How to Have a Beautiful Soul

Some books that profoundly influenced me in 2014, and that I urge you to check out, are: Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature. A massive but highly readable book whose encouraging thesis is that humans are getting less violent over time. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals. About Lincoln and his cabinet. Spellbinding history and vivid psychological portraits. (The Spielberg movie Lincoln was based on it.) The audiobook was fantastic. Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running. Since moving to the midwest, I've become obsessed with mushrooms—growing and hunting them, that is; I've always been obsessed with eating them—and mycologist Stamets is the visionary genius of mushrooms. Watch his entertaining seminar to learn why “the future is fungi,” and how mushrooms can transform medicine, agriculture, ecology, and pretty much everything else. Then check out his fun book. Ken Ilgunas, Walden on Wheels. Autobiography of a young man who was so determined to avoid the college-loan debt-trap that he lived in a van … [Read more...]

Why Tough-Guy Metaphors About Creativity Don’t Work

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best writers on the web right now, using his Atlantic.com blog and other venues to discuss race, culture, history, and a myriad of other topics. He writes long, thoughtful pieces, and even his commenters can be dauntingly erudite. He's currently debating New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait on whether there's a "culture of poverty" in U.S. black communities, and while the debate is definitely worth checking out for its main points, I glommed onto this statement by Coates: "The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel." Let's talk about that. There is no shortage of grandiose or martial metaphors for writing and other creative work, and no shortage of assertions that suffering and isolation are the natural realms of the artist. You'll … [Read more...]