Trust Me, I’m Lying Summary

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Trust Me, I’m Lying is a marketer’s take on how influential blogs have truly become, why that’s something to worry about, and how the internet is broken, which includes his own confessions of how he gamed the very same system to generate press for his clients.

As I said before, Ryan Holiday is a jack of all trades. While he’s more focused on writing right now, some of his media stunts he pulled for his clients were nothing shy of genius, including his idea Tucker Max use sponsored tweets to promote his new book, which turned ugly, but remained effective nonetheless.

Trust Me, I’m Lying is part confession, part revelation, as it explains how influential blogs have become, and why most of them abuse their storytelling powers for a quick buck, which Ryan knows because he draws on experience.

Here are 3 lessons from the book to keep in mind about blogging:

  • A blog is a business. Always.
  • Blogs will publish crap as long as it turns heads.
  • The blogging industry is the new stage for public witchhunts.

Want to learn how most blogs really work? Here we go!

Lesson 1: A blog is a business. And a business always needs to make money.

Nowadays, very few people blog as a hobby. Most bloggers do take their blogs very seriously, because they want them to make money. Whatever you’re doing, if you want to make money with it, it becomes a business.

The way most blogs make money is through advertising. For example you can use Google AdSense to place banner ads on your blog, and then get paid for each impression of the banner, meaning every time someone visits your blog, you get paid a small amount of money.

However, it requires hundreds of thousands of visitors per month to actually arrive at a point where your blog makes a decent income, and only few blogs with millions of visitors actually earn a six-figure annual income with ads alone.

But that might not be your endgame. Maybe you have something else entirely in mind: selling your blog for millions of dollars.

For example, did you know that the Huffington Post was sold to AOL for $315 million? And The Washington Post was sold to Amazon for $250 million. But in reality, very few single-owner blogs are ever bought for such extraordinary sums. Joel Brown is one of the few to have received offers for over a million dollars for his blog, Addicted2Success, but repeatedly turned them down.

Lesson 2: As long as it gets a blog readers, it will publish anything, even if it’s crap.

To get to that many page views, it takes a lot of content. A few dozen blog posts won’t do here, you need hundreds, if not thousands of posts to attract that many visitors – which means a lot of blogs will publish anything, as long as it creates buzz.

It matters less whether a post is accurately researched or has a positive spirit, than whether it gets people to click, and it shows. That’s why you see so many fluffy, meaningless headlines, along the lines of “5 Pics That Will Make You Even Angrier At Your Step Mother” or “Did He Really Spit Her In The Face?”.

A very common practice is to start with an attractive headline, which is then filled with useless content, mainly to make sure it gets clicks, without worrying about how readers will actually get value from the content.

Lesson 3: Blogs are the new stages for public witch hunts in the 21st century.

The practice of publishing almost anything, as long as it turns heads, leads to blogs fostering and supporting something that’s been a problem for centuries – public witch hunts. While better than gladiator battles in ancient Rome, supposed witches being burnt at the stake or guillotine beheadings in the 1700’s, public shaming can still have dramatic consequences.

We point fingers and assign blame to people we’ve never heard of let alone personally spoken to by venting our anger in the form of comments and sharing stories across our social profiles. Sadly, blogs like to take the stage all too much which is why they’re happy to demonize anyone, as long as it means money into their pocket.

This is a problem, because it turns innocent victims into targets. For example, big blogs like Gawker covered the story of Wikileaks and Julian Assange in a very positive light – until the first suspicions arose. As soon as he was (falsely) accused of being a sex offender, Gawker tore him apart in its posts, without ever justifying or correcting them later – thus massively damaging his public image in an irreparable way.

My personal take-aways

Running a blog like this one with a daily publishing model, this makes me worried that publishing quality suffers – but not to the degree Trust Me, I’m Lying describes. I do spot the problem though, although this has changed a bit in recent years, since ads have become a very unattractive source of income for blogs.

Most smart bloggers now focus on building an email list, and then creating products for their subscribers, as the amounts of traffic needed are too ridiculous to ever justify the effort of potentially never getting there. Blogs still have a lot of power in the public eye though, and you should know that with lots of power, there comes lots of responsibility. Very refreshing read, good summary, and a thrilling book

This Is Your Brain On Music Summary

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 This Is Your Brain On Music explains where music historically comes from, what it triggers in our brain, how we develop our tastes and why it’s a crucial part of our lives, along with what makes great musicians great.

Daniel Levitin is a man of many pursuits. He’s a cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, TED speaker, best-selling author, musician and record producer, but above all, he’s dedicated to one thing: helping us understand music better.

This Is Your Brain On Music was released in 2006 and became a New York Times bestseller, having sold over 1 million copies so far. It’s a look into what happens in your brain when rhythm, pitch, tempo, loudness and reverberation come together.

This analysis won’t only help you understand music better, it’ll also prepare you to become a better, more skilled musician, in case music is your passion.

As someone who loves music, I’m excited to learn more about something so simple, yet so complex.

Here are 3 lessons about the neuroscience of music:

  • Music is an essential part of evolution, not just a fad.
  • Whether you like a song or not is based on your expectations and ability to predict what’s next.
  • Every song you hear leaves an imprint for future reference in your brain.

Ready to look at your brain on music? Let’s explore!

Lesson 1: You could not take away music without changing the course of history, since it’s part of our evolution.

There’s a small minority of scientists that argues that music only serves hedonic purposes – it’s simply a byproduct of language and is only a pastime for us to feel pleasure. But that would mean that if you eliminated all music from the world right now, life would just go on as if nothing happened.

