The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

We are constantly reminded of people’s opinions of us. It can be well-intentioned expectations from our family and friends or non-constructive criticisms from complete strangers. With the prevalence of social media, it not only opens up a floodgate to others’ opinions of our publicized thoughts but it also shows a glimpse of how others are doing in their lives. The effects of this can be harmless and at times even beneficial, however, it is when we give others’ opinions too much weight or use people’s life updates as a measurement to compare ourselves against where it can become extremely detrimental.

Focus on What’s Meaningful to You

To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.

There are always things that can be better, which naturally means there are always problems that we can solve. With all the problems that we have, it can feel overwhelming at times with our limited time and energy. So narrow down on what is important and meaningful to you for you to focus on.

Another key to getting less bothered by problems is the ability to put things into perspective. Many problems we face are upgraded problems that other people are dealing with. Not having healthy food options can be seen as an upgraded problem of not having enough food to eat. Not having enough food to eat can be seen as an upgraded problem of struggling to find food to stay off of starvation. These are all very important problems that are worth solving, but the point is that the mindset you have can greatly affect your experience in working through that problem.

The more things that you care about, the more things that can affect you. So make sure to “give a fuck” to what is truly meaningful to you.

Our Struggles Determine Our Success

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench press a small house.

This is my favorite line of the book. To be great in any industry, the work is done in your preparation. For example, to be an NBA star player, it’s not only about enjoying playing basketball games. There are numerous people in the world that not only enjoy playing basketball but also have the talent to go along with it. However, the NBA players that stand out in the league are those who are willing to struggle through the process of dedicating thousands of hours in the gym to perfect their craft and their conditioning, analyzing game tapes to see what can be done better, studying and understanding plays, and the list goes on.

The work involved in the preparation is oftentimes redundant and even boring. You don’t have to enjoy every or even any part of it, but you need to be willing to sustain it. So if you want to be great at a given profession, it’s not only about considering the performance aspect of it but also thinking about whether you are willing to put in and sustain the work required. The work you put into night in and night out will determine who you become, so choose and develop the habits that will lead you to where you want to go.

Summary

Mark Mason teaches important lessons on how to focus on what’s meaningful to lead a happier life. I didn’t enjoy the book because I was already familiar with the key takeaways. However, Mark is engaging in the way he writes and the content can be very beneficial for those who feel overwhelmed by the problems they are facing. Here’s where you can get the book if you are interested.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Upheaval by Jared Diamond.

 

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading Harari’s previous book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari discussed the progression of humankind and posed thought-provoking questions such as how humans became the most dominant species of the planet and what are the associated consequences. A sneak peek of Harari’s following book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow was included in Sapiens. It briefly discussed how human’s behavior can subconsciously be impacted by the history of humankind. It then poses further questions on where humankind is heading towards based on past progression as well as the development of artificial intelligence. I’m not particularly interested in reading one person’s speculation of the future so I didn’t end up getting the book. But thanks to my friends, Annie and Patrick, for getting me this book for my birthday I ended up reading it and will share my takeaways below.

This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies.

Homo Deus

Harari discussed the possibility of humans being upgraded to superhumans or human god (“Homo Deus”) with the help of technology. Humans have reduced mortality from starvation, disease, and violence and our next challenge can be to overcome old age and to prevent death itself. After all, the cause of human death can always be boiled down to some sort of malfunction or degradation of the human body such as the heart stops pumping blood and cancerous cells. It might seem farfetched, but death is essentially caused by numerous technical problems which can all be worked on and possibly resolved.

Besides using technology to cure wounds, eliminate diseases, and possibly cheat death, technology can also be used to upgrade humans. With implants and prosthetic limbs, technology has already restored and in some cases upgraded human’s ability to perform daily tasks. The growing understanding of the brain and human genome can possibly help us engineer superhuman with the preferential genes that can outperform “regular” humans.

Although this does paint an optimistic future for humankind, it does present new challenges. If we gain the ability to upgrade our cognitive abilities or to select the genetic makeup of our children, what will be the impact on the non-upgraded humans? As technologies have usually shown to be first available to the wealthiest in the past, will this cause a bigger divide in society and stall social mobility?

Human’s Role Going Forward

Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives, and to reinvent themselves repeatedly. Many if not most humans may be unable to do so.

