What I’ve Been Reading Recently – My Bookshelf #7

What I've Been Reading Recently - My Bookshelf #7

Intro

One of the driving principles for spending vast amounts of time on my self-education has been inspired by Jim Rohn who said that formal education will make you a living, while self-education can make you a fortune.

Since the last blog of this kind, I added a few dozen books to my reading list. All previous book related posts are: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 and #6.

I’ve long gone from reading personal development books only. In my experience, it’s not enough to read only motivation; yet, most people start and stop here. If I don’t add specific knowledge to develop my skills, I may get nowhere. And I cannot get specific knowledge from the abstract ideas that I see in personal development books.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Zig Ziglar that motivation is like showers. You have to do it daily. It’s why I always keep a personal development book at my bedside so that I can read a few minutes everyday.

As you will see in the following list, even though I read books on several different topics, most of them are interconnected. I also read research studies and textbooks. This is not a disparate strategy, but an eclectic approach to knowledge acquirement. It also helps me limit certain cognitive biases that I may fall into…

Important thoughts from my previous post:

The more I read, the more I realize the little I know. Reading is not a hobby; it is part of my daily routine. It wasn’t always like that…

I don’t do speed reading. I don’t want to skim through the books I read. I take significant amount of time to digest each of them slowly. I read from 7-10 books at a time.

Even though I do not practice speed reading, it seems that I can visualize and process words faster; so I read faster. I think that through practice, I’ve been able to develop this skill.

Now, to the list…

The List #7

  1. Ellington Darden – The Body Fat Breakthrough

I picked up this book because it describes in somewhat detail cold thermogenesis as an adjuvant factor in fat loss. The author, fitness writer and coach, does not go into too much scientific detail about it though.

What I don’t like about the book is the nutritional approach toward fat loss, the suspicious before/after pictures of the clients, and the surface-level research that is included – which I personally find superficial. What I like is the focus on eccentric-type training (spending more time on the negative than the positive side of specific weight bearing exercises) and the advice it provides on improving sleep.

To do eccentric (negative) training:

“I believe that the best method is the style that I developed in 2011 and further refined in 2012…called 30-30-30. To perform properly, take 80 percent of the weight you’d normally handle for 8 to 12 repetitions and do a 30-second negative, followed by a 30-second positive, followed by a final 30-second negative. That’s 1 1/2 repetitions, or 60 seconds of negative work and 30 seconds of positive work. Actually, the half- repetitions may vary between 20 and 30 seconds on each segment.”

A video representation for negative biceps training is here.

The book has some good point and some quite inefficient and outdated strategies to improve physiology.

If you decide to pick it up, please make sure to exercise your critical eye to its fullest capacity.

  1. James Barrat – Artificial Intelligence – Our Final Invention

This is another book that discusses the promises and perils of artificial intelligence and that we may not be ready for it yet.

Several contemporary bright minds warn us about the dangers of an AI going out of control. First, we may want to focus on building an infrastructure and on creating a well formulated fail safe protocol before allowing artificial super-intelligence to come to life. Compared to Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence, this is a light read. I recommend this book if you want to get a flavor of the bigger picture of what’s to come in.

One of the counter thoughts for the idea that AI will destroy humanity:

“If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one human, within five years, its successor will be more intelligent than all of humanity combined. After one generation or two generations, they’d just ignore us. Just the way you ignore the ants in your backyard. You don’t wipe them out, you don’t make them your pets, they don’t have much influence over your daily life, but they’re still there.”

  1. Carol Tavris – Mistakes were made (but not by me)

This is probably the best book I’ve read so far on cognitive biases. I know about it from Peter Attia, from The Eating Academy. I’ve also followed a few other authors and researchers who studied the human brain and its biases. One of them is Steven Novella (clinical neurologist) and another is Michael Gazzaniga (psychology professor at UCSB). But their books and programs are lengthy and they are filled with technical terms; some people don’t like that.

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, on the other hand, have written a book (this one) that’s full of case studies and examples that will help you better understand how most of us often fall prey to self-justification, to confirmation biases, and to cognitive dissonance, just to name a few.

