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Happy last Friday of the year!

Welcome to the fourth and a special issue of The Curious Letter. 

It's a collection of what I think are the best three books, three podcasts, and three articles that I discovered in 2019.

It was incredibly difficult to pick only three in each category, so I also added a few honorable mentions, and I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I have.

📖 Top 3 Books of 2019

 

1. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This fanfic by AI researcher and writer Eliezer Yudkowsky is the best book I've read this year, and it's now in my top-30 books of all time.

It's alternate-universe Harry Potter where Petunia has married an Oxford biochemistry professor, and young genius Harry grows up fascinated by science and science fiction. When he finds out that he is a wizard, he tries to apply scientific principles to his study of magic, with sometimes surprising results. 

It’s not just a fanfiction, but also a platform where Yudkowsky bounces off complex ideas in a way that’s accessible and fun.

This book is brilliant and thought-provoking. You will laugh, you will want to cry, you will root for the characters. But more than anything, you will learn a lot.

As one of the reviewers said, "Anyone who is a Potter series fan and a rationalist, an economist, a libertarian, a devotee of reason and science, or just a nerd, will love this work", and I couldn't agree more. 

I immensely enjoyed it in audio, but it's also available in PDFEPUB, and even as a podcast

 

2. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

 

I thought a lot about whether should this book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh or "Awareness: Conversations with the Masters" by Anthony de Mello take this spot. 

Even though they are both a masterpiece in its own right, "Peace Is Every Step" has had more influence on me this year. 
It helped a great deal to go through a rough time, return to the fullness of the present moment, and gain back seemingly lost peace of mind.

It is a beautifully written book, a calming balm for the soul, and a rallying cry for compassion. If you're looking for guidance in living a more mindful, peaceful life, and ready to see the world differently, read this.

 

3. Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships

 

Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication helped me to reflect deeply on how I use communication in my everyday life. Its core ideas sound obvious yet hard to implement without very conscious effort.

Every time that we communicate with other people, we can either build a deeper connection, understanding, and compassion or simply ignore them and create further disconnection.

He argues that all frustration and anger are about unfulfilled needs, hence our communication should be about getting to the core of those needs. And even though it sounds simple and obvious, it turns out to be incredibly difficult, since we not only cannot properly communicate those needs but often we don't even know what needs do we have.

This book may save the relationship you have, improve the future ones, and make your life much better as a result.

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Honorable mentions: 

  • Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
  • Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don't Have To by David Sinclair
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David J. Epstein

📻 Top 3 Podcasts of 2019

 

1. Naval Ravikant – How To Get Rich

That was the easiest pick of all because the sheer amount of wisdom packed into this episode is unmatchable by any other podcast known to me.

Even though it's based on the tweet-storm from 2018, the podcast came out in 2019, and this updated version also includes all the Q&A episodes they did after the tweetstorm and 10 minutes of unreleased material on finding time to invest in yourself — at the end.  

 

2. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History – Supernova in the East (Part I, Part II, Part III)


Each episode of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is a masterpiece. He takes you deeper into the subject matter than you could've ever hoped for.
Dan's meticulousness, attention to detail, and his way of diving into the episodes of history and re-contextualizing them in a way that modern listeners can relate to, make this a must-listen for history aficionados. 

The "Supernova in the East" series tells the story of Imperial Japan's side of World War II, it offers a different perspective on Japan's role in the notorious events of the war, including the Rape of Nanjing and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

 

3. The Tim Ferriss Show – Jim Collins - A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath (#361)


Some of you may know that The Tim Ferriss Show is my favorite podcast. It was the first one I've subscribed to back in 2014, and I've listened to every single episode ever since.

This year, the most influential episode for me was Jim Collins' interview.

They talk about tons of different fascinating concepts, including "who luck" – the luck of the right people that intersect your life plays in the journey, "the flywheel effect" – building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond (I even made the whiteboard notes about that and had it next to me during my three months in Mexico earlier this year), and many others.

