Over several years, I’ve made countless pages of book notes across a wide range of non-fiction. This section of the website is a result of these efforts, refining and summarising these book notes into the key ideas. The notes aim to offer a window into some of the best minds in their respective fields, as well as providing a refresher resource for those who want to jog their memory after reading the book.
These book notes cannot, however, replace the richness of the books – and do not try to. Instead, they are designed to mentally consolidate and summarise the key ideas, conveying some – but far from all – of the books’ lessons. Treat these lessons as an introduction to decide whether the book is worth further attention. If it is, I urge you to support the author and buy their work.
Book Summaries A-Z
The 5AM Club presents a powerful argument for a work-rest routine to join the top 5% of performers. In the form of a story, the book argues that a structured and consistent morning routine which starts at 5AM can act as a catalyst for greater productivity, health, and happiness. Sharma also puts forward a variety of tactics for our working days to capitalise on our strong morning start, along with some fundamental principles for world-class performance.
Scott Galloway is a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business, perhaps best known as the author of bestselling book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. The Algebra of Happiness is Galloway’s second book and it outlines his perspective on the fundamentals of a happy life. From our money to our health to our love lives, lessons are given in the form of short anecdotes from Galloway’s personal experience.
Murray N. Rothbard was an economist from the Austrian School and is considered one of the leading figures of the libertarian movement of the 20th century. In Anatomy of the State, Rothbard sets out his views on the role of the State in societies, how the State preserves its power and transcends its limits, how States relate internationally, and the historical context of State power vs. social power. The central conclusion of this short text is that the State serves to seize wealth, distort incentives and monopolize the use of force, undermining the long-term prosperity of citizens.
James Clear calls the small habits that bring about marginal gains our “atomic habits”. These habits, Clear suggests, are the compound interest of self-improvement. In order to change them and improve our results, we must turn our attention to our systems as well as our goals. To change behaviour, the book identifies four simple rules: (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying. We stand the best chance of delivering these habits changes when we design our environments to fulfil these four simple rules.
Albert Costa was one of the leading researchers in the field of neurolinguistics, specialising in research on the cognitive and neurological implications of bilingualism. The book explores how two (or more) languages can coexist in the brain and the implications of that coexistence. In a comprehensive guide through the latest research, Costa reveals how bilingualism may alter the structure of our brains, affect our attention system and even potentially enhance our decision making.
The Deficit Myth is an introduction to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), an economic school of thought that is growing in popularity. It seeks to explain why for countries with monetary sovereignty the federal budget is fundamentally different to the household budget, and why deficits are generally good for the economy. Instead of focusing on self-imposed budget constraints, Kelton suggests we should instead use inflation and real resource limits as the measuring stick for public spending.
Cal Newport explores one of the modern world’s biggest challenges: the impact of digitalisation on our well-being, creativity and productivity. The solution, he suggests, is a radical rethink about the way we use technologies. Digital Minimalism sets out a path for a more intentional and controlled approach to our digital communications, starting again from zero and reintroducing only those technologies and applications that truly bring us value.
What is the key to motivating ourselves and others in the 21st century? The answer, Daniel Pink suggests, is a far cry from the traditional view of carrots and sticks. Instead, as economic development and socio-technological change have swept the world, humans are now strongly motivated by our third drive: our need for autonomy, mastery and purpose. The quicker we and businesses recognise it the better.
Endure explores the long-running endurance debate, which has taken us from a physiological understanding towards a new frontier of psychological and neurological research. Hutchinson presents a detailed account of the research, putting forward the view that we can train our brains as well as our bodies to improve our endurance levels.
Essentialists embrace their right to choose and the reality that more effort doesn’t necessarily yield better results. By exploring and evaluating our options, we can identify the essential and then apply extreme criteria in selection. As McKeown argues, the result is greater focus and greater satisfaction.
We systematically overestimate how bad things are and underestimate how much they have improved. Rosling believed this tendency is driven by 10 innate “overdramatic instincts”, from the way in which fear, urgency and negativity rule over our worldviews, to our tendency to generalise and seek single causes and solutions. Factfulness provides an entertaining data-based antidote to many of the thinking errors that underpin our worldviews.
