Crushing Books and Why I Publish My Book List

I have been crushing books recently. But before we jump into that, let me provide a little background.

Why Do I Keep Track of Books Read?

Flashback to 2008 … Michael Phelps won in the most exciting finish ever, Barack Obama became president, and I graduated from college. There is an incredible jump in freedom when 18 year-olds go off to college – no parents, no curfew, and easy access to your choice of poison. It crushes some people while others learn to thrive in the new environment. There is also an incredible jump in freedom when 22 year-olds graduate into the working world – no grades, more structured free time, and money to spend. It crushes some people while others learn to thrive in the new environment.

After a couple months of adjusting, I started creating the changes I wanted to embrace in this new period of life. The largest was becoming vegetarian after a self-imposed two month vegan challenge. But the one relevant to this post is keeping track of the books I read.

I learned about the field of personal informatics – tracking specific data from your life to keep as a record or use for optimization (I blogged about it here). I ultimately decided tracking too much data is OCD and to be avoided. So I would only track data for short term optimizations and one long term record – the books I have read. This is important to me as a history of what I was interested in at various points of my life and so I have a list to refer back to when giving book recommendations.

Why Do I Make My Book List Public?

I find it very interesting to learn what smart people are reading (this mainly means non-fiction, since smart people become smart from a thirst for knowledge, and books are quite possibly the best way to explore an idea in depth). It successfully communicates the influences upon that person in a way that has yet to be beat. I also look to see if the person reads across many disciplines and seeks out viewpoints that contradict from their own.

Since I pretend to be one of these smart people, I will keep my book list public.

What are the Results?

For the last three and a half years I have finished roughly 1.5 books per month. There were periods of learning about investing, behavioral economics, startups, and more.

But then there is a period of 6 months in 2011 where I did not finish a single book. With hindsight, this is a red flag signaling something is off – what was happening in my life to put an abrupt end to my thirst for knowledge? First, I was struggling in a job going nowhere which stunted my intellectual curiosity. Second, my spare time was used to create Breakout Mentors to provide fun computer programming lessons to 10-15 year-olds.

Then I retired from the working life and have finished 13 books in the 4-5 months since (and going to finish 3 more in the next week). In my relaxed state I have branched out and tried new things: the Hunger Game series, 2 biology books from Tom’s New Zealand science collection, and a classic 1000 pager I have put off for many years. It has been great and I hope to sustain this pace upon my return to the States.

Who is with me – are you going to start keeping a book list if you aren’t already? Have you drawn any interesting insights looking back on your list?


  • You can find my book list here (its also on the top nav bar)
  • Web article reading lists are also good but less common and shorter works aren’t as influential as books – check out uber-blogger Ramit Sethi’s delicious psychology tags for some good reads.
  • Dedicated reader B.Lindy has requested notes or ratings of the books so that he can better use the list as recommendations. Good idea, but not yet implemented (Derek Sivers’ list is what I aspire to have some day). Anyone interested can drop a comment about specific books or what they are interested in and I’ll try to help.
  • My sister Lisa is doing 1 second videos each day for the year. Going to be an awesome keepsake and hopefully not too hard. Check out this example result:

2011 from hey_rabbit on Vimeo.

Photo: Martin Gommel

A Startling Look into the World of Competitive Freediving

Freediving is some pretty gnarly stuff. Basically you hold your breath, swim as deep as you can, and then swim back up to the surface. Simple right? Well the best in the world go 300 feet down and come back up four minutes later. If that’s not super-human I don’t know what is.

Here is a great article that takes an in-depth look at those pushing the limits in this dangerous sport. We’re talking torn larynges (plural of larynx), blackouts, and noses exploding into a bloody mess for those lucky enough to return to the surface. It’s a great read, but I thought I would point out a couple items I found particularly interesting that otherwise may not stand out in the article.

Powerful Psychology in Play

“Competitive freediving is a safe sport. It’s all very regulated, very controlled,” says William Trubridge, a 31-year-old world-record freediver from New Zealand. “I would never do it if it wasn’t.”

