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10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Don’t allow intellectual mediocrity to hold you back.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Fix your life by doing what’s important.

Cal Newport is a computer scientist and an author. With his ‘Deep Questions’ podcast, he tells us to exercise ‘digital minimalism’ and practice ‘deep work’ so we can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Whether you are a smartphone addict or a sucker for nature, Newport’s ideas have an appeal to all.

Unsurprisingly, his book recommendations embody the same messages.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Tune out the noise. Tune in to what matters.

This is exactly the kind of book you’d expect from a stoic like Holiday.

The author reminds us that we are overwhelmed with social media and 24/7 connection. As a result, we tend to overlook the importance of calm and quiet.

Most of our reactions are impulsive. We don’t allow ourselves to be in the moment and reflect.

If we do that, we can form a better view of the situation confronting us. This helps us make better choices.

“So much of the distress we feel comes from reacting instinctually instead of acting with conscientious deliberation.”

Holiday tells us the most important part of slowing down. It is living in the ‘now’.

Constantly worrying about the future or the past engulfs us. To be clear and focused we have to live in the moment.

“The less energy we waste regretting the past or worrying about the future, the more energy we will have for what’s in front of us.”

This is a great book that will help you kick off unhealthy coping mechanisms like social media scrolling. It will also help you in calming your mind, body, and spirit.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Take back the remote control of your mind.

Eyal takes us on a topsy-turvy ride through the mechanisms of distraction and triggers.

He gives us the opposite of distraction. Traction.

Distraction takes you away from what you should be doing. Traction takes you towards your goals.

“…distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.”

The author gives us a process with which we can become ‘indestructible’:

1. Master internal triggers:

Boredom and procrastination lead us to distraction. Reframe internal triggers so they take us towards ‘traction’.

2. Make time for traction:

The next step is to make time for traction. All the things that are worthy in life like work and relationships need dedicated time.

3. Hack back external triggers:

When a ping or a notification distracts you, ask this question, is this serving me or am I serving it?

4. Block Out Distractions:

You have to ‘pre-commit’ yourself so you don’t fall for distractions.

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

This book is important because if we don’t master our time, we are going to waste it on meaningless endeavors. As a result, what needs our time will be ignored.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Biography and movie criticism converge.

Those who appreciate the magic of lights-camera-action would love this book.

It is a walkthrough of the 70s cinema through the lens of a filmmaker. At that time, the author was a youngster in his formative years.

Growing up to be an actor and filmmaker, he is looking back as he writes this biography-cum -movie criticism.

The book is littered with profanity because Tarantino favors slang and informal over sophisticated talk.

“Because I was allowed to see things the other kids weren’t, I appeared sophisticated to my classmates.”

The content of the movies that Tarantino watched is bound to make you question his mother’s decision to let him accompany her.

Tarantino’s craft is that he takes us with them to all the movies, giving a personal touch to his criticism. You can see his journey toward being an actor unfold in front of you.

“… if you’re reading this cinema book … and your head is swimming from all the names you don’t recognize, congratulations, you’re learning something.”

An interesting book for cinema lovers, especially if you grew up in the 70s.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Life is hard. What can we do?

There is no denying the existence of loss and failure. Every one of us faces the curveballs life throws at us.

What do we do then?

Acknowledge, understand, and wade through it. Because there is no other way.

There is no magic wand that can take our pain away.

“Through much of history, there was no clear distinction between philosophical ethics and ‘self-help’…”

Setiya uses ancient and modern philosophy to help us understand the tough mountains we have to climb. He shares personal examples ranging from his teenage heartbreak to his mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

This book combines anecdotes with examples from social sciences, history, and philosophy.

If you are already well-versed in the knowledge shared in this book, you might not find it particularly gripping.

However, junior students of philosophy and those looking for an easy read will definitely enjoy it.

“We are made for love and we are lost without it.”

When life gives you lemons, pick up this book.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Skip the steps to success.

It takes years to master a skill. That’s what we’ve been told.

Here comes Scott Young to the rescue!

He is living proof that ultralearning works. He did a 4-year MIT computer science degree in one year and taught himself how to draw in 30 days.

Feats like this make me question their longevity. I mean sure, there is no beating the slow and consistent growth one experiences by doing something regularly.

Even if we don’t want to make records like Young, his book comes with good advice.

He gives us various principles to master ultralearning. My favorite principle from the book is ‘directness’.

“Directness is the practice of learning by directly doing the thing you want to learn.”

