potential connection between diet and epigenetic modifications.

“Te reason our diets influence our epigenetic states is obvious once we ask where our bodies get the methyl groups that methylate our DNA: they come from our food! Te most important provider of methyl groups during the DNA methylation process is a molecule called SAM.”

In the end, Moore is somewhat more straight-forward and less conservative:

“Te take-home message is clear: Experiential factors can affect our epigenetic states, the structure of our chromatin can respond dynamically to our experiences, and each of us has a genome that effectively changes—develops—over time.”

Books I read and listened on the same topic: Frank Ryan’s The Mysterious World of the Human Genome, Vincent De Vita’s Death of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Emperor of All Maladies, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.

  1. Derek Sivers – Anything you Want

Derek is succinct. He learns from experience. He likes to simplify things. See his blog sivers.org.

His book is jam-packed with counter-intuitive, ready-to-deploy messages. I like that.

“I’m a student, not a guru.”
“Start now. No funding needed.”

Now, to offer you a somewhat more detailed explanation:

“Watch out when anyone (including you) says he wants to do something big, but can’t until he raises money. It usually means the person is more in love with the idea of being big big big than with actually doing something useful. For an idea to get big big big, it has to be useful. And being useful doesn’t need funding.

If you want to be useful, you can always start now, with only 1 percent of what you have in your grand vision. It’ll be a humble prototype version of your grand vision, but you’ll be in the game. You’ll be ahead of the rest, because you actually started, while others are waiting for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.

They’ll play on your fears, saying that you need this stuff to protect yourself against lawsuits. They’ll scare you with horrible worst-case scenarios. But those are just sales tactics. You don’t need any of it.”

A similar, very practical book is Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect.

  1. Programming

Among the programming books I went through recently, here are a few worth mentioning:

– Adrian Rosenbrock’s computer vision books
– Mckinney’s Python for Data Analysis
– Ferill’s Pro Android with SL4A
– Demaagd’s Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV
– Raschka’s Python Machine Learning
– Dr. Chuck’s Introduction to Networking.


I guess I’m not good in trying to keep things to their minimum. This post is already 2,200+ words long. What if I’d quoted and provided my thoughts from all the books I’ve gone through since bookshelf #9. Hmm, it could have turned into a book…

Anyway, if you have suggestions for similar books on the same topics, I’d be more than glad to see them. Express your thoughts below. 🙂

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