Books Proteus Read in November 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! I read 3 books in November – a decent number. Now it’s time to give a short review for each book, and post them on my list of short reviews. Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 05/Nov/2019

A book making the case for agnostic Buddhism. BWB treats the Buddha as a historical figure, and focuses on Buddhism as a “dharmic practice” for reducing suffering rather than a monastic, metaphysical, or mystical tradition. Good for secular explorers of Buddhism, avoid if you’re a more traditional or religious Buddhist.

[Read more about Buddhism Without Beliefs on Amazon] Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 16/Nov/2019

An engaging geopolitics book about the coming century of global disorder, and how America’s geography, demography, financial system, and growing shale capacity will turn the 21st century into a true American century. He only dedicates two pages to climate change, but there’s much in Accidental Superpower worth thinking about.

[Read more about The Accidental Superpower on Amazon] Stranger by Albert Camus

Rating: 1.7/5

Finished: 25/Nov/2019

A book about an apathetic doormat, who uses nihilism to justify low standards and poor life choices. Existentialism is a powerful life-affirming philosophy; even though this is a core existentialist text, this is existentialism at it’s worst. Read if you like Camus – I’d suggest finding a better book on existentialism.

[Read more about The Stranger on Amazon]

Books Proteus Read in October 2019

Happy Halloween! I read 8 books in October! Now that the month is over, it’s time to give a short review for each book, and then post all of these reviews to my big list of reviews.

simulationAre You Living In a Computer Simulation? by Nick Bostrom

Rating: 10/10

An essay about advanced/post-human civilizations and “ancestor simulations” (high-fidelity supercomputer simulations that are advanced enough to simulate previous historical eras and all of the human brains of those eras – overly simplified, think Sid Meier’s Civilization meets The Matrix). Bostrom argues that one of three things is true: 1. all advanced civilizations go extinct before making ancestor simulations, 2. all advanced civilizations decide not to make ancestor simulations for mysterious reasons, or 3. there is an absurdly high chance (I infer it’s something like 1 in a trillion or a 99.9999999999% chance) that we are currently living in an ancestor simulation right now. One of the most influential essays of contemporary philosophy – and one of the most interesting. Most probably won’t count this as a book, but 1. Goodreads does, and 2. this little essay is arguably more thought-provoking and influential than 99% of books being written. The problem I’ve seen is that most people don’t understand probability very well (or at all) and can’t wrap their head around why Bostrom gives such a high chance to you and I living in a simulation – as long as you understand probability even just a little bit, you should absolutely read this essay.

5lovelanguagessecretThe 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

Rating: 8/10

A simple book about a simple idea: people in relationships express love in different love languages – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Keeping the “love tank full” in a relationship requires speaking your partner’s love language, and your partner speaking yours back to you. Mark Manson calls this the “Harry Potter of relationship books” for a reason: it’s a simple idea, everyone’s read it (or says they’ve read it), and you can find this book in every airport bookstore in the world. If you’re in a relationship, read it. Even if you’re not in a relationship, it might be a good idea to spend an afternoon reading it to figure out your own love languages.

radicalhonestyRadical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton

Rating: 7/10

Brad Blanton wants you to tell the truth – all the time, about everything. Blanton lays out the case that lying is the major cause of all human stress and illness, and for the sake of your health (and literally the survival of humanity), you should adopt radical honesty. Honestly? I’m not sure I fully buy it. I agree that lying will destroy you inside, and it’s best practice to tell truth. I’m skeptical of lies causing all illness and stress though. I’m skeptical of other stuff: Blanton tirades against moralism, resulting in moral-relativism-in-everything-but-name – which is followed by a 14 part political agenda that basically combines Bernie Sanders with Eckhart Tolle (which seems a little moralistic to me). Even if I think Blanton is a bit of a hypocrite (Blanton also thinks he’s a hypocrite), I think Blanton is onto something, and Radical Honesty is a thought provoking book.

unlimitedpowerUnlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement by Anthony Robbins

