Life Lessons From Reading Almost 200 Books In One Year

Peter Clemens at The Change Blog was kind enough to let me write a guest post for his site in which I told the story of how I read 170 books in a single year. 

I’d like to thank him over and over again for giving me the chance to do so, and I’d also like to post some of my other notes from those books that didn’t make it into the article on The Change Blog.

Let Me Show You How I Developed Insane Levels Of Self-Discipline

In order to survive in today's world, you have to get REALLY good at suffering. There's a way, actually many ways, to become tougher. And I can teach them to you. You can thank me later.


The original post contains tips on reading more books over shorter periods of time, life lessons about radically defending what little time you have left, and insights into the nature of human happiness, among other things.

I won’t go into any of that here, since the point of guest posting is to not republish the article on your own blog as well.

But if you would LIKE to read about my reading journey in the year in which I read 170 books,  and about how I was able to define my own priorities, resist outside pressure, and carve out the time for reading that was so precious to me, I gently urge you to wander over to The Change Blog and read the article there.


This post got a little bit away from me, but it was never intended that you read this all the way through to the end. These are the best notes that I took from the best books that I read in the year 2015. I return to these notes often, and learn more from them each time, so perhaps you can just bookmark this page, and come back to it as needed.

What I have done here is I have added some books that didn’t make it into my original list, and added some of the life lessons that got cut out of the final draft of the original article due to space constraints. They are…

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

The Happiness Project, by Gretchin Rubin

The One Thing, by Gary Keller

Wooden On Leadership, by Coach John Wooden

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Die Empty, by Todd Henry

Mindfulness for Beginners, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Iron John, by Robert Bly

On the Shortness of Life, by Seneca

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

The Undefeated Mind, by Dr. Alex Lickerman

Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom

The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday

Where Children Sleep, by James Mollison

Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura Bates

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm

The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker


The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho 

Those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and will accompany us as we give up everything for our dreams

Each day, each hour is part of the good fight

Believe yourself worthy of what you fought so hard to get

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting

Everybody seems to know how other people should lead their lives, but no idea about how to live their own

There is one great truth on this planet: Whoever you are and whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe

When each day is the same, it’s because people don’t recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises

When you can’t go back, you can only think about the best way of moving forward

The universe needs no explanation as it moves through endless time

Dying tomorrow is just as good as dying any other day

Every day is here to be lived or to mark our departure from the world

Love is the language of the world

No reason is needed for loving

The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself

The world we live in will become better or worse depending on whether we become better or worse. That’s where love comes in. Because when we love, we strive to become better than we are.

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

The Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.

When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.

A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.



The Happiness Project, by Gretchin Rubin 

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while

Don’t wait for a crisis; remake your life when you can adequately prepare

Don’t postpone anything that can be done in one minute or less

Lift your mood by engineering an easy success

Act energetic in order to feel energetic

Take advantage of 5-15 minute opportunities to work

The world offers so much and you can do anything you want, but not everything you want

Even though no act is completely altruistic, the fact that you’re making yourself good or making people see you as generous, doesn’t take away from the goodness of the act itself

Saying something good about someone else psychologically transfers that trait to you, in the mind of the person hearing it

Don’t ignore big changes in your body

If you think you’re happy, then you are

The days are long but the years are short

Having a feeling of autonomy is crucial to happiness

What gets measured gets managed

The One Thing, by Gary Keller 

What you do in any given moment determines what you experience in the next

Do something NOW, to finish something today, to finish something this week, to finish something this month, to finish something this year, to accomplish something in life

Connect today to all your tomorrows

Go to your calendar and block off all the time you need to accomplish your one thing

Resting is just as important as working

Nobody who ever gave their best ever regretted it

Constantly ask what is the one most important thing that you can do right now

Be like a postage stamp and stick to one thing until you get there

Ignore all the things you could do and do what you should do

Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus

The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest

Doing the most important thing is always the most important thing

We need just enough discipline to build good habits

Habits are much easier to sustain over time

Know when to pursue the middle and when to pursue the extremes

When you’re supposed to be working, work. And when you’re supposed to be playing, play.

