30 Books that influenced people the most

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Sometime back on a Sunday evening, Stripe’s intrepid CEO asked twitter to name five books that influenced people the most. What followed was a treasure trove of book suggestions from the tech junta. A few lines of python code and you have this neat list of 30 books that influenced people the most.

#1 – Sapiens

Bill Gates in his review of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind writes

“Harari, who is an Israeli historian, takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of us, the human race, in a mere 400 pages. I’ve always been a fan of writers who try to connect the dots and make sense of the sweep of history. Probably no one has done it better than David Christian in his Big History lectures, which distill 13.7 billion years of history, from the Big Bang on, into a manageable framework that spans biology, physics, humanities, and the social sciences. While Harari concerns himself with a shorter time frame, the last 70,000 years of human history, his job is no less difficult. He sets out to explain how we, Homo sapiens (Latin for “wise person”), came to dominate the Earth and what may lie ahead for our species.”

He also poses some fundamental questions about happiness. When in our long history as Homo sapienswere we most fulfilled? As hunter-gatherers chasing down mammoths? As farmers tilling the soil? Maybe as God-fearing peasants in the Middle Ages? More fundamentally, he asks: Who are we as a species? And where are we going?

Read a preview on Google Books, buy it here and check out a treasure trove of articles by the author Yuval Hariri.

#2 – Thinking Fast And Slow

Follow your heart and take this quiz.

The King of human judgment and Nobel winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s classic on human irrationality – Thinking Fast And Slow  ” is an astonishingly rich book: lucid, profound, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching, especially when Kahneman is recounting his collaboration with Tversky.” (nytimes)

Michael Lewis writes in Vanity Fair “The book was originally titled Thinking About Thinking. Just arriving in bookstores from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, it’s now called Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s wonderful, of course. To anyone with the slightest interest in the workings of his own mind it is so rich and fascinating that any summary of it would seem absurd. Kahneman walks the lay reader (i.e., me) through the research of the past few decades that has described, as it has never been described before, what appear to be permanent kinks in human reason. The story he tells has two characters—he names them “System 1” and “System 2”—that stand in for our two different mental operations.”

NYTimes further writes – Human irrationality is Kahneman’s great theme. There are essentially three phases to his career. In the first, he and Tversky did a series of ingenious experiments that revealed twenty or so “cognitive biases” — unconscious errors of reasoning that distort our judgment of the world. Typical of these is the “anchoring effect”: our tendency to be influenced by irrelevant numbers that we happen to be exposed to…. In the second phase, Kahneman and Tversky showed that people making decisions under uncertain conditions do not behave in the way that economic models have traditionally assumed; they do not “maximize utility.” The two then developed an alternative account of decision making, one more faithful to human psychology, which they called “prospect theory.” (It was for this achievement that Kahneman was awarded the Nobel.) In the third phase of his career, mainly after the death of Tversky, Kahneman has delved into “hedonic psychology”: the science of happiness, its nature and its causes. His findings in this area have proved disquieting — and not just because one of the key experiments involved a deliberately prolonged colonoscopy.”

You can get the book here.

#3 – Antifragile

“Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time.”

 

“It is far easier to figure out if something is fragile than to predict the occurrence of an event that may harm it. Fragility can be measured; risk is not measurable.”

 

“Anything that has more upside than downside from random events (or certain shocks) is antifragile; the reverse is fragile.”

Essayist and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile is “a highly entertaining one, thanks to Mr Taleb’s in-your-face nature. “Antifragile” is as much about the author as it is about the world. He is a weightlifter and calls himself “an intellectual who has the appearance of a bodyguard”. He avoids fruit that does not have an ancient Greek or Hebrew name and drinks no liquid that has not been in existence for at least 1,000 years.