Can you imagine that?

I know I can’t. And I think you probably couldn’t either.

If so, then you’ll likely find yourself on the majority side of scientists, who believe that music played a key role in our evolution and has paved the way for our human ancestors to develop speech.

Music and speaking are quite similar, so it’s possible that by practicing singing and making sounds, our ancestors could have developed the skills needed to later articulate words.

Additionally, Darwin believed that music was a way of finding a mate for two reasons:

Singing and dancing requires you to be physically and mentally (and therefore sexually) healthy.

If you have time to sing and dance, your food and shelter are likely taken care of, which makes you a safe bet in terms of survival.

Looking at how musicians are idolized today and many are considered the sex symbols of their generation, I’d say Mr. Darwin’s argument is pretty sound, what do you think?

Lesson 2: Music is all about expectations and how well you can predict what’s to come.

How much you like a song depends primarily on one thing: how well you can predict what comes next. Great musicians play with your brain and expectations in the way that they get you to expect something, and then surprise you, before taking you back to comfortable terrain.

A great song surprises you, but not too much. It balances the familiar with the unknown, and therefore creates the perfect mix of comfort and excitement.

For example, many people sitting through a wedding service at a church will tear up only when “Here Comes The Bride” starts playing, because then they know what’s to come. Another classic move is to suddenly drop the music, for example in Jazz, and having the singer “prompt” the band at certain points (like Justin Timberlake does here).

There’s also something called the deceptive cadence, which is when a song repeats certain patterns over and over again, until you expect it to do nothing else and then, at the last chance it gets, an unexpected rhythm break or unfamiliar chord catches you off guard (kind of like the rhythm switch in this electronic song).

However, it’s important as a composer to not overdo this, because it’ll wear the listener out. For example, the song “Over The Rainbow” does a great job by ripping the listener out of his comfort zone with the chorus part “some-WHERE”, but then brings you back nicely with the rest of it.

Lesson 3: Each song you hear leaves an imprint in your brain, which is used for future reference.

Memory is an incredible complicated thing, but music seems to have somehow cracked the code – songs are really easy for us to remember.

While many areas of the brain light up simultaneously during music, such as your subcortical structures, auditory cortices, the hippocampus and others, something unique happens the very first time you hear any song: a certain set of neurons fires together, and a unique, abstract, generalized imprint is created.

This can then be called upon any future time you hear this song or a part of it. That’s why when studies looked at the brain waves of people when they listened to songs and compared them to when they were just imagining the song in their head, the patterns were indistinguishable.

The resulting model is called multiple trace theory and it suggests that our brains store both more abstract (like the overall combination of instruments, rhythm and melody), as well as more specific information (like the slang words in the lyrics) of the songs.

That’s how you can remember a childhood event from decades ago when you hear an old song or where you first listened to a song by your favorite artist.

My personal take-aways

Again, music is such a complex topic, yet it affects most people in this world somehow. Whether you’re just listening to music when you’re exposed to it, or wear your headphones every time you leave your house, learning more about music will give you a better understanding and make all your future listens better.

This book is the perfect place to start.

The World Without Us Summary

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The World Without Us imagines planet earth without us humans, detailing what will happen to nature and man-made creations long after we’re gone.

You’ve seen at least one movie that could be based on this book. A movie like I Am Legend, Planet of the Apes or The Day After Tomorrow, where the world as we know it ends and nature takes over. This book mulls over what our earth would look like, if this were to actually happen – you know, minus the zombies and artificial intelligence.

Alan Weisman is worried about our future too. With the help of his thought experiment in The World Without Us, we can draw some important conclusions on how our behavior must change for us to have one. What would happen to animals, plants and all of our man-made creations if all human being disappeared over night? A whole bunch of things.

Here are 3 of them:

  • Plastic will be around forever.
  • Predators will rise again.
  • Only a handful of human creations will survive the followingmillennia.

Ready for a trip around the world without us? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it’ll be around forever.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Usually everything that comes from nature is returned back to it eventually. When we die our bodies decay and even our bones eventually disintegrate and become part of the soil again. However, we’ve managed to create an exception.

Something we humans invented only 70 years ago, but that cannot possibly be biodegraded by nature and turned back into its original form: plastic.

Plastic cannot be broken down by microorganisms over time and therefore, will leave an impact on nature forever.

Rain, wind and the oceans can erode plastic, just like rocks, but that only makes it smaller, not disappear. Eventually, all plastic will be crushed into tiny particles and fibers. Nevertheless, these will stay around, letting plastic reach places its never gone before, thanks to the wind and water carrying it everywhere.

Scientists have verified this by feeding such tiny particles to bottom-feeding worms. They usually feed on organic material, but all of the plastic particles passed right through their digestive track and came back out with no effect or harm done.

Eventually, even plankton will be able to “eat” plastic, but it’ll stay around forever. With over 5,000 factories to produce nothing but plastic bags just in India, we’d do well to think about when we really need to use them.

Lesson 2: Predators will rise again and domestic farm animals will be their lunch.

We’ve drastically changed the world of animals as well. Many animals once prevailing in only small quantities now count billions in numbers, mostly for the purpose of serving as our food. Cows, pigs, chickens, fish, dogs, all have been domesticated and thrive under human protection.

But what if we were gone? A lot of these domesticated animals would starve, simply because they have no idea how to survive without human help. More importantly, almost none of the animals we domesticate are predators, which are outnumbered right now.