Artificial intelligence has been the big topic for several years now and there are more and more resources invested in this field. An AI defeated a chess grandmaster for the first time in 1988 and a reigning human world chess champion in 1997. And in 2016, it defeated one of the world’s top player in go, which is widely regarded as one of the most complex board games.

With the development of artificial intelligence, more and more tasks can be performed by machines. There might come a point where the vast majority of tasks will be performed by machines. If we do get to that point, what will be the roles of humans going forward?

Our current education system have us spending years obtaining degrees and skills to be prepared for the job market. However, in the future, the time for us to obtain a skill might outlast the time it takes for machines to render that skill obsolete. In this case, our only way to maintain our value in the workforce might be to constantly reinvent ourselves.

And let’s say that machines are able to do most of the tasks humans are able to do more effectively but humans still maintain control. In that case, what will be the purpose of humans when our problems are left for the machines to solve. What challenges can we take on?

Summary

Homo Deus is another thought-provoking book by Harari. Harari provided speculations on the future based on what has happened in the past. He’s not concerned about being right but on creating discussions around the potential future challenges of humankind.

Having read Sapiens, I found there to be too many overlapping contents. Homo Deus is a good book, but I would enjoy it much more if I haven’t read Sapiens first. If it’s me I would recommend Sapiens over Homo Deus as Sapiens is more information-heavy whereas Homo Deus has more speculation.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Upheaval by Jared Diamond.

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Plot Summary

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk that was first published in 2015.

At the age of 17, Elon moved from South Africa, where he was born and raised, to Canada. He then studied at Queen’s University for 2 years before he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to study business and physics. Shortly after he finished school, he started an online city guide company Zip2, which was later acquired by Compaq for US$307 million. Using his newfound wealth, Elon turned his direction to the banking industry and co-founded X.com, an online payment company, which was later renamed as Paypal after X.com’s merger with Confinity. Despite internal struggles within Paypal in which Elon was ousted from his role as the CEO, Paypal turned out to be a great success. This caught the attention of eBay which later acquired Paypal for US$1.5 billion in stock. The success of Paypal and to a lesser extent Zip2 gave Elon the confidence, the financial resources, as well as the reputation to pursue even his most ambitious dreams.

With goals which include reducing global warming through making sustainable energy more accessible and lowering the risk of human extinction by establishing a human colony on Mars, Elon Musk is not your typical entrepreneur. The Elon we know today is known for innovation as well as executing on the most outlandish ideas. He certainly has his flaws which include his tendency to overpromise on project delivery dates as well as numerous counts of him being unreasonably demanding of his employees. However, one thing that no one can dispute is his relentless drive and unmatched work ethic.

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Book Review

Despite initial push back, Elon eventually cooperated with the writing of his biography. Thanks to Ashlee Vance’s determination to complete the biography with or without Elon’s involvement, we are able to get an inside look into who Elon is and the impact he has on those around him.

By interviewing a wide range of people that were at once point close to Elon, Ashlee was able to show Elon’s role not only as an entrepreneur but as a leader, a business partner, a competitor, and a husband as well. This shed insight into how Elon is able to sustain his drive as well as how he approaches challenges.

It’s one of the very few biographies that I’ve ever read. I find it a very enjoyable read from start to finish. Elon’s story is extraordinary but the level of details which Ashlee presented is what makes it engaging and refreshing.

I’ll recommend this book If you are interested to learn how Elon got to where he is today. You will also learn a bit about the aerospace and electric car industry along the way.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts!

I’m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. 

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

At 27 years old, I still go through periods where I have my Disney playlist on repeat on Spotify. I grew up and enjoyed numerous Pixar classics such as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Up. Seeing Pixar receiving exceptional reviews film after film, I come to expect a certain level of excellence from Pixar. What I failed to think about and to appreciate is all the effort required to deliver creative ideas year after year, let alone in an animated setting.

I first laid eyes on Creativity, Inc when it was shown on a book recommendation site. As there weren’t many books on creativity in the business section, this book stood out from the rest. I picked up the book to learn more about creativity, but I’m glad Ed also talks about Pixar’s inner workings and his take on the person Steve Jobs had become.

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Foster a Creative Environment

A misconception on creativity is that to get more creative ideas you need more creative people. Although it is true that some people are more creative than others, we can increase the level of creativity by improving the environment which we work within.