Rating: 5/10

Tony Robbins’ first book, written right at the beginning of his career as a self-help juggernaut. It has a lot of interesting ideas (some of which match other good advice I’ve read), plus some unique advice (he’s the first I’ve read recommending trampolining for superior health). Make no mistake though: Unlimited Power is a deeply flawed book. There are many references and quotes, but few citations. The book is unmistakably a product of the 80s, and many parts are severely outdated. Plus, the book is dominated by Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a form of psychotherapy that isn’t widely respected outside of self-help books. From what I can tell, Robbins’ later books are better (or at the very least contain less NLP), and you should just skip Unlimited Power unless you love Tony Robbins.

datalovestoryData, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb

Rating: 9/10

An absolutely riveting tale of a woman on a mission: stop having bad online dates, define exactly what she wants in a husband (from height and build, to his opinion on cruise ship traveling), and crack the code of online dating to find the Jew…ish Prince Charming of her dreams. While this book is mostly aimed at women, it combines three things I love reading about: data science, relationships, and neurotic smart people solving problems. I’ve been fascinated by this book ever since I saw Webb’s TED Talk, and read it in an afternoon (not because it’s short, but because I couldn’t put it down). You’ll laugh, you’ll be embarrassed for her, you’ll learn something about the algorithms that dating sites rely on (which might not apply as much to recent swiping apps), and if you’re like me you’ll facepalm over Webb stress-smoking after bad dates (to be fair, these were some really bad dates). The book probably won’t be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. Spoiler: She finds her Jew…ish Prince Charming.

luciddreamingExploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge

Rating: 9/10

A classic book about being conscious during your dreams, and even learning to control them, from the pioneer of lucid dreaming. This is not a book about dream interpretation, Freudian psychology, or about anything magical like astral projection or souls: this is a book about lucid dreaming. LaBerge keeps his book focused on scientific information and practical steps for achieving lucidity, drawing from his PhD work in lucid dreams and from ancient texts related to lucid dreams. Even if there are newer or better books about lucid dreaming (this was written in 1990), this seems to be the classic book on the subject, and one I plan on rereading.

jlscompleteJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Rating: 8/10

A novella about individuality, self-perfection, and the willingness to be different – told with seagulls. I *suspect* a lot of people who know me wouldn’t expect me to like a book like this – it grew on me. The first part wasn’t very promising – Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a special seagull! He doesn’t want to spend his days working for food! He wants to be free, and master the art of flying! The other seagulls don’t understand him, and then they kick him out of seagull society! And then he spends the rest of his days flying until he dies. But then it turns out he *didn’t* die, and things get way more interesting. It’s deeper than it sounds, at least to me. I can understand the mixed opinions people have about this book, but I liked Seagull – I just hope I don’t reread this later, and react to it the same way a lot of people react to rereading Catcher in the Rye.

greatestmindsThe Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by Will Durant

Rating: 8/10

A collection of essays by master historian Will Durant, covering a handful of topics from the most important thinkers in history, to the 100 books to read for a complete education. After reading The Lessons of History (which is a masterpiece), I’m now dedicated to reading as much of Durant as I can get my hands on. There are parts of Greatest Minds that are incredible – Durant’s soaring rhetoric about humanity and heroes, the list of 100 best books (I’m attempting a similar project), and the brief inclusion of Marquis de Condorcet (who in my opinion is the most underappreciated thinker in all of western philosophy). There were parts I didn’t like as much – while I love how Durant talks about humanity in general, I’m not as enthusiastic about how he talks about “savages/primitives.” And while I love Durant’s book list, I’m not as interested in Durant’s long chapter about the best poets. With all that said, read Greatest Minds with an open mind, right after reading The Lessons of History.

Books Proteus Read in August 2019

Here’s something new I’m going to be doing on the blog. Every month at the end of the month, I’m going to make a dedicated post for reviewing every book I read that month. Those reviews then get posted to my page of short book reviews. Simple enough.


He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson:

Rating: 4/10

A man must consent to look to a foolish, innocent, adolescent part of himself for his cure. The inner fool is the only one who can touch his Fisher King wound.” A book by Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson exploring masculine psychology, primarily through the the Camelot myth. It starts off with an interesting discussion of childhood psychological wounds (the “Fisher King” wound) before getting bogged down by weird interpretations (not to mention unsupported assertions and free-association) of old meanings of words, comparative mythology, and numbers. This really put into perspective what I find frustrating about Jungianism: lots of interesting concepts, but too often it relies so heavily on myth and interpretation that it eventually gives up on logic or rules of evidence.


