The most important piece of advice.

This blog seems to have become popular by giving advice people find helpful. To date, we have covered a number of topics, and hope to do many more in the future. The drafts list is at almost 100 articles and counting.

But if I could say just one thing, one word to everybody in the world, it is this:




Seriously, read. Read frequently, read eagerly, read critically.

To save yourself from the trap of narrow, unrepresentative learning, read outside your usual interests and outside your comfort zone, read wide as well as deep.

Read the best books you can.

Read when you have five minutes on the pot, read when you have a free evening, read more often than you go out drinking, read when you have a free weekend and the weather isn’t very nice, read at all times you possibly can.

Want a selfish reason? Nothing else correlates with success like reading.

I know people with a lot of money. They come from vastly different backgrounds. Couldn’t be more different, in fact. Some were born in wealthy families. Some were born in atrocious circumstances that any angry social justice warrior would insist disqualify them from having any chance of a good life. But they’re now millionaires through hard work and good use of brains.

The one and only thing that the rags to riches and the born with a silver spoon stories have in common is this – reading. Voracious, insatiable, constant, obsessive reading. Often, a book a day for long periods, especially in childhood.

Elon Musk had a period of two books a day. Warren Buffet spends 80% of his time reading. Bill Gates publishes annual lists of his favorite books that year.

Reading leads, inevitably, to self-cultivation

This really is the secret sauce.

Want to fix broken societies? All the social work and welfare in the world isn’t gonna fix the underlying problems, only make them marginally less awful. It’s palliative care. To truly fix them, shovel in good books.

Almost all successful people – really successful people – are voracious readers. Do you think that’s a coincidence? If not, which way do you think the causation goes?

Sure, there are people who are successful and never read anything longer than the wine list – vacuous startlets, shallow predators, de-facto prostitutes parasitically latched onto rich husbands and wives, or just luckers. But I wouldn’t call that meaningful success. The question is, do you want to be like Elon Musk, who is basically Iron Man, or Justin Bieber?

This isn’t one of those “all opinions are equally valuable and everyone gets a prize” things. There is a right answer.

Your life becomes so much richer the more you know. It’s like all the time moving from grayscale to colour.

And so become you – a more complex, captivating character, well defined and full of colour, rather than some flacid, one-dimensional oblivious drone.

That’s the thing – the more you expand your horizons, the more you understand context and how things fit together, and you start noticing things, openings for action, new ways to do things and new things to do. New choices become available to you that were always there and you didn’t know – and you realize the opportunities you never knew you missed, and you start taking them. That’s when you make it.

And the darndest thing is, you never know what obscure nugget is going to save your ass and/or make your day. This year, I made great business use of botanical distribution predictions based on my (secretive) knowledge of Phoenician trade routes. The more you know, the more you can do things like this.

Resurrect the curiosity that an idiotic, prison-like education system has beaten out of nearly everybody. Reclaim the idea of education for yourself. Not as some unpleasant necessity or preparatory phase for life, full of bad lunches and ego-tripping idiots in positions of authority, but as a joyful lifelong undertaking you do for its own and your own sake, indeed one of the points of life at all – to always try and understand better the world around you.

Read at least one high-grade non-fiction book every month.

Ideally one every week, but not everyone has the time. (Actually if you spend an hour a day on Facebook, you absolutely have the time.)

Read not to be boring, read not to be an ignoramus, read not to sleepwalk through life. Read to live.

Some people worry they might not be clever enough. Bullshit. Everyone can make progress, no matter the starting position. Being slow is not a crime, being pressed for time or access is not a crime. Only being uninterested is a crime.

Everybody prefers hanging out with people who have interesting things to say. Not masturbatory pretension and “casually” bringing up Hamlet while out drinking with your mates, but having interesting things to talk about besides other people, sports chat and celebrity gossip.

Some people say they don’t have the time to read. As is the case with exercise, it is normally the case that they absolutely have the time, they’re just using it wrong. It’s almost always an issue of priorities.

They have time for xbox, facebook, partying and looking at other people exercising on TV, but not to read a good book/go for a run once in a while? Bullshit.

And it’s not like cost is an issue, either. Reading is remarkably democratic. It costs next to nothing. Three quarters of all books worth reading are in the public domain, libraries are everywhere, and ebooks cost as much as a cup of coffee.

You can get all of Feynman and Diderot at the price of a cup of diabetes at Starbucks. Tell me what’s better.

You can read anything anybody has ever written just like this. 

So the cost is negligible, and can be essentialy zero. The payoff, however, is inestimable. Reading is the best.

There is one important caveat – read good stuff only.

Every book you pick up is a big investment of valuable time, ten or twenty hours on average, plus a lot of thinking about the stuff you’re reading.

Choose wisely. There’s an incredible amount of rubbish out there – most of what’s on sale is, as a writer once eloquently put it, unbooks for unreaders.

There are too many books that should have been blog posts. Some should have been tweets.

The signal to noise ratio is worse than in official Chinese economic data.

It is now occuring to me there are blog posts that should be books, too.

You can pick the popular books, but popularity is rarely a good guide of quality. True, many excellent books are popular, but so are many horrible ones, and some excellent books are nearly forgotten.

Find the good stuff, and then devour it.

Read things that move you, that move you towards truth and reason and reality. Read books that lift you up, up from ignorance and error, even dearly held. Read books that grab you and set you free.

Read books that put a glint in your eye and a spring in your step, and fire in your mind.



(Picking out the good books is hard. I’ve already done a lot of it, and will be sharing some of the results in a subsequent post.)