To foster a creative environment, first off people need to feel free to speak their minds and to suggest ideas no matter how unconventional the ideas may be. This may sound simple, but this will require a culture of experimenting and taking risks.

Ideas are never perfect from the start. Contrary to what it may seem, Pixar films all started with simple ideas which turned out to be very different from the resulting films we see in theatres. It is through sharing ideas early and often for feedback that ideas are able to be shaped into something that can provide a lasting impact.

By looking at Pixar’s offices and specifically the Steve Jobs building, I can begin to understand how Pixar is able to consistently produce creative ideas.

“Steve Jobs wasn’t involved in making the movies, but he built this office using the same budget and the same amount of time as one of our movies. In a sense, this is his movie.” – John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar

Steve Job wanted the headquarters to be a place that promoted encounters and collaborations. This led to a big central hub in the middle of the building where employees will inevitably run into each other.

“If a building doesn’t encourage collaboration, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” – Steve Jobs

I’ll not go into the many details that went into the design of the Steve Jobs building. However, the takeaways are to promote communication and collaboration and allow employees to freely express themselves. If you want to learn more about what went into the design of the Steve Jobs building, here’s a great article which elaborates further on it.

Leadership

“It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.” – Ed Catmull

Since managers are often evaluated and negatively impacted by the errors that their teams make, they often put in measures to prevent risks. However, what this way of approach overlooks is that learning and creativity often come from taking risks. In order to push boundaries and to challenge existing ideas and processes, it will involve doing things out of the ordinary. So if you are in a leadership position, think about ways where you can create an environment where your team can experiment and take risks. Working as an engineer, this can mean having a sandbox environment for people to experiment with potential production changes. It is when you are not fearful of making mistakes, where your creativity can truly shine through.

“As your position changes, people will likely behave differently around you. You will be out of a certain loop and your access of information will be changed.” – Ed Catmull

Most of us have seen this happen to people around us and possibly to ourselves as well. People will likely behave differently when they are interacting with their managers as opposed to their peers. This is easy to spot when you are in an entry-level position or when you are observing the interactions of more senior employees. But when we get promoted ourselves, we often don’t take into consideration how other people will change their behavior when they are around us. New hires who only got to know you when you are in a leadership position tend to behave differently than your peers that you have been working together throughout the years. And as a leader, you will need to take into account that you might be out of a certain loop and lose access to certain information as people might be more inclined to hide their flaws and be more hesitant to provide criticisms. This can mean conducting more feedback sessions and spending more time to uncover different team dynamics.

When you are a leader, it’s your responsibility to get the best ideas out of your team. Push people to contribute and to voice their opinions no matter how much experience they have. If certain people don’t feel free to suggest ideas candidly, you’ll need to uncover why and address any potential issues in the workplace.

“We will always have problems, many of which are hidden from our view; we must work to uncover then and assess our own role in them, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; when we then come across a problem, we must marshal all our energies to solve it.” – Ed Catmull

Summary

Creativity, Inc. is a very well written book on Pixar and creativity. I came away with a deeper appreciation of animated films and the work involved to sustain a high level of creativity. My book review doesn’t do the book justice as there are many takeaways which Ed nicely summarized at the end of the book. I’ll recommend everyone to give the book a read.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

 

Educated by Tara Westover

Plot Summary

Tara Westover was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho. Her dad Gene doesn’t believe in government institutions and prepares the family to brace for the end of the world. As a result, until she was 17, Tara usually found herself working in her father’s junkyard while other kids were in school.

With limited interactions with people who share different beliefs, Tara’s knowledge and values are greatly influenced by her dad. It was until she decided to study for the ACT and eventually gained admission to the Brigham Young University that she got exposed to different cultures and beliefs.

Because of her lack of proper homeschooling, Tara struggled at first in school but eventually caught up and earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge. Of the 7 siblings, Tara and 2 of her siblings left home and have all earned Ph.D.s. This difference in education gradually causes a divide within the family.

Book Review

Tara’s self-discovery is beautifully narrated in her memoir, Educated, where she displays her self-doubts, vulnerability, and toughness. It is fascinating to see how Tara and her other 2 brothers who left home were able to excel in school and earned Ph.D.s despite not being prepared through the traditional education system at an early age. This not only reflects their desire to learn but also is a testament to the value of hard work that is instilled in them from their parents.