I shuffle the pages of this book often because I need to constantly remind myself of my own thinking flaws. It helps with reading/interpreting research studies and it allows me not to believe every thought that crosses my mind.

Some of the particular case studies that I enjoyed reading about come from the pharmaceutical industry and from crime investigations. Here are a few interesting quotes:

“Let’s begin at the top, with the initial process of identifying a suspect. Many detectives do just what the rest of us are inclined to do when we first hear about a crime: impulsively decide we know what happened and then fit the evidence to support our conclusion, ignoring or discounting evidence that contradicts it.”

Call to action:

“If it is a good idea, you might support your coworker’s proposal even if you continue to dislike her as a person. You keep the message separate from the messenger.”

Seriously, how many of us can do that? And another word of advice (between the lines):

“When we do something that hurts another, for example, we rarely say, “I behaved this way because I am a cruel and heartless human being.” We say, “I was provoked; anyone would do what I did”; or “I had no choice”; or “Yes, I said some awful things, but that wasn’t me–it’s because I was drunk.”

Avoid self-justification and pathetic excuses. Take responsibility.

  1. Giulia Enders – Gut – The Inside Story

“I was born by cesarean section and could not be breast-fed. That makes me a perfect poster child for the intractability of the gastrointestinal tract in the twenty-first century.”

From the very first sentence of the book Giulia resonates with me. I appreciate people who walk their walk and talk their talk. I enjoy reading someone’s book that’s been built on an n=1. It makes it more legit.

This book is one of the non-academic materials that helps me better understand the courses that I take on the microbiome and the papers that I read on this subject. Giulia reveals various practical (do-it-now) advises that you can adopt when your gut gives you a hard time. The pooping tutorial from chapter 1 is epic…

What’s the purpose of the human appendix? What happens to your gut in severe bouts of diarrhea? What are some possible relieves for constipation? Why is bowel discharge frequency higher sometimes and lower some other times? And many more mysteries [solved] in this book. Before we leave it, I want to give you another sneak-peak that may motivate you to pick it up:

“Leisure digesters should not worry as long as the consistency of their bowel movements is find and have no other complaints. On the contrary, one Dutch study showed that those who belong to the once a day or less faction and those who have occasional constipation are less likely to contract certain rectal diseases. This is consistent with the motto of the large intestine, “slow and steady wins the race.”

  1. Jim Paul – What I learned Losing a Million Dollars

This is the story of a commodities trader with lessons that can be applied not only in investing but also in entrepreneurship and management. Jim Paul went from a dirt poor country boy to a jet-setting-millionaire…before a devastating $1.6 million loss brought him crashing down.

I find this book non-charlatanic (as N. Taleb calls it), extremely entertaining and most educational because Jim learns to dispassionately disassociate himself from his failures (and successes). It’s a great side-read to Tavris’ book on cognitive biases. Why extremely entertaining? Well:

“I made $248,000. In one day, a quarter of a million dollars. The high was unbelievable. It’s literally like you expect God to call up any minute and ask if it’s okay to let the sun come up tomorrow morning.”

I’ll let you discover the rest of the pearls and parables by yourself…

  1. Loretta Breuning – I, Mammal

As humans, we like to think we are very special creatures. And, we are…But, at the same, we share many common features and behaviors with other species from the primate family. I enjoy reading a book on animal (primate) behavior that helps me more thoroughly understand my own nature and my flaws in different environments and when I’m exposed to different situations.

Loretta has done extensive research and has written several books on this topic. One of my personal favorites is the one about neurotransmitters and how to improve their secretion (and your habits). It’s called Meet your Happy Chemicals. A next book on the same topic is coming from Loretta by the end of this year. And I have to confess, it’s gonna be a killer…(Loretta sent me a copy).

More on cognitive biases, from a mammalian perspective now:

“When another person threatens your status, you’re inclined to them as bad or evil. The brain is not an objective machine. It evaluates things in relation to its own well-being. This bias annoys us in others, but it is easy to overlook in ourselves. We aspire to objectivity, and often transcend a narrow focus on our own interests. But our mammalian bias is real, whether we perceive it or not.”