What seems like an insurmountable mountain from a distance is just a small hill when you arrive

Be careful how you interpret the world; it IS like that

Life is a question and how we live is our answer

Until your one thing is done, everything else is just a distraction

People don’t decide their futures; they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures

Aim high enough, live long enough, and you’ll encounter your fair share of tough times

Wooden On Leadership, by Coach John Wooden 

Relevant details, done right, are the foundation of success

Sloppiness should never be tolerated

Execute the fundamentals

Identify the hundreds of small things that you must do correctly and consistently in order to achieve competitive greatness

Treat time with the grave respect that it deserves

You “expand” time with proper organization and execution

Seek your own personal greatness and not that of someone else

Everything that you do offers you an opportunity to seek personal greatness

Assume that improvement is always possible and keep asking how

Forget about winning and get back to work

If your word is nothing, you’re not much better

The leader decides whether the organization quits or fights

Earn the right to be proud and confident

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”

The true cost of anything is the amount of life you are required to exchange for it

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads

The universe is wider than our views of it

Direct your view inwards, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered

“I left the woods for the same reasons that I went there. It seemed to me that there are many more lives to be lived and I could spare no more time for this one.”

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours

However mean your life is, meet it and live it

The setting sun is reflected as brightly from the windows of the almshouse as from the rich man’s abode

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth

Only that day dawns to which we are awake

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Die Empty, by Todd Henry

How we choose to spend our days is significant

Your days are finite. One day they will run out.

Today’s choices have the possibility of leading to tomorrow’s regrets

An opportunity lost today is an opportunity lost forever

The price of regret is incalculable

Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work that I have done today?

Long term success is achieved with the willingness to sacrifice comfort for continued growth

Progress is driven by doing the small things that no one else sees

Take a real swing at something and risk failure

Imagine that someone is following you around throughout your day and taking notes on your behavior, and that is what people will read about you

We will not always have tomorrow to do today’s work

It is our actions that define us, not our intentions

You can’t chase greatness and comfort at the same time

You cannot sustain yourself for long on the approval of others

We are being questioned by life, daily and hourly

Make urgent progress daily

Mindfulness for Beginners, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Cultivate an intimacy with your own life unfolding

To grow fully into who we actually are is the challenge of our lifetime

You are not separate from what you are experiencing

Mindfulness is always available to us

Do we actually know with any certainty or clarity who we are?

Who you actually are is far bigger than the narrative you construct about who you are

There is no place to go, nothing to do, nothing to attain

While pain may be inevitable, suffering is optional

Things cannot and will not stay the same forever

Our own awareness has the capacity to free us, at least for one timeless moment

There is a freedom within this very moment that comes from nothing having to be different than what it is

The silence itself is infinite

Iron John, by Robert Bly 

We make the path by walking

No stage is the final stop

We cannot discover our genius until we have been wounded

Some people make no distinction between the instinct for fierceness and the instinct for aggression

If a human being takes an action, the soul takes an action

We look into our own eyes with an intensity not present when we look out into the world

Nature’s awareness is not consciousness or intelligence but falls between all the words

The artist accepts the suffering that this choice entails

We live without knowledge of appropriate sacrifice and as a result, our sacrifices are unconscious, regressive, pointless, indiscriminate, self-destructive, and massive

On the Shortness of Life, by Seneca 

We are not given a short life but we make it short

It is a small part of life that we really live

People seem to guard their possessions ferociously but waste their time like it was nothing

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy

Live immediately

We can’t choose our parents but we can choose whose children we would like to be

There is nothing that the passage of time does not demolish or remove

Life is very short and anxious for those who ignore the past, neglect the present, and fear the future

No man has been shattered by the blows of Fortune unless he was first deceived by Her favors

Provided I can keep my mind always directed upwards, what does it matter what ground I stand on?

It is the mind that creates our wealth

Many people could have achieved wisdom if they had not imagined that they had already achieved it

Often a very old man has no proof of his long life other than his age

Claim the world as your country, that you may give your virtue a wider field for action

Real death is preferable to living death

No condition is so bitter that a stable mind can’t find some consolation in it

What look like towering heights are precipices

What is the harm in returning to the point from whence you came?

He will live badly who does not know how to die well

He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man

He who knows, knows that this was the condition set down for him at the moment of his conception

You are a fool if you think it matters to me whether I rot above or below ground

You are wondering whether souls are immortal; I shall soon know

Seek to learn not only up to the point of death but from the experience of death itself

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

Death does not harm us and we must accept it willingly as natural and proper

After death there is no “us” to suffer harm

Be willing to accept truth wherever you find it

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.

You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?

Don’t ever forget what proportion of the world you make up

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do, say, and think.

Accept death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing but the dissolution of the elements from which each living thing is composed. If it doesn’t hurt the individual elements to change continually into one another, why are people afraid of all of them changing and separating? It’s a natural thing. And nothing natural is evil.

