The Culture Code Summary

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The Culture Code examines the dynamics of groups, large and small, formal and informal, to help you understand how great teams work and what you can do improve your relationships wherever you cooperate with others.

What’s your take on talent? Do you think it doesn’t exist and that everything can be learned? Or believe it’s binary, that if you’re not born with it, you can never get it? I think it’s a great example to show we want to judge life in extremes, when often, the truth is somewhere in the middle. A great movie about this issue with talent is The Gambler. Mark Wahlberg portrays a gambling-addicted English literature professor, who divides the world into geniuses and idiots, but ultimately, he learns we do have a choice more often than we think.

In his previous book, The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle broke down the matter for the real world. Now, having examined the components of great performance on an individual level, he turns to groups and teams. The Culture Code is a thorough analysis of how humans work together and how they might keep each other from doing so.

From his research, he sees 3 skills at the heart of great teamwork:

  • Build safety to make everyone feel comfortable in working together.
  • Share vulnerability to show no one needs to be perfect.
  • Establish purpose through a common goal and a clear path to get there.

We’re all part of countless groups, so let’s crack The Culture Code and make sure we do our best in each of them!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Lesson 1: Form a safe environment so everyone will let their guard down and cooperate.

Remote work is on the rise. Already half of all Americans do at least part of their work from home. And while that wouldn’t be possible without modern technology, it’s still remarkable how many people jump on the opportunity if it presents itself. According to Daniel Coyle, it’s simple: our homes are the safest places we know.

Safety is an important enabler that allows us to do great work. For example, keeping our day job can help us practice our creativity freely in a side hustle. Similarly, a work environment in which you feel safe in acting as you naturally would and speaking your mind is very conducive to group work. It’s only natural: you don’t want to keep looking over your back all the time, because if you need to, you can never really focus on the task at hand.

Professor Alex Pentland at the MIT’s media lab found that if he observed people’s body language, he could predict the outcomes of negotiations within five minutes of starting a session. That’s because how close we are to our co-workers, whether we mimic their behavior, and look into their eyes, are instant tells of how safe we feel. One good way to make others feel safer is to confirm you understand what they’re telling you by occasionally interjecting affirmations like “uh-huh,” “yes,” “got it,” and so on. Just don’t interrupt them.

Instead, when it’s your turn, share one of your flaws.

Lesson 2: Share your own shortcomings to show people it’s okay to make mistakes.

Another researcher, Jeff Polzer, who researches organizational behavior at Harvard, found that when we share our own flaws with others, something amazing happens. He calls it a vulnerability loop, in which other people detect when we signal vulnerability, thus signal vulnerability too, and thus both party become closer and trust each other more.

Other scientists, like Brené Brown, have shown that vulnerability itself is a sign of strength, not weakness. However, because workplaces are usually seen as competitive, especially in the Western world, we think we need to look confident and powerful all the time. But that’s not true. It’s usually the person who takes the first step in admitting they’re not perfect, who’s perceived as a leader, not the one who berates others for being weak.

Vulnerability not just increases trust, it’s also a way to show acceptance: if you admit no one’s perfect, people will feel okay even after making mistakes, which are inevitable in accomplishing a shared goal.

Speaking of which…

Lesson 3: Build a sense of purpose through a shared goal and a simple way towards it.

The last component Coyle ascribes to well-functioning groups is purpose. Put simply, purpose is a set of reasons for doing what you do. In case of a group, it’s the sum of all beliefs and values among your team, as they relate to achieving your common goal. That goal might be something straightforward, like selling the most phones any company has ever sold, but ideally, it’s about something bigger, like making phone users feel special and that they have good taste. Which one do you think Apple’s built on?

Since the goal is in the future, but your group lives in the now, your purpose should be like a bridge between the two. Thus, if you can come up with a simple narrative as to how your purpose will help you go from today to tomorrow and reach your goal, you’ll be able to activate those around you.

A useful tool to accomplish this is a short, catchy, maybe even cheesy slogan. Think of Nike’s “just do it.” It’s kinda cliché, but it works, because it’s easy to remember, and easy to repeat until it sinks in. With safety, vulnerability, and purpose all in one place, it’ll be almost impossible to stop you and your team from accomplishing whatever you set out to do!

My personal take-aways

The Culture Code brings some fresh perspective to a topic that’s often overcomplicated: how humans can function in groups. You don’t need tons of exercises, motivators, or annual team-building events. Coyle explains why our most basic psychological needs are all we need to address, and he does so with colorful examples from all walks of life. Good one!

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary

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 The 48 Laws Of Power draws on many of history’s most famous power quarrels to show you what power looks like, how you can get it, what to do to defend yourself against the power of others and, most importantly, how to use it well and keep it.

Even though Mastery by Robert Greene is a great book, it wasn’t what put him on the map. This one was. Published in 1998, after taking a big risk, due to quitting his former job (which he hated), the book became a bestseller and has now sold over a million copies.

It’s especially popular with rappers and hip-hop artists, but many celebrities quote from the book and mention the laws’ influence on their life (50 Cent being one of them, with whom Greene ended up collaborating on another book). Most of the 48 laws draw on a specific situation from history, and even though some of them seem to contradict one another, there’s a precious lesson to be learned from every single one.

Here are 3 lessons about power to help you understand it better:

Always make superiors look smarter than you.

Confuse competitors by acting unpredictably.

Don’t force others to do what you want, seduce them instead.

Want to discover where Kanye gets his power? Let’s study the actual laws of the world!

Lesson 1: Always make superiors look smarter than you.

