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📚 Reading Roundup: On Intellectual Endurance
Micro reviews of nonfiction I read recently. On the value of grit, adaptation, play, and making time to learn. Plus: Vikings!
The idea of a Resonance Calendar seems to have come from the community surrounding the notetaking app Notion, but awhile back I adapted it for my own uses and I’ve found it really useful as a casual periodic practice. The idea is to keep track of and reflect on the various things that you read, watch and listen to. I used to go back over what I read and review the summaries I wrote about why I bothered, but I fell out of the habit as my pregnancy progressed.
Now that the baby’s out and prone to taking naps, I’m starting to get back into the swing of things again. Here’s a selection of interesting nonfiction I read since she was born.
I deeply enjoyed this deep dive into the science of grit and growth mindset because it matches my understanding and experiences and provides much-needed, actionable advice for parents and people wanting to increase their productivity. The short version? Intellectual endurance really matters.
For visual inspiration for what vikings probably looked like, based on dye analysis of clothing recovered by archaeologists, check out this twitter thread. The effect is a lot more garish than the grimdark outfits you see in most mass media — the thread author likens it to a dress worn by their mother in the 70s.
For maybe the only balanced summary of Elon Musk I’ve seen in years, which includes what seemed like a plausible interpretation of his behavior and squared some circles for me, check out this book review of the 2015 biography. The tldr is that his superpower is pushing unreasonably hard, like some sort of modern-day xianxia hero. I’m actually using this fact as inspiration for a subversion of the gerne: stay tuned for more info about my latest fiction project 👀
For an hardcore programmer story from ye olden days, visit this link. For those of us who aren’t programmers, it’s still got some interesting philosophical and moral questions embedded into it about gambling and when you should or shouldn’t do what your bosses ask of you.
Ever hear of Emma Rotor? She was a badass unsung Filipino female scientist/mathematician from the atomic era, whose work on bomb trajectories went mostly unnoticed even by her family for many years.
I mentioned this before, but I recently picked up Duolingo and have been managing a pretty respectable streak. This blog post challenging the common wisdom that it’s easier for children to learn languages than adults was a big part of my motivation.
Consider this history of extreme cooling in the ancient past a casual reminder that the most important question is not whether or not climate change is caused by humans, but how we plan to adapt to it. Climate change is definitely a thing that happens periodically, and it can have huge impacts on human populations. Incidentally, on the subject of not caring whose fault it is, here’s a compelling argument that this year’s unusual hotness is because of a volcano.
Here’s an interesting defense of video game tech trees.
The small ship model of doing science can be explored here. I’d love to see this model pursued in a speculative fiction story instead of the university style. Incidentally, this whole substack is an amazing indictment of modern academia, see also: this article about how most people in psychology can’t even name the impacts of major names in the field having their life’s work declared fraudulent.
This article is oriented around best practices for raising healthy kids, but I took it as a useful reminder that adults need relaxation and play to be fully functional too. There’s a whole substack devoted to the idea that play makes us human. It’s worth checking out even though sometimes of the author’s got a habit of saying the quiet part out loud when it comes to his beliefs about religion, which I find a bit off-putting.
Speaking of whole substacks, the following publications (not all on Substack) had so many good articles that I don’t want to skew the list above, so I recommend just checking them out in general.
Money Stuff, because Matt Levine has a hilarious tone, not because banking trends and hedge funds are inherently interesting to me. He has a fun way of making a hypothetical sound simultaneously like an illuminating thought experiment and insane, and then turning around and relating it to a real thing in the finance world that just happened.
Ancient Beat does an amazing job of summarizing the interesting parts of new archaeological findings, oriented toward people interested in history and not necessarily the drudgery of academia.
A History of Mankind by David Roman has some fun deep dives into relatively obscure moments in history: if I was homeschooling and my kids were older, this is high on the list of things I’d make them read. I recommend it especially to fans of Brett Deveraux’s Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry.
Matt Lakeman’s blog is not really a travel blog — my favorite post of his is a review of a book about Aztecs — but lately, he’s been writing up his notes about different cultures he’s been visiting, and it's a really interesting series. This story about riding a coal train all the way across Mauritania is pretty representative.
If you have any interesting hidden gems you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for more stuff to read, particularly if it’s insightful, funny, or weirdly obsessive.
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