This was a great week for reading. This last week, I finished 7 books, and so many were on topics I’m just now learning about. For a long time, I’ve thought the way we gauge intelligence in school and in life as a whole makes no sense, and I read a few books that dive into how we should rethink what it means to be intelligent. There are also some fantastic books on this list about how we can make this world a little bit better.
Each of the links to the books are affiliate links, so if you use my link to purchase any of these books, some comes back to support what I do (and it also helps fund my reading habit).
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically by Peter Singer
As many problems as there are with the world, I truly think most people want to help others in some capacity or another. But since the rise of sites like GoFundMe, I’ve felt like I was going insane. When I hear of a viral story where people donated 100s of thousands of dollars to a single homeless person, I wonder if anyone realizes how many people that could help. Rather than making a homeless person go from broke to richer than 75% of America, why not focus our efforts and money in a smarter way? And that’s where Peter Singer’s book about Effective Altruism came in, and I realized there are others who think like this.
It’s funny because last year I tried reading this book when I was in a really dark place, and I stopped reading after a chapter. Today, my life is a complete 180, and I’m regularly trying to see what I and others can do to make this world a little better. Thankfully, Peter Singer’s effective altruism is a philosophy of how we can do better and doing good things.
If you’re like me and want to help and sometimes don’t know the best way, this philosophy will help guide you in the right direction. And if it were up to me, everyone would have to read this book before donating to different charities. I love the name “effective altruism”, but it could easily be called “rational altruism.”
Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn by Chris Hughes
This is without a doubt one of my favorite reads this year. For months, I’ve been looking for a book on this subject, and I just happened to stumble across it when it was mentioned in The Cult of Smart. As a recovering drug addict who has struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life, I realized in sobriety that our primary source of unhappiness is that we compare ourselves to others, and we also care way too much about what other people think. This book is all about conspicuous and inconspicuous consumption and how we spend a majority of our money just to show our social status, and it’s absolutely ridiculous and no wonder why so many of us are miserable.
About a year ago, when I first learned about conspicuous consumption, I started pausing and asking myself, “Why do I want this?” before each purchase, and I’ve saved so much money. I realized that many times, we’re buying things just to impress others by showing how much money we make or our refined tastes. This book gives a full history of how we came to become this way and the many different ways we do it.
After I had this realization, I started teaching it to my son who is now 11 years old. Whenever he wants to buy skins in a game like Fortnite or other things, he stops and asks, “Why?”. By practicing this, he’s realized that he often wanted things just to impress others, and I’m glad he’s learning this at such a young age. This book has given me much more to talk to him about as he grows older, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone reading this review, especially if you’re interested in the wealth gap, inequality, and effective altruism.
Books on happiness:
I wanted to recommend books by my favorite happiness psychology researchers because I think they’re great in tandum with this book.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. Within the first couple of chapters, I texted my friend who is a high school teacher at an underprivileged school and told her that she had to get this book immediately. Fredrik deBoer is a progressive who has been researching education for years, and while many of us know our school systems are broken, he takes a look at it from an extremely enlightening angle.
Fredrik deBoer believes that our biggest problems involve the conservative belief in meritocracy while liberals want to deny that we have individual differences. The author repeats throughout the book that he’s avidly against genetic science that states that we’re different based on race, but he argues that liberals aren’t helping us improve schooling because we deny individual genetic differences. Some kids are going to be better at math, and some kids are going to be better at art, and we need to address this.
As I read the book, I was waiting to see what his solutions were to solve these issues with our school systems and what he calls “the cult of smart”, and I’m not 100% sold on the solutions he presented. Some of his solutions were definitely solid, but as a parent, some of them were a little unrealistic for me. But either way, I believe all parents and teachers should read this book as well as anyone who is interested in school reform from K-12 to college.
The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? by Michael Sandel
Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton
If you’ve heard of the “10,000-hour rule”, then you’ve heard of the work of Anders Ericsson. I first learned about his work from Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, and his research has been referenced in many other books that I’ve read since then. As some of you know, I’m really interested in luck vs. skill and the idea of meritocracy, so I wanted to read this book from the top researcher in the area of expertise. This book is definitely worth the read, and like Philip Tetlock, Ericsson clarifies what people often misrepresent about his research. For example, 10,000 hours might be much less for some people.
Basically, the book cites decades of research when it comes to deliberate practice, but the implications for this are massive. In one of the final chapters, the authors discuss how we often fall victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy idea. When we think that people are “naturals” or “a prodigy”, we give up on ourselves way too soon. Through their years of research, the authors conclude there is no such thing as a natural or a prodigy; it’s all a result of deliberate practice.
After I finished this book, I texted my son and said, “Remind me to tell you the trick to becoming awesome at anything.” With what you learn from this book, you’ll see what your real potential is. I’ve personally benefited from the deliberate practice described in this book, but I didn’t know what it was, and now it makes sense. Based on what we know about neuroplasticity and the research from this book, I think it’s important for people to realize that they can not only improve specific skills but also their mental health if they’re willing to put in the work.
This was my first introduction to Ezra Klein’s writing, and now I know why he’s so popular. He’s an excellent writer, and his style inspires me to step my own writing up. As someone who only recently became interested in politics in recent years, this was one of the best books I’ve read explaining how we got to where we are today. Sometimes, when reading political books, the writer assumes the reader knows as much as they do, but Klein did an excellent job explaining different points in political history without making it too remedial.
My only criticism of the book, which is minor, is that based on the title, I think there are much better books. If you’re looking for an overview of why we’re so divided, this book is perfect for you. But, for a psychology and philosophy nerd like myself, I recommend other books like The Righteous Mind, Moral Politics, and The Hype Machine. Although my personal opinion is that moral psychology and philosophy play a bigger role than Klein touched on, this book did touch on many new angles, and I appreciated the insight.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene
I often think about how it’s so strange that we measure intelligence based off a person’s ability to memorize different facts. A prime example is the phenomenon of Jeopardy, but we see this throughout school as well. Grades and standardized tests aren’t so much based on a person’s problem-solving abilities or creativity but memorization, and this I’ve always felt that this is a poor gauge of intelligence. Fortunately, I came across this book by Scott Barry Kaufman.
Scott started out as a kid who was put in special needs classes and is now one of the greatest academics of our time. Recently, I finished his new book Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, and when I realized he wrote on this subject that I’m interested in, I had to read it. I highly recommend this book for any parent, teacher, or person who disagrees with the conventional ways we see people as “intelligent”. I also think this book is great to read in conjunction with Peak by Anders Ericsson and The Cult of Smart by Fredrik deBoer.
Although Anne Helen Petersen went viral with her BuzzFeed article on millennial burnout and recently released her new book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, I preferred this book bi Filipovic much more. I’m a millennial who is curious about human nature, and I’ve become more interested in how we got to where we are today. Filipovic did a really good job explaining the divide between boomers and millennials and how boomers set us up for a world that we’re now trying to fix.
Whereas Can’t Even had a few good parts, most of it just made us millennials look as entitled as boomers claim we are. In this book, that only happened a couple times, but it wasn’t nearly as ludicrous as the arguments Petersen made. My only critique is that as a skeptic, I’m curious about some of the stats and surveys Filipovic used in this book. Some of them didn’t sound accurate based on other research I’ve done, so if I get some time, I may fact check her a little bit and see what her sources were. Other than that, I think this was a great book.
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
If you need help with your mental health, I highly recommend the service I use, BetterHelp. They’re an affordable online therapy service, and by using this affiliate link, you help support The Rewired Soul.