Here’s one surefire way how to not get promoted: When your boss comes across a problem she can’t solve on her computer, go to her, and, as you fix it, say: “Seeeeee? That’s how you do it. No problem, I’m happy to help!”

The one thing people in a position of power don’t want is to look powerless. But when you flaunt your skills right in front of them, that’s exactly what happens. The French minister of finance under King Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet, paid for that lesson with a life in prison. When he threw an excessive party at his chateau in favor of the king, the king accused him of stealing, for no one man could legally be that wealthy, and threw him into prison.

So instead of showing off how good you are, make your boss look like she’s the smartest person in the room, even if you know she isn’t. Give away credit and you’ll be given responsibility in return.

For example, when Galileo Galilei discovered the four moons of Jupiter, he could’ve taken all that credit. Instead, he named them after the Grand Duke, Cosimo II de’ Medici, and his brothers. As a result Cosimo appointed him as his official philosopher and mathematician, securing Galileo’s funding for his research for years to come.

Lesson 2: Make errors on purpose to confuse your competition.

Sometimes the competition seems to always be one step ahead of you. That’s likely because they’ve invested time and energy into researching you and finding out your behavior patterns. When that happens, your best move is to act unpredictably. Do the opposite of what you think people expect, make a mistake on purpose, or just disappear for a while.

Erroneous behavior throws people off their analysis game, and while they’re busy trying to figure out your new pattern and explaining your behavior, you have the chance to strike back.

This is one of the first lessons good poker players learn. If you only play hands when you’ve hit at least a pair or above, the other players will quickly be on to you and fold every time you bet. But throw in a bluff or two, which you commit to and ride out, even if you end up losing those hands, and your opponents can’t be so sure anymore.

Bobby Fischer used this exact strategy to confuse Boris Spassky in their match for the 1972 world championship title in chess. He made a beginner’s mistake in their first game, didn’t even show up for the second one (and lose by forfeit, and returned only minutes before the third game started. Then he started making crazy demands, like moving cameras, switching rooms and exchanging chairs. Finally, he played openings completely atypical to his usual chess style, and eventually beat Spassky to become world champion.

Note: I recently watched Pawn Sacrifice, a great movie about Bobby Fischer and this incident. Highly recommended.

Lesson 3: Seduce others into voluntarily doing what you want them to, instead of forcing them.

Even when you’re in a position of power already, people won’t always do what you want them to. When that’s the case, you should never resort to trying to force people to obey. Instead, make it impossible for them not to do what you’d like them to by seducing them.

Chuko Liang, head military strategist of ancient China used this to break his enemy, King Menghuo. Rather than destroying their entire army, when they attacked China, he captured them all, and then…

…served King Menghuo great wine and food. His soldiers saw this generosity, and after Liang was sure he had baffled them, he released them, but kept King Menghuo hostage. Only after threatening that he’d have to bow to the Chinese king, if he was captured again, did he release the enemy. Over the years, Liang did capture Menghuo time and time again, each time making the same threat, yet always releasing his prisoner. After the seventh time Menghuo surrendered, bowed to the king and gave up on his own accord.

Raw force only breeds resentment, so use seduction instead.

My personal take-aways

If you’re a “Mr. Nice Guy” like me, then this book won’t tell you what you want to hear. However, it might be what you need to hear, at least in some cases. I don’t agree with all the laws, but there’s a solid reason behind each of them. All in all a great read with lots to learn!

Buy this book

Lean In Summary

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Lean In digs deep into gender inequality and why women are still underrepresented as a valuable part of our global workforce, showing how they unintentionally hold themselves back, as well as outlining ways for us to enable and support them, including how you as a woman can take the lead and hold the flag of women in work high.

One of Germany’s biggest political debates over the last few years has been about gender quotas. As of January 2016, we at last passed a law that states 30% of board seats of the country’s biggest companies have to be held by women. Historically, the quote was more along the lines of 10%, and now has risen to about 22% – because many businesses still ignore the rule.

Does this help deal with gender inequality? I personally doubt it. Yes, this will give some women who really deserve it a break and make their lives easier. But at the same time, some women will end up on board seats, just because of the rule, and if you know anything about mass media, you can tell which of these two perspectives will dominate public perception of the matter.

I’d love to hear Sheryl Sandberg’s take on this. What I do know is that she thinks we can’t just mandate and legislate our way to gender equality too. We have to substantially change our attitudes and behavior – both men and women!

For now, use these 3 lessons to better navigate the working world as a woman:

Treat your career like a jungle gym.

Learn to strike a balance between ambition and appeal.

Before you become a mother, lean into your career as much as you can.

The working world is a tough place for women, no doubt about it. But it is what it is, so instead of crying, let’s see how you can make the best of where we’re at!

Lesson 1: Imagine your career as a visit to the jungle gym: there are many ways to get on top!

There’s a lot of talk about the career ladder and how it’s broken, rigged or leans against the wrong wall. Actually, there might be no career ladder at all. Just a career jungle gym. You know what that is? It’s one of those setups on a playground with monkey bars, that you can climb multiple ways to get on top.

Today, careers develop like those jungle gyms. Think of yours as one huge, indoor, playground-like place for kids, with tons of ropes, wall bars and nets. How would you approach such a thing?

You’d probably keep going higher, but you wouldn’t stress much about which route you take – because there are so many ways to get to your destination! If you treat your career exactly this way, you’ll advance a lot faster, all while staying calmer and happier.

To do this, Sheryl suggests you plan both for the short and long term. Your long-term dream can help you decide what kind of work you’ll take on, even if it’s not entirely clear to you. When Sheryl thought about joining Google early in 2001, she ultimately chose based on whether she thought the job was meaningful and had potential for growth.

