I didn’t read as much in 2019 as I have in years past, but I still read some thought-provoking books and articles that I strongly recommend. My reading focus for the year mostly honed in on the subjects of habit-building, mental models, writing, nutrition, and building better systems.
In no particular order, these are the five books and five articles I found most interesting.
The Best Books I Read in 2019
Atomic Habits by James Clear
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”
The best book I’ve read on understanding the principles of habit formation and providing the necessary steps to create positive habits in your life. James Clear explains that developing good habits is a matter of following four simple steps: make the cue obvious, the craving attractive, the response easy to follow, and the reward satisfying.
The Great Mental Models Vol. 1 by Shane Parrish
“Better models mean better thinking. The degree to which our models accurately explain reality is the degree to which they improve our thinking.”
Understanding how the world works starts with understanding the mental models that shape how we think, how we understand, and how we form beliefs. The Great Mental Models provides a detailed overview of nine mental models that will help you simplify the complex into organizable chunks so you can become a better thinker.
Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin
“If we only look to confirm our beliefs, we will never discover if we’re wrong. Be self-critical and unlearn your best-loved ideas. Search for evidence that disconfirms ideas and assumptions. Consider alternative outcomes, viewpoints, and answers. Have someone tell you when your thinking is wrong.”
Peter Bevelin distills down the principles and mental models used by history’s wisest individuals on his path to seeking wisdom. The book dives explicitly into the principles and lessons used by Warren Buffett and Charles Munger. The best way to learn what, how, and why things work is to master the best of what other people have already figured out. Achieving wisdom is best achieved by learning the big ideas that underlie reality.
Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan, M.D.
“As far as your body’s cells are concerned, healthy diets are all essentially the same, resting on the same Four Pillars: meat on the bone, fermented and sprouted foods, organs and other “nasty bits,” and fresh, unadulterated plant and animal products.”
Cate Shanahan, M.D. examined diets around the world known to help people live longer, healthier lives and identified the Four Pillars of proper nutrition that produce strong, healthy children, and active elders, generation after generation. The Four Pillars are fresh food, fermented and sprouted foods, meat cooked on the bone, and organ meats.
Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.”
I re-read this book in 2019 (first read in 2017) because it has had one of the most significant impacts on my thinking. Nassim Taleb investigates how luck, uncertainty, and randomness come to play in a complex world we don’t understand. Since the future is unknowable, the best we can do is to make ourselves, our careers, and our businesses robust to volatility or antifragile.
The Best Articles I Read in 2019
The Calculus of Grit by Venkatesh Rao
“If it isn’t crystal clear, I am advocating the view that if you find that what you are doing is ridiculously hard for you, it is the wrong thing for you to be doing. I maintain that you should not have to work significantly harder or faster to succeed today than you had to 50 years ago. A little harder perhaps. Mainly, you just have to drop external frames of reference and trust your internal navigation on a landscape of your own strengths. It may look like superhuman grit to an outsider, but if it feels like that inside to you, you’re doing something wrong.”
Probably the best indicator of success in the modern world is the personality trait known as grit: the ability to show up again and again, even in the face of struggle and failure. While it may seem that grit is some superhuman trait that only a few possess, he argues that what you find to be extremely difficult for you may not be so for others. You can’t rely on extreme willpower to make up for your weaknesses on your path to mastery. Instead, you need increased introspection so you can discover what your strengths are, where hard work feels like mindful learning across a series of increasingly demanding episodes.
Going Critical by Kevin Simler
“If you’ve spent any time thinking about complex systems, you surely understand the importance of networks. Networks rule our world. From the chemical reaction pathways inside a cell, to the web of relationships in an ecosystem, to the trade and political networks that shape the course of history.”
Probably the first interactive essay I’ve ever read to help you visualize the way things spread, somewhat chaotically, across a network. Simler explains how things “go viral” or how they reach the tipping point where they pass through the critical threshold. Understanding network effects help explain how things such as ideas and disease spread throughout the world.
“In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.”
At age 22, Hunter S. Thompson wrote this letter to his friend in response to being asked for some life advice. His letter is packed with wisdom, especially at such a young age.
What You’ll Wish You’d Known by Paul Graham
“If I were back in high school and someone asked about my plans, I’d say that my first priority was to learn what the options were. You don’t need to be in a rush to choose your life’s work. What you need to do is discover what you like. You have to work on stuff you like if you want to be good at what you do.”
Graham answers the age-old question that we all get asked after high school graduation: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He argues that instead of taking the traditional approach of picking a career and working backward, you should survey your options, then choose a path that you find interesting and will give you more options in the future.
Making a Quantum Leap by Steve Pavlina
“I’ll say it again. Personal growth is very, very hard. If you think you can read one book or article on time management and instantly erase procrastination and disorder from your life forever, that’s an extremely unrealistic expectation. While a single book can potentially lead you to a big change, most won’t. When you experience a big change in your life, it’s probably the result of a long chain of events, of which reading a particular book was only a small but perhaps critical part.”
Pavlina explains why personal growth is so difficult to achieve and why many of us give up on our goals after repeated failures. Making a quantum leap, or getting to the next level, requires more than just an intense burst of motivation from the start but requires sustained focus and dedication. Reading a self-help book or attending a seminar may provide the initial motivation, but those things alone are not enough to carry you to the finish line.