Why am I so interested in this topic? Because I know I have many flaws and I often fall prey to these cognitive biases. I have to educate myself to better spot them and fight them off whenever they appear. Oh, and it also helps me more accurately decode the people I come in contact with. 🙂

  1. Marshall Goldsmith – Triggers

You might not know this guy. He’s been coaching individuals like the president of the World Bank, the CEO of NYPL, and many other Fortune 50 (yes, 50 not 500) Greatest Leaders and CEOs. Marshall Goldsmith is the CEO coach. So, he knows his drill…

The book is built on the idea that our environments profoundly affect our behavior and our habits. In his own words:

“I’ve taken the position that there is no harder tasks for adults than changing our behavior. We are geniuses at coming up with reasons to avoid change. We make excuses. We rationalize. We harbor beliefs that trigger all manner of denial and resistance. As a result, we continually fail at becoming the person we want to be.

One of our greatest instances of denial involves our relationship with our environment. We willfully ignore how profoundly the environment influences our behavior. In fact, the environment is a relentless triggering mechanism that, n an instant, can change us from saint to sinner, optimist to pessimist, model citizen to thug – and make us lose sight of who we’re trying to be.”

I have been intimate with this type of situation. Two of my life examples are here and here.

Marshall’s lasting positive change strategy (The Wheel of Change) is explained in detail in his book. If you really want to do something about your bad habits, stop making excuses and start reading it 😉

  1. Stephen Cunnane – Human Brain Evolution

This is not a typical bedtime lecture. It’s a handbook on the evolution of human brain (with plenty of technical terms). There are some intriguing theories and research studies outlined. To know who you’re dealing with:

“The contributors to the present volume come from several fields – paleoanthropology, nutrition, neurochemistry, archaeology, and paleobiology – providing a multidisciplinary approach to the complex and constantly changing topic of the evolution of the hominin brain.”

Why are human babies fat? What’s the importance of DHA, AA, and iodine in brain development? How and why complex life exploded on Earth ~600 million years ago? Why is DHA important during pregnancy and lactation? What are some brain selective nutrients in health and disease? And much (much) more…

Sneak-peak:

“Darwin’s original view on conditions of existence is totally consistent with the remarkable conservation of DHA in neural and visual signaling systems over the past 500 – 600 million years. Despite wide – ranging changes in the genetic code and great evolutionary changes, DHA has been rigorously conserved. It is as though DHA has been instructing the genes to do its bidding rather than the conventional view which is the other way round.”

  1. Will Durant – The Greatest Minds and Ideas of all Time

It would only be rational to learn about the greatest minds and ideas of all time from a person who dedicated more than 50 years of his life to research and write eleven thick volumes on the history of world civilizations.

This is a very short, tightly condensed, read that will make any history non-passionate become excited to learning and digesting more on this topic. It (at least) made one…

In appreciation of modernity, Will Durant writes:

“God knows that our congresses and our parliaments are dubious inventions, the distilled mediocrity of the land, but despite them we manage to enjoy a security of life and property which we shall appreciate more warmly when civil war or revolution reduces us to primitive conditions”.

In addition to the 10 greatest thinkers and 10 greatest poets, Will Durant gives you his preferred 100 best books for an education, the 10 peaks of human progress and 12 vital dates in world history. With this book he made me one of his fans. He’s from the very few who may see a/the bigger picture.

  1. John Robbins – Healthy at 100

This is a book on aging from an author that is sympathetic with a plant based diet; a diet that limits (reduces to minimum) the intake of animal-based foods.

John Robbins seems to be more open minded and aware of cognitive biased than many diet book authors. He writes about centenarian and super-centenarian populations (Abkhazians, Vilcabambans, Hunzans, and Okinawans) and analyzes their lifestyles and their diets.

I agree with many of the ideas and concepts outlined in the book. John Robbins uses numerous research studies to support his thoughts. Nevertheless, there are some other ideas that seem limited, myopic, and outdated.

Yet still, the balance is in favor of the positives.

I don’t care about the personal dietary affinities of the writer as long as his thinking seems to be coming from a sound mind. And I enjoy reading something that could/may/will disprove my own beliefs.