Add short-term (aka 18-month) goals to that, and you have a solid sense of direction, without too much pressure.

Lesson 2: Walk the razor’s edge by balancing your ambition with your appeal to others.

For women to cultivate the right public image to advance their career is like walking on a tightrope. You can’t be too ambitious, because others will just perceive you as rude, which often happens when women are assertive and go for what they want. If you’re too nice though, people will put you into the “cute bucket” and not take you seriously, which is something you don’t want either.

When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you have to be nice and feminine just enough to not come across as rude, while arguing for what you want without making it seem like you’re selling yourself too hard.

To pull this off, try avoiding strong words and statements like “this is wrong,” “I want,” or “you should consider.” Instead, be nice and accommodating, but draw clear lines when you notice others approach them. It also helps to generalize and argue on behalf of a group, rather than yourself, as well as quoting other leaders and industry statistics and facts.

Let’s hope these kinds of verbal and behavioral acrobatics won’t be needed one day, but for now, you’re better off just learning them and using them when you have to!

Lesson 3: Lean into your career while you can and don’t dial back for motherhood before you have to.

The one thing you should avoid at all costs is giving up before you have to, just because society tells you too. Look, I’m 100% in favor of having at least one full-time parent in any family. I really believe we need more dedicated moms and dads – it’s probably the most underrated job in the world.

But even I don’t think you should sell yourself short way before it’s time to do that (especially if you’re a woman). Sheryl calls this leaning in, instead of leaning back.

Your tendency might be to cut back and, for example, not take a promotion, because “you’ll have kids soon anyway,” but that’s exactly wrong, because it’ll lead you to make career decisions that are guaranteed to make you miserable by the time you actually have kids.

Instead, go full throttle for as long as you can, take opportunities, give it a shot and by the time pregnancy rolls around – you’ll figure out that one too 😉

My personal take-aways

As I said in the intro, I think entirely regulating the playing field to “level” it 50:50 is not the solution to gender inequality. There will always be differences in men and women, and it’s a good thing there are. However, there are places where life is just plain unfair, and that will require big shifts to improve. I’m confident we’ll get there, but in the meantime, use this book to make the most of right now!

Homo Deus Summary

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Homo Deus illustrates the history of the human race from how we came to be the dominant species over what narratives are shaping our lives today all the way to which obstacles we must overcome next to continue to thrive.

As unfathomable as it may sound, the numbers don’t lie: We’re more likely to die of suicide than war, obesity than starvation, old age than poverty. What’s even more astonishing is that we’ve managed to put all these fundamental, human ailments in their place in just the last century. But that begs the question: What’s next for the human race?

In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari tries to deliver an answer. After covering our past extensively in his global, multi-million-copy bestseller Sapiens, Harari now turns his eyes toward the future of mankind. Following a brief recap of human history, he describes the narratives we currently use to make sense of the world. He also outlines which ones could mark our demise if we’re not careful.

Here are 3 lessons I learned, one from each section of the book:

Shared narratives are what allow us to collaborate at a large scale and, thus, dominate as a species.

The most prevalent, current narrative is humanism.

Algorithms could eventually replace us, depending on which future narrative takes over.

Are you excited about the future? Then let’s take a sneak peak at what’s in store for us!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Lesson 1: Stories are what make us the strongest animal on the planet.

In democratic elections around the world, millions of people make a concerted effort to agree on choosing a group leader. They’re one of the best demonstrations of our ability to cooperate on a massive scale. This skill is at the heart of why humans have won the evolutionary race. But how did we develop it?

According to Harari, it’s rooted in our communication. Humans have told stories since the dawn of speech. Because we can all decide what stories we believe in individually, the best stories win. Over time, we’ve become more intelligent, which is why, usually, the story that wins in the long run is whichever one benefits us the most as a whole.

Take religion, for example. Back in the Middle Ages, the story of Catholicism brought together many European nations in the Crusades. They abandoned the wars they had with one another to fight a larger one. Today, 1,000 years later, we realize that narrative only served a small portion of our population. Therefore, religion is slowly being replaced in more recent generations.

But with what?

Lesson 2: Today’s dominant narrative is humanism.

Back when the world was less connected, narratives naturally formed regionally. But nowadays, we’re all aware of the many different religions, political movements, and belief systems around the globe. Thanks to the internet, it’s become obvious to many that there is no one, right choice for any of them.

As a result, the story that dominates the world today is humanism. In this view of the world, humans are the central element and our individual freedom our greatest asset. We believe in science, rationality, progress, technology, and self-actualization. There are many variants of humanism, and respecting all of them is important, but the most commonly chosen one is liberalism.

Liberalism allows us to express humanism in everyday life by translating its ideas into specific moral codes, laws, and political aspirations. Even campaigns for a certain cause, like climate change awareness, less waste, or redistribution of wealth are often just liberal narratives in disguise.

The question that remains is what narratives will arise in the future. Currently, there are two major trends forming.

Lesson 3: All our future narratives involve algorithms, but if we’re not careful, they could replace us altogether.

Since their invention, computers have quickly become a big part of our lives. Often more efficient at performing tasks, they allow us to enjoy more comfort in many areas. Algorithms make our work easier, help us monitor our health, and even contribute to our recreation by giving us more ways to express ourselves.

Therefore, it’s not really a question of whether algorithms will be part of our future, just how. Two trends Harari sees appearing at the horizon are techno-humanism, often called transhumanism, and dataism. Transhumanism argues that humans should merge with technology to enhance their capabilities and keep up with the power of algorithms. Dataism, on the other hand, suggests we “get out of the way” and let algorithms become as powerful as they can become on their own.