The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden:

Rating: 9/10

“The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they look for self-esteem in every direction except within, and so they fail in their search. The ultimate source of self-esteem is, and can only be, internal. In what we do, not what others do. When we seek in the externals, we invite tragedy.” Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden explores the nature of self-esteem, its two key foundations, and the six pillars for building and supporting self-esteem. In addition, he covers external factors that can affect self-esteem, such as parents, teachers, workplaces, religion, and the relationship between self-esteem and tribalism. You don’t have to agree with Branden’s libertarian politics to appreciate the message: you are enough, you have the right to exist, and you have value. For me the best part of this book wasn’t just the content, but the fact that the content echoed a lot of other great books I’ve read (especially Models by Mark Manson). If you’ve ever struggled with self-esteem, confidence, or self-love, I highly recommend this book.


Way of the Superior Man by David Deida:

Rating: 6/10

“As long as life continues, the creative challenge is to tussle, play, and make love with the present moment while giving your unique gift.” A book about sexual polarity between men and women, and how to become a spiritually aware superior man. I have mixed thoughts. On the one hand, there are some interesting ideas, mirroring other books I’ve read, and I can see why this was recommended to me. On the other hand, this book is far more spiritual and poetic/flowery than books I usually read. Plus there are some parts that are just… weird. Parts where you’ll go “Huh? Where’d that come from?” or “Why is he even talking about that?” With all that said, here’s my overall take: if you’re a man interested in relationships with feminine women, there’s going to be some value for you, even if some parts are kind of weird (I’d also suggest checking out Models by Mark Manson if you’re looking for rock solid men’s advice).

Books I Read In 2018

My final list of books I read in 2018. Ultimately I read approximately 25 books. That’s pretty good, I probably only read five in a year normally. I plan to read over 50 next year, and as many as I can on top of that.

Here are the books, and short impressions.