In The Fourth Turning, Neil Howe and William Strauss argue that history follows a clear and predictable cycle. Each cycle lasts around a lifetime and consists of four seasons (turnings), each marked by a profound shift in the national mood and culture. This lifecycle of four seasons is made inevitable by four generational archetypes and their order, which they argue has recurred throughout modernity. The book was written in 1997, at which point the authors suggested we were approaching the Fourth Turning: a lifechanging period of crisis that marks every saeculum.
In a tour through the psychology of achievement, Angela Duckworth explains how passion and perseverance for long-term goals matter far more than talent. The grittiest get up time and time again in the face of adversity, focusing on deliberate practice to work on weaknesses. And the good news: Duckworth’s research suggests we can all develop this characteristic from the inside-out and the outside-in. Grit is a worthwhile read for anyone focused on self-improvement, but perhaps even more worthwhile for parents.
Michael Pollan explores the history of the science of psychedelics. The book unearths the early findings on the role of psychedelics in treating anxiety, depression, and addiction, as well exploring the cutting-edge research at the forefront of the psychedelic resurgence of the 21st century. In a compelling read, Pollan also documents his first-hand experience with psilocybin, LSD, and other psychedelics.
Since 2008, we have faced a paradigm shift in finance and economics. The rate of change is only likely to accelerate over the coming years and this book outlines Andrew Craig’s perspective on the optimal investment strategy to capitalise on these changes. Looking at some of the most recent trends, Craig explains how any everyday investor can – and should – develop a portfolio of investments that seeks to “own the world” and “own inflation”.
David Sinclair explores the idea that we should be treating aging as a disease. Through a comprehensive look at the latest scientific research on aging, Sinclair explains where we are heading in medical science and the science-backed steps we can take right now to improve our longevity.
As a child and young adult, Johann Hari believed what the prevailing pharmaceutical narrative told him: that his longstanding depression and anxiety were the result of a chemical imbalance, and that this chemical imbalance was best fixed through chemical antidepressants. In Lost Connections, Hari recounts the research that changed his view on depression and anxiety entirely. Through interviews with over 200 experts and review of extensive scientific research, Hari arrives at the conclusion that the fast rise in depression and anxiety is not a result of chemical imbalances, but of nine or more rising factors around us in the world.
Joshua Foer went from regular journalist to US Memory Champion in a single year. In this superb tour through the science and history of memory, Foer documents his journey. The result is a work that reveals a welcome truth: through techniques like the memory palace, anyone can develop seemingly freakish memorisation abilities without any innate biological advantage.
What started with Joshua Becker clearing out his garage became a life-changing journey in minimalism, for more reasons than one. Becker documented his journey at his blog, Becoming Minimalist, which became one of the most successful minimalism blogs on the internet. The More of Less is a consolidation of the key principles that Becker learnt along the way. The book introduces the basic principles of minimalism, its origins, and the practical steps the reader can take to change their own life for the better through minimalism.
In a lively read, Williams explains the latest cutting-edge research on how nature influences our well-being. Research has shown that the mere smell, sound or sight of nature can change our brains and potentially improve health and educational outcomes. If embraced by policymakers, the implications could be far-reaching.
Many institutions overestimate the benefits of extroversion, in some cases to the detriment of effective and innovative work in solitude. In this illuminating read, Susan Cain takes a tour through the research on introversion, revealing the science-backed benefits of embracing introverts.
Joost Meerloo was a psychoanalyst and expert in techniques of mass and individual brainwashing. In his capacity as a researcher, Meerloo had the opportunity to gather data on millions of victims of Nazi terror, as well as interviewing and questioning several escapees from internment and concentration camps and several imprisoned Nazis. In The Rape of the Mind, Meerloo summarises his findings, outlining the underlying psychological mechanisms of brainwashing and mass thought control. First published in 1960, its lessons are now more important than ever.
