Hi <<First Name>>,
This month, I’ll borrow from some of my favorite newsletters, and recommend the best books of the year. These are books I will reference next year—if not actually re-reading them in their entirety—and I’m really glad I made the time to read them. I think they’ll be good for you too.
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
I first recommended this book in February, and I still find myself referencing it. I’m emphasizing this quote on reading speeds: “Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension.” I recently started treating all my information gathering like that—instead of passively consuming a podcast, I’ll just upload it into Otter and get a transcript. Same goes for YouTube, which I use the Open Transcript tool, or Hieroglyph.
Overall, this book is worth reading and considering slowly. It has changed the way I read books and, frankly, experience all information. I recently met some people who had this on their shelves, and I couldn’t be more adamant—please read this book. It’s like a good meal—rich, dense, but damn, it’s worth it.
On learning: Reading and listening are thought of as receiving communication from someone who is actively engaged in giving or sending it. The mistake here is to suppose that receiving communication is like receiving a blow or a legacy or a Judgment from the court. On the contrary, the reader or listener is much more like the catcher in a game of baseball.
On reading: Thus we can roughly define what we mean by the art of reading as follows: the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations.
On difficult books: In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.
On speed reading: The mind, that astounding instrument, can grasp a sentence or even a paragraph at a "glance"—if only the eyes will provide it with the information it needs.
On taking notes: Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake—not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.
Six steps to get the most of a book in a short time:
Four questions to ask as you read a book:
The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova
This is a rare book that’s equal parts entertaining and insightful. It’s a story about practice and mastery, about luck and skill, about taking responsibility for your destiny and taking a chance on the things that matter. I really liked reading this book—I could barely put it down—and I plan on re-reading it again for fun, and for learning, later on.
Her mentor Erik Seidel, on measuring progress: Erik has been clear from the beginning: certain markers have to be met before I can move forward in my poker journey. If I’m to work with him, I can't skip steps.
Seidel, on learning how to lose: "When things go wrong, other people see it as unfairness that's always surrounding them," he tells me. They take it personally. They don’t know how to lose, how to learn from losing. They look for something or someone to blame. They don't step back to analyze their own decisions, their own play, where they may have gone wrong themselves. "It's a really big handicap in life to think that way. All of us can step into that sometimes, but it’s important to know the difference. It’s like that great Kipling quote: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…’”
On an open mind: Earlier that year, he says, he was talking to one of the most successful high-stakes players currently on the circuit. That player was offering a very specific opinion on how a certain hand should be played. Erik listened quietly and then told him one phrase: "Less certainty. More inquiry.”
On noise: Most real-world environments are what Hogarth calls “wicked": there's a mismatch between action and feedback because of external noise.
On thought process: “We’ve talked about this," Erik says. "You have to have a clear thought process for every single hand. What do I know? What have I seen? How will that help me make an informed judgment about this hand?"
On perception: A good commander never cares what others are thinking. Perception matters only insofar as you're using it strategically to shape your image for future actions.
On fear: "The point is, you can't play based on how it will look. Not playing scared is not the same thing as being aggressive. It means not making decisions because you’re afraid. It’s not about being passive or aggro. You can be way too aggro and still scared. And being passive can be strong."
Eat a Peach by David Chang and Gabe Ulla
The beauty of this book is in its relatability and versatility. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader, an artist, an immigrant, or just a person who really likes food, you’re going to love Eat a Peach. As I wrote before, I had high expectations of this book, and it still managed to exceed it. I have recommended it to many friends and will continue doing so.
On food in Japan: After paying rent at the ministry and tuition at school, I was scrounging to make ends meet, but I could still eat like a king. That was the real epiphany. I could eat extraordinarily well in places that weren't punishingly expensive.
On depression: My sole breakthrough was a private one: if nothing mattered—if I wasn’t going to beat this depression and I wasn't going to make it in the fine-dining world—what did I have to lose? Why not at least try to create a world that worked for me?
Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” I took that very much to heart as I contemplated suicide. Elevation through conscious endeavor. Work toward something. Open a restaurant. If it doesn't pan out, there's always the other path.
On the goal: That was the big idea: leave everyone walking out the door of Momofuku happy and surprised and glad to have spent their money.
We weren't even close.
On starting up: On our opening menu were gyoza, a few noodle soups, some snacks, and nothing that could be mistaken for a distinct point of view. Guests filled out sheets of paper with their orders. This was not an affectation but a necessity. Until Quino arrived one week before our opening, I didn't know that I would have anyone on staff, so I needed to make sure the restaurant could work with only one person, the way ramen shops do it in Japan.
On focus: Noodle Bar was going out of business because I was letting myself get pulled in every direction but the most important one. It was as though I were running around, hair out on purpose so that I wouldn't have a free second to stop and face the more difficult questions.
For instance: what the hell is this food we’re serving?
On peers: The reason we were still alive was that cooks liked us.
On being yourself: “YOU'LL ALWAYS LOSE WHEN YOU PLAY SOMEONE ELSE'S GAME.” Speaking of Allan Benton, not only was his bacon the catalyst for many of the culinary epiphanies we had at Momofuku, he also personally bestowed me with this nugget of wisdom. And once he said it, I realized Momofuku couldn't tell anyone else's story. We got rid of the dumplings and everything else that wasn't ours. We dedicated ourselves to making people play our game instead.
By the time we started writing the Momofuku cookbook, other restaurants were already copying our recipes. I was shocked, both by the fact that people were taking our cooking seriously and also that anyone would choose imitation as a strategy—a surefire path to mediocrity.
There are some honorable mentions. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss with Tahl Raz is the most prominent one—it’s super actionable and entertaining. My life hasn’t been the same since I’ve read Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland, and its themes are very prominent in my latest book. Bruce Lee by Matthew Polly was really great. A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett is incredibly compelling and shows the flaws of the justice system—a problem equally urgent and important that can no longer be ignored.
I’m making my way through some great books now—for those who might want to read ahead and get a glimpse into next year’s Best of Books: The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss, A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr, Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio, and Your Music and People by Derek Sivers.
I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.
Thank you for continuing to support, subscribe to, and read this newsletter. If you liked any of the quotes or books, please forward this newsletter along to a friend.