The 10 Books That Will Forever Alter Your Worldview

You know when you read a book and then suddenly you see everything through a dramatically different lense!? These were mine.

You know when you read a book and then suddenly you see everything through a dramatically different lense!? I love it when that happens.

I’m tracking mini book reviews and quotes from those worldview-altering books here.

2010

The Book — Ethics

Ethics

by Benedict De Spinoza

This book was my first compelling brush with philosophy. After rejecting a Christian-style religious upbringing, Ethics was a very welcome beautiful, rational, masterpiece.

“The endeavor to understand is the first and only basis of virtue.”

“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”

“Do not weep. Do not wax indignant. Understand.”

“No matter how thin you slice it, there will always be two sides.”

“When a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercy of fortune.”

2011

The book — The Black Swan

The Black Swan

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This book drastically changed my perception of time and history and life and everything! It is truly an enlightening book on how change does not come uniformly - but as unpredictable surprises. If you have seen a million white swans it still does not justify the statement “all swans are white” (the problem of induction). Mind bending and brilliant.

Before the discovery of Australia, people in the old world were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. […] It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.”

“a Black Swan […] is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

“Black Swan logic makes what you don’t know far more relevant than what you do know.”

“The inability to predict outliers implies the inability to predict the course of history”

The book — Delusions of Gender

Delusions of Gender

by Cordelia Fine

This book busts a lot of pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes, and left me with a much more nuanced view of nature vs nurture.

“We find that what is being chalked up to hardwiring on closer inspection starts to look more like the sensitive tuning of the self to the expectations lurking in the social context.”

“When the environment makes gender salient, there is a ripple effect on the mind. We start to think of ourselves in terms of our gender, and stereotypes and social expectations become more prominent in the mind. This can change self-perception, alter interests, debilitate or enhance ability, and trigger unintentional discrimination. In other words, the social context influences who you are, how you think and what you do.”

“Neurosexism promotes damaging, limiting, potentially self-fulfilling stereotypes.”

The book — The Goal

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox

This book introduced me to continuous improvement/kaizen themes which really changed how I think about work.

“Every action that does not bring the company closer to its goal is not productive.”

“What you have learned is that the capacity of the plant is equal to the capacity of its bottlenecks”

The book — Multipliers

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

by Liz Wiseman, Greg McKeown

This book shifted how I looked at contributing to an organization and inspired me to try to be as best a multiplier as I can be — sharing (multiplying) knowledge with an abundance mindset. I wrote a bit more about that here.

“Certain leaders amplify intelligence. These leaders, whom we have come to call Multipliers, create collective, viral intelligence in organizations.”

“Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius — innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.”

“Leaders rooted in the logic of multiplication believe: 1. Most people in organizations are underutilized. 2. All capability can be leveraged with the right kind of leadership. 3. Therefore, intelligence and capability can be multiplied without requiring a bigger investment.”

Primal Leadership: Unleasing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence:

by Daniel Goleman

Don’t be put off by the EQ mention in the title. This book is heavy. “Interpersonal limbic regulation”? “Emotional contagion”? You’ll never see human interaction the same after reading this!

“Scientists describe the open loop as “interpersonal limbic regulation”; one person transmits signals that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular functions, sleep rhythms, even immune functions, inside the body of another. That’s how couples are able to trigger surges of oxytocin in each other’s brains, creating a pleasant, affectionate feeling. But in all aspects of social life, our physiologies intermingle. Our limbic system’s open-loop design lets other people change our very physiology and hence, our emotions.”

“Scientists have captured the attunement of emotions in the laboratory by measuring the physiology — such as heart rate — of two people sharing a good conversation. As the interaction begins, their bodies operate at different rhythms. But after 15 minutes, the physiological profiles of their bodies look remarkably similar.

Researchers have seen again and again how emotions spread irresistibly in this way whenever people are near one another. As far back as 1981, psychologists Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio found that even completely nonverbal expressiveness can affect other people. For example, when three strangers sit facing one another in silence for a minute or two, the most emotionally expressive of the three transmits his or her mood to the other two — without a single word being spoken.”

“ group members inevitably “catch” feelings from one another. In 2000, Caroline Bartel at New York University and Richard Saavedra at the University of Michigan found that in 70 work teams across diverse industries, people in meetings together ended up sharing moods — both good and bad — within two hours. One study asked teams of nurses and accountants to monitor their moods over weeks; researchers discovered that their emotions tracked together, and they were largely independent of each team’s shared hassles. Groups, therefore, like individuals, ride emotional roller coasters, sharing everything from jealousy to angst to euphoria. (A good mood, incidentally, spreads most swiftly by the judicious use of humor.”

