November has been a month full of change. I finally moved out of the crappy, falling apart, cupboard-sized flat I'd been living in, and into a much nicer place. I've got a bunch of interesting projects scheduled for December too. Anyway, here's what I read this month.
Everything I read in November
Madness - Roy Porter. A nice summary of the history of psychiatry and mental illness in Western cultures. While it's too short to give much analysis of the topic, it does provide a clear sense of how the field evolved.
The Drunkard's Walk- Leonard Mlodinow. After Nassim Taleb's work on randomness transformed the way I think, I've been looking for other books on the topic to supplement my understanding. The Drunkard's Walk focuses on how randomness impacts our lives while questioning ideas surrounding luck and success.
Emotions - Dylan Evans. Very far reaching for a relatively short book. Evans covers the basic science of emotions, contemplates perspectives from evolutionary psychology, looks at cultural differences and similarities in how people express their moods and explains the value of emotions. I plan on writing a fuller exploration of what I learned from his book at some point.
The 50th Law - Robert Greene. I'll admit straight off the bat that I had literally never heard of 50 Cent (I have a lot of cultural blind spots) when I bought this. I grappled with this one a bit. Having adored Robert Greene’s other books I expected to feel the same about this one, but it simply isn’t on the same level as The 48 Laws or Mastery. First, the good parts. Greene's writing is as eloquent as ever and his tactical advice is always spot on. There's a lot of solid advice surrounding fear, confidence, resilience, and resourcefulness. The downside is that the book ends up being very repetitive, and glamorizes violence in a way that seems intended to be controversial. Whereas his other books use little known historical figures as examples of certain character traits, the people referenced in this book tend to be well known and heavily analyzed (in other words, a lot of former American presidents.) It's certainly worth reading though, and the format is something I hope to see again.
The Pope's Elephant - Silvio A Bedini. Each month, I send out a book I consider to be unique and unusual to patrons of this site. The Pope’s Elephant was this month’s pick. It is impossible not to love the premise: in the 16th century, the pope had a pet elephant named Hanno. This book traces the story of Hanno, from his journey to Rome, participation in events, and last influence on the art and writing of the time. Bedini's research skills are extraordinary and it's hard to comprehend the sheer amount of work it must have taken to piece together this book from fragments of documents, letters, surviving journals, official reports and artwork. When reading about historical figures, it's often hard to truly see them as 'real' people. Their lives and surroundings can seem too alien to have much resonance today. Something about the story of Hanno humanizes the people who were affected by him, including Pope Leo X and the numerous Renaissance artists who painted and drew him. This book has been criticised for being too dry and wordy, but personally, I found Bedini's writing to be warm, engaging and well-crafted.
Tiny Beautiful Things - Cheryl Strayed. Reread. For the uninitiated, Tiny Beautiful Things is a collect of agony aunt columns written by Cheryl Strayed. She answers letters from people grappling with love, loss and finding meaning - more often than not by reflecting on her own life. I cried the second time around.
The Creative Habit - Twyla Tharp. The first thing that struck me about this book is how similar it is to Where Good Ideas Come From, which I read last month. The lessons about creativity Tharp draws from her own experience very much mirror those drawn from research into the topic. The Creative Habit is a practical guide to cultivating creativity in our everyday lives, rather than waiting for rare flashes of inspiration. Tharp explains what it takes to make a career out of your ideas, looking at the importance of daily rituals, finding the right inputs, and letting that lead to consistent outputs. My forays into using her advice in my own work have been valuable so far.
The Quiet Room - Lori Schiller. Last month I mentioned that I had lifted my self-imposed ban on reading mental health/addiction memoirs. The Quiet Room is an account of Schiller's experiences with schizophrenia. It's very open, honest and useful for those looking to better understand the illness. Like a lot of books in this genre, it is framed as a story of triumphant survival and recovery, although that doesn't quite ring true at the ending.
30 Lessons for Loving - Karl Pillemer. Two events led to me buying this book a few months ago: seeing my grandparents making it to their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary, and a slight crisis over my own inability to manage relationships. Looking for an explanation for how anyone can manage to stay married for decades, I came across this book. Pillemer interviewed about seven hundred people over sixty-five on their views about love and marriage. From what must have been an enormous amount of data, he distills thirty key lessons. A guidebook to love, if you will. I liked the perspective of viewing elderly people as 'experts on life.'
Emergence - Steven Johnson. I have read quite a few books on emergence, and this was my favorite so far. It's a superb introduction for those unfamiliar with this fascinating topic. Johnson has a knack for turning science into narratives, and for drawing topics together. The topics are scattered yet cohesive: slime mold, ants, the structure of cities, the media, evolutionary programming and more.
Deep Simplicity - John Gribbin. Another one on emergence and complexity, although a bit on the technical side. There's a lot of useful context on chaos theory and the history of mathematics. Reread required.
Other stuff I enjoyed this month
- OuiChoose kindly sent me a copy of The Big Picksure Book, a children's book about conscious consumption. I'm a sucker for cute picture books and this one is seriously adorable. If you're looking for a Christmas gift that teaches kids something in a non-preachy way, you can't go wrong with this book
- Someone asked about the music I listen to. Here's my current playlist of winter favorites.
- I'm not much of a jewelry person and until recently I didn't own a single piece. But, for my twentieth birthday, I got a Four Winds ring in silver and onyx from KA Gold Jewellery. Their work is phenomenal and it's the first time I've been able to find a ring that fits my tiny hands.
That's it for this month! As always, I'd love to hear what you have been reading/enjoying. Shoot me an email and let's chat.