“The principle applies to career choices too. An apparently secure job within a large company disguises a dependency on a single employer and the risk that unemployment will cause a very sudden and steep loss of income. Professions that have more variable earnings, like taxi-driving or prostitution, are less vulnerable to really big shocks. They also use volatility as information: if a cabbie is in a part of town where there are no fares, he heads to a different area.” (read full review at the Economist)

Taleb can be vulgar, silly, slapdash and infuriating. To put it kindly, his scattergun rhetoric resembles the proliferating shapes of his friend Benoit Mandelbrot: “Everything in nature is fractal, jagged, and rich in detail, though with a certain pattern”. Taleb is the ultimate fractal author. On many pages I felt the urge to fling this hefty volume (which of course he much prefers to the “fragile” modern rubbish of e-readers) on a non-random path towards his swollen head. Yet time and again I returned to two questions about his core ideas: Is he right, and does it matter? My verdict? Yes, and yes. (read full review at the Independent)

Read more of Taleb’s thoughts and philosophical notes here. (it’s awesome)

 #4 – Brave new world

“He patted me on the behind this afternoon,” said Lenina.

 

“There, you see!” Fanny was triumphant. “That shows what he stands for. The strictest conventionality.”

from Amusing ourselves to death “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

Margaret Atwood reviews BNW in the Guardian on the 75th anniversary of its publication “Brave New World is either a perfect-world utopia or its nasty opposite, a dystopia, depending on your point of view: its inhabitants are beautiful, secure and free from diseases and worries, though in a way we like to think we would find unacceptable. “Utopia” is sometimes said to mean “no place”, from the Greek ou-topos; others derive it from eu, as in “eugenics”, in which case it would mean “healthy place” or “good place”. Sir Thomas More, in his own 16th-century Utopia, may have been punning: utopia is the good place that doesn’t exist.”

#5 – The Selfish Gene

A personal favorite, Richard Dawkins changed the way we see the world with The Selfish Gene, named a top 10 non-fiction book of all time by the Guardian. Guardian review reads “This is undeniable: while The Selfish Gene grew out of orthodox neo-Darwinian ideas, it actually expressed Darwinism in a way that Darwin himself might have welcomed. Rather than focus on the individual organism, it looked at nature from the perspective of the gene.”

Excerpts from the book –

“Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course, they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever.”

“A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees, a fish is a machine that preserves genes in the water; there is even a small worm that preserves genes in German beer mats. DNA works in mysterious ways.”

And how does the book hold up over 40 years after publication

As an example of how the book changed science as well as explained it, a throwaway remark by Dawkins led to an entirely new theory in genomics. In the third chapter, he raised the then-new conundrum of excess DNA. It was dawning on molecular biologists that humans possessed 30–50 times more DNA than they needed for protein-coding genes; some species, such as lungfish, had even more. About the usefulness of this “apparently surplus DNA”, Dawkins wrote that “from the point of view of the selfish genes themselves there is no paradox. The true ‘purpose’ of DNA is to survive, no more and no less. The simplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite.”

#6 – Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Yes Marcus Aurelius is the Roman king portrayed in the movie Gladiator, and Meditations is a “…remarkable series of challenging spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe.”
Marcus, who wrote in the stern but kindly voice of the self-help guru (his slogan was, ”It’s up to you!”), holds particular appeal for leaders in need of self-control. (NYT)
”The entire earth is but a piece of dust blowing through the firmament, and the inhabited part of the earth a small fraction thereof,” Marcus wrote. ”In such a grand space, how many do you think will think of you?”
The Guardian review says the stoics “..they tell you the worst. And having heard the worst, you feel less bad.”
Marcus is clear on the point. All of this has happened before – the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. People repeat themselves from generation to generation – “marrying, raising children, getting sick, dying, waging war, throwing parties, farming, flattering, boasting, distrusting, plotting, hoping others will die, complaining…” Nothing new under the sun, and nothing we can do to change it……. But once you accept this, says Marcus, you’ll cheer up.

#7 -Godel Escher Bach

Nobody knows what this book is about. That said there are random statements like –
“A scientist argues that reality is a system of interconnected braids.”
“a book that shows how math, art, and music are really all the same thing at their core”
The author says “…is a very personal attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter. What is a self, and how can a self come out of stuff that is as selfless as a stone or a puddle? What is an “I” and why are such things found (at least so far) only in association with, as poet Russell Edson once wonderfully phrased it, “teetering bulbs of dread and dream” — that is, only in association with certain kinds of gooey lumps encased in hard protective shells mounted atop mobile pedestals that roam the world on pairs of slightly fuzzy, jointed stilts?

