Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

(7/10) The Rational Optimist is Matt Ridley’s attempt to make all of us more optimistic about our lives, the world, and the future. The book takes us from the beginning of homo sapiens hundreds of thousands of years ago to the present day. His key theme throughout the book is free trade. He argues that through the free trade of goods, services, and ideas humans are able to specialize and increase productivity collectively. Free trade allows us to increase free time and productive time by allowing others to perform services for us. For example, nearly everyone in the developed world no longer hunts or raises their own food. Because food and other basic needs are met through free trade and exchange, people can specialize in other areas and we all benefit from this.

His explanations in the book are mostly very good. He sites key stats, tells his own version of historical events, and persuades the reader into his optimistic way of thinking. The only part I didn’t like is his description of climate change. His optimistic views about climate change and his proposed solutions are very irrational. For example, one of his solutions to ocean rise is for people to simply relocate. Relocation of hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities around the world is not even close to feasible or realistic. This would cause the worst humanitarian crisis in human history. He needs to take another look at the facts around this important issue.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Kline

(9/10) I loved this book. It’s a quick read and a lot of fun throughout. I loved all of the movie, video game, and 80s culture references. I also loved the author’s dystopian future prediction for the world. I had no trouble believing that this could, in fact, be our world in less than 30 years.

All that’s left to say is, I can’t wait for the movie!

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A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

(8/10) Nearly two decades have passed since the Columbine shooting. Finally one of the parents was able to tell their side of the story. This is a heartbreaking book about living in the aftermath of tragedy. She tells the story of Dylan Klebold’s childhood, upbringing, and eventual death. I think she showed a lot of courage writing this book, and I found her side of the story to be very informative while remaining sensitive to the victims of the tragedy.
In her words she describes the reason she wrote this book; “By telling my story as faithfully as possible, even when it is unflattering to me, I hope to shine a light that will help other parents see past the faces their children present. So that they can get them help if it is needed.”
Another important quote; “I taught Dylan to protect himself from lightning strikes, snake bites, and hypothermia. I taught him to floss, to wear sunscreen, and the importance of checking his blind spot twice. As he became a teenager, I talked as openly as I could about the dangers of drinking and drug use and I educated him about safe sexual behavior. It never crossed my mind that the gravest danger Dylan faced would not come from an external source at all, but from within himself.

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

(8/10) Killers of the Flower Moon tells two different stories simultaneously, one about a series of murders that took place in Oklahoma in the early 1900s and one about the formation and early history of the FBI. The book is a quick read and the story is fast-paced and interesting. It reads almost like a work of fiction.
The feelings I had most throughout this book were sadness and anger. The murders that took place were all Osage Native Americans in the early 1900s. Long story short, the Osage people were forcibly moved by the US government to inarable land in Oklahoma in the late 1800s. Turns out this land was chock-full of black gold, oil. So oilmen started paying royalties to the Indians as the oil boom in Oklahoma began. As more and more Indians became wealthier than their wildest dreams, the unthinkable happened – they started being murdered.
The author does a ton of research for this book. Most of the murders were never solved and often times no one ever tried to solve them. I felt sorrow and anger throughout this book because of the retelling of the awful history of the poor Native Americans. It’s impossible for me to describe the brutal details in a short book review, but the book itself does a fantastic job.

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On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

(9/10) This book is a quick read, and should be read by all Americans in this moment in history. We live in strange times in which most people seem to have forgotten entirely the lessons of the past century. Snyder does a fantastic job with this book using his vast knowledge of 20th century world history. He’s compiled 20 of the most important lessons we learned from communism and fascism in the 20th century and how those lessons apply today.
Here are some of the best lines:
“More than half a century ago, the classic novels of totalitarianism warned of the domination of screens, the suppression of books, the narrowing of vocabularies, and the associated difficulties of thought. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.” How true is this…
“It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual, and our collective trust in common knowledge that makes us a society. The individual who investigates is also a citizen who builds. The leader who dislikes the investigators is a potential tyrant.”
“Like the leaders of authoritarian regimes, the president promised to suppress freedom of speech laws that would prevent criticism. Like Hitler, the president used the word ‘lies’ to mean statements of fact not to his liking, and presented journalism as a campaign against himself.”
“The most intelligent of the Nazis, the legal theorist Carl Schmitt, explained in clear language the essence of fascist governance. The way to destroy all rules was to focus on the idea of the exception. A Nazi leader outmaneuvers his opponents by manufacturing a general conviction that the present moment is exceptional, and then transforming that state of exception into a permanent emergency. Citizens then trade real freedom for fake safety.” It’s important to remember the United State has been in a declared state of emergency since September 2001…
“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”
Read this book. NOW.

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Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink

(6/10) Extreme Ownership was written by two Navy SEALs describing the ways Navy SEALs succeed on the battlefield. The core concept of the book is about leadership and how leaders on the battlefield, in the board room, or in life in general must take ownership for every aspect of their mission.
In the military, the authors describe the SEALs as taking extreme ownership of missions to the point that a leader must take responsibility and blame for anything that goes wrong. The leader must never blame a subordinate. If someone else makes a mistake, it’s the leader’s fault for not training the subordinate or instructing them properly. There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. If the team succeeds, the leader must praise the subordinate and give them all the credit. True leaders take none of the praise, but all of the blame.
They translate their military lessons learned into the real world by educating and training business leaders on the same concepts. By training CEOs and corporate executives the concept of extreme ownership, they’re able to help companies make better decisions and better execute corporate strategies.
I found the concept of the book interesting, and there is much to learn from applying extreme ownership into your own life. However, there was no need to write a 300+ page book about it. This book could have been summarized in a few key stories and concepts in perhaps 50 pages. Regardless of how good the content of a book is, if it could have been written in a quarter of the time and page count, I don’t like it.

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Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

(9/10) After reading and loving Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, I had to quickly read his second book, Homo Deus. Where Sapiens focuses on humanity’s past, Homo Deus focuses on the future of our species. Harari uses his wide angle lens view of history in order to make predictions about the future. This book is a fascinating look at what it means to be human, humanity’s goals, and where our goals and desires will take us into the future.
Some key points from the book:
– Humanity has found solutions to the old problems that caused suffering throughout human history. These problems are famine, plague, and war. The new projects of the 21st century will deal with protecting humankind from our own power. Presently, there is a dilemma between perpetual economic growth and ecological catastrophe. Eventually humanity will reap what it sows in this regard.
– The three key problems/goals that humankind will try to solve in the future are immortality, happiness, and divinity. As technology improves and humanity becomes more powerful, we will strive to live forever, wire ourselves for never-ending happiness, and continue changing the world to meet our needs. Happiness will involve reengineering ourselves in order to quiet the inner voice that always wants more and is unsatisfied if more is not met.
– It is crucial to separate fact and fiction. It takes a great deal of work and thinking to figure out what is true and what is a story made up by other humans. War is a great example. The cause of war is fiction – a story made up by leaders and governments as to why two people should hate and fight each other. However, the suffering caused by war is very real and should be given more weight.
– Religion used to be a creative and innovative force in the old world, but now it is only an outdated, reactive force. It cannot keep up with the pace of change in today’s world. Biologists create a contraceptive and the pope doesn’t know what to do about it. Computer scientists invent the internet and rabbis argue over whether orthodox jews can surf it.
– What are the key problems facing humanity? In the next several years, the key focus should be on the turmoil in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, and the slowing Chinese economy. In the coming decades, the most critical issues are global warming, ecological catastrophes, growing inequality, and the disruption of the job market by robots and AI.

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