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Worth a Read: Books of the Month (Oct 19)

October 29, 2019



October was a good month of reading for both of us. We're in the calm before the storm of launching something new (more on that in the upcoming weeks!) so we had plenty of time to dig into books, essays, and articles. The books below are linked to Amazon given that is the most popular retailer. However, if there is a local bookseller in your community we strongly encourage you to support them and give them your business.


Here's What Brad Dug:


American War, by Omar El Akkad. This dystopian novel is not for before bed. But it is very good. Set between 2070 and 3000, the United States of America is no longer united but, rather, back at civil war.  the north has outlawed the use of fossil fuels, causing the southern states to succeed. The war is encouraged by the Bouzzazi empire, the uniform coalition of middle-eastern states that has become an international power in part because of its access to solar energy. The book follows a single character and her family throughout the war. There are specific scenes, such as when the main character is held in prison, that include some of the most gripping writing I've come across in a long time.


The Overstory, by Richard Powers. An unlikely group of four people unite in an effort to save old-growth forests from logging companies. A professor becomes famous for her work showing how trees communicate. A computer programmer designs simulation worlds that, if used deliberately, hold the power to reverse climate change. This is an easy to read novel about the human spirit and trees. About what separates us from the rest of nature and what joins us to it. This book won a Pulitzer Prize and it's easy to see why.


The Life We Are Given by George Leonard and Michael Murphy. These guys were two of the pioneers behind the now somewhat famous Esalen institute in Big Sur, California. Some 60 years ago, Leonard and Murphy lead the human potential movement, combining modern science with mysticism in an effort to help people transcend their performance, in turn leading to greater levels of evolution in culture and society. This is a workbook that includes the basics of their program, addressing mind, body, and spirit. Though a lot has changed since they wrote the book, the basic lessons within it are timeless. It's also interesting to see how much woo-woo has emerged from what, in their origins, were rock-solid concepts and thinking.


Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli. Only 81 pages and most of them blew my mind. I had no idea that our galaxy was one of many that, in sum, contain "thousands of billions of billions" of planets similar to earth, along with billions of suns. Or that all of life probably came from an explosion of energy that began compressed into something the size of a tennis ball (or smaller). While many see science and spirituality as opposed, this book reinforced my view that they are actually quite complementary. Everything we know and think and say and observe all came from the same energy. And we're all connected through an ever-expanding space. Wild! 


The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. A good look at how most of our reasoning is usually moral. That is, we have a gut feeling and then make up a rational defense of it, not the other way around. A hungry man goes to a butcher and buys a chicken which he cooks and then thoroughly enjoys eating. Anything wrong with that? A hungry man goes to a butcher and buys a chicken which he cooks and then has sex with for hours. Anything wrong with that? Why do most people find the first scenario okay and the second scenario unacceptable, though both lead to the same amount of total suffering and joy? This book is full of interesting observations on human nature and behavior.


Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy. A fable in which Murphy meets Shivas Irons, a mystical golf pro who teaches him about the game and about life, and how the former is a model for the latter. I haven't been on a golf course in the last two decades (outside of using the cart path for a tempo-run) but I still loved this book. You need not be a golfer to appreciate the unique integration of mind, body, and spirit that the focused pursuit of sport brings, and all the lessons contained in it. "When the negative voice in your head and the dark thoughts arise just wait em out," says Shivas Irons. "So long as you don't fight em or resist em, they'll pass." 


Also, my friend Ryan Holiday put out his new book, Stillness is the Key, this month. It's great. I especially loved the chapter on Churchill. It's a quick read that I think everyone can get something out of.

On the internet, this was a good read in the New York Times on how even wealthy people can't stop chasing success, and the dangers of getting caught in that of cycle. This ESPN story about the challenge of getting enough sleep for NBA players was good. And then I keep coming back to this super short Oliver Burkeman column questioning the value of of thinking about minimum requirements for things like exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, and sleep.



Here's What Steve Enjoyed:



The Voices Within, by Charles Fernyough. My inner chatter seems almost constant. A running dialogue of discussion, contemplation, worry, and the occasional thought that pops out of nowhere. Most people experience the same sensation. Yet, seldom do we stop to wonder where this inner dialogue comes from and what it’s purpose is. In this science-heavy book, Fernyhough attempts to unravel just that. 

Why Die? The Extraordinary Percy Cerutty, Maker of Champions, by Graem Sims. Percy Cerutty was an eccentric Australian coach who helped lift Australian runners to the Olympic stage. His most famous pupil was Herb Elliott, who in 1960 became Olympic champion in the 1500m.  Cerutty was known for his outlandish behavior, sometimes asking his athletes to run up hills with spears in their hands so as to get in touch with their naturalistic side. Cerutty was a kind of pseudo-philosopher coach, mixing Stoic and Spartan philosophy together to form his Stotan credo. A fascinating book on an eccentric man, who may have missed on some things, but was well ahead of his time on others.

Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin. The introduction to this book alone is worth the price. Martin provides an honest reflection on his career as a stand-up comedian. His description of what it’s like to stand on stage can be applied to any aspect of performance. If you want to check this book out, I’d recommend the audio version. Martin narrates it with jokes he used at the time sprinkled in throughout.

The MVP Machine, by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik. Moneyball brought the statistical revolution in sports. The MVP Machine describes the player development revolution. Lindbergh and Sawchik walk us through how teams are using technology and coaching to maximize player performance.  the chapters highlighting how high-speed video technology has revolutionized pitching were particularly interesting to me. If you’re a coach or a sports fan, you’ll find this one intriguing.  

Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sports Psychology, by Massimiliano L. Cappuccio. We tend to isolate and separate aspects of performance. Sports psychologists work on confidence and dealing with anxiety. Sports scientists look at the physiology. Coaches decide how it’s applied. In this book, Cappuccio and colleagues take an integrative approach, looking at skill development and acquisition from a holistic standpoint. If you select this title, be prepared for a very science-heavy read.

Building Resistance to Stress and Aging, by Richard Dienstibier. If you’ve read Peak Performance, you understand how we view stress. Not as something good or bad, but as an element of growth. Dienstibier’s work takes this concept to the next level, exploring the science behind how we adapt and get better. Dienstibier focuses on the aspects of aging and resilience, but you could easily apply the concepts to any sort of performance. While this book is heavy on the science, the author takes a casual style which helps the readability.
On the internet, I enjoyed
Alex Hutchinson’s journey into the alps to look at the strange world of zapping your brain for performance. I also found James Hamblin’s article on Identity Fusion to be worthwhile, in which Hamblin set out to understand why we act against our own self-interest.


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