Musty Cheese, Wisdom, and Solving the Problems of Life

In parts Walden is blatantly irritating, I’m sure someone out there has made the argument that Thoreau is the original hipster *pause* ok, I just googled “thoreau the original hipster” and can now say conclusively that, yes, that claim has been made, and with good reason. The chapter “The Bean Field” is about as fun to read as listening to a beardsy, PBR-drinking, American Spirits-smoking, stereotype tell you about their fixed gear bike. But I can forgive Thoreau for this in the same way that I can forgive Nietzsche for suggesting, “When thou goest to woman, take thy whip.” Even geniuses can’t get it all right.

Like Nietzsche, Thoreau makes up for his occasional self-important ramblings with sections that are so on point and laced with humour that you can nearly hear the smile on his face:

A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it…It’s best to avoid the beginnings of evil.

These amusing bits of commentary on our relationship to stuff are fairly uncontroversial. The poet and and naturalist in him makes him accessible and non-threatening to even an avid consumer, but it’s not surprising that his ideas came to life, often radically, in the lives of people like Emma Goldman. And even in Walden, he occasionally alludes to how his anti-consumerist ideas would play out.

In an accusation that is even more biting today in a time when fast fashion is the norm and Ikea is a normal way to spend a Sunday, Thoreau places the blame for extreme poverty on the shoulders of the middle-class consumers that pity the poor but continue to fund the system that “graciously provides” them with the thankless jobs that keep them poor:

There are  a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.

Of course, when Thoreau wrote this, the misery of factory work was still happening in major metropolitan areas in the USA. Today we enjoy the luxury of never needing to see the faces of the people we hold in slavery by our lifestyles. What a treat.

Like Seneca On the Shortness of Life, or any philosopher or writer that sees people for what they are, many of the observations made by Thoreau seem to only be growing more true. In a passage defending the value of spending time alone, it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t criticising a platform that ensures you will never need to miss a single inane thought from that weird guy you went to highschool with:

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other, we meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that musty cheese that we are.

What a wonderful reminder that our friends on Facebook aren’t actually bad people. We may just need to spend less time exposing ourselves to their musty cheese and them to ours.

Also like Seneca, Thoreau devotes a lot of ink to questioning why we devote so much of our lives to obsessively preparing for the future:

This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me on the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.

And settles on education and the pursuit of wisdom as being a far more worthwhile way to spend one’s time:

The olden Egyptian or Hindu philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision.

But it’s not just education or the pursuit of wisdom for its own sake. Thoreau believed that ideas needed to be validated through action. The two years he spent at Walden Pond were an experiment in how his ideas might play out when they meet the smacking reality of life, a tradition that started with Civil Disobedience. It’s an uncomfortable thought.

The internet has an uncanny way of making us all feel unjustifiably smarter, a bit more smug about how much we know. But the purpose of knowledge isn’t the random accumulation of fun facts, beliefs , or new ideas. What Thoreau knew was that all of our lives are essentially a presentation of our internal philosophies. An idea that remains only an idea doesn’t make the owner of that thought smarter, it’s only in the application that we stop being consumers of information and belief systems and start knowing:

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

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Seneca on the Shortness of Life

There’s no point in making the argument that technology hasn’t changed things, but  while it may have changed the way we do business, communicate, or access information, it hasn’t changed people at all. Long before computers and smartphones humans have been short on attention, unfocused, “preoccupied” as Seneca calls us in his essay On the Shortness of Life.

