Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein, 5/5
On good days, I appreciate the diverse array of skills and experiences that make me who I am. Not yet 40 years old, I can make a credible case for claiming the informal titles of musician, intellectual, artist, athlete, teacher, and photographer. Many days, though, I struggle with feeling like a failure for never having pursued a “proper” career (and the money that comes with one) and so far not finding that one big, important thing I am supposed to be doing with my life.
If I’d read this book earlier, I could have avoided some of those bad days. Epstein blows apart the notion that choosing a career path as early as possible and pursuing it single-mindedly in ever-increasing depth, is the only road to success. Instead, he makes a convincing argument for the value of developing a broad base of interests and experiences, while unashamedly searching for pursuits with high “match quality” to yourself (instead of making a virtue of never quitting). The time this takes need not be wasted, since the most innovative contributions tend to come from people making connections between superficially disparate experiences and ideas, not from those who have specialized the most in any given field.
Life has not been as linear and predictable as I expected; in this book I was comforted to see a reflection of that experience. I learned that, contrary to the claims of pop psychology, personalities and even core values can change over time. That it is ok not to jump on the academic bandwagon of learning more and more about less and less. That continuing to follow my curiosity will provide the best chance of encountering my life’s purpose. And that I shouldn’t undervalue (or under-utilize) the skills and experiences I accumulate along the way just because they weren’t all acquired on a traditional timeline.
Why I read it: I think it was mentioned in Steven Kotler’s The Art of Impossible.
Training for the Uphill Athlete
Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers by Steve House, Scott Johnston and Kílian Jornet, 5/5
This bible for uphill endurance athletes accomplishes what most other sports and fitness books promise and fail to do: give readers a solid understanding of the physiological effects that specific training has on their bodies and the ability to use that knowledge flexibly in the pursuit of their own athletic goals. The fact that a book could never fully substitute for a good coach does not seem to discourage the authors from trying, and their approach to the topic is extremely well-conceived. They avoid the common shortcomings of only providing information that is too general (here are some good exercises!) or too specific (here is a complete training plan for a 125lb female athlete with 3 years of experience, coming off an ankle injury!). Additionally, the photographs in this book are abundant and exceptional. If there were such a thing as an armchair athlete, this book would be very satisfying for them.
Every sport deserves to have a training guide like this one but, selfishly, I’m kind of bummed out that it exists for such a niche and not for any of the martial arts or even “normal” running. Mountain running seems so…extra…and I’d never even heard of ski mountaineering (skimo) before. Still, as the authors point out, “Increasing aerobic capacity has major benefits to all athletes regardless of the duration of the event they are training for” (54). Perhaps the most broadly-applicable chapter is the one titled “The Physiology of Endurance,” which debunks the VO2 max as the holy grail of fitness and explains how and why plentiful training at low- to moderate-level intensity, interspersed strategically with short, high intensity workouts, can raise one’s aerobic threshold to within 10% of one’s lactate (anaerobic) threshold. Think about it. Who wouldn’t want the ability to perform at a higher level for longer? I’m not an endurance nerd, but the more of the science I read, the more I coveted the “big aerobic motor” this book describes.
Why I read it: a recommendation from my sister.
How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe, 5/5
This book does not disappoint! It is filled with hilarious, ridiculous, scientifically strenuous “solutions” to problems ranging from “how to jump really high” to “how to change a light bulb.” As a piano teacher, I found the chapter on how to play the piano particularly hilarious and thought-provoking. I’ve never thought to ask questions like “how many keys would need to be added to the piano keyboard to make music for whales?” (spoiler: it’s not as many as you’d think!).
Why I read it: I love Munroe’s book What If? and his xkcd webcomic.