Black Swan by N. N. Taleb

A wonderful reading experience! The book deals with randomness and human perception of it. One can find many good discussions on broad range of topics(yet related to central theme of the book) like human bias, career advice, philosophy, baloney, Gaussian curve. The most important effect of this book is that it tries to make the reader aware of one’s own limitations(anti-library,narrative fallacy,ludic fallacy,epistemic arrogance, Popper’s disproving, effect of the unseen, GIF, Locke’s madman, END and NED, mediocristan vs extremistan ) and teaches to accept the key role of uncertainty(Black swans) and if possible try to take advantage of it(barbell strategy, Appelles the painter,stochastic tinkering, practitioner, empiricist).

Many words marked in bold are the things that will hit you hard when you read the book.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

An important take away for me from the book is with discipline and meticulous planning, how one can improve one’s character(chapter - Plan for attaining Moral Perfection). I picked up this book when I came across Franklin’s efforts to improve his elegance in writing, mentioned in the book Peak(one of the most important Psychology books in my opinion). At places, some witty insights like these are enjoyable

A man being sometimes more generous when he has but little money than when he has plenty, perhaps thro’ fear of being thought to have little.

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do

a benevolent man should allow a few defaults in himself to keep his friends in countenance

Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happened, as by little advantages that occur every day

For someone super organized like Franklin, no doubt that having small things in order leaves a room for lot of time and cognitive space to do more important things. But I confess that at times, I skimmed over parts where too many details of anecdotes were mentioned.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The book’s main aim is to explain evolution of life from Gene’s perspective. Personally, the most impactful parts of the book were where Dawkins explains how several aspects of animal behaviour like preference for relatives over others, males’ efforts to attract females arise from genes acting in their selfish interest. On reflection, this makes us feel how strongly evolutionary wiring influences our daily actions and decisions.

Yet, the book also points out that only we humans are capable of acting against our evolutionary hard wiring. Evolution by giving rise to consciousness in humans made a machine(human), which could understand how it was built. Humans using a contraceptive is an example of an action against the gene’s dictatorship.

We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators

The chapter on Memes(Mimeme, unit of cultural transmission) explains evolution of life from a cultural perspective. A thought-provoking explanation for questions like why traditions exist?, how are they passed on from generation to generation?, why some traditions last so long? Somehow the book has left me with the impression that with proper usage of Gene’s and/or Meme’s point of view, one could explain the reason behind every single human action.

At several places in the book, well-written lines force the reader to pause and ponder its implications in one’s own life. When you pick up the book, give the longest pause when you see the below lines.

…. When we die there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes. We were built as gene machines, created to pass on our genes. But that aspect of us will be forgotten in three generations. Your child, even your grandchild, may bear a resemblance to you, perhaps in facial features, in a talent for music, in the colour of her hair. But as each generation passes, the contribution of your genes is halved. It does not take long to reach negligible proportions. Our genes may be immortal but the collection of genes that is any one of us is bound to crumble away. Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of William the Conqueror. Yet it is quite probable that she bears not a single one of the old king’s genes.

We should not seek immortality in reproduction. But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G. C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.

Life Lessons From Freud by Brett Kahr

Picked this book because “Freud” was in the title. Essays where some of the interesting Freud’s ideas are discussed - relation of filial piety and complacency, Freudian Slips, Freud’s respect for patients’ privacy, affect of past on the unconscious mind, Freud’s theories on jokes and narcissism. A good book to get introduced to some of Freud’s ideas.

Slaughterhouse 5: The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut

Things that I loved about this book - interesting non-linear story narration, neat writing style with lack of pomp and most importantly philosophical lessons about freewill by Tralfamadorians(an alien species). A classic book that every literature enthusiast ought to read.

Amerika by Franz Kafka

This is a Kafka’s unfinished novel. I picked up this book with a hope that I might recognize Kafka’s genius elements at least in this book. To my disappointment, I could not. I admit that I dragged myself hard to finish this novel. But it was a good read.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka though never achieved fame during his lifetime continued to write(the works that made Kafka popular are published after his death). This, I felt is a true sign of love for writing. Hence I started picking up Kafka’s books. Metamorphosis is a short and good read with a simple writing style. I confess that I couldn’t grasp the genius elements of the book.

Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

Huxley is a writer with a deadly combination of Scientific knowledge and literary talents. After reading the essay, the reader is forced to think about the question - do my everyday perception of the outer world reflect reality?. Our brain filters a lot of sensory inputs as a lot of it is unnecessary for survival purpose. What would happen if you could somehow inhibit the filter in the brain and look at things as they are -Ding an Sich.

Essays by Orwell

Having read 1984 and Animal Farm, it is difficult to not to be mesmerized by Orwell’s simple yet powerful style of writing. The lack of pretense and urge to convey an idea is evident in his essays. Here are the list of the essays that you will enjoy

  1. Why I write
  2. Good Bad Books
  3. English and Political Language
  4. Shooting an Elephant
  5. Such, such were the joys
  6. Bookshop Memories
  7. Confessions of a Book Reviewer
  8. Books vs Cigarettes

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The true genius of Orwell lies in the fact that this book can be read by anyone regardless of age and background and still get the core message - revolution that caused shifting of power from oppressor to oppressed might not necessarily improve conditions; power can corrupt the ideals.

Why don’t Students like School by Daniel T. Willingham

An excellent book about cognition of learning. Every teacher should be given a physical copy of the book and asked to read it atleast twice. The book not only explains learning from psychological perspective but also provides practical advice in bringing psychological findings into practice.

For some of the readings before 2022, you can check this blog