Say nothing untrue and do nothing unjust

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful, more free of interruptions, than your own soul

Retreat to consult your own soul and then return to face what awaits you

Is it your reputation that is bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands.

Everything you see will soon alter and then cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.

Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed, and you haven’t been.

You will vanish into what produced you

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind

Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts

What stands in the way becomes the way

The truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance

It’s disgraceful for the soul to give up while the body is still going strong

The only rewards of our existence here is an unstained character and selfless acts

The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.

Why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice!

It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. Just try and escape your own.

Before long you’ll be no one, nowhere

Ask what is so unbearable about this situation? Why can’t you endure it? You will be embarrassed to answer.

Is a world without pain possible? Then don’t ask the impossible.

As an antidote to battle unkindness we were given kindness

If it’s endurable, then endure it. If it’s not endurable, then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well.

Before long, darkness

We all love ourselves more than others, but care about their opinions more than our own

Nature first invited you in and then sends you away

Make your exit with grace. The same grace shown to you.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn 

Our unexamined assumptions are not always true

Mindfulness is the direct opposite of taking life for granted

Do not try to become anything that you are not already

As soon as you stop, here you are

All your responsibilities would somehow get worked out in the event of your death

Let go of trying to get anywhere at all

Acknowledge that what is happening is happening

Nothing else has to happen for this moment to be complete

Give more than you think you can, trusting that you are richer than you think

At its core, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient; just the universe rearranging itself

What lies behind us and what lies in front of us are small matters compared to dwells within us

Whatever has come to shake us will inevitably and of itself change

You can only get there if you are fully here

“We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains”

You are here now, and when you get there, you’ll be there

Live as if you were already dead

What you do is the totality of the universe expressing itself

Who are you that is asking who you are?

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

There is nothing you know less about than yourself

The natural world has always existed, regardless of whether you are paying attention

Listen attentively to your inner voice and be fiercely and unapologetically yourself

Nothing else is necessary except to listen to your self

Goal attainment: the rock thrown into the water reaches the bottom in the straightest possible way

Be like a star: let no wind reach you, follow your own law and your own course

The opposite of every truth is just as true

The world is not imperfect or on a slow path towards perfection; it is perfect in every moment

Everything that exists is good

“The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no it is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as if it was simultaneous and there everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, I see whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me. I have experienced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions, vanity, and needed the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy being a part of it. -These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which have come into my mind.”

The Undefeated Mind, by Dr. Alex Lickerman

The idea is not to try and make an easy life for ourselves but instead to develop the inner strength to enjoy the difficult lives that we all have

We can only really be said to understand a principle when we actually live by it

Money and possessions make us more vulnerable to suffering because they represent additional attachments to lose

Decade after decade approach the obstacles in front of you and hammer at them until either they fall or you do

The greater the sense of purpose we feel, the happier we become

You don’t deserve happiness any more than anyone else but you also don’t deserve it any less

Nothing keeps us going like believing that success is possible

The strength of our determination is indefinite, meaning we don’t know precisely where it ends and we can always extend it

Only in facing a strong enemy are we able to become strong ourselves

Freely choosing a painful experience reduces the degree to which we experience it as painful

All that’s needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing

“Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life.”

Compassionately wise people want happiness for themselves just as much and no less than they want it for others

As long as our minds can think, our hearts can find their way to victory

But as long as we refuse to give in to despair and resolve to continue taking concrete action, some kind of victory is always possible. So when everything seems hopeless and you want to give up, no matter how much others may doubt you or you may doubt yourself, hold that knowledge fast to your heart and fix your mind unwaveringly on this most imperative of calls to action: never be defeated.

Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom

Love always wins

Never take a job that exploits someone else

Everybody knows that they are going to die but no one believes it

Be prepared for death at any time

Are you being the person you want to be?

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live

Love each other or perish

You can find perfection in even the most average day

You’re not a wave. You’re part of the ocean.

Pay attention when your loved ones are speaking

The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday

Choose not to be harmed, and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed, and you haven’t been.

Look at your problems as if you were solving someone else’s problems

Failure puts you in corners you have to think and fight your way out of

Do the right thing, right now, without obsessing over the whole picture

Be physically loose and mentally tight

There is a decisive moment in every confrontation when pushing once more or extremely hard will break things wide open

We strengthen ourselves during the good times and create a place within ourselves that we can depend upon during the rough times

You’ll have better luck developing your own strength than taking the teeth out of the world which is, at best, indifferent to your existence

We forget how light our grip on life really is

Life will eventually kill us

In the shadow of death, we see clearly what is important

Passing one obstacle simply says you’re worthy of more

Where Children Sleep, by James Mollison

“He walks to school with his parents. He wants to be a fireman when he grows up.”

