Things I’ve Learned from Books
I usually only retain about one thing from the best books I’ve read. It’s not always the overall thesis — sometimes it’s just a random, thought-provoking idea that makes me perceive the world in a new way; other times it’s an actionable concept that I incorporate into my life.
The accuracy of my memory may not be reliable as far as details, but the general points remain the same.
Here are some of those things I’ve learned from books that I can call to mind at the moment:
Cooked by Michael Pollan: This is what I’m currently reading, and Michael Pollan is probably my favorite writer at the moment. His books are endlessly fascinating and educational, so I will be including many of them in this list. So far the key thing I’ve learned from this book is that cooked food is (usually) more nutritious than raw food. This simple idea alone has already inspired me to cook more, something I’d been putting off for far too long due to laziness and lack of experience.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan: I read this nearly a decade ago, yet one of the throwaway musings that somehow sticks in my mind is that we’re all ultimately eating the sun. (This is because plants convert the sun’s energy into food by way of photosynthesis, and — whatever you’re directly putting into your mouth — plants start at the bottom of that chain.)
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: The most reductive we can get as far as a healthy diet is: 1) eat food, 2) not too much, and 3) mostly plants.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan: A similar thing is happening in the brains of people on psychedelics as in those of people meditating, which is essentially a quieting of the area where what’s thought to be the “ego” lies.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari: — Pre-agricultural humans probably only worked an average of about 4 hours a week. My recollection on the number he mentioned might be off — maybe it was 4 hours a day, or something else — but the same lesson that I took away applies: it’s unnatural for humans to work* as much as we do in modern society, especially when that “work” has no direct correlation to our survival or happiness. This concept has relieved me of any guilt I might have felt for not working as much as other people and, on the contrary, has inspired me in my pursuit to work as little as possible. Ideally, my time should be spent only in meeting the needs of my survival, and then after that only in doing the things I love and having a hella good time.
*As in, for money. If it’s, say, to build a shelter or create something for your own enjoyment, that’s a different thing entirely and exactly where one’s efforts should be going.
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha: Although this book usually serves as a manifesto for polyamory, for me the overall lesson was similar to the one I got from Sapiens, which is that prehistoric life (i.e., the natural disposition of the human animal) was probably very much an Eden, and so — in my desire to return to paradise to the degree that modern life allows — I should focus my efforts on little more than my survival and, the rest of the time, my pleasure.
These are just a handful of books that come to mind at the moment. I’m sure I’ll add to this list in future posts.