One of the thought-provoking themes that were explored was the divide between those who have degrees and those who don’t. This played out in Tara’s childhood where her family barely visited any relatives in town. As Tara and some of her siblings left home and earned degrees, the divide started to grow within the family to the point where Tara is currently estranged from her parents.

Here’s a great conversation between Bill Gates and Tara Westover:

 

Educated is an amazing story which I recommend everyone to pick up.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts.

I’m currently reading Creativity, Inc. by Edwin Catmull. 

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Plot Summary

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is based on the story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, during World War II.

In April 1942, Lale was forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Due to his positivity and his ability to speak multiple languages, Lale quickly became a figure other captives gravitated towards and was put to work by his captors as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist).

As a Tätowierer, Lale was responsible for permanently marking his fellow prisoners for identification. One day in July 1942, Lale came across a young woman who he was to tattoo the number 34902 on her arm. They were captivated by each other’s gaze and soon fell in love. Lale then vowed to survive the camp and marry her.

Living in an environment where tomorrow is not guaranteed, Lale had to find ways to navigate through the cruelties and to find the strength and will to survive.

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Book Review

The story centers on Lale’s experience of the Holocaust and how he manages to survive. It is succinct and it doesn’t deviate from the main plot. Not too many characters are fully developed but it feels just right to focus on Lale and his perspective. I didn’t find it emotional due to how quickly characters seem to be introduced and taken away, however, it is very engaging and is a great read.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz not only shows the cruelties of concentration camps but also the power of togetherness. Lale was close to death multiple times and although his resourcefulness is crucial to his survival, it is the help of his friends as well as his enemies that keeps him alive.

Even though this story is not entirely true, I was able to learn a lot about the Holocaust and the perspective of someone living through it. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves reading books with historical context.

 

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

I’m currently reading Educated by Tara Westover.

Start With Why By Simon Sinek

Why did we start doing what we are doing in the first place? Often times when a company becomes successful, its leaders start to focus on what they are doing as opposed to why they founded the company in the first place. Although focusing on what you are doing can get you far, it is having a clear sense of why you are doing things that make people connect with you and support you.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek explains how great leaders are able to propel their organizations to excel by starting with why. Simon demonstrates how organizations with a clear sense of why are able to have great brand loyalty whereas organizations with a fuzzy sense of why eventually lose their competitive edge.

Even though Start With Why contains less than 250 pages, I find it 200 pages too long. A lot of the same points are made repeatedly with the same set of examples. With that said, I watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Start With Why and I highly recommend it.

People Buy Why You Do It

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Companies are founded for a cause and to address a problem. However, often times companies forget why they are founded and start to focus on what they are doing. Apple is a great example of a company that starts with why.

Led by Steve Jobs, Apple believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. It is reflected in how they develop their products by making it beautifully designed and user-friendly. And they just happen to make great computers. Having a clear why/belief is the reason Apple has great brand loyalty and will have people line up for hours just to get their products. If you focused on what I just said, you would notice I didn’t say computers but products instead. It seems natural that we would buy an mp3 player or a smartphone from Apple. But would you consider getting an mp3 player from Dell?

Dell came out with an mp3 player over a decade ago and it got discontinued shortly after. It’s not because its products are less superior. Dell has access to the same talent and same resources as Apple and definitely have the technical capabilities to design great technology products. It is instead because Dell loses it’s why and started to focus on what which is selling computers. We see Dell as a computer company and can’t imagine getting a smartphone or a smartwatch from a computer company. However, we do that all the time with Apple. This is because Apple has a clear sense of why and people who share that why can connect to its products and even get inspired by it.

Start with why and be consistent with it. That means how you do things, which include your marketing, the people you hire, and your products need to reflect on why you are doing things. And with consistency, people will see and hear what you believe.

Great Leaders Lead With Why

Great leaders embody a sense of purpose that inspires those around them. You can motivate your employees with a higher salary and more benefits. But to get the best out of your employees, they need to feel that the company cares about them and get inspired by the cause that the leader is leading them. Average leaders give their people something to work on, whereas great leaders give their people something to work towards.

Summary

Simon Sinek is a great speaker and an idealist. Although I don’t enjoy the book due to how dragged out I find it to be, I do find the core insights of starting with why valuable. So instead of reading the book, I would recommend watching Simon’s Ted Talk that I shared above.