Listen to his description of humans and see if there is any meaningful difference between humans today and the humans of two millenia ago:

But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks. One man is soaked in wine, another sluggish in idleness. One man is worn out by political ambition…Another through hope of profit is driven headlong over all lands and seas by the greed of trading. Some are tormented by a passion for army life, always inflicting dangers on others or anxious about dangers to themselves. Some are worn out by self-imposed servitude or thankless attendance on the great. Many are occupied by either pursuing other people’s money or complaining about their own. Many pursue no fixed goal, but are tossed about in ever-changing designs by fickleness which is shifting, inconstant and never satisfied with itself. Some have no aims at all for their life’s course…

Or how about this:

You will feel sorry for some folk you see rushing along as if to a fire; so often do they bump headlong into those in their way and send themselves and others sprawling…

But he’s not done yet, Seneca goes on to define the “preoccupied”as the man who:

  • “arranges with anxious precisions his Corinthian bronzes, the cost of which is inflated by the mania of a few collectors:
  • “sits at wrestling ring…keenly following the bouts between boys”
  • “pays for the maintenance of the latest athletes”
  • “spends many hours at the barber’s simply to cut whatever grew overnight…or to train thinning ones from the sides to lie over the forehead”
  • “are always drumming with their fingers as they beat time to an imagined tune”

While the specifics have slightly changed, it’s easy to see that we are more like ancient humans than we are different.  Sure, technology makes it easier for us to be preoccupied, but we’ve always been deficient in attention and talented at ignoring the things that really matter. And the end result of this terrible flaw is that we arrive at the end of our lives feeling cheated by the shortness of life. Seneca argues that, for the preoccupied, there is no life that would ever be long enough because:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were well invested.

In the essay, On Tranquility of the Mind, Seneca again touches on a problem that we’re all painfully familiar with — notifications. Seneca is relating the work practices of an admired orator who worked hard, but disconnected completely when the day was done:

After that time he would not even read his letters, in case something fresh cropped up to be dealt with.

I can’t help but find this terrifically amusing. Here we are, hundreds of years later, thinking that the problems of notifications, full inboxes, and the pressure of being “always on” is somehow unique to us.

It’s easy to point the blame at our external environment — the time we live in, the city, our devices, our job — and say “That is the thing! That is what makes me busy, tired, and stressed.” But it’s not. It never has been. The fault has always been in us. And the answer today is the same that it was in Seneca’s time. The only way to live a good life is to be mindful of the present and invest our time with care:

You will hear many people saying: “When I am fifty I shall retire into leisure; when I am sixty I shall give up public duties.” And what guarantee do you have of a longer life? Who will allow your course to proceed as you arrange it? Aren’t you ashamed to keep for yourself just the remnants of your life, and to devote to wisdom only that time which cannot be spent any business? How late it is to begin to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

A Year in Books: 2015

Last year I made the goal to read 52 books. I read 29. Obviously, I completely failed to hit my goal, but I’m still claiming it a successful reading year. Here’s why:

1. I read better books

Check out my 2013 reading list on Goodreads and you’ll some truly terribly books like The Hangman’s Daughter and The Magician’s Assistant. Ugh. I have vaccuum-like tendencies when I’m reading, doesn’t matter if it’s garbage, once I’m reading a story, I don’t stop. In 2014 I prepared myself. I had books lined up on both Kindle and print so anytime I finished something I would pick up the next best thing to read.

The result of this is that my 2014 reading list is something I’m actually proud of. For example:

  • 1984: every bit as wonderful and intense at 28 as it was at 14
  • Invisible Man: the final word on the mental shift that happens as people become aware of systems of oppression
  • The Soul of the White Ant: a beautiful book written by naturalist, Eugene Marais, who spent 10 years studying termites.

2. I went deeper

Realizing that I can only read X number of books in a year gave me a lot of focus on what topics I wanted to explore. Instead of thinking as books as just the greatest way to spend a Saturday morning, I’m starting to be much more intentional about choosing books that will allow me to explore the topics I’m excited about.

I loved every page of A People’s History of the United States of America, and wanted to keep exploring the people and books that Howard Zinn mentioned. So far, I’ve read Assata (book review here). I am currently reading Emma Goldman’s, Living My Life. And just finished Johnny Got His Gun, which is a fairly short read, and one of the most excellent, disturbing, bizarre, and perfect books I have ever read.

West with the Night was my favorite book of 2013 and probably a top 10 of all time so I followed that with The Lives of Beryl Markham. While nowhere close to being the exquisite literary masterpiece that is West with the Night, I still enjoyed learning more about Beryl Markham and getting the authorship question definitively answered.