2012

The book — Innumeracy

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences

by John Allen Paulos

This book was a great jolt to realizing the daily impact of innumeracy.

“Innumeracy, an inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance, plagues far too many otherwise knowledgeable citizens.”

“Without some appreciation of common large numbers, it’s impossible to react with the proper skepticism to terrifying reports that more than a million American kids are kidnapped each year, or with the proper sobriety to a warhead carrying a megaton of explosive power — the equivalent of a million tons (or two billion pounds) of TNT.”

“On the other hand, the seventeen Americans killed by terrorists in 1985 were among the 28 million of us who traveled abroad that year — that’s one chance in 1.6 million of becoming a victim. Compare that with these annual rates in the United States: one chance in 68,000 of choking to death; one chance in 75,000 of dying in a bicycle crash; one chance in 20,000 of drowning; and one chance in only 5,300 of dying in a car crash. Confronted with these large numbers and with the correspondingly small probabilities associated with them, the innumerate will inevitably respond with the non sequitur, “Yes, but what if you’re that one,” and then nod knowingly, as if they’ve demolished your argument with their penetrating insight. This tendency to personalize is, as we’ll see, a characteristic of many people who suffer from innumeracy.”

“A tendency to drastically underestimate the frequency of coincidences is a prime characteristic of innumerates, who generally accord great significance to correspondences of all sorts while attributing too little significance to quite conclusive but less flashy statistical evidence. why can’t some sort of rough “safety index” be devised which allows us to gauge how safe various activities, procedures, and illnesses are? What I’m suggesting is a kind of Richter scale which the media could use as a shorthand for indicating degrees of risk. ”

“The establishment of statistical ombudsmen by television networks, news magazines, and major newspapers would be a welcome and effective step in combating innumeracy in the media. An ombudsman would scan the news stories, research whatever statistics are mentioned, try to see that they are at least internally consistent, and probe most carefully into a priori implausible claims.”

“There is a direct way in which the mass media’s predilection for dramatic reporting leads to extreme politics and even pseudoscience.”

“When statistics are presented so nakedly, without any information on sample size and composition, methodological protocols and definitions, confidence intervals, significance levels, etc., about all we can do is shrug or, if sufficiently intrigued, try to determine the context on our own.”

The book — Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

This book probably altered my worldview more than any other. Illuminating and brilliant. ❤

“Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous.”

“The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.”

“We easily think associatively, we think metaphorically, we think causally, but statistics requires thinking about many things at once, which is something that System 1 is not designed to do.”

“We think, each of us, that we’re much more rational than we are. And we think that we make our decisions because we have good reasons to make them. Even when it’s the other way around. We believe in the reasons, because we’ve already made the decision.”

“We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.”

The book — The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis

by Jonathan Haidt

This book does a great job of tying the latest science in with traditional philosophy and exposed me to a lot of new ideas when I first read it.

“I could not say it any more concisely than Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so… There is no reality, only perception.”

“The emotional tail wags the rational dog.”

“Nobody can think straight when high on passionate love. The rider is as besotted as the elephant. People are not allowed to sign contracts when they are drunk, and I sometimes wish we could prevent people from proposing marriage when they are high on passionate love because once a marriage proposal is accepted, families are notified, and a date is set, it’s very hard to stop the train.”

“If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry. If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology. But if you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy.”

“If the metaphor for passionate love is fire, the metaphor for companionate love is vines growing, intertwining, and gradually binding two people together.”

2013

The book — The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind

by Jonathan Haidt

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”

“We are all self-righteous hypocrites.”

“People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.”

“I know it’s wrong, but I just can’t think of a reason why.” They seemed to be morally dumbfounded — rendered speechless by their inability to explain verbally what they knew intuitively. These subjects were reasoning. They were working quite hard at reasoning. But it was not reasoning in search of truth; it was reasoning in support of their emotional reactions. It was reasoning as described by the philosopher David Hume, who wrote in 1739 that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.””

“People sometimes have gut feelings — particularly about disgust and disrespect — that can drive their reasoning. Moral reasoning is sometimes a post hoc fabrication.”

“Where does morality come from? The two most common answers have long been that it is innate (the nativist answer) or that it comes from childhood learning (the empiricist answer). In this chapter I considered a third possibility, the rationalist answer, which dominated moral psychology when I entered the field: that morality is self-constructed by children on the basis of their experiences with harm.”

