Making Sense of the World
There are no shortcuts in life and reading is an indispensable habit in today’s world. It’s a fairly simple assertion. However, it is increasingly hard to develop a disciplined approach to reading books. A bigger question though is: What’s the utility in reading and wasting time that can be meaningfully spent elsewhere?
Especially in a digital and connected world where all the content you need is always in the palm of your hand. There are more efficient approaches i.e. to watch news on television, to watch documentaries or read curated and customized feeds from the internet. There is an app for everything today, right?
I agree. All the methods suggested above are fantastic sources. However, they should supplement a voracious reading appetite. Why? There are three simple reasons.
First, not every piece of information or news you consume is unbiased. Always bear in mind the incentives of the publishers of content. The counterargument is that the writer of a book could also be driven by perverse incentives. However, I find that less likely than the other media outlets today. Also, once you triangulate information from various sources (including reading a book), you sit at a different vantage point and can understand the world better.
Second, history and general knowledge are truly underrated. People often question ‘How can I make money off of learning history or possessing general knowledge?’ True, knowledge without application is of limited use. However, you cannot understand the present or begin to opine on the future without truly considering trends of the past. While this approach is used in a lot of areas i.e. sales forecasting and budgeting, extrapolation can be used to understand why some things are the way they are especially in geopolitics.
Third, we live in a flat, digital and interconnected world that is increasingly getting shorter in terms of virtual distance. Even before the internet was invented, books had already shrunk the virtual distance. You could learn about other cultures without having to travel. Just place yourself in the mind of the author and use his words to visualize the world. This is true even today. Never attempt to understand the world by adopting just one constant world view. Think of it from the point of view of the various players involved. Many people can be right at the same time and yet appear to be totally wrong.
In the recent past, the following have been helpful guides in navigating current affairs:
- The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong
- The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power
- The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
- The Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin
- The Only Game in Town by Mohamed A. El-Erian
- The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World by Ruchir Sharma
- Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama
- From Zero to One by Peter Thiel
My motivations in writing this article are two-fold: i) to reiterate the importance of continuing to learn by reading books daily even if it means devoting 30 minutes to reading before you sleep. This habit has been the single most important exercise for my mind and ii) to recommend useful reads.
If you have any book recommendations, please feel free to leave your feedback.
If you liked this simple article, please recommend it and share it with others.