If you know anything about economics, a large supply of helpless prey will create a large demand for predators, so wild animals are likely to roam the streets, farms and cities. Without humans holding back the carnivores and protecting the animals they prey on, endangered species like tigers, lions, crocodiles, bears and even komodo dragons will explode in numbers.

Only for a while though. The large imbalance would be countered by another imbalance in favor of the predators, until the supply and demand of predators and prey evens out again.

Nevertheless, we’d see far more predators and carnivorous animals than today (or rather wouldn’t see, because we’re not here any more).

Lesson 3: Only a very small number of human creations will last for the following millennia.

We like to think that the things we create are of substance and will last a while, whether it’s the impression of an event we put together for work, an article we write, or a new, pompous building. Yet, when we look at the half-life of most of these things, they become laughable in the context of history. Especially imagining we wouldn’t be there to maintain them.

Most buildings, even skyscrapers, for example, are mere constructions of glass, steel and concrete, all of which will be withered away by water and wind in a few decades.

There are some exceptions though. The Great Pyramid of Giza, for example. It was built over 4,000 years ago and remained the tallest man-made structure for around 3,800 of those. That’ll last a while, even after we’re gone. Most other things that will include noble materials like gold, platinum or copper.

Like the Statue of Liberty, for example. It’s made from copper, which means it won’t react with salt and oxygen, as iron does, and can therefore live on for a few millennia.

The same goes for other things carved in stone, like Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Granite erodes very slowly – just a few centimeters every 10,000 years. Geologists thus expect the monument to last over seven million years.

The next time you’re trying to build something or leave a legacy, think 10x bigger and ask yourself if it’d survive even our own extinction.

My personal take-aways

The World Without Us is not a book for environmentalists. It’s a book for optimists. And careless people. If you’re trying to do something that makes the world a better place, this’ll help put your work into perspective. If you don’t care, then maybe you will now. Definitely worth picking up.

The Republic Summary

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The Republic is one of the most important works about philosophy and politics in history, written by Plato, one of Socrates students in ancient Greece, as a dialogue about justice and political systems.

When approaching new people on Twitter, I like to ask them fun and thoughtful questions. One of them is: “You get to have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be?” It’s fun to think about and actually not that easy to answer. While I’d love to be able to name someone like Plato or Socrates to have dinner with, I don’t think I would be able to understand even a word they’d say (even if they talked to me in plain English), because they’re thinking is on a much higher level than mine.

Luckily, these guys wrote it all down and many people have translated their words in ways even the average Joe like me can understand. You can think of Plato’s most notable work, “The Republic” as a documentation of a dialogue between Socrates, Plato’s mentor, and his students.

However, since it’s one of Plato’s “middle” dialogues from later in his life, chances are Socrates serves more as a mouthpiece for Plato’s own views here, rather than being the true original source of the ideas in this book about justice.

Here are the 3 lessons I think are most important:

Justice must be looked at on an individual, as well as a city level.

Both cities and souls can be divided into three distinct parts.

Philosophers trying to rule others justly will face lots of difficulty.

Do you want to understand the most important ideas of one of philosophy’s all-time greatest texts? Let’s learn what The Republic is about!

Lesson 1: You can’t say what’s just only for an individual or a city. You have to look at both.

The dialogue starts with Socrates asking his students to propose definitions of justice, all of which he dismantles quite quickly. As it turns out, defining justice without huge loopholes isn’t that easy. The reason is that it’s impossible to say what’s just if you only look at an individual or a city alone. You have to consider both.

Given this, Socrates comes up with his own idea of justice: minding one’s own business.

This has both an individual and a communal aspect to it. It means that everyone should take responsibility for their own role within society, and do as best a job as they can, thus benefitting themselves and the city as a whole.

For example, if a city has doctors, merchants, politicians, soldiers, artists, etc., then everyone can focus on their own role and no one will have to do everything, because each role serves the greater good of the society at large.

However, not everyone is suited for every role – we must consider our individual skills, as well as what the society needs, to determine it.

So in a just city, individual and societal needs are intertwined and they work in a symbiosis to make life better for everyone.

Lesson 2: Cities, as well as human souls, can be divided into the same three, distinct parts.

After defining justice, Socrates goes on to use something called the “noble lie” to give people something to believe in, which will keep social harmony intact. A noble lie can be a myth or a story, often of religious nature, presented by a leader as true to guide their followers, even though it’s not, but with good intent.

Plato’s tripartite theory of soul is one of those noble lies, which suggests both cities and people’s souls have three distinct parts:

Reason. The golden part of the soul, predominant in city rulers, who create just laws and rule their city with reason and logic, overseeing everything and maintaining order.

Spirit. The mediator between emotions and reason, the silver part of the soul, represents the army, which keeps order during times of peace and tries to restore it in times of war.

Desire. The bronze part of our soul, concerned with natural wants and needs, like food, sleep and sex. This represents the farmers, craft workers, and other more basic roles in society.

While the three parts dominate certain individuals in their respective roles, every single individual has the same three parts in their own soul. We all have a rational side, a spiritual side and an emotional one and they balance each other.

Considering how old this idea is, it makes a scary lot of sense when you compare it to what science has come up with in recent years.

Lesson 3: Being a philosopher and teaching others justice is like trying to pull people out of a cave.

If reason is the golden part of the soul and it’s what gets cities to be governed in a just way, then it naturally follows that kings should be philosophers and philosophers should be kings. However, rational rarely means popular, which means philosophers will face a lot of headwind when educating others.

Here, Socrates (or rather Plato), uses a metaphor known as Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I remember discussing this in religion class by relating it to the movie “The Matrix.”