From the positives:

“So essentially, if you want to become malnourished, obese, and toothless, foods high in sugar and corn syrup are your ticket. Although I’m not a big fan of the low-carb diets, I do recognize that they’ve done good in reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates people eat. As a result of the widespread popularity of these diets, Interstate Bakeries was forced in 2004 to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection [7]. The company’s foremost products? Twinkies and Wonder Bread.”

And another, more practical take-away on how to do organic farming:

Over the many centuries, Hunzan agriculture was entirely organic, of course, because no fertilizers or pesticides were available. But in the recent past there was one year n which the Pakistani government warned the Hunzan that a major infestation of insects was expected, threatening their crops. The Pakistanis offered pesticides as protection, but the Hunzan leadership decided against their use.

Instead, the people collected the wood ashes from their cooking fires and placed them on the soil around the plants where the invading insects would have liked to land. The presence of the highly alkaline wood ashes repelled the insects. Then, as the ashes broke down into the soil, they enriched it with their high mineral content. In this way, the Hunzans protected their crops without doing any damage to the soil, and in the process even adding to its fertility.”

  1. Craig Venter – Life at the Speed of Light

To make a long story…well, long, I will conclude with one of the subjects that I invest part of my interest in: genomics.

And who would be the best person to learn from if not the maverick (actually, he’s very nice dude) who’s done so much groundbreaking work in the field.

If you don’t know J. Craig Venter, his company Celera single-handedly sequenced the first human genome in less than 3 years (1998-2001), a project that would take his competitors (an international multi-governmental effort) more than a decade and 10 times the cost…From Wiki:

“In 1998, a similar, privately funded quest was launched by the American researcher Craig Venter, and his firm Celera Genomics. Venter was a scientist at the NIH during the early 1990s when the project was initiated. The $300,000,000 Celera effort was intended to proceed at a faster pace and at a fraction of the cost of the roughly $3 billion publicly funded project.”

The story is a bit more complicated because as the project got near its completion the private and public efforts merged. So it was a mutual win. But I still like the entrepreneurial drive of Venter more…

His latest title (Life at the Speed of Light) is also part of the books that cannot be read as bedtime story. You have to be very familiar with the genetic language and extremely focused when you read it because it is super concentrated.

Venter writes to reveal you data, facts, and information. He does not put too much subjectivity and artistic style in his writing. And I like it this way. It’s clear and straight-forward, á la a sound scientific mind. A few pearls make their way out of Venter’s mind though:

“Belief is the enemy of scientific advancement.”

His work and future projects may sound science fiction to most people, and visionary to a few trained minds. But, this is the science fact of tomorrow:

“At this point in time we are limited to making protein molecules, viruses, phages, and single microbial cells, but the field will move extremely quickly to more complex living systems. There are already home versions of 3-D printers, and various groups are already looking at the use of modified ink-jet printers to print cells and organs.

The ability to print an organism remains some way off but will become a possibility soon enough. We are moving toward a borderless world in which electrons and electromagnetic waves will carry digitized information here, there, and everywhere. Borne upon those waves of information, live will move at the speed of light.”

Most of you may not be sure what I’m talking about. Here’s a presentation that Craig Venter gave on this topic at NASA’s Ames Research Center. It’s like an illustrative walkthrough of the book:

Conclusion

This post is already unfriendly long; so, as much as I’d love to talk about the rest of the books that I read since my last post, I have to stop. I also have to remind you about a few of my strategies for reading:

As I mentioned earlier, I read books on various different topics at any given moment. Even though my strategy may seem diversified, it is not. I focus only on a couple of categories that represent my greatest interests. This allows me to see a bigger picture instead of becoming fully immersed into, absorbed, and often chronically overstuff with knowledge on a single topic.

I also often revisit/review notes from books I read in the past. When I read, I use different annotations techniques. It allows me to interact with the book. I also listen to audiobooks, interviews, and podcasts and watch different academic lectures.

If you’re like me and if you have recommendations for similar books, please be my guest and share your thoughts/titles/ideas in either of the comment sections below.

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