I’ve never reached the final stages of a project and haven’t wanted to rip it all out, completely, every bit of it, and start over from the very beginning. Because of this, I feel a weird affinity for D.H. Lawrence who did this not once, but THREE TIMES during the writing of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I love this book and was interested in reading Lawrence’s prior attempts that he declared unfit. His second version, John Thomas and Lady Jane, isn’t half the book of the original, but it was fun to read simply to compare what parts of the story he kept and destroyed.

3. I read new authors

There are some authors that I’ve always meant to read, but for whatever reason, I never quite go around to it. This year I made that a bigger point. Here were some highlights:

  • Margaret Atwood: I wish I could go back in time and give Margaret Atwood to 13 year old me. She would have been so in love with The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved as well in all of its dystopic, anti-feminist future. She also would have loved Cat’s Eye, present me was a bit more “meh.”
  • While I was little late in my discovery of Margaret Atwood, I picked the perfect time in my life to pick up volume 4 of the Diary of Anais Nin. A younger me would have been derailed by and infatuated with Nin’s brooding sentimentality. She is dreamy, idealistic, and often just annoying. But she’s also right, it can’t always be the time for furious debate, obsession with the daily grind, and incessant conversation about the latest indignation. Sometimes it’s time for art, music, friends, beauty, self-introspection, and conversations that last late into the night.
  • I finally read Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It lived up to every single bit of the hype.

4. I gave up on Hemingway

In another attempt to appreciate one of the “great authors of all time,” I picked up The Sun Also Rises. It’s a story about rich, self-entitled white people who drink too much, party too much, and get awkward when they realize that it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed during the running of the bulls. This causes their vacation to end on an awkward note and they all go home. This is just a boring story, I don’t care how tidy his writing is. The Beautiful and the Damned is the very best book about the disillusionment of wealth. As far as I’m concerned, that topic is exhausted and no one needs to write or read any other book on the subject of “poor rich people”.

So yeah, that was attempt number 3ish on Hemingway, and I have officially given up. Though, just to be fair, he may not be much of a storyteller, but he’s still a damn good writer.

5. I’m expanding my goals

The best thing about setting this overly-ambitious reading goal was that it made me much more intentional about what I read. Like I said at the beginning, the reminder that there is a limited number of books you can read is a powerful motivator to read books worth reading. But the same thing applies to every part of my life. There are only so many movies I can watch, places I can visit, and years I can live. So this year, I’m trying to be a little more intentional about all of these things. I’m also going to read 35 books 🙂

Venceremos

assataYou won’t learn about Assata Shakur in an average history lesson. In fact, her name probably won’t even come up during Black History Month. She’s one of those revolutionaries that continues to make people uncomfortable. For one, she’s still alive. For another, she had the nerve to out-maneuver several of the USA’s beloved institutions — the legal system, the FBI, even the New Jersey State Police.

Assata is no Rosa Parks. She’s one of those people whose stories will force you to question things you hold to be true, or want to hold to be true. For example, if you want to go on believing that our legal system is just, that racism is dead, and that police violence does not target people of color, well, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’re curious about why this 60+ year old lady is the only female on the FBI’s most wanted list, what an absolute clown-show of a fake trial looks like, or what the BPP was like in the 1970’s, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Assata calls a pig a pig. Her style of writing, like her style of revolution, is no-nonsense. This is a woman that believes ideas are only as good as the actions they lead to, a woman that spent 20 months in solitary confinement and didn’t break, a woman that was beaten viciously, in court, in the presence of a judge, for refusing to have her photograph taken. Her story is important.

In 1979 Assata escaped from prison, she is still alive and well in Cuba. But in the wake of Ferguson and Ronald Singleton, we should all remember that the things Assata was fighting against are also still alive and well.

Oh and, fun fact, Assata is Tupac’s godmother.