Imagine a cave where people are chained to the wall and have been so all of their lives, facing another wall they stare at all day. Behind them, people pass items in front of a fire, casting shadows on the wall the prisoners see, thus creating their reality for them. If one of the prisoners were to break free and leave the cave, he’d first be terrified by the sunlight and the outside world, but then conclude life’s better outside and try to drag out the other prisoners – which they will likely refuse and maybe even attempt to kill their savior, for they don’t think going outside is worth the risk of getting blinded by the sun.

In a way, we’re all born into this cave, but some of us manage to get out, see the sunlight and thus the world as it really is. Those people are philosophers, and though it’s not an easy job, it’s their task to liberate the rest of us and lead us to the truth.

The Prince Summary

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 The Prince is a 16th century political treatise, famous for condoning, even encouraging evil behavior amongst political rulers, in order for them to stay in power.

Have you ever read the word “Machiavellian” in the news somewhere? It pops up all the time. Here are some headlines from the past few months: “Will Machiavellian tactics prevail?” “Leaked Soros foundation docs reveal Machiavellian agenda” and “Erdogan, the Machiavellian ‘Prince’ of Istanbul.”

For years I didn’t know what it meant, just that it had some kind of negative connotation and that it was often mentioned when talking about political tyrants. I remembered hearing it a lot during my 2Pac music phase in 2007. Today I learned what it’s really about.

The term goes back to 16h century philosopher, politician, historian and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote a book in 1513 entitled The Prince, in which he describes how political rulers can use both good and evil to rule their principalities. Over time his last name has been turned into an adjective to describe unscrupulous and immoral political behavior. The reason 2Pac adopted it as his rap name, ‘Makaveli,’ is that he studied the book extensively in prison.

However, the book isn’t all evil, that’s an exaggeration. To make the lessons from it more useful, I picked some that are more positive and can be translated to business today.

Here are 3 lessons from The Prince:

Countries can be easy to conquer, but hard to rule, or vice versa – and markets are the same.

To protect a country it needs its own army, not mercenaries. The same holds true for businesses.

If you want to run a business, you have to assemble your advisors and know when to listen to them.

Ready for a 500 year old course in entrepreneurship? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Countries that are easy to conquer are hard to rule and the other way around – so are modern markets.

This distinction is interesting and I’d never thought of it that way.

Machiavelli describes the example of Persia, which, in 323 BC when Alexander the Great died, had no governing ruler. One of his generals soon took over, but the Macedonians expected to lose control of the country they’d previously conquered quite quickly. In the end, they maintained power for another five decades.

This was due to the ruler-servant system in place in Persia before, because Darius III had crushed all political enemies in the country and gotten institutions and leaders to become loyal followers. This made the country very hard to conquer, but once Alexander had control, there were no autonomous regions or rulers left to challenge him for the throne.

Thinking the other way around, a country like France with a ruler-baron system, where the king relies on barons running municipalities is inherently unstable and thus easy to conquer – but hard to rule.

Transferring this lesson to business, you can see the similarity to modern markets. A new market with very few players is easier to dominate, but it’s very hard to keep this dominance, because of all the competition that comes after you, once they’ve discovered it’s a good market.

On the other hand, if you enter a very competitive market, it’s hard to become the industry leader – but once you do, you’ll likely stay ahead for longer, because less new parties enter after you.

Lesson 2: For a country to be properly protected it must have its own army, just like businesses need their own employees.

There are lots of ways to build an army and Machiavelli explains why some are better than others.

For example, hiring mercenaries – soldiers that simply fight for the money you pay them – might be an okay solution for conquering other countries, but not for protecting your own. Since all they care about is money they’ll run away quite fast when things get tough, because even the best salary isn’t worth dying for. A capable mercenary general, who can lead his troops into tough battle, however, might realize he can just as well lead them to fight against you. Since mercenaries are loyal only to money, they’ll empty your pockets in times of peace and be useless in times of war.

The same holds true for auxiliary troops from fellow states, who tend to occupy your country after a victory in battle against a common enemy. What good are an ally’s helping troops if they never leave?

Just like a good country, a good business needs its own army. Many businesses today try to rely only on freelancers and temp workers – but those aren’t very invested in your business. If you really want to build something for the long term, you need to commit by hiring for it, and your employees will commit to you too.

Lesson 3: To be a good business leader, pick your advisors well and know when to listen and when to ignore them.

Nobody knows everything. Every leader needs advisors to complement the areas in which he lacks skills. As a CEO who’s good in finance and strategy, it’s your job to pick great advisors in marketing and sales. You know what you’re good at, so only you can pick the right people to help with those things you can’t do.

You’ll also have to keep an eye on your advisors. While it’s important to reward those who honestly and loyally serve you, sometimes advisors start scheming their way into power if your interests aren’t aligned any longer.

But the most important part about having advisors is getting them to honestly speak their minds and knowing when to ignore them.

If all they do is schmooze you or avoid speaking up, there’s something going on. In the same vein, you can’t just constantly take advice, for soon everyone will think they can make your decisions. Sometimes even the best advice needs to be ignored.

Having a board of directors and advisors is important – but ultimately you call the shots.

My personal take-aways

I don’t think this book is all bad.  Most of the advice is actually very balanced – people just exaggerate it to the negative side. Yes, the practices The Prince describes are somewhat questionable, but nobody said it was a how-to book. Think of it as a description and criticism of the status quo at the time and you won’t run the risk of becoming a “Machiavellian prince” yourself.