The former is already manifesting in military technology, athletics, and health, but it also means giving up parts of what makes us human, like empathy. The latter might eventually lead to some Matrix-style scenario, in which the machines get rid of us because we’re just in their way.

No one knows which narrative will win and if it’s even one of these two, but one thing’s for sure: the story of humanity will never be boring.

My personal take-aways

Yuval Noah Harari is a smart man without a doubt. He grounds his arguments in science and his vivid stories add up to a coherent picture. Naturally, what receives lots of praise also must face the scrutiny of lots of critics. While some may say his newer books, which issue warnings to not overstep our bounds, are too gloomy, but I think his ideas are always worth considering. You may not agree with everything he says, but there is definitely a lot to learn from his work. Homo Deus is no exception.

For more interesting ideas about current human affairs, take a look at our summary of 21 Lessons For The 21st Century.

Ghettoside Summary

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Ghettoside explains the history of homicide in the United States and why particularly black communities struggle with high murder rates, as well as what can and must be done to change the status quo for the better.

Jill Leovy has been a reporter for the LA times for over 20 years. And in those two decades, for one of which she was crime correspondent, she witnessed not only the “homicide epidemic” sweeping through LA’s south, but also discovered that these crimes were poorly documented, turned into faceless statistics and in part, strategically swept under the rug.

How is it possible that a young, black man in LA has a 1 in 35 chance of being murdered and that 50% of all homicide victims are black men, when they make up just 6% of the population?

The answer to this question is a highly complex one, but Jill has done a great job at answering it. Let’s see if we can fit explain what’s going on in 3 lessons:

  • Black communities have a history of developing alternate justice systems, which causes crime rates to spike.
  • By focusing on crime prevention, the US police spend their money and energy on the wrong end of the problem.
  • Solving murder cases is the only way to restore peoples’trust in the system.

Are you ready to jump to the Ghettoside to learn more about one of society’s biggest problems? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Historically, black communities have developed their own, internal justice systems, which causes higher crime rates.

Usually, the state is the only institution that’s allowed to use violence to ensure the law is held in place, for example by arresting people, breaking up fights and riots, or, worst case, fire back if someone runs amok. In an ideal world, the police wouldn’t even have to use these measures. But even if our world isn’t perfect, in most places where installed, this system works well.

However, because of the complicated history of black people in the United States, with all its racism and discrimination, the supremacist leaders in the late 1800s and early 1900s never made a big effort to popularize the state monopoly on violence model in black communities.

In turn, these black communities came up with their own, alternative systems of justice. Thus, violence became a legitimate tool in solving your issues – if you can’t rely on the police to protect you, you might take matters in your own hands.

And because these systems replace the governmental law where in effect, they make it very hard for police to get access later. For example, the LAPD rarely gets people in South Central to talk about crimes, because being a “snitch” (=traitor) is a death sentence by the law of the street.

In essence, these problems don’t cause disregard for the law, they’re the result of no proper legal system having ever been put in place to begin with.

Lesson 2: Because US police focuses on prevention, they approach the problem from the wrong end.

The best way to deal with a problem is to prevent it, right? Technically, yes, but in this case prevention doesn’t work. The LAPD has a strong tradition of patrolling, mass arrests and punishing little crimes, like possession of marijuana or shoplifting – all preventative measures.

In the case of the high homicide rates in LA though, this carries two problems:

The people in charge of dealing with these bigger issues are underfunded and understaffed. Detectives often can’t solve cases, because they lack the staff, resources and time.

The victims and their families disrespect the police even more, because they punish them for trivialities, but don’t seem to care about the real issues like violence and murder.

If people are so hopeless and desperate about the legal system that they’ve come up with and accepted their own jurisdiction, there’s nothing to prevent any longer. You have to restore peoples’ faith in the original system.

But how do you do that?

Lesson 3: The only way to restore peoples’ faith in the legal system is to start solving murder cases, no matter the race of the victim.

Given the above, this might seem obvious, but with only 1 in 3 murder cases with a black victim solved, it’s worth iterating.

The police must start solving more murder cases, no matter the skin color of the victim.

This would send a signal that the government cares about all its citizens equally, start mending the broken ties with local communities and begin to regain their trust.

With the dedication of more resources, aka money, people and time, this isn’t even as massive of an effort as it might seem. Many murder cases are well publicized within the communities that they happen in, and with the right amount of pressure at the right points, information is easy to obtain (LAPD have even dubbed the local rumor network GIN – Ghetto Information Network – because it’s so well-informed).

This of course a sensitive topic and one that’s tough to draw attention to in the right way, but if we can pull it off, things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been.

My personal take-aways

I had no idea how big the gap in homicide cases was, this was really shocking. I knew from Freakonomics that Black communities had bigger problems with crime than their White counterparts, but I didn’t know the disparity was this big and where it comes from. I love how logically and historically sensical Jill argued her way to the solution here and this is a topic that deserves a lot more attention than it gets, which makes this a definite recommend!

Forensics: The Anatomy Of Crime Summary

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 Forensics: The Anatomy Of Crime gives you an inside looks at all the different fields of criminal forensics and their history, showing you how the investigation and evidence-collection of crimes has changed dramatically within the last 200 years, helping us find the truth behind more and more crimes.

My mom is one of the biggest crime fiction/movie/TV show fans I know. Every Sunday, she and my Dad watch “Tatort” (German for “crime scene”), a very popular show, that’s set in a different German state capital each time and she must’ve read hundreds of crime novels in her lifetime.

