What I’ve Been Reading Recently – My Bookshelf #11

The last time I wrote this type of post was at the beginning of 2017 when I was telling you about the 105 books I read in 2016.

It’s less likely I’ll achieve that type of performance in 2017, and that’s fine. I still prioritize on reading and listening to books everyday. So, that’s my only important metric for now.

Similar to what I said in my last post, the majority of the books that go through my hands are non-fiction: science books, programming books, textbooks, biographies, and the like).

I enjoy reading on my tablet because it has a stylus-pen and the app I read the books on has a lot of features that allow for annotations, highlights, exporting, synching, and other conveniences that make the reading experience a breeze. A detailed explanation of this can be found here.

I find a lot of pleasure in reading physical books too. As a matter of fact, I managed to read 11 books during a recent stay in New York, which lasted for a couple of weeks; and that happened within a very busy and hectic daily schedule. This goes to show the importance of prioritization for goal accomplishment. I have to mention that I completely stopped reading on my tablet while in NYC.

The books that I listen to are biographies and psychology-related; obviously, I cannot listen to textbooks or computer programming books.

The current book count for 2017, as of June, is at ~40 books. I don’t speed read and I don’t skim through. It doesn’t make sense to me, especially when it comes to science books.

Aside of these books, I also re-read and re-audited books that I read or listened to in the past, which I consider reference books. What also adds to my knowledge: courses that I take, lectures that I watch and/or attend, and research papers I read.

You can find all past book/reading related posts: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #2016

From the 2017 Partial List

I’ll start with the most accessible ones (by a lay audience). Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big . In short, it emphasizes the fact that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, in light of the biases we fall prey to every minute we are awake. Along the same lines, I listened to Outsmart your Brain by Peter Vishton, which outlines in incredible detail strategies to implement daily to improve cognitive capacity. Both of these two resources have been added to the list of resources I need to get back to/through. I like to think they build redundancy.

Similar books worth mentioning are: The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond, Sex at Dawn by Chris Ryan, Human Evolution by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, and The Brain by Gary Wenk.

I also started studying physics, and even though thermodynamics seems to be a sub-field that’s worth getting into, I’m still prospecting. Physics attracts me because of the clarity of explanations it gives to the world around us, additionally to the some of the phenomena yet not completely understood, especially in particle physics and quantum electrodynamics. Here I’ll have to mention: The Big Picture by Sean Carol (which may require some knowledge of physics), Now – The Physics of Time by Richard Muller, and Physics of Life by Adrian Bejan (which may require more ‘technical’ skills to read).

My interest in brain plasticity (not the hype, but the science) makes me recommend Peak by Anders Ericsson and his research papers on the subject of developing human expertise. Similarly, I’d also recommend, with a slight hesitation, The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. I am slightly hesitant because the author goes borderline ‘esoteric’ in some parts of the book, by becoming overly optimistic and making arguments that lack scientific substance; but overall, the message it delivers is good. I will not read his later book though…

I also wanted to understand the story behind writing one of the best books I’ve ever read, Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, which is why I listened to Michael Lewis’ book The Undoing Project, which goes into the details of the decades-long friendship of Kahneman – Tversky, two academic figures that shaped cognitive psychology and behavioral economics.

Since I like depth over breadth and I am fond on details and getting into the very nature of things, there are three books that I’ll mention. Without prior technical knowledge of the topic at hand, they are not easily accessible by the casual reader.

One is on radiation and radioactivity, which furthered my interest in physics and strengthen my awareness of the unreasonable fear people have of radiation (We usually fear what we don’t know!). It reads like a textbook. Claus Grupen, the author, is a rare breed of sciences and arts. His main work is in particle physics, but he’s also an artist (makes me think of Da Vinci) and has done most of the illustrations (many of them are comic) in the book. This makes the book somewhat more readable.

Another one is by a young scientist, Joshua Rappoport, and is called The Cell, which intuitively goes into extreme levels of details of what happens at cellular and sub-cellular levels. Additionally, I learned a lot about the development of microscopic technologies and the current advances in the field of imaging (for research and for clinical purposes).

The third one that I’ll mention is Redesigning Life by John Parrington, which is a very detailed (300+ pages) view of genome engineering and what is currently going on in the field. If you are into CRISPR/Cas9 and you have a good understanding of genomics, you’d enjoy this one.

Last, but not least, I’ll have to mention a few of the many programming books that I went through by reading and coding along:

Burkhard Meier – Python GUI Programming

Bhaskar Chaudhary – Tkinter GUI Application Development Blueprints

Tariq Rashid – Make Your Own Neural Network

Sam Abrahams – Tensorflow for Machine Learning Intelligence

Andreas Muller and Sarah Guido – Introduction to Machine Learning

Luis Coelho – Building Machine Learning Systems with Python

Many of my Youtube videos and tutorials have been inspired by these books. So, many thanks to their authors!

There have been a few books and audiobooks that I consider complete BS (with capitals). And these books have been praised by many people; they are very popular books. I managed to get to the end of them, just to make sure that my feeling about them was legit. This gives me more confidence and incentive to keep reading books that are not on best-seller lists, are not popular, and/or books that are not pushed by personas with big followership and little knowledge of human bias.

Case in point: please watch this recent TED which illustrates not only the scam behind ‘the power of introverts’ non-sense (which I also fell prey to in the past when I was less literate in the scientific method).

Self-Education

Reiterating from a previous post, if you self-educate and you are an autodidact, here are some of my current strategies that you may find helpful:

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

Reading motivational 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: Khan Academy, Udacity, Cognitive Class, Open Culture, Udemy, Edx, and other MOOCs. Most also provide paid certifications, if you need a ‘formal’ way of recognition. Coursera is not one of my current go-to sites because many of their recent policy changes don’t seem to favor free education (as they did in the past). Instead, kudos to Sal Khan!

  1. Watch online lectures and seminars

Youtube can be a learning tool, 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.

My current favorites: MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Albert Einstein in NY, NIH video cast, and iBiology.

  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.

Concluding Thoughts

As I said in the past and I keep saying (mostly to myself), mastering something requires a hell lot of time, is very uncomfortable and unpleasant, it provides little immediate gratification and it requires a lot of deliberate practice. That’s why I suggest reading Ericsson’s Peak book and his research papers.

If you have recommendations for similar books, please do share them below! Physics and machine learning books are high on my list on, while popular books, especially diet and cookbooks (which promote dogmatic thinking) are very low on the list.

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