A Brief Foray into the World of Numbers

51-dSzPWJ7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_History is one of those subjects that a proper education simply ruins. It’s taught like accounting – a list of dates, a list of people, a list of events. A spreadsheet for art, a spreadsheet for ideas, and a spreadsheet for society. Stories are stripped of so much nuance and subtlety that the facts, while factual, still manage to be completely false. I suppose this is what sucks about so much education. In our mad dash to get to the right answer, we miss all the fun.

The best way to understand history always involves a lens. Whether it’s a biography, an issue, or field of study. Standard history  tends to revert to a storyline of whoever won. So it goes.  Much to my surprise, one of the best history books I have read to date is really a book about mathematics. Another subject completely stripped of its humor when you learn it in school. Here’s Looking at Euclid is an absolutely charming look at humans and our relationship to numbers. The array of characters are delightful, including:

  • Pierre Pica, a French anthropologist who spends several weeks with the Matuhundra tribe in the Amazon, after which he loses his ability to count.
  • Kazuo Haga an entomologist and origami rebel.
  • David Hilbert, the mathematician that ruined the fun for everyone when he “proved” hyperbolic surfaces didn’t exist because there was no formula to describe them. Until 100 some years later when Diane crocheted these very surfaces, proving that while math can’t really get its head around them (yet), they most certainly do exist.

Alex Bellos is a delightful storyteller because he is so obviously delighted by the story he’s telling. He makes jokes like this, “Persistence is sort of like a sausage machine that produces only 11 very curious sausages.” I’ll admit, there were swaths of the books where I was in over my head, where the author delved into formulas and proofs and I lost my patience, but even those duller sections (for me) were made rewarding with his oddly hilarious summaries.

For large parts of the book I felt a sense of awe. That for thousands of years humans have been so captivated by numbers. Often misunderstanding them and misusing them, frequently falling in love with them, and occasionally even worshiping them.  It’s incredible to be reminded that ideas like probability and statistical significance were world-changing discoveries. Ideas that changed history. The scary thing is that if we forget that these things were was once unknown then we can forget why it’s so important for it to be known. Understanding numbers has pulled humanity forward. Dragging us out of the darkness of human ignorance and into a world abundant with knowledge and information.

A Year In Books

Bookshelf via monsterjane

The average American reads 17 books a year. Like most benchmarks, this one is a grotesque over-generalization and one that immediately made me want to see how I stacked up. I checked my Goodreads and filled in some missing pieces then polished off one last read bringing the final count to 26. I am above average!

Here are some highlights from my past year of reading:

West With The Night, Beryl Markham

The man in my life has an uncanny knack at picking up completely random books that turn out being wonderful. I do not share this skill. On the day that I so unfortunately selected The Hangman’s Daughter, the worst read not only of the year but possibly of the decade, he picked up West With the Night. While I mired through stiff characters, witch hunts, and heavy-handed plot twists, he was reading snippets like this:

…it was even more disconcerting to examine your charts before a proposed flight only to find that in many cases the bulk of the terrain over which you had to fly was bluntly marked: ‘UNSURVEYED.’ It was as if the mapmakers had said, ‘We are aware that between this spot and that one, there are several hundred thousands of acres, but until you make a forced landing there, we won’t know whether it is mud, desert, or jungle – and the chances are we won’t know then!

Markham worked as a bush pilot in Africa for years, primarily spotting for elephants – a career choice she later questions herself for making. Her life was fascinating, her humor among the driest, and her writing absolutely captivating. In spite of the fact that she once spurned the advances of Ernest Hemingway, it was the discovery of a letter of his in the early 1980’s that brought West With the Night out of obscurity:

Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? …She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.

That about sums it up, it really is a bloody wonderful book.

Vonnegut

This was my third attempt at reading Vonnegut. As a kid I found him a bit of a grumpy old man. At 21 I found him snarky and cutting edge. This time I was delighted to discover that he sits perfectly between those original impressions with a high dose of humor and astuteness tossed in. While Cat’s Cradle remains among my favorites, it was in the rambling, exposed pages of Timequake that I really fell in love with him.