Buy this book

The Lessons Of History Summary

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The Lessons Of History describes recurring themes and trends throughout 5,000 years of human history, viewed through the lenses of 12 different fields, aimed at explaining the present, the future, human nature and the inner workings of states.

I’ve always wondered why this is on top of Tai Lopez’s book list. Now I know why this must be one of the must underrated books of all time. It baffles me to see that a book like this has just over 250 reviews on Amazon, while a book full of Kim Kardashian’s selfie pictures has over 1,000.

Will Durant was one of the most celebrated historians in American history, having published dozens of books on a great variety of historic topics in his lifetime, some of them together with his wife Ariel.

His most notable work is The Story of Civilization, an eleven volume series covering the history of mankind all the way from the Persian empire until Napoleon’s exile to St. Helena. In this book, the couple reflects on the lessons they’ve learned from examining all of human history, viewed from various perspectives, like geography, war, biology, economics, religion, morals and the human character.

There’s a lot to be learned from 5,000 years of history, but these 3 lessons have struck me in particular:

Humans are unequal by nature, fighting that would mean giving up freedom.

The evolution of humans was a social one, not a biological one.

War is a more natural state than peace.

Are you ready to add the lessons of history to your skill set for maneuvering the world? Let’s learn from one of the greatest minds of our time!

Lesson 1: Equality comes at the cost of freedom, because humans are unequal by nature.

Competition is something that’s hardwired into our genes. Hunting, fighting, even killing was once the key to our survival, so it made sense for our genes to program us for it. Social cooperation only developed because it at some point became an even bigger advantage for surviving, and to this day, humans tend to only cooperate because it gives them a competitive edge, whether that’s in units of families, communities, companies or nations.

Just yesterday we learned that trying to bend humans into averages is useless, because it’s precisely when we embrace our uniqueness and individuality that we thrive.

Based on genetics alone, we are all fundamentally different from the moment we’re born, and just like we can’t become an exact copy of another person, no matter how much we train our bodies and brains, it does us no good to push equalities within societies to an extreme.

The more complex communities get, the more specialization they require, so the only way to keep up equality is to restrict human freedom. That’s why socialist systems rarely work, because only when you allow power, wealth and influence to be distributed unequally do you create enough freedom for an economy or nation to flourish and progress.

Lesson 2: Human evolution has been social, not biological, until this point.

Can you imagine living in the Middle Ages? You probably only have a very vague idea of what that’d be like, right? However, Will Durant says human nature hasn’t changed all that much. Come to think of it, most of our evolution has been social, not biological.

We still have the same basic desires to sleep, eat and reproduce, and if you took someone out of Ancient Greece and placed them in 2016, they could still survive just fine. The huge difference in their behavior would only be a cultural one.

What has changed tremendously in the past 5,000 years are economics, politics, technology and morals, but since all these things aren’t directly linked to our biology, you could bring a baby from Ancient Rome to 2016 and it’d grow up like a normal person.

These cultural changes are a result of trial and error. Since the dawn of mankind, people have put forward ideas in various forms, some of which have sunk into the hearts of millions of people (like Christian religion or Facebook), while others have been discarded (like Napoleon’s vision of a French empire or the Nazi regime).

However, we’re on the verge of upgrading our biology for the first time ever, as we might soon fuse with machines that greatly extend our biological powers.

Lesson 3: War is the natural state of the world, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see world peace.

Since competition is such an integral part of humans, it naturally follows that war is also a common state of mankind. This is something that’s not obvious, and you might not want to hear it, but it’s true. Throughout history, earth has been free of war of any kind less than 10% of the time.

States are nothing but aggregates of individuals, which means they also behave like people. However, while nowadays food, land and shelter are taken care of for most individuals by their country, the need for interpersonal battles has gone down a lot. States also have these needs for survival, but none of the superior protection. So when a state runs out of oil, land or food, it’s natural next move is to go to war with another state to battle for these resources.

The only reason states unite is to fight off even bigger threats, which rarely happens. It’s not war that’s weird, peace is what’s unnatural and that’s why it’s so hard to keep. This also makes world peace unlikely, because all countries of the world would have to unite against a common enemy for this to happen. Unless aliens try to invade earth and we get some version of Independence Day, we’ll have to accept that there’ll always some fighting in the world.

My personal take-aways

Every time I find a great book about history, biology, or any other school subject, that perfectly explains many things that should be part of general education, I get a little mad. Why didn’t we learn this in school? Better late than never though. This is an absolute must-read.

The Language Instinct Summary

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The Language Instinct argues that we are born with an innate capability to understand languages, that most of them are more similar than you might think and explains where our capability to deal with words so well comes from.

Steven Pinker writes on a great variety of subjects, yet does so with a diligence that is tough to match. He goes into a topic determining the current state of research, takes lots of time to critically reflect on it and then pins down his lessons about it, much like I do here on Four Minute Books.

In The Language Instinct, he tries to understand why humans are the only species who uses language, does so incredibly efficiently and how we learn to process words and sentences (usually at an early age).

The result? Humans have an innate language instinct, which allows them to tackle communication on a whole other level. Here are my 3 favorite lessons from the book:

  • Since children learn grammar without studying it, they must have an innate capability to understand it.
  • There are two central principles behind all languages, whichmake them learnable.
  • You don’t have to worry about correct grammar so much, asits rules are only one part of using language correctly.

Ready to investigate and uncover your inner, ingrained language learner? Let’s learn all about language from Steven Pinker!

Lesson 1: The poverty of stimulus explains why children can use grammar without ever studying it.