Even as a kid, this rubbed off on me, I loved reading Detective Conan mangas (called Case Closed in English), watching the animé for it and even bought a huge, complete Sherlock Holmes book when visiting London in 2008. One of my most important values in life is honesty, so I think trying to uncover the truth where it’s hidden naturally captivates me.

There’s just something about being presented with a fully formed reality and then slowly unraveling it, tracing it back to its beginnings one by one. If you’re intrigued by this too, then you’ll love this summary.

Val McDermid’s novels have covered my mom’s shelves for decades, but she’s also written this non-fiction book about the science that’s the lifeblood of her crime stories, explaining all aspects of forensics in great detail.

Here are my 3 favorite takeaways:

  • Forensics works from the outside in.
  • One of the biggest advancements in forensics, fingerprints,were discovered by chance.
  • Computers will help us crack even the toughest cases in thefuture.

If you’re aspiring to decipher clues in your life like Sherlock, then this is for you! Let’s figure out forensics!

Lesson 1: Working from the outside to the inside is a guiding principle of forensics.

Let’s say you light a firecracker on New Year’s Eve, a big one that explodes into lots of pieces with a loud bang. The next day, you have to clean up, and because just collecting dirt and throwing it away isn’t much fun, you decide to try and piece it back together for fun.

Note: Don’t ever really try to do that, when I wrote it out I realized it’s a horrible idea, because of all the explosives. This is just a thought experiment!

Where would you start? Probably at the place where it exploded, right, because there, the most pieces lie. But that’d be a mistake no forensic scientist would ever make. If you start with the source, you’ll automatically make conclusions about the whole picture, which might lead you to miss crucial details.

For example, based on the three big firecracker parts at the sight of the explosion, you might think there can’t be more than 15 in total, and will stop looking for more small pieces once you have that many. But if you work from the outside in, just collecting everything you can find, and then slowly bringing everything back to the source, you’ll get a much more complete picture of what’s going on.

Looking at everything that’s on the outside and then slowly working towards the inside is a key principle of forensics. Fire scene investigators, forensic pathologists and bloodstain analysts all do their work this way.

Lesson 2: The fingerprint system came from Japanese pottery makers.

Alexander Fleming leaving his Petri dish unprotected for two weeks led to the invention of penicillin. Archimedes had his Eureka! moment in the bathtub and found out how to measure the volume of objects. Many of science’s greatest discoveries were originally made by chance, and the now-standard forensic tool of fingerprint identification is no exception.

In the 1870s, Scottish doctor and missionary Henry Faulds set up an English medical mission in Japan, where, on a trip to an archeological site, he discovered you could see some of the marks ancient pottery makers had left on their work in dug up clay fragments. If you dusted them with powder, they’d become a lot clearer to distinguish.

After looking at his own fingerprints and some of his friends, he hypothesized they might be unique to each human being, a theory that helped him prove the innocence of one of his staff members when his hospital was broken into. Convinced that his system would help solve crimes, he passed it on to none other than Charles Darwin (you know, the inventor of the desk chair, among other things, who in turn passed it on to statistician Francis Galton.

It took some doing, but after an Argentinian prison started adding fingerprints to all its criminal records, a guy named Edward Henry started using the system in India and bringing it to Scotland Yard, after which it became standard practice.

Lesson 3: Thanks to the power of computers, the rate of crimes we solve will keep going up.

The power of computers and the internet permeates everything by now, and of course crime investigation benefits from this as well. Some of the hardest cases to crack are missing children, where only one in six is found thanks to someone identifying a photograph. This is because children’s faces aren’t fully formed, which makes them hard to distinguish. If you’ve ever mistaken a young girl for a boy or vice versa, you know what I’m talking about.

However, computers are starting to get really good at facial reconstruction, which uses the 22 bones of the human skull to derive facial features and characteristics. The combined power of CT scans, X-rays and fast iteration of various models, thanks to fast computing, allows investigators to get a picture that closely resembles the victim much quicker.

The first time facial reconstruction played a central role in solving a crime was in 2001, when 5-year old Rowena Rikkers’s brutal murder through her parents was solved thanks to a clay reconstruction of her face, based on the bones of her skull.

Let’s hope that through the aid of computers, the rate of crimes solved will keep increasing in the future, helping us make further progress towards a crime-free world!

My personal take-aways

If you like crime novels, thriller movies, or just want to get better at figuring out what’s going around you, then this is for you. A great related read is What Every Body Is Saying. Two thumbs up for this one!

Factfulness Summary

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Factfulness explains how our worldview has been distorted with the rise of new media, which ten human instincts cause erroneous thinking, and how we can learn to separate fact from fiction when forming our opinions.

When I first got into reading blogs, learning about self-improvement, and exploring the startup scene, I was a delusional optimist. I read and read, thinking I would somehow make it as an entrepreneur. But that was just blind faith. I never actually did anything. Over the years, I’ve learned to become more of a realist-optimist. I still focus on the positive, but I try not to sugarcoat things.

As it turns out, with fake news and advertising-driven media becoming more and more extreme, this was a good move. Usually, life is better than news outlets make us believe, so focusing on the facts, but staying positive, will help you form clearer opinions. That’s why Bill Gates is such a big fan of books like Enlightenment Now, which bring us up to speed with data about the world.

It’s no wonder, then, that Factfulness is another one of his 2018 favorites. Written by the Swedish, late professor, sword swallower, and public speaker Hans Rosling, it’s a book about the current state of the world. But beyond giving us the facts, it helps us see them for ourselves by diving into ten mental biases that obstruct our thinking.

