“The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch

There are two books I’ve read in the last handful of years that I haven’t stopped thinking about, or quoting. “Enlightenment Now!” by Stephen Pinker and “The Beginning of Infinity”. The books are very different, the former being a collection of distilled and referenced facts about complicated topics. While the latter is a long form argument about the nature of knowledge. But they share the result of expanding my thinking, and at least from inside my qualia broadening my world view.

The Beginning teaches you the difference between bad philosophy and sound philosophy. Thought it is never as easy as that sentence sounds to distinguish between the two. Deutsch has made a significant work of philosophy into a series of easily understood examples, anecdotes, and discussions about reality.

This is not an easy read, not because of the text, but because it challenges your ability to think. I’d recommend this to anyone.

“Progress that is both rapid enough to be noticed and stable enough to continue over many generations has been achieved only once in the history of our species.”

— David Deutsch

“Whenever there has been progress, there have been influential thinkers who denied that it was genuine, that it was desirable, or even that the concept was meaningful. They should have known better.”

— David Deutsch

“The ‘passengers’ metaphor is a misconception in another sense too. It implies that there was a time when humans lived unproblematically: when they were provided for, like passengers, without themselves having to solve a stream of problems in order to survive and to thrive. But in fact, even with the benefit of their cultural knowledge, our ancestors continually faced desperate problems, such as where the next meal was coming from, and typically they barely solved these problems or they died. There are very few fossils of old people.”

— David Deutsch

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Very few books achieve notoriety and devotion in the magnitude of Atlas Shrugged. And it really isn’t surprising. It’s a massive over thousand pages book with little plot, and very little character development. Instead it’s crammed full on philosophical monologues from said characters.

Most criticism seems to fall into one of two camps:
The first thinks the book is literarily dreary and clearly didn’t read more than the first third of the book. These are most reviews and critiques I’ve found, as they claim characters say and do things that are changed later or turn out to be false.
The second thinks Ayn Rand is an insane egotist, who clearly doesn’t care about human beings or the arts. And this second group is more interesting. They should indeed complain, as they are the complainers & looters that Rand is painting as the most terrible of criminals in Atlas.

Regardless of your political opinion. The book is interesting as a historical work, this is a strong female author who’s clearly a hard core feminist, writing a book with plenty of sex in the 50s… It is also a book that has had a lot of influence. And is still selling surprisingly well. I don’t recommend this to everyone, it’s a bit of a slog. But it’s also genuinely thought provoking. Especially if you’ve been nurtured into the liberal norm (in the modern sense of the word liberal) as I had.

“She was fifteen when it occurred to her for the first time that women did not run railroads and that people might object. To hell with that, she thought-and never worried about it again.”

— Ayn Rand

“What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing?
Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish.”

— Ayn Rand

“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

My future wife has inspired me to read the classics, in the past two years I’ve experienced Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and many more. It was still with a bit of trepidation I picked up Lolita. One of my favourite authors, Christopher Hitchens, recommended Nabokov as one of the greatest english writers despite english being Nabokovs second or third language, which intrigued me.

Lolita is in many ways a horrific story, the main character clearly a monster. It is redeemed however by the quality of the language, and the depictions of horror Nabokov relates. This is quite simply some of the best writing I’ve ever come across. Far beyond most authors.

Apparently, if you wish to expand your English, read a Russian author.

I won’t talk more about the actual topic of the book, instead I’ll let Nabokov explain why worrying about fiction is childish:

“That my novel does contain various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. But after all we are not children, not illiterate juvenile delinquents, not English public school boys who after a night of homosexual romps have to endure the peradox of reading the Ancients in expurgated versions.
It is childish to ody a work of fiction in order to gain information about a country or about a social class or about the author.”

— Vladimir Nabokov

“Although everybody should know that I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists)…”

— Vladimir Nabokov

“Competing Against Luck” by Clayton M. Christensen

I’ve wanted to learn about the “Jobs to be Done” theory and how to applies to design for a long time. As usual these days I follow Naval’s advise and go to the source, Clayton Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck. I want to love this book, I really do. But it’s a typical American paperback; over-stuffed with examples and anecdotes. This could have been an article, and probably more gripping if it had been.

If you’re interested in “Jobs to be Done”, by all means pick it up. But only read a third of it. At most. Skim the rest.

“After decades of watching great companies fail over and over again, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is, indeed, a better question to ask: What job did you hire that product to do?”

— Clayton Christensen, Competing Against Luck

“One of the fundamental mistakes that many marketers make is to collect a handful of data points from a huge sample of respondents when what they really need—and this interview illustrates—is a huge number of data points from a smaller sample size. Great innovation insights have more to do with depth than breadth.”

— Clayton Christensen, Competing Against Luck

“Ego Is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday

I wish I’d read Ego earlier. In fact I wish I’d read Ego back in school, even before collage. I wish I’d read it every time a relationship started going sour, and every time a project failed.

I didn’t realise I had an ego problem. I thought egotism was something extraordinary assholes were occupied with. It turns out everyone has an ego problem. And this book really helps you work through it.

This is one of those books that I will reread, and keep thinking about for years. Here are just a few gems:

““It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows,” Epictetus says. You can’t learn if you think you already know. You will not find the answers if you’re too conceited and self-assured to ask the questions. You cannot get better if you’re convinced you are the best.

— Ryan Holiday

“According to Greene, there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second.
[…]
But what if we said: This is an opportunity for me. I am using it for my purposes. I will not let this be dead time for me. The dead time was when we were controlled by ego. Now—now we can live.”

— Ryan Holiday

“In failure or adversity, it’s so easy to hate. Hate defers blame. It makes someone else responsible. It’s a distraction too; we don’t do much else when we’re busy getting revenge or investigating the wrongs that have supposedly been done to us. Does this get us any closer to where we want to be? No. It just keeps us where we are—or worse, arrests our development entirely. If we are already successful, as Hearst was, it tarnishes our legacy and turns sour what should be our golden years.”

— Ryan Holiday


“Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

Over ten years ago I fell in love with Herrmann Hesse because of his amazing poem Allein. I actually made a print and had it on my wall for years. So I was excited to read one of his novels. Siddhartha is the story of an indian man living in parallel with the Buddha. Much like The Alchemist it tells a story of personal enlightenment from the perspective of a young man travelling.

It’s a short read and thought provoking. Beautiful prose. But I think I’m more likely to recommend The Alchemist to friends.

“Wisdom that a wise man attempts to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness.””

— Hermann Hesse in Siddhartha