 

3.1 The Portal – Tyler Cowen - The Revolution Will Not Be Marginalized


I'm going to cheat here by adding another podcast, but I have to include "The Portal" by Eric Weinstein.
It is one of my recent finds, and it has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.

Every single episode is fascinating, thought-provoking, and makes you feel dumb as you appreciate the sheer scope of knowledge and intellect of Eric and his guests.

I've had to choose only one episode, and it's a wide-ranging (it truly is) conversation between Eric Weinstein and Tyler Cowen – the economist, author of MarginalRevolution.com, and one of my favorite thinkers. It starts rather slow, but then the interview format turns into a brilliant conversation.

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Honorable mentions:

📰 Top 3 Articles of 2019

 

1. The Story of Us – Wait But Why

Another easy pick for the top spot. Tim Urban's Wait But Why is one of my favorite blogs, where each essay could easily be an excellent book on its own. His essays on procrastination, picking a life partner, AI, and, of course, the Elon Musk series, are absolutely brilliant, and my favorite reads on the internet.

"The Story of Us" series took him three years to write, currently has nine chapters, and appears to be his most ambitious project to date. He went deep into the "U.S. history, world history, evolutionary psychology, political theory, and neuroscience, through dozens of books, hundreds of datasets and articles, and into literally thousands of conversations" to write it, and I can certainly say the result was well worth it.

 

2. Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life

"Knowing the truth, that nothing matters, can actually save you in those moments. Once you get through the terrifying threshold of accepting that, then every place is the center of the universe and every moment is the most important moment and everything is the meaning of life." – Dan Harmon.

This essay by Daniel Jeffries goes insanely deep into the meaning of life through the lens of “Rick and Morty” (and yes, I obviously love that show) by asking the classical question that is at the heart of all the great stories throughout all time:

"Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?"

P.S. You can start with this video by Will Schoder.

 

3. What the Hell is Going On? and Peter Thiel's Religion by David Perell

These two long-form essays are remarkably well-written and present compelling arguments in a detailed way.

In "What the Hell is Going On?" David discusses how the shift from information scarcity to information abundance is reshaping commerce, education, and politics.

In the second essay, he is exploring the significance of religion through the lens of Peter Thiel – a person I've been particularly curious about this year. I've found an interesting introduction to Rene Girard and Mimetic Theory I wasn't familiar with before, and lots of great points, such as:

"If you’re going to follow a role model, find one who you won’t compete with. Don’t look to your peers for answers. Find somebody in a different stage of life who you admire and respect. They should be somebody who defied the status quo and took an independent path."

and

"When we pursue optionality, we avoid bold decisions. Like anything meaningful, venturing into the unknown is an act of faith. It demands responsibility. You‘ll have to take a stand, trust your decision, and ignore the taunts of outside dissent. But a life without conviction is a life controlled by the futile winds of fashion. Or worse, the hollow echoes of the crowd."

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Honorable mentions:

💎 The Best Products of 2019


1. Oura Ring


I've only got my hands on this ring this year, and I believe it's the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. It helped me immensely to better understand the importance of sleep and how my body works and reacts to certain activities, so I could have a better quality of life.
 

2. Waking Up app by Sam Harris (iOS, Android)


If you want to develop a real regular meditation practice or to level up your existing meditating experience, the guided 50-day course in this app is probably the best way to do so.
 

3. Notion


This year, I've finally organized all my notes that were scattered between Apple Notes, Bear, and Google Docs, built an information-capturing system, and started building my second brain.

While there are dozens of apps you could do this in, after testing all of them, I've chosen Notion for its incredible flexibility, cross-device support, and powerful features.

 

What are the best books, podcasts, articles, and products that you discovered in 2019? Hit reply and let me know!

Also, feel free to reply back with questions and comments, and share this special issue with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up or just click on one of the buttons below:

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If you want to discuss anything from this issue, or if you find anything interesting, hit me up on Twitter!

Happy Holidays and see you next year,

Max

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