I have always felt that I learn best by doing what I want to learn. The theoretical learning alone provides little help.

Critics argue that this book is longer than it needs to be.

Regardless, there are some pretty handy skills for self-learners.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Destruction or progress, what’s ahead?

What will happen if artificial intelligence takes over?

Jam-packed with information and a bit scary, Tegmark’s book tells us all.

“…let’s instead define life very broadly, simply as a process that can retain its complexity and replicate.”

It starts with the story of the ‘Omega Team’, a group that decides to release advanced AI. The AI is called Prothemeus which ends up taking over the world.

This dystopian tale provides us with a pessimistic look into our future.

The author goes on to discuss the societal, and economic repercussions of an AI boom.

By creating something more intelligent than ourselves, we risk losing the control we have. The author puts it aptly:

“Intelligence enables control: humans control tigers not because we’re stronger, but because we’re smarter.”

There is no reason why a more intelligent entity shouldn’t or wouldn’t control us.

With regard to artificial intelligence, our world is at the starting line of a new era. That is why this book is a must-read.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Can religions teach us something we are missing?

From an Irish Catholic nun to a comparative religion commentator, Armstrong has gathered a wealth of knowledge.

She is learned in the fields of spirituality, religion, and history.

The message of this book is simple. Nature lies at the heart of all spiritual teachings. Our ancestors used nature as their guide for religious symbols and myths.

This reminds me of a saying from my religion. It states, ‘If the hour (meaning end of times) comes upon you when you are planting a tree, finish planting it.’

“Many of our ancestors’ myths that we shall consider in this book taught them how to revere the natural environment.”

The author makes the case that nature is holy and divine. Humans have lost the respect that they had for nature once.

We need to connect to nature, respect it, and be grateful to it.

Why, though?

Because we need nature to ensure our survival. Hello! Remember global warming and stuff?

I’d recommend this book to all nature lovers and climate change activists.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

To combat the existential risk, we urgently need a fix.

If you are into reading about AI and haven’t heard of Nick Bostrom, you are missing out.

Superintelligence will be here within the next decade, the author predicts. To ensure that we don’t give up control we have to make changes in advance.

“Human working memory is able to hold no more than some four or five chunks of information at any given time.”

Once we devise a super-intelligent unit, a superintelligence explosion will be imminent.

By improving itself, the system will inevitably outsmart us. If it does that without any regard for human values, we are doomed.

“We can think of wisdom as the ability to get the important things approximately right.”

The book is a bit dry but nothing that you wouldn’t expect of a topic as complex as this.

The solutions presented for the superintelligence dilemma are particularly interesting.

I’d say this book is a need of the current time.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

The religion of productivity — essentialism.

We over-focus on unimportant things like the number of our social media followers.

Truly the most important things in life are our health and relationships.

How do we prioritize?

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”

Say no to everything, Mckeown tells us. Everything that is unessential.

The author makes two categories of people, Essentialists and Non essentialists. He contrasts their behaviors and choices.

“Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

Just like ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ the key takeaway from this book is ‘unimportant until proven essential.’

Honestly, this frame of mind has helped me in making the right buying choices before I even heard of this book. I am sure by expanding on it and applying it everywhere, I can make my life more purposeful.

That is a bit hard for a person like me who has a severe case of FOMO. (Fear of Missing Out)

Since I am already convinced, it is worth a try.

10 Books Recommended by Cal Newport I Wish I Read Years Ago (They Changed My Life)

Learn to expand the 24-hour day.

Hop off the ‘busy bandwagon’. Busy bandwagon is the mindset that you have to stay busy every second of your life.

You don’t.

You need time to rejuvenate yourself.

“…charge your battery with exercise, food, sleep, quiet, and face-to-face time.”

The authors tell us to pick a ‘highlight’ for a day. It doesn’t have to be something you have to do. It can be something you want to do, like spending time with a loved one.

By setting a priority, you make sure that you don’t lose the day to fulfilling other people’s priorities.

Based on personal experience, I agree.

“Shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable, completable task will create a real increase in positive energy, direction, and motivation.”

The authors call the smartphone apps ‘infinity pools’ because there is no end in sight. We always have fresh content to consume.

To help cut the infinity pools off, we cannot rely on our willpower alone. We have to modify our environment like hiding electronics or unsubscribing from apps.

Based on how my personal experiences are so in line with the strategies taught in this book, I almost want to force everyone to get it.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

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