  1. 9/10: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken – Not sure if I read this in December 2017, or January. I’m counting it anyway. The autobiography of comedian and Senator Al Franken. Awkward to read now that Al Franken has been exiled from U.S. politics in the #MeToo era. Still, I gave it a 9/10 at the time, interesting read on the last several years of U.S. politics and legislation.
  2. 8/10: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker – Imperfect book on improving your mindset to be more like rich people, for the purpose of becoming rich. Light on discussion of socioeconomic mobility, like the rest of the genre. I suspect that some or most of the content is similar to Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (which I’m FINALLY reading this year), and that this will become a 7/10 afterwards.
  3. 8/10: The Philosophical Investor by Gary Carmell – Medium length read on philosophy being useful for success in investing. Also includes sections on the author’s personal life.
  4. 9/10: Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven – Short read on habits and mindsets for success/life fulfillment from a retired admiral. Emphasis on short. Based on the viral 2014 commencement speech that the author gave.
  5. 9/10: The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – Quit your job, delegate everything possible, cut meetings and email down 95%, fire the 20% of your customers giving you 80% of your problems, deliver on time, and travel the world on a shoe string budget. I should probably reread it this year.
  6. 10/10: Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss – Basically, “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.” Advice and tools from all of the interesting people Tim Ferriss has interviewed on his podcast. Bulky. If you’re skeptical, pick it up just for the section with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  7. 9/10: The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss – Health and fitness advice from human guinea pig/wrestler/dancer/martial artist Tim Ferriss. If the idea of “biohacking” yourself appeals to you, pick this up. I’m not a doctor, he’s not a doctor, self-medicate responsibly.
  8. 8/10: Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss – Similar format to Tools of Titans. Read Tools of Titans first to see if it would be beneficial to you.
  9. 9/10: The 4-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss – A book on learning anything, written around learning to cook. I need to reread the cooking parts this year, since the first time I was just concerned with the meta-learning parts.
  10. 10/10: Foundation by Isaac Asimov – One of the classics of science fiction. I really need to read the rest of the series though.
  11. 9/10: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford – Tells the history of Genghis Khan, the Mongol empire, and their effect on the civilized world in narrative form. Makes the case that Khan/the Mongols were surprisingly enlightened for nomadic raiding warriors in the 13th century.
  12. 10/10: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance – The approved biography of evil genius billionaire Elon Musk. Will need to be updated in a few years though, doesn’t cover the flame throwers he sold to fund digging tunnels under L.A.
  13. 5/10: Principles (106 page pdf) by Ray Dalio – Read in preparation of the full book. Great content, but for whatever reason I really hated reading this. Read the full book instead.
  14. 7/10: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin – An interesting little book on personality. Rather than creating an overall framework (e.g. the MBTI), Rubin creates a framework of Four Tendencies around the question “How does a person respond to expectations?” Not academic or rigorous at all (and she says so), but I still think about the framework every now and then.
  15. 8/10: It’s All Relative by A.J. Jacobs – Jacobs goes on one of his year long quests, this time to explore how all human beings are related to each other and throw the largest family reunion in human history. I liked it because I love A.J. Jacobs’ books, but I’d suggest The Year of Living Biblically to get a taste of how he writes.
  16. 4/10: Mastery by George Leonard – Good information and ideas about the process of mastering skills and mastering your life. Mind the sections on energy healing and 90s anti-consumerism (you’ll know what I mean if you read it, or better yet, you won’t).
  17. 7/10: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker – Highly recommended to me as a must-read for anyone interested in business or self improvement. The fact that it’s out of date (Drucker is an AI skeptic, and Australia is referred to as a developing country) made me enjoy it less.
  18. 9/10: Superforecasting by Phillip Tetlock – A book on accurately predicting the future, particularly around economics and geopolitics. If you’re at all interested in politics, economics, world events, or on becoming a rational person more generally, this is the book for you.
  19. 10/10: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio – Billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s principles for success. Radical openness, radical honesty, constant self-improvement, and effective decision making, among other principles. Top quality stuff, one of the best books that I read this year.
  20. 7/10: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut – A dystopian future where all low skill jobs have been automated, and only the construction, management, and engineering jobs are left. Mind the fact that it was written in 1952. If you’re interested in AI and machine learning, read just for the part where Vonnegut predicts Deep Blue and AlphaGo decades beforehand.
  21. 8/10: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – A pop science book on habits and habit formation. Also includes some discussion about Big Data and free will. Pretty good for a pop science book.
  22. 2/10: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson – Clinical psychologist/internet sensation Jordan Peterson gives his 12 rules for life based on a viral Quora post. This ended up being one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. I went into this with high expectations, and ended up stopping somewhere in Rule 8. While there are parts about self-help or evolutionary biology I found interesting, and other parts I found frustrating, the thing I found most frustrating was that Peterson is basically trying to use Nietzsche/Dostoevsky/other authors to create a secular/existential/pragmatic Christianity, thus preventing metaphysical chaos in the West. It doesn’t matter if God or Jesus exists, be a Christian anyway. This isn’t an idea I (or many of the authors Peterson quotes) can support, and Nietzsche especially would have scratched their head at Peterson’s bizarre theology. Maybe I shouldn’t be so blunt – but Rule 8 is “Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.”
  23. 10/10: Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson – Quite possibly the best dating advice book for men that currently exists. I recommend it to all men, and if you’re a woman with a single man in your life, you should recommend it to them. No lines. No pickup. No bullshit. Just dealing with your desires and with intimacy in a healthy and attractive way.
  24. 5/10: As A Man Thinketh by James Allen – EXTREMELY short read on mindset and the importance of thinking. If you’ve ever read anything in the self-help genre (and are familiar with it’s flaws), this won’t be of much help to you. Although, I do want to read it again and do at least a Notes and Quotes post – there were a few quotes I liked.
  25. ?/10: Dataclysm by Christian Rudder – I’m reading this right now, and am going to finish it either today or tomorrow.  Using Big Data from OkCupid (and other sites) for insights into love, sex, and the human condition. Tentatively giving this an 8/10, possibly a 7 or a 9.