Here are my favorite 3 and the lessons I learned from debunking them:

  • There is no such thing as “the East and the West.” We only have one world.
  • Population growth will eventually level off, despite our perception of increasing numbers.
  • To see the world accurately, you always need multiple perspectives.
  • The world is trying hard to hide the facts from you on a day-to-day basis. Let’s learn how to find them anyway!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Lesson 1: The East vs. West mentality is outdated. We all share this planet.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. What I hope to be a clever Quora answer of mine is also one of the first points Rosling makes. He calls it ‘the gap instinct.’ It’s our tendency to want to see things as black and white. The example he uses to illustrate it is the classic division of the world into East and West.

I, too, have grown up in a time where schools would teach Westerners that their countries are developed, while Asian ones are currently developing, trying to catch up. This instilled an us-vs-them mentality early on. But the truth is, whatever gap there was has almost completely disappeared over the past 20 years. How do we even define ‘developing’ and ‘developed?’

If we use child mortality, for example, only 13 countries could be considered ‘developing’ today. One thing’s for sure: dividing the world geographically to determine its economic, demographic, or psychological state is useless.

Lesson 2: Increasing population growth is blown out of proportion, because it’s likely to level off rather soon.

A second megamisconception, as Rosling calls these ideas that are rooted deeply, but incredibly wrong, is that of our impending doom due to exponential population growth. Books like The World Without Us elaborate on the idea that one day, nature will conceive devastating diseases and catastrophes to rid itself of the growing damage from humans. But while our growing numbers are sure a cause for concern, they might never hit apocalypse-worthy levels.

The UN’s projections for population growth see us hit 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. That’d be a double-up from 6.1 billion in 2000. But in 1900, there were only 1.6 billion humans, which means that in the last century, we grew fourfold, showing the growth rate is already declining. That’s because as countries get out of poverty, people tend to have fewer children. In countries like Germany, populations are even declining!

There are three biases that prevent our feelings from matching the numbers: the straight-line instinct, the fear instinct, and the size instinct. We misplace our primal fears, think trends continue in a straight line, and overestimate their size. That’s why population growth might feel like a huge threat, when actually, it’ll likely not be a big deal.

Lesson 3: The only thing that allows you to see the world as it really is is to look at everything from multiple angles.

Democracy is one of the 21st century’s most popular ideas, because in it, Western countries have thrived. But right now, most of the fastest-growing countries aren’t democratic, indicating it’s not the only political system that works. And yet, we tend to see it as the ultimate end goal for any ‘developing’ nation.

Using only a single perspective to shape our opinions might be our biggest flaw. Sometimes, you come across other viewpoints by accident, but mostly, it’s a matter of actively seeking them out. If you don’t do it, you’re once again stuck in black-and-white land. One of the best remedies, Rosling says, is travel. By exposing yourself to other cultures, you’ll naturally get access to many different points of view.

Also, when getting your information online, it’s always best to read multiple sources, not just one. It’s the equivalent of traveling around the world. Only when we surf the globe can we learn to see it as it really is, so that we may form our opinions based on facts, not feelings.

And that’s what factfulness is all about.

My personal take-aways

Factfulness is only one of many books in a long, recent line of works that help us fight our biases. It delivers its research in a way that’s easy to understand and uses great examples to help us see clearly. If Bill Gates can learn something from it, I’m sure we can too.

At Home Summary

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At Home takes you on a tour of the modern home, using each room as occasion to reminisce about the history of its tradition, thus enlightening you with how the amenities and comforts of everyday life you now take for granted have come to be.

Bill Bryson is the megastar of curious, inquisitive, entertaining writing. Whatever the topic, he manages to make it come to life for the reader, as if he or she was the one doing all the exploring. A Short History Of Nearly Everything revealed a few mind-blowing facts about the universe and showed me even more reasons to be grateful than I already knew were out there.

This book is a historic sketch of “private life” – you know, what happens behind those precious four walls we all call home. Bill takes you on a tour of his house, telling a story in each room about how it grew into the purpose we know and use it for today.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

  • Fighting harder for longer: food didn’t come easily until very recently.
  • Rodents and rings made sleep much less regenerative 100 years ago.
  • There are two very different reasons why there’s a salt and a pepper shaker on every kitchen table.

Are you in for a different kind of house tour? Forget MTV Cribs, this is the real deal!

Lesson 1: Shoot the cans! The struggle for food lasted longer than you think.

You know the neanderthals had a tough time filling their stomachs. Hunting, gathering, learning what’s edible and what’s not through trial and error. These were tough times, no doubt. I have to admit though, that in my mind, somewhere around the 1600s, making sure you ate 2-3 times a day “must have become fairly easy.”

Ha! I could not have been more wrong.

Easy access to food is predicated on one thing: making it preservable. This process didn’t even start until the late 1700s. A confectioner from Paris, Nicolas Appert, was the first to try and can foods, sealing them in containers made of glass with a wax seal. However his seals weren’t really airtight, so the food could still be contaminated.

Bryan Donkin improved upon his concept, even launching the first commercial iron tin cannery, but wrought iron cans were heavy and almost impossible to open. Some even came with instructions to open them with hammer and chisel, and soldiers, well, they just shot the cans open with their rifles!

The first true relief at scale came with the invention of the can opener as we know it today: in 1925.

What none of this accounts for is that people rarely knew with certainty what they were eating, as food labeling has been required by law only since 1990 (!). Chalk was added to milk, dirt to tea and sand to sugar, to get more money out of less product. We now live in good times!

Lesson 2: Whatever sleeping problems you have, they’re not a big deal.

Today, mattresses are stuffed mainly with either springs or foam, and sometimes with a bladder filled with air or water. None of these were invented until the early 1900s – so what did people put into their beds before?