Cognitive dissonance much? Here is a closer look at the logic being applied: I wouldn’t do anything unsafe and I freedive, therefore freediving must be safe. Wow. Let me guess… he thinks of himself as a moral person so everything he does is perfectly acceptable.

Achieving Greatness

So why do you do this Mr. World Record Holder?

“To me, I don’t really have a choice,” he says in a soft voice. “There is an immortal peace confronting the underwater world on its own terms, with your breath at your breast. The ocean is just where I am meant to be.”

The greats in any discipline will likely have a similar answer. They were made for it and can’t imagine life without it. Since it isn’t really a choice for them, the risks and endless devotion aren’t viewed in the same way everyone else sees them.

Photo: Gavin Goodhart

Life Lessons Learned Through Hitchhiking

Most of us growing up in the Unites States have learned that hitchhiking is dangerous. Don’t attempt it and certainly don’t pick up someone on the side of the road with their thumb out. There is a pretty good Freakonomic radio podcast with some insights into why we all share this belief.

But now that I am in New Zealand, with the new culture comes a new mindset about hitchhiking. It’s fairly common in the south island and has been the primary way I have been getting around for the last month (but don’t tell my Mom since not everyone has adjusted their mindset yet). What have I learned through this experience?

  • What we all accept as truth can and should be questioned. This is an excellent time to cite the oh-so-interesting monkey, banana, and water spray experiment.
  • Both kiwis and other travelers pick up hitchhikers. In my limited experience the drivers have ranged from age 19 to 86. This tells me that its not just a narrow set of people that don’t know they aren’t supposed to pick up hitchhikers – anyone can recondition themselves to match the environment.
  • People are interesting. So many of our conversations with strangers consist of smalltalk – well what if you were in a car with a stranger for 90 minutes? And silence isn’t an option, the main reason people pick up hitchhikers is for someone to talk to, so you better deliver. I’ve found that I have learned much about various countries around the world through these conversations. I’ve also found that these connections are pleasant surprises that would not be possible with an itinerary chock-full of tourist activities.
  • The most important take away is that it has pushed comfort zone socially. It’s good to push your comfort zone in life – that’s how we achieve bigger and better things. I am not used to asking favors of strangers – anything beyond asking for the time or if they can take a picture. And then I found myself approaching strangers pumping gas to see if I could get a ride with them. I found myself low on energy talking about United States politics and thinking up unique questions about their home (if you must know, on my hitchhiking days I am generally dehydrated so I don’t have to make them stop for pee breaks all the time, thus the low energy). And I’m stronger for it. And to keep the growth going, I may do the rejection therapy challenge when I get back stateside.

Anyone out there have some other takeaways to suggest or awesome hitchhiking stories?


Photo: Frank Farm

How to Be Interesting – Irrational Passion for Unconventional Things

Here’s a little secret for you. Anyone who actually enjoys making small talk is boring. Do you think I really want to talk about the weather? I don’t have the patience to wait and see if you have anything better to say. Life is too short, there are too many interesting people out there for me to be wasting my time with you.

You don’t want to be Susie Smalltalk, you want to be interesting. What makes someone interesting? They have a passion for things. More specifically, they have an irrational passion for things. It’s far too common to be into cars, fashion, or football. Boring. But being passionate about something that is so random it seems irrational to be so excited about it, now that is interesting.

All you have to do is drop superlatives about a subject the person you’re speaking with has never thought about. Then back it up with supporting arguments that could logically make sense.

“The greatest travesty in the textile industry is that wool has been replaced by inferior technologically advanced materials.”

“A Knight’s Tale is the only chick flick guys actually enjoy more than girls.”

Ice is the greatest luxury that people take completely for granted.

“Run DMC is the most influential music group of all time.”

This naturally lends itself into teaching them something, which interesting people will enjoy. It also gives your conversational partner the opportunity to challenge you – it is these people that you want to clench on to. Don’t worry if you lose the debate. Yes, the Beatles were also quite an influential band. Good for them. The important thing is that you are having an stimulating conversation and discovering whether the person is worth speaking with again.

Let’s get to thinking … what are some subjects that you are irrationally passionate about?

Photo: Noukka Signe