Books are a uniquely portable magic.
The more I read the more I find it difficult to talk to people who don’t.
I am aware of how bad that sounds, but it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not as if I don’t like talking to people who don’t have certain views, or who don’t have a certain background. It’s not a filter for people who think like I do, or who are similar to me.
I average 2-4 books a month.
I am reading around 24-40 books a year right now—good books—that expand my understanding of reality. They show me how little I know about things. They teach me that almost everything is interesting if you know enough about it. They give perspective. They instill humility. And they show you that other people have been through all these problems before.
We read to know we’re not alone.
What I’ve realized is that reading is dramatically superior to traditional education. You can’t possibly learn as much in university as you learn by being well-read. Even getting a masters or a Ph.D. only exposes you to a smattering of books compared to an avid reader. It’s not even comparable.
But so many of my college-educated friends think that they finished learning all those years ago. They think they got some sort of permanent upgrade that just keeps working five, ten, and twenty years later.
Most courseware isn’t even up-to-date when you take it. It’s often stale content from decades before that remains due to sheer laziness of the professors and administrators. You read a few textbooks, and maybe some supporting content related to it. You learn enough to pass some tests, and then you never think about it again.
When I talk to people who haven’t a good non-fiction book in ten or twenty years, it’s like I’m talking to someone who was just extracted from a glacier. They refer to what was cutting edge in high school or college, they talk about scientific theories that were proven wrong years ago, and generally tell me about the world as it used to be rather than how it is today.
It’s like I’m a CIA analyst working on a case being mentioned in the media, and I’m listening to a random person on the street clumsily speculate about what happened when they haven’t read the classified reports.
Except it’s more frustrating because the reports aren’t actually classified. They’re just books—available in the library—if they only took the time to read them.
So I’m talking to people about the brilliant things that Max Tegmark said in Life 3.0, or Yuval Harari said in Homo Deus, but they only understand every tenth word because they haven’t read anything decent since the 1990s.
I hit them with the authors’ most powerful ideas on AI and human evolution—and what it made me think and write about—and they look at me blankly and say something like:
Yeah, we’re all about to be robots and Skynet is going to take over the planet.
Great, that’s some deep analysis. I’ll let you get back to your sitcoms.
Again, this has the potential to sound very condescending, which is not a look I like from people, and definitely not from myself. The reason I’m compelled to share this with you is that it’s not me being smart when I read.
I’m not telling you how great I am. I’m telling you how great reading is.
I have nothing to do with it. It happens to everyone who reads. When you read good books you can’t help but become smarter. It’s like putting your finger in an electrical socket, and being charged with creativity and inspiration.
Being an avid reader of good books is like the world’s best ideas constantly having sex in your brain. Hundreds of the best ideas, copulating with each other, interacting, mixing, sharing, and mutating into new thoughts that you can’t help but experience.
Their thoughts mix with yours, and new thoughts arise. But it all comes from exposure to a high volume of quality ideas. I know this because when I stop reading—even for a few weeks—the studio goes dark and the colors fade from the canvas. I stop having ideas, like the end of Flowers From Algernon.
Let me state this another way. If you aren’t reading at least one good book a quarter, you are basically a sedated version of yourself. You are on low-power mode. You’re firing on one cylinder. You’re playing chess after being hit with a tranquilizer dart.
If you are trying to be creative, trying to be successful, trying to get ahead—and you are not reading at least several good books a year—you are functioning at 15% of your potential.
And it’s frustrating to talk to intelligent friends and associates who move through the world in this state when I know the solution.
You just have to read.
In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.
Happily enough, I have something to get you started. Here are a few of the books I’ve read in the past few years that I’d recommend for you to start with.
Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading; cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day.
- The War on Normal People
- Homo Deus
- The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
- Life 3.0
- The Inevitable — The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
- Naked Economics
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
- The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
Think before you speak. Read before you think.
- I am a voracious reader, and I have creative superpowers.
- It’s not me—it’s the books, and I know this because when I stop reading the superpowers go away almost instantly.
- The most effective people in the world are readers as well.
- It’s hard to talk to non-readers about interesting topics because their education is decades old.
- You must read at least one great book a quarter, and ideally four.
Start now with the list above. They will literally make you a superior version of yourself, through no effort of your own other than reading them.
And keep it up.
- Someone commented on how they can never remember what they learned from a book. It’s a great point, and that’s why I created my reading project, where I do captures, summaries, and takeaways of what I’ve read.
- When I say “read”, I also include audiobooks in that category. In fact I consume a good portion of my books via audiobook. The point for me is emphasizing books vs. other types of content, but the format is unimportant.
- I think there are extremely high-quality podcasts and video series’ out there as well, and I do consume some of those. But for all the thinkers who appear on those shows, the primary encapsulation of their ideas comes in book form. So when I hear someone I like on a podcast I immediately read the book they were talking about in the show.