 

I’m currently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Lawrence Hill: I used The Book of Negroes as the title for my novel, in Canada, because it derives from a historical document of the same name kept by British naval officers at the tail end of the American Revolutionary War. It documents the 3,000 blacks who had served the King in the war and were fleeing Manhattan for Canada in 1783. Unless you were in The Book of Negroes, you couldn’t escape to Canada. My character, an African woman named Aminata Diallo whose story is based on this history, has to get into the book before she gets out.

Plot Summary

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill is a novel that narrates the life of Aminata Diallo,  who was abducted from her village, Bayo, at the age of 11. Aminata was bright beyond her years and even at a young age had learned from her mom how to be a midwife and from his father how to read. Using the skills she learned, Aminata took on the role of a midwife and eventually learned how to communicate in English as well. During the slave voyage to South Carolina, a boy her age, Chekura, who had been forced to help the slave traders, had cared and grown close to Aminata.

When the ship arrived at South Carolina, the captives who survived were sold and dispersed in a slave auction. Even though this separated Aminata and Chekura, they sought out one another and their affection for each other grew as time went on. This novel is centered on Aminata’s pursuit of freedom and her dream to return to Bayo.

Book Review

The Book of Negroes is a book that makes you understand the cruelty of slavery and the implications of not being free. The storyline is compact and successfully communicated the different nuances of the challenges Aminata faced. Despite having introduced many characters throughout the novel, the character development is brilliantly done. You can feel connected to the characters and have an understanding of all the different perspectives presented.

The Book of Negroes goes into great extent detailing the cruelties humans can do to each other. However, it also shows how far having a strong will can go in helping you achieve your dreams. Being separated by slavery, Aminata and Chekura were able to stay loyal to each other no matter the distance or danger presented in their way.

The book is beautifully written and provides a good understanding of what living in slavery means. You learn to relate and care for the characters and especially Aminata Diallo. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys great character development or to anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of what it means to live in slavery.

 

What book are you currently reading? I’d love to hear any books that you’d recommend as well!

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Before heading back to Taiwan to visit my family during my vacation, I decided to change up the pace and pick up some books that aren’t learning focused like the management books that I’ve been reading so far. One of the books on the discount section that immediately caught my attention was the Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. The movie was released just a few months ago and I’ve already been hearing great reviews from my friends who’ve watched it. I was able to finish reading it during my vacation and I’ll say it’s a great read especially when you are looking to unwind and relax.

Plot Summary

Rachel Chu and Nick Young are a young couple living in the States who are both professors at the New York University. They have been dating for a few years and are still madly in love.

When Nick invited Rachel to visit his family in Singapore and to attend his best friend’s wedding, Rachel accepted without any inclination of what is about to happen. As Nick has been raised up to not discuss his background, Rachel never knew Nick’s family along with their background and the tradition that comes with being in a crazy rich family.

Nick’s family is among the top 10 wealthiest in Asia. With the amount of wealth and the associated social status that comes with it, the vast majority of Nick’s extended family grew up with a sense of entitlement and materialism that Rachel is unaccustomed to and disliked. Before Nick and Rachel even set foot in Singapore, Nick’s Mom, Eleanor Young, as well as numerous women who are obsessed with prestige and pride have begun to scheme against Rachel and her relationship with Nick. Rachel and Nick’s relationship is challenged as they have to navigate through the obstacles that come from the cultural difference as well as the disapproval from Nick’s family.

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Book Review

The book started out introducing numerous characters that are in Eleanor Young’s social circle. It is hard to follow the storyline at times as too many characters are being introduced around the same time. However, as the character development of Rachel and Nick strengthens, it becomes clear how each character is related to Nick’s family and the story really starts to kick off.

The Crazy Rich Asians shows the different people dynamic of a crazy rich Asian family. Growing up in an environment surrounded by wealth, it shows how people can have a sense of entitlement and even look down upon those who come from families who are less fortunate financially. Despite that, although the environment you grow up with can strongly affect your value system, there are also people like Nick who are down to earth and modest.

People often focus on the positive impact that comes with wealth. Whereas this novel also demonstrates the negative impact it can have on your value system and social circle. It uses different characters to explain how each person handles wealth and its impact on their lives.