Growing up, Robert Kiyosaki had a rich dad (his best friend’s dad) and a poor dad (his real dad). His poor dad did everything the way most of us are taught to do it. He got an education at university, he secured a stable, well-paid job, worked hard, got a mortgage, and so on. His rich dad, on the other hand, didn’t follow the usual path. He started small and focused on building income-generating assets, he used legal corporations to reduce his tax liability, he paid himself first. In Rich Dad Poor Dad, Kiyosaki outlines the key lessons he learnt from his rich dad so he could avoid his poor dad’s financial fate. The book has become one of the best-selling personal finance books in history.
Written in 1926, the Richest Man in Babylon is a book of timeless personal finance principles, told in the form of short stories based on the “Babylonian parables”. At its height, Babylon was the wealthiest city in the world, which Clason attributes in part to the relationship its people had with money. The book uses stories of characters from Babylon to illustrate the importance of our relationship with money and the basic principles for acquiring, keeping and earning money.
Martin Ford sets out why he believes new technologies will ultimately push us towards a world economy that is less labour-intensive. Without the right policy response, Ford suggests we will confront a grave economic and human cost.
The Road to Serfdom is the seminal work of Friedrich Hayek, a British-Austrian economist and philosopher regarded as one of the leading classical liberal thinkers of the 20th century. The book contends that socialist ideals can ultimately only be achieved by totalitarian means. Written during World War II, Hayek reflects on the patterns of socialism which led to Nazism, the illusion of democratic socialism and how early signs in other parts of the western world warned at a similar trajectory.
Nick Littlehales is an elite sports sleep coach and has worked with high-profile athletes from across the sporting spectrum. In this illuminating read, Littlehales provides actionable practices for better sleep. From thinking in cycles instead of hours through to the power of napping, the ideas in the book will leave you thinking differently about our most important tool of physical and mental recovery.
James Wallman’s contention is that the materialism of the last 100 years has progressively made the developed world more anxious and more depressed, reaching a point of “stuffocation”. Backed by psychology research and socio-economic data, Wallman argues that the world needs to head towards a healthier dominant value system: experientialism. In fact, as the data shows, it’s already on its way.
Instead of seeing problems as an annoyance to be solved, Manson makes the case that problems are indirectly the source of most of our happiness. We have a choice about how we react to the worst of these problems, and often those that yield to victim mentality end up worst off. Rich in entertaining anecdotes, Manson sets out the case for embracing uncertainty, failure and rejection, and ultimately taking responsibility for a life in which you choose carefully what to give a f*ck about.
Thomas Erikson is a behavioural expert from Sweden. Having spent two decades helping organisations and teams understand their behaviour through the DISA system, the book provides a comprehensive look at the application of this model in practice. The aim of the book is to help people get past the mentality of assuming we are surrounded by idiots and instead become fluent in the language of behaviour.
As Carmine Gallo puts it, “Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century.” But crucially, we can only change the world through these ideas by effectively communicating them. After analysing more than 500 TED presentations and interviewing presenters, neuroscientists, psychologists and communications experts, Gallo presents what he believes to be the nine most important elements of effective presentations.
First published during the Great Depression in 1937, Think and Grow Rich is considered a classic in the field of personal development and self-improvement. The book is not exclusively about personal finance. Instead, its central focus is 13 principles which Hill believed were the key to the accumulation of riches or success in any field.
As a former rocket scientist, Ozan Varol believes we can all apply the thinking tools from his field. The book explores a range of models and strategies for generating, testing, and refining new ideas across all walks of life. A must-read for anyone that wants to enhance their problem solving and creativity.
As the Nineteenth Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy found that one of the most common underlying themes of ill health was loneliness, without exemption by wealth, education or accomplishments. The book seeks to explain why building a more connected world holds the key to solving many medical and societal issues. And as Murthy argues throughout, we are already equipped with the antidote: our universal condition for human connection.
Tim Ferriss has interviewed some of the best performers in their field from around the world on his podcast The Tim Ferriss Show. In Tools of Titans, Ferriss distils some of the key lessons from these conversations, along with his personal reflections on some of the key themes. The book is divided into lessons about health, wealth and wisdom, but many of the lessons overlap between these sections.