Vonnegut is his own animal.Writing exists to serve him. His characters are caricatures, his plotlines haphazard. He’s repetitive – constantly recycling phrases, scenarios, and themes. His protagonists tend to be useless at moving the story forward, either crazy (Dwayne Hoover, Elliot Rosewater) or mostly useless (Billy Pilgrim, Leon Trout). It’s wonderful. When you read Vonnegut you get the sense that he’s not trying to entertain or enlighten you. Rather, like Kilgore Trout, he wrote because he couldn’t stop writing, because writing was his preferred method of making sense of the world he lived in.

Zimbabwe

I read two books about Zimbabwe. First I read The Last Resort by Rogers Douglas, a decidedly mediocre writer who happened into a wonderful story. I hate when that happens. He is as beige as his parents are colorful and I spent three-quarters of the book strongly disliking him. But by the end, however, the book was a success. He  stopped being irritating and my interest in Zimbabwe was piqued.

I sent a message to an old friend who left that country over a decade ago. He recommended Peter Godwin. I spent the next month carefully picking my way through The Fear. Picking because it’s heartbreaking and some parts of it are beyond gruesome. When I finished it I was left thinking about Vonnegut’s summary of the deafness of humanity in Galapagos –  when our bellies are full it becomes very easy to forget how horrible the world is. That was the only excuse I could think of for how stunningly ignorant I was of Zimbabwe’s story.

Things I Should Have Read a Very Long Time Ago

The world is filled with dull, unimaginative, flacid people. It’s filled with people who accept the truths they are told and defend those tired ideas long after they cease to hold any value. Malcom X was not one of those people. A dynamic person who above all else, chased truth. Stalked it, hunted it down. Even when his heroes fell and he realized the truth he had found wasn’t all that and more, he continued his pursuits. The Autobiography of Malcom X is the story of his life.

It’s a shame I wasn’t force-fed this book in high school, but it’s my fault it took me so long to pick it up on my own. Everyone should read this book and take a moment to question the people we are told to revere. The people strangely absent from our history books are quite telling about how far (or not) we have actually progressed.

Rediscovering John Steinbeck

A bad author is a liar. They create characters that don’t behave like people behave, they make you think the world is the way they wish it was and not the way it is. The best author is John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck is uniquely gifted at teaching you more about people then you could ever learn on your own. When you read a Steinbeck character you know if you’ve met that kind of person before, and when you do meet them, you recognize them. That’s an astonishing talent. He will teach how people feel, what they think, how to read them, how their minds work. His stories are tools to explore the depth and variety of humans. This is one of Steinbeck’s characters in Cannery Row:

Hazel’s mind was like wandering alone in a deserted museum. Hazel’s mind was choked with uncatalogued exhibits. He never forgot anything but he never bothered to arrange his memories. Everything was thrown together like fishing tackle in the bottom of a rowboat, hooks and sinkers and line and lures and gaffs all snarled up.

I adored Steinbeck when I was a kid, long before I really grasped the “moral” of his stories. It was in his books that I realized how gray people can be. That no one is all good or all evil, that our brains are fickle, unreliable things, and most of us are just bumbling around trying to get some things right every now and then.

For 2014

I read some good stuff this year, I also read some garbage. For years my approach to reading has been something like feeding a goat. Put something in front of a goat and it will eat it. Put a book in front of me and I will read it, all of it, and probably very fast so that I can read the next thing. I wasted time on a few pretty pathetic reads this year.

In 2014 I want to read 52 books. I want to read more biographies, not memoirs of people with medium-interesting lives, but biographies of people who made an impact on the world. I want to read Mark Twain and Hemingway, both of whom I wasn’t ever able to get into before. I want to finish reading a few that I started, but got distracted from – The Joy Luck Club, A World Lit Only by Fire, and Zealot. Also, I would love some recommendations.

Happy reading!

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Book Review: Switch

“For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently…Ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: Can you get people to start behaving in a new way?”

