• The Sports Gene

    12/04 2013
    cover of The Sports Gene

    cover of The Sports Gene

     

    I haven’t posted what I’ve been reading for several months—okay, for this entire year—primarily because I’ve been immersing myself in plenty academic books, and I want to use this space to recommend books I can’t put down. As fascinating as I found it, I’m not going to recommend The Social Psychology of Power to anyone unless their prescription for Ambien has run out.

    One book that I read a few months ago and can’t stop recommending is The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein.

    My background in connection with the book is a big, fat zero. Not only am I not particularly interested in sports, but I’ve never taken a biology class in my life. When I was a very impressionable age growing up in Buffalo, New York, our beloved Buffalo Bills lost four Superbowls in a row. There are only so many times you can watch your relatives and countrymen mourn a collective death before you develop an aversion to whatever it was that brought them so much pain.

    But I couldn’t put The Sports Gene down, and can’t recommend it highly enough. It achieves what I believe to be the ideal of any popular science book: it’s so entertaining and enthralling that it tricks you into learning. It’s the best possible combination of storytelling with current research, and even this girl from Buffalo who usually flinches at hardcore science couldn’t put it down.

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  • Thinking, Fast and Slow

    01/04 2013

    200px-Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow

    Am I a little embarrassed that it took me to long to read Thinking, Fast and Slow? Yes, yes I am. My excuse is that I savored this book over the course of several months, reading it, bit by bit, taking notes and trying to fully ingest each insight.

    I can’t recommend this book enough if you have any interest whatsoever in learning about why we think the way we do, especially why and how our thinking fails us. One of the unfortunate outcomes of reading the book will be a nearly uncontrollable urge to pinpoint the errors in the thought process of others; the risk of becoming uninvited to dinner parties is real. Of course, even the author, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman admits that it’s easier to detect the faults of others.

    In a nutshell, Thinking, Fast and Slow helps explain the two modes of our brain: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and used whenever possible. Because System 2 uses so much energy, we only use it when we have to: math problems requiring paper and pencil, when asked to analyze, contemplate, or slow down. The problem is that the shortcuts we use when engaging in System 1 (which we use all the time) is riddled with errors.

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  • Mindless Eating

    12/12 2012

    mindless-eating-coverHave you ever woken up and realized that what you lovingly refer to as “your fat pants” are now just your normal, everyday pants? Have you ever declined to be weighed at the doctor’s office? Do you notice that sucking in your belly doesn’t really do anything anymore? Have you ever seen a photo of a party you went to, noticed a chunky person in the background wearing the same outfit you wore at the party, only to realize that that was actually you? Have you managed to convince yourself that iPhone cameras automatically stretch out the photos horizontally by 110% or more?

    Even if you don’t know about any of those feelings, I recommend Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink. I read it in a day and have already loaned out my copy, so while I can’t comment on specifics, I can say that the hyperbolic quotes on the cover are true. Our behavior is hijacked by our environment, we’re constantly on autopilot, and somehow I’d never thought about it in the context of food until now. Wansink doesn’t get into the nuts and bolts of the psychology, preferring to stick to the antecedent-behavior-outcome route, which makes this a very practical, helpful book.

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  • How Children Succeed

    12/04 2012

    How-Children-Succeed-by-Paul-ToughI just finished reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and can’t recommend it enough. Tough delves into the world of visionary educators who are getting results, how class and economic status influence a child’s chance of success, and how our current education system is largely failing us.

    The title is slightly misleading, because what Tough uncovers is applicable to anyone. Education is a pretty perfect proxy for looking at success overall, since school is the one time in our lives when success is fairly standardized, quantifiable through test scores and GPA. Self-control and character—abbreviated by the personal attributes zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity—are responsible for a large part of our success.

    Tough does an amazing job explaining how class and economics affects one’s chances for success, which is something that I’ve been trying to tell acquaintances for a long time. Most of the people I know who seem to doubt the impact of economic or childhood stressors have been very fortunate, and believe that growing up poor means that your house didn’t have an extra bedroom.

    The lessons in How Children Succeed can be a little tricky to parse if you’re only reading excerpts, since they seem to imply that a little gumption and extra effort can be enough to close formidable gaps. Not only are they difficult lessons to learn, often ones that aren’t reinforced in the environment, but the children who have to learn them are several years behind peers who’ve grown up with such lessons.

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  • Antifragile

    11/09 2012

    I’m currently reading Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for a forthcoming book review. As always, I’m floored by Taleb’s erudition and mastery of so many complex topics.

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  • Happier at Home

    09/21 2012

    I wanted to love Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life as much as I loved The Happiness Project.

    Lucky for her, Ms. Rubin is rich. Unfortunately for me, a lot of the things that I need “happiness help” with aren’t anywhere in the book. What about chores? Money? Must be nice to not have to think about those things. Overall, Rubin has done a great job of curating research, lists and quotes that are relevant, timeless and helpful. A few of these are scattered in the book, but the bulk of the great advice is in The Happiness Project and on her wonderful website.

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  • The Happiness Hypothesis

    09/18 2012

    The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is an unbelievably well-written, thought-provoking book and a model of literary science writing.

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