Godel Escher Bach approaches these questions by slowly building up an analogy that likens inanimate molecules to meaningless symbols, and further likens selves (or “I”’s or “souls” if you prefer — whatever it is that distinguishes animate from inanimate matter) to certain special swirly, twisty, vortex-like, and meaningful patterns that arise only in particular types of systems of meaningless symbols. It is these strange, twisty patterns that the book spends so much time on, because they are little known, little appreciated, counterintuitive, and quite filled with mystery. And for reasons that should not be too difficult to fathom, I call such strange, loopy patterns “strange loops” throughout the book, although in later chapters, I also use the phrase “tangled hierarchies” to describe basically the same idea.

and here is a NY Books review thats longer than the actual book itself.

#8 – Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.

answer is 42.

#9 -Man’s Search For Meaning

Victor Frankl writes –

Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. … Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

read 7 lessons from Man’s search of meaning.

#10 -On The Shortness Of Life

De Brevitate Vitae is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic philosopher, sometime around the year 49 AD, to his father-in-law Paulinus. Full text here.

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

Read more at Brainpickings.

#11 -RIGHTEOUS MIND

This one must be a fun book. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments. But Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes “The Righteous Mind” well worth reading. Politics isn’t just about ­manipulating people who disagree with you. It’s about learning from them.

To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt’s transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why.

read more in the NYTimes review

#12 – the art of war

When Mark Zuckerberg and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel first met, Spiegel left the meeting feeling unsettled. Zuckerberg had said Facebook was working on an app that sounded a lot like Snapchat, Poke, and that the app would be launching soon.

‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you,'” Spiegel told Forbes’ J.J. Colao.

Spiegel quickly purchased a book, “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, for each member of his six-person team.

read more at Business Insider

#13 -Asimov’s Foundation Series

Here’s how to read the foundation series –

Long before the incessant arguments among Star Wars fans were heard all over the galaxy about when to watch which episode, Isaac Asimov had his fans up in arms about which books of the Foundation series should—no, must—be read before the others. And rest assured that the Asimov-split had far more to contemplate given the complicated timeline of the seven books’ releases; prequels and sequels were added to the original Foundation trilogy over a real-time span of 42 years from 1951 (the release of the original Foundation trilogy) to 1993 (the posthumous release of Asimov’s second prequel Forward the Foundation).

here is the full set of 7 books.

#14 -Beginning Of Infinity

From an Amazon review

Feeling starved of intellectual engagement? Is PBS failing to meet your craving for mental stimulation? Is your spouse tired of listening to your pontifications on the origins of the universe? Well, good news then: David Deutsch is here to provide relief. “The Beginning of Infinity” is a wide-ranging book of ideas. Hard to pin down precisely, It offers a sampling of what I’d call “1 o’clock discussions.” You know the ones; they happen after the party guests have departed and only you and your best friend remain behind, staring at the ceiling, chatting as you finish the last drinks of the night.

From the Independent

Science has never had an advocate quite like David Deutsch. He is a computational physicist on a par with his touchstones Alan Turing and Richard Feynman, and also a philosopher in the line of his greatest hero, Karl Popper. His arguments are so clear that to read him is to experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet and to understand it.

Flowers employ objective beauty – graded curves, symmetry with subtle variations, colour harmonies. Deutsch points out that individual humans can be as different from each other, in signalling terms, as a plant and an animal. We recognise the universal symbols used by plants because by necessity we use them too. Within less varied species it is different: the hippo is beautiful to its mate but not to us.

#15 -Demon Haunted World

In this stirring, brilliantly argued book, internationally respected scientist Carl Sagan shows how scientific thinking is necessary to safeguard our democratic institutions and our technical civilisation. From an American president consulting horoscopes to a medieval court burning nine-year-old ‘witches’, Sagan shows the hazards of scientific ignorance. Convincingly debunking alien abduction, mediums, faith- healing fraud, and other modern-day ‘demons’, he also refutes the argument that science destroys spirituality, asks why scientific study is often stigmatised, and provides a ‘baloney detection kit’ for thinking through political, social and other issues.

At the heart of some pseudoscience (and some religion also, New Age and Old) is the idea that wishing makes it so. How satisfying it would be, as in folklore and children’s stories, to fulfil our heart’s desire just by wishing. How seductive this notion is, especially when compared with the hard work and good luck usually required to achieve our hopes. The enchanted fish or the genie from the lamp will grant us three wishes – anything we want except more wishes. Who has not pondered – just to be on the safe side, just in case we ever come upon and accidentally rub an old, squat brass oil lamp – what to ask for?