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Like most of the books that are worth reading, I find it almost impossible to write a “review” of this one. It’s already seeped so deeply into my brain and entrenched itself in my thinking that I’m claiming the ideas as my own and am left relying on my Kindle notes to pull the most interesting parts and proper accreditation. Of course, this is a pointless endeavor because every page of this book was the most interesting part and I basically just highlighted the entire thing.

So I’ll say this, if you have ever thought it would be great to fix the malnourishment problem in rural Vietnam, save an endangered species, protect your colleagues from an evil coworkers, or improve the government’s procurement process, then read this book. I haven’t read a ton of books about change and change management but I’m about 99% certain that this is the only one worth reading.

As an added bonus, the book is written by the Heath brothers who, literally, wrote the book on making ideas stick. Which means this isn’t a book you’ll read and forget. It will crawl into you until anytime someone describes a problem you find yourself thinking, “rider, elephant, or path?”

Book Review: Mindfire

What: Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds, a book of essays on topics ranging from, “On God and Integrity,” to “How to Convince Anyone of Anything”

Who should read it: People who are bored with inspiration that comes in 140 characters are less, but don’t feel like enduring 300 pages of the latest theories on management, innovation, user experience, or whatever the author-with-one-single-thought is focusing on

Why: Because it’s inspiring and odd and will do exactly what the title promise – set your mind on fire, or at least give it a little buzz

When: Hold onto this book, read it slowly, absorb it, take notes, it will be worth it

For a little taste:

“Any act that confines a mind to one way of thinking cannot be good.”

“Travel makes clear how arbitrary the rules we defend are. We often have trivial reasons for being offended.”

“If you have kept the same beliefs and theories your entire life, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

“Hate is easy. Destroying things takes much less effort than making them—always has and always will.”

“An Artist is committed to their ideas in ways most people are not.”

“A good critic spends as much energy describing what something is, as well as what it isn’t.”

“I’m starting to judge people less by my own values, and more by how their actions match their own proclaimed values.”

Book Review: “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd”

This book exists somewhere in the realms of marketing, philosophy, and cultural commentary. Packed with fabulous bite-sized pieces like:

“I have always thought that the way to keep criticism from devolving into cynicism is to make it the starting point rather than the punctuation mark..”

“Note that the mockery quotient of a category is directly correlated to the amount of meaningless differentiation in it.”

“Consumption is shorthand for identity; people reveal who they are by revealing what they consume.”

For anyone interested in branding, marketing, cultural commentary, or what makes people/products/services exceptional – this book is for you.

For anyone who suspects that all the superficial demonstrations we all give of how “different” we are, is really nothing more than a dialogue that allows us all to avoid the uncomfortable task of having to disrupt the status quo in any way that is meaningfully different – this book is for you.

For anyone who wants to work in marketing, branding, or advertising – this book is absolutely for you.

Book Review: “The Social Animal”

“We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness.  Over the past few years, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, and others have made great strides in understanding the building blocks of human flourishing.”

I’m not good at book summaries. In one of my favorite books, East of Eden, John Steinbeck describes one of the characters as mucking through books and emerging from them with the words still stuck on him. This book made me feel like that. I can’t gain an objective veiw point on it because it’s still stuck to me. It’s interesting, it’s heartfelt, it’s sad, but mostly, it rings with truth. The characters are real – they do things that real people would do.

Mostly this book is about the human brain. A vast and fascinating topic. David Brooks goes into detailed explanations, drawing on longitudinal studies stretched over lifetimes, as well as the old rats and college sophomores to explain what we are learning about the design and development of the human brain, but I think my favorite part of this book is that the more we learn the less we know.

I think there was a brief space in time (The Industrial Era) where humans thought we could figure it out. And it made us arrogant and cruel and coldly scientific. The optimist in me believes that we really are going through a revolution in consciousness and that people will become more ok with admitting that we don’t have a clue what’s going on. Yes, it’s all neurons firing and cells moving and gravity and science, but it seems to me that the more we know the more we come face to face with the vastness of what we can’t even fathom.

So here’s to humans, the social animals, the little bumbling race on planet earth uncovering a whole new layer of mystery we don’t know shit about.