“He sleeps on a mattress in a field with his family.”

“Indira says she doesn’t mind working in the quarry, but that she’d rather be playing. Her favorite food is noodles.”

“His home sits on a huge rubbish dump. 5,000 other people live and work and pay rent there.”

“She was born in the refugee camp and has witnessed violence her entire life. Her brother killed himself and 21 Israelis in a suicide bombing attack.”

“She wants to be a policewoman so that she can protect people.”

“This book is dedicated to our parents, who gave us wonderful childhoods.”

Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward attaining it

It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right

The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right

I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also

Prison is the only place in a slave state where a free man can abide with honor


The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

Earth is a tiny speck where even tinier people play out their insignificant ambitions

Each of us thinks that we see the world directly, as it really is. This is naive realism.

The direct causes of most evil are high self-esteem and moral idealism

Set for yourself any goal you want. Most of the pleasure will be had at each step of the way.

Attaining something you want is more akin to dropping a big weight, and will lead to less happiness than the pursuit itself

“When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.”

None of us knows what we are truly capable of enduring

People have a desperate need to make sense of events

You can’t teach wisdom directly

People recover on their own from almost anything that happens to them

When feelings of connection to the universe happen, two areas of the brain that compute the limits of the self and your location in space and time are shut off

There is perhaps no meaning OF life but meaning can be found WITHIN life

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

There are too many people alive today. Nobody knows anyone.

I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other.

People don’t talk about anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming pools mostly and say, how nice! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anybody else.

How do you get so empty? He wondered. Who takes it out of you?

Books contain everything we are afraid that we might forget

For a little while I’m not afraid. Maybe it’s because I’m doing the right thing at last.

Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

When faced with temptation or considering procrastination, learn to ask yourself what you REALLY want, instead of the false choice that is being presented to you in this moment

The part of the mind that seeks immediate gratification isn’t bad or wrong, but simply another view of what is important to you

What you’re doing in meditation, bring awareness back to your breathing, is exactly what you’re training to do in real life; bringing your focus back to your goal

Breathing very slowly instantly increases your willpower reserve

Stress is the enemy of willpower

Almost everything you do uses up willpower

Fatigue is just your brain trying to motivate you to stop

We feel willpower-depleted before we actually are

Remove morality from your willpower challenges and watch things get easier

We often expect that we will make better choices in the future

Ask yourself: “Do I really want to face the consequences of always putting this off?”

We are the person who wants what is best for us

We are perfectly rational when everything is in theory

We have willpower until we need it

We think about our future selves like different people

You don’t have to act on your thoughts and feelings

Urges always pass eventually, regardless of whether or not you give in to them

Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura Bates

It just goes by so fast. Everyone overlooks enjoying it. They just put themselves into so many prisons.

Education is often one thing that no one can take away from a prisoner

Why is a prisoner’s motivation to earn a degree and see his family sooner viewed more negatively than a campus student’s motivation to earn a degree and make more money?

At the trial, when his attorneys were trying to mitigate his guilt by describing his mother’s neglect, Larry sat with his fingers in his ears

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace until the last syllable of recorded time

You can’t allow your fears to narrow your life

“There is no sure foundation set in blood, no certain life achieved by others’ death”

Sgt. Harper, the guard that Larry once stabbed, became a supporter of Larry and Dr. Bates and helped them move past some administrative difficulties

We are all the same people, just in different places

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown

Very few things are essential

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will

Almost everything is noise

If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no

Remove a process or activity and monitor whether or not it makes a difference

Done is better than perfect

Constantly ask the question, “What’s important right now?”

The important thing right now is to figure out what the important thing is right now

What do you need to do to be able to go to sleep peacefully?

Beware the barrenness of a busy life

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

How often have you sailed in my dreams. And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.

And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation

Of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls?

Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you

Work is love made visible

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.