I’ll refrain from spoilers, but I do not particularly enjoy the ending. I’ll prefer it to focus more on the relationship between Nick and Rachel and how they face and resolve the obstacles that Nick’s family presents. However, all in all, I really enjoy the book and the change of pace from the usual management type books that I’ve been reading. Here’s a link of the book and as always please let me know your feedback and your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove.

Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is an international bestseller on the history of humankind. Sapiens is categorized into four parts: The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, and The Scientific Revolution. Yuval studies how humans have evolved into the most powerful animal on earth and the impact of it.

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The Power of Shared Myths

One of the most important things that set us apart from other animals is our effectiveness in cooperating in large numbers, which Yuval argues is due to our unique ability to believe in shared myths. Ants and bees can cooperate in large numbers but can only do so with close relatives and in a very rigid manner. Chimpanzees can cooperate more flexible than ants and bees but mostly with those who they know intimately. Humans, on the other hand, can cooperate on a much larger scale and even have the ability to cooperate with complete strangers. Thousands of people have worked together to achieve the vision of their corporation. Millions of people have cooperated to fight for their country or to defend their religious beliefs. And billions of people are able to exchange goods and services without knowing each other. This is all possible due to our ability to believe in shared myths.

What are corporations? Unlike things like bananas and refrigerators that have intrinsic value, corporations aren’t tangible things you can see or touch. It is simply a shared fiction defined by legal documents that exist in the mind of people. Even though nations and corporations are shared fictions, it is the reason why my co-workers and I can cooperate to achieve a common mission and why millions of people support and cheer for the same national team.

The most powerful shared myths above all are perhaps money. People work in exchange for money which in today’s age mainly refers to cash or electronic payments. Why would anyone work for the majority of their lives to get “colored papers” or electronic payments which don’t have any intrinsic value? This is all due to our shared belief in money and the value that it has. If tomorrow, nobody believes in the value of the dollar bills that you have or in the banking system, your savings will essentially be almost worthless.

There are other factors such as intelligence and communication that contributed to humans rise to power. But without the ability to believe in shared beliefs, our ability to cooperate will be greatly reduced and we’ll not be where we are today.

Human Happiness

Since 500 years ago, we have had numerous technological advances. Transportation is much more convenient with cars and planes. Communications is much quicker with the invention of phones and the internet. And with a global economy, a product that is only produced in certain parts of the world can easily be attainable via online shopping.

But are we any happier than we were 500 years ago? As there is no way to measure happiness, nobody can say for sure. With so much scientific and technological advances, one would think that humans are happier now. After all, what is the value of these technological advances if it makes our lives more miserable? I’m sure most people have either complained about the transportation system or heard about these complaints. When your commute to work gets delayed by 1 hour due to public transportation, you most likely won’t feel any less frustrated if someone were to remind you that 500 years ago your commute would’ve taken 10 times the time it takes now. That is because happiness is not really dependent on objective conditions such as wealth, but more so on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations. So even though the scientifical and technological advances have brought us greater objective conditions, it also raised our subjective expectations too. With social media, people can be more expressive than ever, but it also exposes ourselves to others’ opinions of us. With phones and emails, we can communicate with our friends and loved ones instantly. However, because of these communication tools, people nowadays expect you to reply instantly as well.

More and more scholars have begun to study the history of happiness, so maybe one day we will be able to measure and understand the factors that impact happiness and how the factors have evolved over time.

Natural Selection

Natural selection : the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring

We have gained so much power that you can arguably say that we have affected natural selection. The evolution of other animals is increasingly impacted not by their natural environment, but by the needs of humans. It would be rational to think that chickens on average will become faster as the slower ones will have a harder time to survive and therefore not make it through natural selection. However, due to our chicken consumption, selective breeding is done where the fattest hen are mated with the slowest cock. And throughout history, it’s shown that once humans set foot in an area it drives most large animals of that area to extinction. On the other hand of the spectrum, domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, and pigs grow in numbers.

With the advances in the field of biological engineering, we have even gained the ability to genetically modify animals. This raises questions that pertain to our responsibility towards the planets and especially the other animals that are negatively impacted by our behavior.

Summary

Yuval discussed the history of humankind and offered his unique perspective on it. It puts into perspective how long humans have been around and makes you think about the impact we are making and the history we are leaving behind us. It’s a very thought-provoking book and I’ll recommend it to people who are interested to learn about the history of humankind and its impact.

I’m currently reading La Espía by Paulo Coelho.