Full text here

#16 – FINITE AND INFINITE GAMES

To read this book is to subject our attitudes to the finite-infinite paradigm, discover that we’re engaged in both modes of play, and consider to what extent we’re comfortable with this. Our conclusion may depend on our response to the book’s compelling final chapter, whose subject is myth and whose main idea is illustrated by the story of Copernicus. Copernicus was a traveler who went with a hundred pairs of eyes, daring to look again at all that is familiar in the hope of vision. What we hear in this account is the ancient saga of the solitary wanderer, the Peregrinus, who risks anything for the sake of surprise. True, at a certain point he stopped to look and may have ended his journey as a Master Player setting down bounded fact. But what resounds most deeply in the life of Copernicus is the journey that made knowledge possible and not the knowledge that made the journey successful. read more here.

nytimes has a slightly critcial review –

I suppose, though, that in this self-indulgent age this work will create its own disciples, and one could dismiss my objections as the cavils of a cranky old Confucian who little understands his ever-youthful Taoist colleague. So be it. For those of us who remain unconverted, we can take heart in one final irony. Since the infinite player takes nothing seriously, we can assume that not even books like ”Finite and Infinite Games” can escape the fate of being just a game.

 

#17 -Freakonomics

A must read critical review of the world that Freakonomics created

“It is exactly like postmodernism in the humanities,” he groans. “What is there to say about Beethoven anymore? … Every moron can’t understand technical orchestration, doesn’t know the history of music. So you write about him having a gay affair with his nephew.”

and here is where it all started. rest is history.

The most brilliant young economist in America — the one so deemed, at least, by a jury of his elders — brakes to a stop at a traffic light on Chicago’s south side. It is a sunny day in mid-June. He drives an aging green Chevy Cavalier with a dusty dashboard and a window that doesn’t quite shut, producing a dull roar at highway speeds. But the car is quiet for now, as are the noontime streets: gas stations, boundless concrete, brick buildings with plywood windows. An elderly homeless man approaches…

#18 -Guns, Germs, And Steel

This was one of the first books recommended to me by my B-school professor. Here is a great discussion on the key concepts between the author Jared Diamon and William McNeill.

History’s broadest pattern is its different unfolding on different continents over the last 13,000 years. In 11,000 BC, all societies everywhere were bands of preliterate hunter-gatherers with stone tools. By 1492 AD, that was still true in all of Australia, much of the Americas, and some of sub-Saharan Africa, but populous Eurasian societies already had state governments, writing, iron technology, and standing armies. Obviously, that is why Eurasians (especially Europeans) conquered peoples of other continents. Why did history unfold that way? Why didn’t Africans instead conquer Eurasia, bringing Native Americans as slaves?

The book has inspired some sharp reactions on redditt,

What do you think of Guns, Germs and Steel? from AskHistorians

Why all the hate for Guns Germs and Steel? from AskHistorians

Should I even bother reading Guns, Germs and Steel? from badhistory

#19 -Hard Thing About Hard Things

Excerpts –

“People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?” Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO[…]to make it through the struggle without quitting or offering up too much.”

By far the most difficult skill I learned as a CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared with keeping my mind in check. I thought I was tough going into it, but I wasn’t tough. I was soft. Over the years I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs, all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: the first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown. At risk of violating the sacred rule, I will attempt to describe the condition and prescribe some techniques that helped me. In the end, this is the most personal and important battle that any CEO will face.

Plenty of Ben’s wisdom at a16z

#20 – Heart Of Darkness

In 1890, Joseph Conrad, an officer aboard the Roi des Belges, sailed up the River Congo into the hinterland of the Congo Free State, in effect the private fiefdom of King Leopold of Belgium. Eight years later, just as details of Leopold’s genocidal regime began to become public, Conrad’s experiences there inspired him to write Heart of Darkness, as powerful a condemnation of imperialism as has ever been written, and still a deeply unsettling read more than a century on.

Over 10000 reviews of this classic on Goodreads.

#21 -Neuromancer

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic setting that tends to focus on a “combination of lowlife and high tech” featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.