Much of your pain is self-chosen

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts

Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream. And that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

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The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker

It’s easy to forget how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence

Violence offends our sensibilities now because it is so much less common

Honor exists because everyone believes that everyone else believes that it exists

It’s easier to deter people from crime if the lawful alternative is more attractive

Most of what we conceive of as crime is justice in the eyes of the perpetrator

For a criminal justice system to work properly, citizens must perceive it as fair, and with a strong chance that deviant behavior will be punished

If you see the killing of one person as wrong, but a hundred thousand as right, then you can’t see the difference between right and wrong

We owe our long peace to the belittlement of war, the spread of democracy, the expansion of commerce, and the emergence of international organizations

As time passes, anyone not old enough to remember things like slavery and smoking inside offices usually consider them unthinkable

People force a despised minority to live in squalor, which makes them seem animalistic and subhuman, which encourages the dominant group to mistreat them further, which degrades them still further, removing any tug on the consciousness of the oppressor

When you scale by population, only one of the 20th century’s atrocities even makes the top ten

Historical atrocities were most likely extremely underreported

Wars are an attrition game where the winner pays the loser’s costs as well, and it makes sense to one-up the other side incrementally to a tipping point

Religious fervor can induce more casualties because people can see themselves as doing the work of God

Religious wars are unlikely to end in negotiation because such acts can be seen as heresy and treason

The proportion of the population that the nation puts into uniform is the best indicator of its ideological embrace of militarism

A feeling of brotherly love is the primary motivator to make people fight in armies

Military leaders use every trick in the book to make their soldiers feel like genetic relatives and subsequently take on the biologically predictable risks

Religion thrives on emotional commitments to texts that no one reads

Some people don’t recognize the progress that we have made in the area of civil rights because they don’t want people to ease up before the task is done

For every moral advance in history, there have been social commentators who insist that we have never had it so bad

Books and the spread of ideas may be the single most important exogenous factor in the development of the rights revolutions

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities

Regardless of how the trends extrapolate into the future, something remarkable has brought us to the present

Positive illusions help you recruit people to your side. In competing for an advantage, you stand to gain by exaggerating your strengths. Believing your own exaggeration is better than cynically lying about it, because the arms race between lying and lie detection has equipped your audience with the means to tell if you’re telling the truth about your abilities. As long as your exaggerations are somewhat close, your audience can’t afford to discount them completely.

Reconciliation among humans is governed by the perception of common interests

Countries behave a lot like individuals

Because of gender differences in overconfidence, group hostility, and personal violence, women being in charge made, is making, and will make the world a more peaceful place

People tend to go along with things when they think that everyone else supports those things

A society can thus be taken over by a belief system that the majority of its citizens do not hold individually

People are more reckless when they have fewer unlived years of life at risk

To review the history of violence is to be repeatedly astounded by the cruelty and waste of it all, and at times to be overcome with anger, disgust, and immeasurable sadness

The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, yet which fails so regularly, as love

Mastery of any art proceeds from the deeming of it as important, above all else

Man is born against his will, and dies against his will

The facticity of existence becomes an unbearable prison when confronted with the death of loved ones, one’s own aloneness, and the realities of nature and everyday life

There is no good and evil unless there is freedom to disobey

The deepest need of man, then, is to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness

Love makes him able to overcome the separateness and aloneness of the human condition while still preserving his integrity and individuality

In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one, yet remain two

If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of humanity, his love is not love, but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism

If I truly love one person, I love all persons, I love the world, I love life

If I have developed the capacity for love, I cannot help loving my brothers

We must relate to everyone from core to core, not only from periphery to periphery

Inasmuch as we are human, we are all in need of help. Today I, tomorrow you.

A woman can only truly be a loving mother if she can love all human beings

There is no concept of man in which I am not included

The selfish person does not love himself too much but too little

Modern capitalism needs men who co-operate smoothly, and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. It needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience – yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim – except the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead.

Love does not mean the absence of any conflict

People lust after more time, but don’t know what to do with it

The discipline of being able to be alone with oneself is essential to the ability to love

To be loved, and to love, needs courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern – and to take the jump and stake everything on these values

Love is the only rational answer to the problem of human existence

Any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature


So there you have it. Some of my best notes from the best books that I read in the year when I read 170 books.

If you’d like to see my complete reading list, you can do so HERE

If you’d like to read the original article on which this list is based, you can find it HERE

I hope these notes sparked your interest, or led to some new questions, or just made your life better in some way.

If they did, I’d love for you to consider donating to the phenomenal international non-profit, Doctors Without Borders. We operate all over the world, proving free medical services to those hardest hit by war, famine, and other disasters and atrocities. We never discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. And we would be honored to receive your support.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov


Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads at least 100 books every year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.

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