When you’re studying computer science and programming languages on a deeper level, for example in college, you’re bound to run into a guy named Noam Chomsky. He’s one of the world’s leading linguists, sometimes even called “the father of modern linguistics” and has written over 100 books, many of them about this topic.

What does a language researcher have to do with computer science? Well, if you want to understand how computers work, you have to learn how they talk – only then can you translate what you want them to do into a language they’ll understand.

I remember learning about the different types of grammars and coming up with our own in class. Chomsky is the main supporter of the idea that we are born with the skill to learn languages, and his main argument is called the poverty of the stimulus.

Here’s what it means: Since children learn languages as early as 18 months old, but can only learn from observing adults that do it the right way, they have no way of actively telling what’s right from wrong – they’re not studying languages, they just absorb them.

Yet they still apply the right rules at the right time. For example, even deaf children apply the correct grammar, just by learning sign language from their parents.

Lesson 2: All languages are based on the same two core principles.

How come we can talk so effortlessly to one another? What is it about language that makes it so easy to communicate with it? According to Steven Pinker, there are two forces at play here:

The arbitrariness of the sign.

Our infinite use of finite media.

The first principle simply means that the form words take doesn’t have a direct relation to their meaning. For example the word “cat” doesn’t sound like a cat. The sound cats make is “meow” and they’re silent when they walk, whereas “cat” is a pretty strong, snappy, short and loud word.

This is a good thing, because it keeps us from trying to decipher what the word “cat” means by thinking about the way it sounds and instead lets us jump instantly to the result, because we’ve paired the word with the image through generations of rote learning instead.

The second principle allows us to express anything and everything, because even though the number of words in any given language is limited, the number of combinations of words isn’t. Since we use the rules of grammar to create our own sentences, we’re not limited in how much we can express, which makes it easier to get your point across.

Lesson 3: Don’t stress about grammar. Its importance is relative.

So yes, grammar is a crucial part of language, and it pays to know it well. However, while you’d be punished horribly in school in the 1920s for bad grammar, today it’s not such a big deal, mainly because grammar rules are only one type of rules that determine how well you use language.

Grammar rules are prescriptive, which means they tell us how we’re supposed to talk or write. More and more though, scientists are concerned with descriptive rules, which describe how we actually talk.

For example, in school you’ll learn to never start a sentence with “because,” which is a prescriptive rule that only makes sense in combination with other prescriptive rules. Yet when you speak you do this all the time, and even on blogs it’s a common phenomenon.

Note: Regarding this issue of descriptive vs. prescriptive rules, John McWorter gave a great TED talk about texting.

You can be very much descriptively correct with your grammar, while being wrong in a prescriptive sense, just like a driver can follow the rules of physics in his car while breaking the laws of the country he’s driving in. Correct grammar is very much a relative thing, so don’t stress too much about it!

My personal take-aways

Some of the arguments The Language Instinct makes are very controversial, which is what makes it such a good book, but also one you have to think a lot about. I’m a big fan of learning more about the most basic principles that guide our everyday life. Language is one of them for sure, so thumbs up for this one.

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The Innovators Summary

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The Innovators walks you through the history of the digital revolution, showing how it was a combined effort of many creative minds over decades, that enabled us to go from huge, clunky machines to the fast, globally connected devices in your pocket today.

When a world-class biographer goes on a stroll through history, good things are bound to happen. Walter Isaacson has written stellar biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. But in 2014, he decided to tackle a slightly different project. He wanted to give a snapshot of the history of our digital revolution, and so he went all the way back to the beginning, picking up threads as he saw them and sowed them together to make this beautiful book.

Above all, The Innovators will show you that true innovation is rarely one single individual’s effort, as it’s based on collaboration, integration and incremental improvements. For hundreds of years, people have put their blood, sweat and tears into their work, so you can read this summary today.

Here are 3 lessons to highlight the inflection points of computer technology:

  • The first programmer was a woman, and her program was aresult of math and poetry.
  • Hippies and hackers made the computer personal.
  • The internet was a combined effort by universities, the militaryand private companies.

Let’s learn about some of the greatest minds in technology!

Lesson 1: The first programmer was 100 years ahead of her time, and she was a poet and mathematician.

We all know computers are somehow rooted in mathematics, but few people know just how much. In the early 1800s, Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, furiously studied both mathematics and art, as she had a burning passion for one and felt the other helped discipline herself.

However, her creative genius only really came to fruition when she started attending English polymath Charles Babbage’s weekly salons about science and technology, where great minds came together. Star of the show was Babbage’s Difference engine, a mechanical machine that could calculate polynomial functions (but would take forever to build).

Lovelace later used her sense for poetry and mathematical ability to expand upon an improved version of the Difference engine, the Analytical engine. This machine would be able to process different problems and even switch between what to solve on its own. When translating a transcript of Babbage’s description, Lovelace added her own notes, which ended up being twice as long, much more valuable and would describe the first computer program.

Essentially, she described computers as we know them, versatile general-purpose machines, in 1843.

Lesson 2: The personal computer was invented by hackers and hippies.

You may be aware that in the early days of software, a fierce competition between Apple and Microsoft took place. Yet, both of them borrowed from a company named Xerox and so really, the first operating systems were a “combined effort.” But not just that, hardware was a group effort too.

The humble beginnings of the personal computer can be traced back to the Homebrew Computer Club, where the hippies that took apart devices in the 60s to understand them, now became hackers in the 70s, who tried to build them. From 1975 onwards, the club met bi-weekly and it’s where tech nerds Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first learned about the Altair 8800, the first computer hobbyists could use.

Discussion about it at the club was lively, and once orders for $397 went through the roof after a feature on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine, Jobs and Woz knew they were on to something with Apple as well.