On its release, Neuromancer won the “big three” for science fiction: the Nebula, Philip K Dick and Hugo awards. It sold more than 6m copies and launched an entire aesthetic: cyberpunk. In predicting this future, Gibson can be said to have helped shape our conception of the internet. Other novelists are held in higher esteem by literary critics, but few can claim to have had such a wide-ranging influence. The Wachowskis made The Matrix by mashing Gibson’s vision together with that of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander is a facsimile of Molly Millions, the femme fatale in Neuromancer. Every social network, online game or hacking scandal takes us a step closer to the universe Gibson imagined in 1984.

read more at the Guardian

Buy the book here.

#22 – Power Of Habit

Summary – Habits work in 3-step loops: cue, routine, reward. You can change your habits by substituting just one part of the loop, the routine. Willpower is the most important habit, and you can strengthen it over time with 3 things. Read more here

Personally I liked Change Anything and is a much lighter read.

#23 -PRINCE

The Prince is actually an egalitarian book masquerading as an elitist one. We do not, after all, pick it up because it might come in handy when we seize power or attempt to do so; we pick it up and read it because it gives us a clear insight into the minds of our own rulers, and also warns them that a badly governed state will eventually collapse on top of them.  read more.

Prison Notebooks is a good followup read.

#24 – Siddhartha

“Most people…are like a falling leaf that drifts and turns in the air, flutters, and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them, they have within themselves their guide and path.”

 

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”

There is an argument that one should only read the classics. Since they have stood the test of time. This is a classic. read more here

#25 -Six Pillars Of Self Esteem

“Apart from disturbance whose roots are biological, I cannot think of a single psychological problem—from anxiety and depression, to underachievement at school or at work, to fear of intimacy, happiness, or success, to alcohol or drug abuse, to spouse battering or child molestation, to co-dependency and sexual disorders, to passivity and chronic aimlessness, to suicide and crimes of violence—that is not traceable, at least in part, to the problem of deficient self-esteem. Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.”

here is a good primer

#26 – Slaughterhouse Five

The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

read the LA review here

#27 – Surely You’Re Joking Mr Feynman

From the NYtimes review

You would never guess that while he’s up to his tricks he is also up to physics, revealing the nature of the bonds that hold atoms together. But in truth, the way he talks about cracking top secret safes at Los Alamos is not so unlike the way he talks about cracking the secrets of nature.

For example, he is a master at guesswork and has the persistence to outwait, as well as outwit, almost any problem: ”I tried all kinds of things. I was desperate. . . . I was always practicing my obsession. . . . The only way to solve such a thing is patience!” He knows the value of trying a radically different approach: ”If he’s been trying the same thing for a week, and I’m trying it and can’t do it, it ain’t the way to do it!”

also read about the general decline of Quora.

#28 – Why Nations Fail

In the lines of Guns, germs and steel and folks at the Economist are not impressed –

This conundrum demands ambitious answers. In the late 1990s Jared Diamond and David Landes tackled head-on the most vexing questions: why did Europe discover modern economic growth and why is its spread so limited? Now, Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, and James Robinson, professor of government at Harvard, follow in their footsteps with “Why Nations Fail”. They spurn the cultural and geographic stories of their forebears in favour of an approach rooted solely in institutional economics, which studies the impact of political environments on economic outcomes. Neither culture nor geography can explain gaps between neighbouring American and Mexican cities, they argue, to say nothing of disparities between North and South Korea. read more

#29 – Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance

A father and his eleven-year-old son are traveling by motorcycle from Minnesota to San Francisco. At home there is a mother with another son, but they are unimportant—I mean they are just out of it, no names, no characters, no histories. The travelers are accompanied as far as Bozeman, Montana, by two friends on another motorcycle; but they are largely out of it too. (The narrator knows a lot about them, but says he doesn’t want to exploit his personal friends, so he doesn’t tell us anything, leaving us to wonder again what sort of book this is.) After Bozeman, father and son continue by themselves. Wearing motorcycle helmets and moving fast, the travelers are isolated not only from the outside world but from each other. They wave, point, and occasionally shout a word or two, but mostly they have to stop in order to talk, and even then they don’t say much, being uncommunicative to start with, often sulky, and generally exhausted after long hours on the motorcycle. the NYBooks review

#30 – Zero To One

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

“The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”  read a review here

About the author

p m

is a generalist. very lazily believes specialization is for insects.

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