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2013 Summer Reading List — Curated Recommendations For a Curious Mind

I bet you’d like to read more this summer. Wouldn’t we all. Well, stop talking about it and start finding some books already.

Here is a curated list of multi-disciplinary books that can help fill your brain and a few that might even help you unwind.

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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?

Overall it’s a fascinating explanation of self-deception—how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

How We Reason

How We Reason

Good reasoning can lead to success; bad reasoning can lead to catastrophe. Yet, it’s not obvious how we reason, and why we make mistakes – so much of our mental life goes on outside our awareness. In recent years huge strides have been made into developing a scientific understanding of reasoning. This book by one of the pioneers of the field, Philip Johnson-Laird, looks at the mental processes that underlie our reasoning. It provides the most accessible account yet of the science of reasoning. We can all reason from our childhood onwards – but how? ‘How We Reason’ outlines a bold approach to understanding reasoning. According to this approach, we don’t rely on the laws of logic or probability – we reason by thinking about what’s possible, we reason by seeing what is common to the possibilities. As the book shows, this approach can answer many of the questions about how we reason, and what causes mistakes in our reasoning that can lead to disasters such as Chernobyl. It shows why our irrational fears may become psychological illnesses, why terrorists develop ‘crazy’ ideologies, and how we can act in order to improve our reasoning. The book ends by looking at the role of reasoning in three extraordinary case histories: the Wright brothers’ use of analogies in inventing their flyer, the cryptanalysts’ deductions in breaking the German’s Enigma code in World War II, and Dr. John Snow’s inductive reasoning in discovering how cholera spread from one person to another. Accessible, stimulating, and controversial, ‘How We Reason’ presents a bold new approach to understanding one of the most intriguing facets of being human.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

The world would be better off if people paid more attention to Nassim.

Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish.

In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.

Furthermore, the antifragile is immune to prediction errors and protected from adverse events. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is what we call “efficient” not efficient at all? Why do government responses and social policies protect the strong and hurt the weak? Why should you write your resignation letter before even starting on the job? How did the sinking of the Titanic save lives? The book spans innovation by trial and error, life decisions, politics, urban planning, war, personal finance, economic systems, and medicine. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are loud and clear.

Antifragile is a blueprint for living in an uncertain world.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

When T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom first appeared in 1922 it was immediately recognized as a literary masterpiece. In writing his extraordinary account of the Arab Revolt of 1916–1918 and his own role in it, T.E. Lawrence sealed his place in history and legend as Lawrence of Arabia. Widely regarded as the last great romantic war story and described by Winston Churchill as one of “the greatest books ever written in the English language,” it conveys a world of wonders, written in the same committed fashion that Lawrence applied to his duties in Syria, this is a towering achievement of both autobiography and military history, as well as a first-rate adventure story, Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a must read. Wilder Publications is a green publisher. All of our books are printed to order. This reduces waste and helps us keep prices low while greatly reducing our impact on the environment.

Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders

Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders

I learned more from a summer with Buffett’s letters than two years doing an MBA. On the flip side, I didn’t meet as many people.

This book compiles the full, un-edited versions of every one of Warren Buffett’s letters to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. In addition to providing an astounding case study on Berkshire’s success, Buffett shows an incredible willingness to share his methods and act as a teacher to his many students.

There are hundreds of books about Buffett’s life, advice, and methods. These are his actual letters — word for word — a “lesson plan” of his views on business and investing. You can find most of the letters for free on Berkshire’s website, but this compiles them into a well-designed, easily readable format.

If you don’t have time to read the entire book, you can read the Cliff notes.

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking

Analogy is the core of all thinking. This one isn’t for the beach.

We are constantly faced with a swirling and intermingling multitude of ill-defined situations. Our brain’s job is to try to make sense of this unpredictable, swarming chaos of stimuli. How does it do so? The ceaseless hail of input triggers analogies galore, helping us to pinpoint the essence of what is going on. Often this means the spontaneous evocation of words, sometimes idioms, sometimes the triggering of nameless, long-buried memories.

Why did two-year-old Camille proudly exclaim, “I undressed the banana!”? Why do people who hear a story often blurt out, “Exactly the same thing happened to me!” when it was a completely different event? How do we recognize an aggressive driver from a split-second glance in our rearview mirror? What in a friend’s remark triggers the offhand reply, “That’s just sour grapes”? What did Albert Einstein see that made him suspect that light consists of particles when a century of research had driven the final nail in the coffin of that long-dead idea?

The answer to all these questions, of course, is analogy-making—the meat and potatoes, the heart and soul, the fuel and fire, the gist and the crux, the lifeblood and the wellsprings of thought. Analogy-making, far from happening at rare intervals, occurs at all moments, defining thinking from top to toe, from the tiniest and most fleeting thoughts to the most creative scientific insights.

Like Gödel, Escher, Bach before it, Surfaces and Essences will profoundly enrich our understanding of our own minds.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley

A Curious Man- The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert Believe It or Not Ripley

As portrayed by acclaimed biographer Neal Thompson, Ripley’s life is the stuff of a classic American fairy tale. Buck-toothed and cursed by shyness, Ripley turned his sense of being an outsider into an appreciation for the strangeness of the world. After selling his first cartoon to Time magazine at age eighteen, more cartooning triumphs followed, but it was his “Believe It or Not” conceit and the wildly popular radio shows it birthed that would make him one of the most successful entertainment figures of his time and spur him to search the globe’s farthest corners for bizarre facts, exotic human curiosities, and shocking phenomena.

Ripley delighted in making outrageous declarations that somehow always turned out to be true—such as that Charles Lindbergh was only the sixty-seventh man to fly across the Atlantic or that “The Star Spangled Banner” was not the national anthem. Assisted by an exotic harem of female admirers and by ex-banker Norbert Pearlroth, a devoted researcher who spoke eleven languages, Ripley simultaneously embodied the spirit of Peter Pan, the fearlessness of Marco Polo and the marketing savvy of P. T. Barnum.

In a very real sense, Ripley sought to remake the world’s aesthetic. He demanded respect for those who were labeled “eccentrics” or “freaks”—whether it be E. L. Blystone, who wrote 1,615 alphabet letters on a grain of rice, or the man who could swallow his own nose.

Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos

Living Within Limits

We fail to mandate economic sanity, writes Garrett Hardin, “because our brains are addled by…compassion.” With such startling assertions, Hardin has cut a swathe through the field of ecology for decades, winning a reputation as a fearless and original thinker. A prominent biologist, ecological philosopher, and keen student of human population control, Hardin now offers the finest summation of his work to date, with an eloquent argument for accepting the limits of the earth’s resources–and the hard choices we must make to live within them. In Living Within Limits, Hardin focuses on the neglected problem of overpopulation, making a forceful case for dramatically changing the way we live in and manage our world. Our world itself, he writes, is in the dilemma of the lifeboat: it can only hold a certain number of people before it sinks–not everyone can be saved. The old idea of progress and limitless growth misses the point that the earth (and each part of it) has a limited carrying capacity; sentimentality should not cloud our ability to take necessary steps to limit population. But Hardin refutes the notion that goodwill and voluntary restraints will be enough. Instead, nations where population is growing must suffer the consequences alone.

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