Lesson 3: Universities, the military and private companies came together to create the web.

Some people are critical connections in any given process, with major responsibility for the eventual outcome. Vannevar Bush is one of those people. The dean of MIT’s School of Engineering, top military science advisor and founder of computer company Raytheon brought the three crucial parties behind the internet together.

The National Science Foundation, which brings together experts from various industries, backgrounds and companies for basic research, is a direct result of his plea to the government. J.C.R. Licklider shared his vision of decentralized networks and real-time human-to-computer communication there, which Bob Taylor formed into a collaborative research network for universities, which Larry Roberts helped build.

Later, all of their ideas merged into the military and academic network ARPANET in 1969, which, in 1973, first opened to more and more facilities, thanks to the development of the Internet Protocol. Thus, the foundation of the internet as we know it rests on many peoples’ shoulders.

As you can see, progress doesn’t happen overnight or behind closed doors. It’s only when people come together, share, collaborate, create and negate that ideas will eventually amount to something that can change the world.

My personal take-aways

I think the big, big idea that hovers above all the lessons from this book is that if you’re not willing to share your ideas, your thoughts, your work with other people, none of it will ever be of any significance. Whether you pursue something solo or as a team, there’s always a time to come out and say: “Hey world, I made this, what do you think?” Unless you do that, you can’t truly call yourself an innovator. And that’s as true for innovation in technology as it is for art, education, business, politics, social sciences, or any other field. Walter Isaacson is a great writer, I highly recommend his work

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The Facebook Effect Summary

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The Facebook Effect is the only official account of the history of the world’s largest social network, explaining why it’s so successful and how it’s changed both the world and us.

David Kirkpatrick was fascinated by Facebook early on. He started writing regular articles about the company in Fortune ten years ago. Two years later, he even got Mark Zuckerberg to officially cooperate on a book about Facebook’s story. The result is this New York Times bestseller.

For many of us, Facebook has become the default mechanism for sharing something we want to say, messaging friends, solidifying new connections and even a useful resource for irregular life events, like finding flats (I would know, Facebook groups are one of the main sources for my current apartment hunt in Munich).

But how did that even happen? Why did Facebook become so successful and others, like MySpace, were left in the dust? David Kirkpatrick knows.

Here are 3 lessons from the history of Facebook to help you understand social media:

  • Part of Facebook’s success comes from being in the right place at the right time.
  • If you’re politically active, Facebook is the best place to make yourself heard.
  • We all have to change our perspective on privacy in today’s world.

Are you ready to witness the full power of the Facebook effect? Here we go!

Lesson 1: Facebook came to the exact right place at the exact right time.

The difference between a million-dollar company and a billion-dollar company is often as little as a few months time or a few thousand miles of distance.

Friendster and MySpace weren’t bad, they were just too early to reach critical mass (or too slow to innovate). Other sites like Eons targeted the wrong people (a social media site for over 50 year olds in 2006 – really?).

In the case of Facebook, timing, location, everything came together.

First, broadband internet access was just starting to spread in 2004, when Facebook was launched. This was crucial, because photo upload would later become a core function of Facebook, so people needed faster uploading and downloading speeds. Not only that, the sheer number of internet users was also sharply on the rise, more than doubling in the first 6 years the company was around – from less than one billion to over two!

Second, in restricting Facebook to college campuses, Mark Zuckerberg picked the perfect spot for his network to spread. Many Ivy League schools tried to put their campus communities online at the time and college students are among the most socially active groups of people as is, so they more than welcomed this new way of connecting.

Also, being at Harvard he had access to some of the world’s brightest minds, who would help him build the team the company needed to become that big in the first place.

Lesson 2: If you’re into politics, then Facebook is a great place to hang out at and make yourself heard.

You can easily tell that Facebook is really politics-content-driven by opening your newsfeed any time between August and November every four years (like this year) – all you’ll see are posts about presidential candidates (and with Trump it’s particularly bad this year).

The reason Facebook can be used so well by political activists is that it’s like an organized rally or protest – except that it’s cheaper, safer and faster.

In 2008 people in South Africa formed a Facebook group against brutal drug raids and mistreatment of citizens therein, garnering 3,000 members in just two days. The group organized a protest march and a petition, but also constantly shared updates, photos and videos of ongoing raids, which got a lot of people to file complaints. This resulted in an investigation into the matter by the country.

And looking back at Hillary vs. Trump, it’s been clear ever since Obama won “the Facebook election” in 2008 by outshining John McCain on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and pretty much everywhere else online, that even the most powerful people in the world are now voted for (or against) online.

Lesson 3: Our views on privacy are changing thanks to Facebook, and they have to.

Let’s say you’re suddenly in charge of hiring an intern. After a few days, you have a stack of resumés on your desk. What’s the first thing you do (after looking at the picture, if there is one, of course)?

“Hey, let’s check this guy’s Facebook, see if he has some drunk pics!”

Before social media you could be the most serious carpenter, the most discreet hairdresser, or the most reputable banker in town and still live a crazy punk rock band, magic trick birthday performer, hard rock biker life in your spare time.

But now you can’t. Facebook’s changed all that. You only have one real name, one true identity, and Facebook forces you to show all of it.

Sure, you could try to keep things off the platform, or hide some of them, but when there’s not enough information, people always assume the worst, so it’ll hurt your reputation either way.

Zuckerberg’s big bet on this is that we will change what is considered normal to be public. The more people publicly speak about depression, crazy hobbies and taboo topics, the more we’ll perceive those discussions as normal. We want all the upside of being ever-connected. To get it, we’ll have to embrace the transparency that comes with it too.

