What I’ve Been Reading

Books, books, books.

1. A Gift of Freedom: How the John T. Olin Foundation Changed America by John J. Miller. A remarkable account of how a foundation with a set of intellectual convictions went about spreading those ideas into society, especially via the academy. Any philanthropist keen on spreading a philosophical idea should read this book.

2. Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality by Leigh Eric Schmidt. I was hoping this would shed light on the uniquely American view of spirituality, but it was too dense for me. Too much detailed history. That said, the following six characteristics that she says help define what most Americans mean by “spiritual” I thought was spot on:

1) a yearning for mystical experience  or epiphanic awareness; 2) a valuing of silence, solitude, and sustained meditation; 3) a belief in the immanence of the divine in nature and attunement to that presence; 4) a cosmopolitan appreciation of religious variety, along with a search for unity in diversity; 5) an ethical earnestness in pursuit of justice-producing, progressive reforms; 6) an emphasis on self-cultivation, artistic creativity, and adventuresome seeking

3. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The classic introductory book; full of wise guidance on the nature of meditation and stuffed with practical exercises to get you started. Excellent for uninitiated.

4. Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright. As a huge Robert Wright fan, it was about time I read Non-Zero, cited by many in the Valley as their favorite book. It’s been a decade since the book came out, and many of the assertions about globalization and greater economic/political integration — and how they drive greater zero-sumness in the world — may seem less profound than on the date of publication. But it remains an excellent introduction to basic game theory and the authoritative framework for thinking about non-zero-sum interactions.

5. Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur by Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor. Brad’s blog posts on work-life-balance are among the most thoughtful you’ll read anywhere. His post last November “Resetting My Priorities” was especially poignant. In his latest book, co-authored with his wife Amy, they detail the full range of strategies they employ to have a happy marriage amidst the chaos of busy entrepreneurial lives. I expect this book will occupy a very important niche that many people will turn to on a downswing. Hopefully an increasing number of entrepreneurs will turn to it proactively at the outset of a relationship. It’s a critical topic I’ll write more about in a later post.

6. Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think by Bryan Caplan. Citing twin studies to make a nature over nurture argument, Caplan says parents put too much pressure on themselves by thinking every choice they make will be consequential to their kids’ futures. Relax, he says. Do less work and relish the fact that while the first couple decades of their life are rough from a parenting perspective, you’ll have them around at least as long after that; in their adult years they can be vital companions and caretakers. There are other points he makes, but this is the one that seemed most compelling.

7. Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing by Constance Hale. I picked this up in a bookstore on a whim, and while there are some good writing tips throughout, I made the mistake of thinking I could read it passively versus actively. Hence, by the time I reached the end, none of it had stuck. I’ll have to re-visit it when I’m prepared to try out the tips in real writing in real time.

8. How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton. An appealing title and excellent form factor in terms of a smaller physical book. I love de Botton, but I didn’t glean any killer insights out of this one, other than a vigorous head nod at this general point: “A mind originally designed to cope with little more sexually temping than the occasional sight of a tribeswoman across the savannah is rendered helpless when bombarded by continual invitations to participate in erotic scenarios far exceeding any dreamt up by the diseased mind of the Marques de Sade.”

3 comments on “What I’ve Been Reading
  • I’m in the middle of Wherever You Go, There You Are. Beautifully, beautifully written. I liked the chapter in the middle of the book about fairy tales and being open and non-judging to whatever emotional states you experience, both positive and negative. Negative emotions, often personified as some of the “uglier” deities in various traditions, don’t have to be judged as bad, but just a part of your human experience. Seems like a healthier perspective than self-loathing yourself for being the way you are.

    Also just finished a mindfulness-based stress reduction class originally launched by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. It was pretty much my first intro to meditation and it’s extremely practical.

  • Sorry to go all ad hominem, but really, Ayn Rand acolyte Bryan Kaplan as evangelist for anti-Malthusian copious breeding, with data, is more than my brain or stomach can bear.

    This man procreating may good news for Tyler Cowen, the National Review, and the Unification Church, but he made me think, for a moment, that forced sterilization might in some cases be a good idea.

    Alas, too late– for him, his family, and the planet.

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