Oh, all kinds of stuff: straw, feathers, horse hair, cotton, even sea moss and sawdust. Those were all pretty natural, but you know what nature attracts? Animals!

Bedbugs, moths, mice, rats and other rodents were all too common companions while trying to get some shut-eye back then. When not all rustling beneath the sheets was of the good kind, you did well to keep a shoe close by, in case you needed to strike.

Speaking of reproductive activities, they were considered a mere practical act back then. Having kids was good, but having fun while conceiving them? Nah-uh. Women were told to avoid board games and reading, as those could arouse them, and since masturbation was also considered filthy and unhealthy, men had to keep their hands to themselves too.

Worse even, to avoid leaky “accidents” at night (referred to as “nocturnal emission”), a penile pricking ring for men was invented: if your wiener swelled at night, its sharp pins would prick it to kill the arousal – yuck!

So the next time you think your mattress is too hard or too soft, remember: this is nothing compared to what people had to deal with just a few short decades ago.

Lesson 3: Salt to survive, pepper ’cause it’s popular: why we spice things up.

Have you ever thought about why, of all spices, salt and pepper are the one on every kitchen table?

Salt might be easy to guess, after all, it’s crucial for human bodies to function. And even though we’ve only known that for a comparatively short time, we’ve been consuming salt for thousands of years. Some ancient, indigenous people went as far as drying urine to extract it. For many kings, amassing lots of salt was also a sign of power.

However, there was one condiment with which it was even easier to show how wealthy and mighty you were: pepper. Originally popularized by the ancient Romans, who couldn’t get enough of this stuff, prices reached crazy heights even back then. At one point, they offered an invading army as much as 3,000 pounds of pepper as a peace agreement.

In 1468, the Duke of Bourgogne used pepper as a decoration for his wedding: 380 pounds of it! Way to show who’s boss, huh? Of course we’ve gotten smarter about using pepper more resourcefully, but it remains, to this day, a little status symbol atop our kitchen tables.

My personal take-aways

The summary of this book was refreshing. When you have an “I want to learn something new, something totally unrelated, but no idea what” moment, this is the one to grab. Everything we take for granted today was once a life-changing innovation. It’s important to not forget and this surely will help you remember.

Amusing Ourselves To Death Summary

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Amusing Ourselves To Death takes you through the history of media to highlight how entertainment’s standing in society has risen to the point where our addiction to it undermines our independent thinking.

One thing that’s always fascinated me in English class is how our idioms translate and vice versa. For example, if you want to help someone deal with rejection you might say: “Life’s not always a bowl of cherries.” A popular German equivalent is: “Life’s not a pony farm.” The idea is that on a pony farm, everything is dandy all the time.

A perfect world, in which everyone is always happy, is called utopia. Some of the world’s most popular science-fiction explores what would happen if not only we tried to build such a place, but also if it went wrong. This is called dystopia – a miserable society. Video games like Bioshock, movies like The Matrix, and lots of classic books fall into the dystopian genre.

Two you might be familiar with from high school days are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. One claims a totalitarian regime will watch our every move, the other assumes we’ll be numbed to oblivion with consumerism and drugs. Especially after World War II, Orwell’s prediction felt much more likely. So when, in the very year it “came true,” Neil Postman showed up to the world’s largest book fair and claimed Huxley was much closer to reality, he caused quite a stir.

Amusing Ourselves To Death was the result of his appearance. As early as 1985, it claimed that the rise of TV would be our fall. Here’s his line of argument in 3 lessons:

  • The 19th century was the age of reading.
  • Telegraphy and photography stripped information from itscontext.
  • Everything you see on TV was twisted to entertain, so it’shard to learn anything.

If you’re wondering why we’ve become such bad readers, this is the right place to learn. Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Less than 200 years ago, everyone was well-read.

A few days ago, the 52nd Super Bowl glued over 100 million Americans to their TVs. That’s about a third of the entire population. Can you imagine a book being that popular? In recent history, only Hunger Games comes close, with about 65 million copies sold. However, even if your book sells ‘just’ one million copies, it’s already part of the top 0.001%.

But not too long ago, things were different. Common Sense, Thomas Paine’s 49-page pamphlet that advocated for the US to seek independence from Great Britain, was printed 500,000 times – in 1776. That means one in five Americans read it. That’s because at the time, reading was both a way of entertainment and the arena of choice for public discourse.

Sure, politicians also gave hour-long speeches, but those were mostly supplemented with text and similar in structure and language. Also keep in mind: there were no photographs. Most people wouldn’t have recognized the president if he walked by, but his writing they’d be familiar with.

Given text was the only medium available to spread and gather information, this reading ‘trend’ would continue through most of the 19th century, especially with subscription and one-off models for newspapers making it affordable for the masses.

But then…

Lesson 2: The telegraph and the camera ushered in a period of little context.

Around halfway through the 19th century, the telegraph really took off. This brilliant piece of technology allowed people to communicate short messages over vast distances in a matter of minutes. Sending letters back and forth took weeks, but with a telegram, important messages could reach the recipient immediately.

However, as humans are, they started using the telegraph not just when it was necessary, but all the time, simply because they could. Meaningless messages about royalties catching a cold and political rumors became standard. Similarly, film photography enabled taking pictures at scale in the late 1800s, so advertisements and newspapers made good use of the fact that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

What both these media have in common is that they convey information in a way that completely lacks context. Think of them as the Twitter and Instagram of the time. So, when they took over public communication, the amount and frequency of information greatly increased, but the quality suffered.

People now knew more tidbits about everything, but much less about the few things that were important to understand in their entirety. That’s a problem and it persists to this day.