“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person’s way — deeply and intuitively — you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.”

“Greene had a hunch that gut feelings were what often drove people to make deontological judgments, whereas utilitarian judgments were more cool and calculating. […] With few exceptions, the results tell a consistent story: the areas of the brain involved in emotional processing activate almost immediately, and high activity in these areas correlates with the kinds of moral judgments or decisions that people ultimately make.”

“The first principle of moral psychology is Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. […] As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion.”

The book — Wherever You Go

Wherever You Go, There You Are

By jon kabat-zinn

This book really modernized mindfulness for me.

“It would have me eat breakfast with my eyes riveted to the cereal box, reading for the hundredth time the dietary contents of the contents, or the amazing free offer from the company. This impulse doesn’t care what it feeds on, as long as it’s feeding. The newspaper is an even better draw, or the L. L. Bean catalogue, or whatever else is around. It scavenges to fill time, conspires with my mind to keep me unconscious, lulled in a fog of numbness to a certain extent, just enough to fill or overfill my belly while I actually miss breakfast.”

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

“When we understand that “This is it,” it allows us to let go of the past and the future and wake up to what we are now, in this moment.”

The book — Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen

This book is the ultimate productivity bible. If you exist in modern society, you should read it. I wrote a bit about the GTD methodology and mindfulness here.

“The mind is for having ideas, not for holding ideas”.

“Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.”

“The make-a-list strategy had been in every self-help program since Noah’s Ark and the Ten Commandments. But Allen made refinements with the help of a veteran management consultant named Dean Acheson (not the former secretary of state). To help his clients eliminate distractions, Acheson started off by having them write down everything that had their attention, large and small, professional and personal, distal and proximal, fuzzy and fussy. […] “Dean sat me down and had me empty my head,” Allen says. “I’d done a lot of meditating and considered myself highly organized, so I thought I already had my shit together. But I was blown away by the results. I thought, Look at what this does!” (This quote is actually from the book Willpower)

“The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.”

2014

The book — Antifragile

Antifragile — Things That Gain From Disorder

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.”

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

“This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.”

“At no point in history have so many non-risk-takers, that is, those with no personal exposure, exerted so much control.”

“This is the central illusion in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing — and that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.”

“The “do you have evidence” fallacy, mistaking evidence of no harm for no evidence of harm, is similar to the one of misinterpreting NED (no evidence of disease) for evidence of no disease. This is the same error as mistaking absence of evidence for evidence of absence”

“Iatrogenics, being a cost-benefit situation, usually results from the treacherous condition in which the benefits are small, and visible — and the costs very large, delayed, and hidden. ”

2015

The book — Elon Musk

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

by Ashlee Vance

This book is a compelling account of Musk’s companies inventing the future.

“Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”

“Elon is the shining example of how Silicon Valley might be able to reinvent itself and be more relevant than chasing these quick IPOs and focusing on getting incremental products out.”

“Once you figure out the question, then the answer is relatively easy. […] really we should aspire to increase the scope and scale of human consciousness in order to better understand what questions to ask.” The teenage Musk then arrived at his ultralogical mission statement. “The only thing that makes sense to do is strive for greater collective enlightenment.”

2016

Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

by Lao Tzu

Pure wisdom. Must read. I’m not into poetry but I just might have a mild appreciation after reading this.

In fact, for all things there is a time for going ahead, and
a time for following behind;
A time for slow-breathing and a time for fast-breathing;
A time to grow in strength and a time to decay;
A time to be up and a time to be down.

The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.

Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciple of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.

The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.

The book — Superintelligence

SuperIntelligence

by Nick Bostrom

This book was simultaneously was over my head & blowing my mind. Must read if you plan to exist in the future.

“Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization — a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.”

“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”

“Is there some other way of construing the tool-AI idea so as to preserve the reassuringly passive quality of a humdrum tool?”

“Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. Such is the mismatch between the power of our plaything and the immaturity of our conduct. … For a child with an undetonated bomb in its hands, a sensible thing to do would be to put it down gently, quickly back out of the room, and contact the nearest adult. Yet what we have here is not one child but many, each with access to an independent trigger mechanism. The chances that we will all find the sense to put down the dangerous stuff seem almost negligible. Some little idiot is bound to press the ignite button just to see what happens.”

2017

Sapiens

“Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.”

Curious to a fault. Technology | Psychology | Philosophy. All opinion subject to change. ☺ linktr.ee/juliaclavien

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