My personal take-aways

I think learning about the history of Facebook has long gone past just being interested in startups. It’s crucial for anyone to understand who’s on the platform – and that’s almost everyone. This book is a good account of it and the implications it has for society (and a nice counter-balance to the movie The Social Network, which has often been criticized for being too harsh, but good nonetheless).

The Evolution Of Everything Summary

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The Evolution Of Everything compares creationist to evolutionist thinking, showing how the process of evolution we know from biology underlies and permeates the entire world, including society, morality, religion, culture, economics, money, innovation and even the internet.

Whether you’re religious or not, chances are, you have at one point struggled with making sense of how the human species as we know it today came into being. Religious people usually point to God, Jehova or Allah, in the case of ancient Greece even to several gods, like Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Agnostics and atheists always refer to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.

Matt Ridley stopped asking “Who’s right?” and instead accepted both approaches as different doctrines, which shape how we see all kinds of aspects of the world. Not just religion and science, but things like culture, society, morality, business, markets, money and even the internet.

These 3 lessons from The Evolution Of Everything will show you how:

  • Evolutionist and creationist thinking are two opposing views, and creationist thinking dominates the Western world.
  • Culture, economics and technology all progress through evolution.
  • Money changed from evolutionist to creationist subject, and the same might happen with the internet.

Ready to get your gears spinning about one of the most controversial topics in history? Let’s see the arguments!

Lesson 1: In the battle of evolutionist vs. creationist, creationism dominates most of the Western world.

Before we get started, we’d do well to define what evolutionist and creationist even means.

Evolution in its original sense meant “unfolding” and therefore was used to describe how things would gradually change when there was no specific plan. You’d just let things take their course and see what happens. Creation, on the other hand, always suggests an active element of planning and designing – something is calculated and then executed.

Throughout history, creationist thinking has come to shape much of our worldview, especially in the Western world. Ancient Egyptians devoted their lives to gods like Ra, Seth and Anubis, so did the Greeks. Later the Catholic and Protestant church would reduce their religion to just one God, but their destiny still wasn’t theirs to decide. Friedrich Nietzsche said societies depended on strong leaders to flourish and Karl Marx suggested that only a planned economy could thrive.

All of these approaches argue that we need someone at the top to organize us, in order for progress to happen. Matt Ridley not only argues that this is false, but that the opposing view of evolutionism goes back to long before Darwin ever investigated animals on the Galápagos Islands.

In fact, over 400 years BC, two Greek philosophers, Leucippus and Democritus (inspiration to the famous Epicurus) already theorized that the world was made up of atoms – small, indivisible parts – which changed and transformed at random, and were therefore not part of any grand scheme.

Lesson 2: In culture, economics and technology, progress is based on evolution.

What started in ancient Greece as a theory to make sense of the world, turned into a never-ending series of questions, such as “If God designed both humans and the earth, who designed God?”

To add oil to the fire, Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, which says that multi-cellular organisms have developed from single-cell organisms, to increase their chances of survival, and that all sub-sequent changes are also based on a “survival of the fittest” process of natural selection. By the late 1970s, Richard Dawkins even suggested that genes themselves are at the core of this process, simply using animal and human bodies as vessels to ensure their survival (which is backed by the fact that many of our genes serve no useful purpose – they seem to be just tagging along).

Regarding the history of biology, evolutionist thinking has been widely accepted as the norm in the Western world, but is still a very controversial topic around the globe.

What’s much more interesting, and much more hidden, is how an evolutionary process takes place in things like culture, economics and technology too.

Languages are made from small building blocks (words), all using the same elements (the alphabet), which are then combined (sentences & phrases), and only the most used ones survive. Markets progress on their own by testing products and services people offer and eliminating (by not rewarding them with money) the ones that don’t serve human needs. Technology is an iterative process too, based on trial and error, prototypes and experiments, only the best of which eventually make it into everyone’s hands (like the smartphone in yours right now).

Lesson 3: The concept of money changed from evolutionist to creationist, and the same could happen to the internet.

With that, an important question to ask is this: Where in our world do we conform to a creationist way of thinking, when really an evolutionary process is what drives progress?

Take money, for example. Dating back to as early as ancient Egypt, where gold bars were traded in exchange for goods, and when coins started being minted in India, China and Greece independent of one another, there was no central system to regulate money, like we have today with federal banks – but it still worked!

In Sweden in the 19th century, several banks printed their own currencies, competing with each other for the use of their banknotes, without putting any one bank out of business and Canada did not have a central bank until 1935, which helped them survive the Great Depression unscathed.

So somewhere along the lines, the evolutionist thinking was taken out of money, which leaves us stuck with the slow, fragile and crisis-prone system we have today (2007, anyone?). We depend on a few individuals to create all of the world’s money and distribute it, and it clearly has slowed down progress.

Thanks to the internet, there’s hope though. With loyalty programs for airplane miles, digital payments like PayPal or mobile credit and virtual currencies like Bitcoin, it seems we’re slowly back on track. Let’s hope the internet stays evolutionist, then. Some governments, like China’s, are already trying to convert it to a creationist medium, in which an elite few decide what you can and can’t access – and that’s surely no sign of progress.

My personal take-aways

Many interesting take-aways to be learned from this one, the most important one being: keep your eyes open for what’s creationist, and what’s evolutionist. More often than not, we’re blind to the obvious, evolutionary process going on underneath, and it hurts our ability to make progress. This’ll help.

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