Lesson 3: On TV, everything must be entertaining, so the medium dictates the message.

Most innovations extend older technology, and when it seems they don’t, we often find they picked up a thread we left untouched for dozens, sometimes hundreds of years. In case of the television, since initial programming covered only news, most people thought it was the next iteration of the printing press, a new way to spread information around the globe.

However, here Postman makes one of his central, contrarian arguments: it’s not. The television succeeds the telegraph and photography, and thus, continues to forge society’s path towards contextless entertainment. Video is a tempting medium, it engages multiple senses, but for us to keep watching, we have to constantly feel engaged. As a result, everything you see on TV has either been engineered to be in, or twisted into, a format that’s entertaining.

Think about it. The news come with music, lots of animations, and reporters are oddly enthusiastic about disasters and the weather. Political debates equal a verbal boxing match, where whoever presents himself best wins. Commercials try to make a big splash to get you to buy things. Even church sermons and documentaries are forced to tell stories to keep you from switching the channel.

Today, Americans spend over 12 hours a day engaged with media, much of which goes to TV and streaming. If it’s really all bark and no bite, maybe, on Brave New World‘s 100-year anniversary in 2032, we’ll be closer to it than we’d like.

My personal take-aways

I haven’t owned a TV since 2010. I do watch the occasional show and movie on my laptop, but ditching the news, or your standard TV access altogether, is a move I’d recommend to anyone, any day of the week. Just like this book.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything Summary

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A Short History Of Nearly Everything explains everything we’ve learned about our world and the universe so far, including how they formed, how we learned to make sense of time, space and gravity, why it’s such a miracle that we’re alive and how much of our planet is still a complete mystery to us.

What’s the most fascinating thing about our world to you? Is it space, other planets, galaxies far far away? The depth of the ocean and the mysterious, alien-like creatures that live down there? The genetic makeup of all of the species around us?

I’m baffled by all of those things, but I find that even people who don’t show a particular interest in science and history have one or two things they’re absolutely smitten by – and it’s not surprising. There’s so much incredible stuff going on around us, it’s hard to not be starstruck, if you think about it.

This book tries to explain (almost) all of it. At least as much as we know. Bill Bryson has done a tremendous job at it.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

  • Most of the universe was created in a single, 3-minute moment.
  • Given the odds of a planet being livable, it’s a miracle we’re here at all.
  • Every day that the world keeps turning is a gift, because there are many things that could potentially end it.

Ready for a very brief look at the miracle we’re living right now? Let’s look at the history of (nearly) everything.

Lesson 1: All it took to create most of the universe as we know it was a single, 3-minute moment.

A singularity is defined as a moment in which nothing is defined and everything is unpredictable. It’s a massive inflection point. When scientists talk about the “initial” singularity, they refer to the moment the universe was created. It’s hard to imagine, but think of a little, compact point, that is infinitely dense – it contains everything that’s in the universe now, but is compressed into a tiny, tiny dot.

All of a sudden, it explodes, splattering all of its contents into the void. This moment is known as the big bang. When it happened, the entire universe was created in the time it takes you to prepare a sandwich. Immediately after the blow, the universe doubled in size every 10-34 seconds – that’s FAST. Within three minutes, 98% of all matter in the universe we know today was created.

With all this expanding, how wide is the universe today? About 100 billion light years – that’s the distance light can travel in a year times 100 BILLION. And light is fast. It travels 300,000 km (or 186,000 miles) per second. That’s this much in a year: 9,460,800,000,000 or about 9.5 trillion.

So 9.5 trillion times 100 billion, that’s the diameter of the universe. In numbers (whatever that means), that’s the span in kilometers: 946,800,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Lesson 2: The odds of a planet supporting life are so low that our presence on earth comes close to a miracle.

If you think about how easy it is to die, it becomes clear how frail human life actually is. I mean, you fall down a couple stairs, hit your head, and that’s it. You dive too deep in the sea, climb too high on a mountain or get stung by the wrong plant or insect, and you’re done.

But an even bigger surprise than us managing to maneuver the dangerous world we live in every day is the fact that we’re here at all.

99.5% of earth’s habitable space is not suited for humans – because it’s either water or doesn’t have enough oxygen. We need land to move and live and even on land we’re limited: only 12% of the total land mass of our planet can host humans.

It’s pretty rare for a planet to be livable on in general, because several things have to come together:

The distance to a star must be perfect. If it’s too close, the surface burns, if it’s too far away, the planet will be iced over.

The planet has to keep out cosmic radiation by building the right atmosphere.

A moon has to keep the planet’s gravity in check, so that it can spin at the right speed and angle.

All of these events have to line up in the right order and timeline.

Talk about once-in-a-lifetime chances! And this gets even more impressive, considering the next lesson.

Lesson 3: There’s a lot that could go wrong for our planet, which makes every new day a gift.

Let’s reconsider the point above. Humans not falling prey to all the dangers in the world pales in comparison to all the dangers that threaten earth’s existence from the outside.

There are around 1,000,000,000 asteroids flying around space close to the earth, and about 10% of them that regularly intersect with earth’s orbit are larger than 10 meters in diameter. That’s 100 million 10m-sized rocks potentially hitting earth at tremendous speeds!

In fact, 2,000 of those are so large that upon collision, we might get wiped out completely. According to scientists calculations, those deadly asteroids could fly by and nearly miss around 2-3 times a week – without us even noticing.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are earthquakes, tornados and volcano eruptions, all of which can have devastating consequences.

So no, it’s totally not normal that the sun rises every morning. Every single day is yet another miracle, waiting for you to appreciate it and take advantage of it. Live like it!

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