Sep, 2020

Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber

The Big Idea: Avoid excessive debt. Protect debtors. The evolution of economies from barter to markets is a myth.

-It’s a myth that money evolved out of barter.
-Outsid of distrustful exchanges, primitive markets exchanged goods primarily using credit/debt.
-Money and violence are inextricably linked in history.
-Historically, there were often periodic debt cancellations across an entire economy.
-Coins were invented independently in Eastern Mediterranean, Andes, and China to facilitate taxation and create markets. The state would pay soldiers in coins. The soldiers would buy food from locals using coins. The state would extrat taxes from the locals payable only in coins.
-Philosophy and religion accompanied the growth of coinage. Religions arise largely as peace movements against the empires that are using coinage. Graeber calls this “the military-coinage-slavery complex.”
-Ancient coins are always found near the sites of ancient armies.
-In the Middle Ages, empires dissolved, the world’s religions took back on the coins into churches and monasteries, and the world went back to credit systems, using virtual money.
-Many of the free market principles Adam Smith writes about came from Medieval Islam.
-United States went off the gold standard in 1971. Credit cards and cashless transactions took off. Capital became financialized. Historically, systems of virtual money (like we have now) had mechanisms to protect debtors (eg. debt cancellations, anti-usury laws.) However, our modern systems (IMF, S&P) protect creditors against debtors.
-The position of the USD as the global reserve currency is contingent on US military power and the willingness of client states to purchase US govt bonds.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

The Big Idea: Do less but achieve more by focusing on the true essentials.

  • Most of what typical people do is non-essential.
  • Ignore what typical people do, because typical people tend to focus on being busy — not on doing the right things.
  • Treat your time has highly valuable.
  • If you value your time, then you can’t say yes to everything
  • 80/20 rule means some of your efforts yield most of your results.
  • Since we all have limited time, those high-yield efforts are the most essential ones.
  • Southwest became dominant because Herb Kelleher focused on the essentials and said no to non-essentials: destinations not on the map, meals, first-class.
  • If you don’t prioritize your time, others will do it for you.


  • Escape: create a time and a space where you can escape interruptions for deep work
  • Look: learn to find the signal in the noise
  • Play: play broadens your range and sparks innovation
  • Sleep: good sleep leads to good decisions, creative thinking, and high performance
  • Select: carefully choose what opportunities to explore; it’s either hell yeah or no
  • Clarify: know your intent; make decisions that eliminates other decisions
  • Dare: say no firmly/gracefully and people will respect you
  • Uncommit: don’t be afraid to cut your losses and change direction
  • Edit: cut out the nonessential to focus on the essential
  • Limit: create boundaries to create freedom (eg. checklists)
  • Buffer: give yourself a margin of error
  • Subtract: remove unnecessary obstacles
  • Progress: start small, keep it simple, build a system for long-term success
  • Flow: implement routines that makes execution effortless
  • Focus: All I do is WIN = What’s Important Now?
  • Be: Don’t do essentialism, be an essentialist

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

The Big Idea: Mindfulness is “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Meditation practice means showing up consistently, not about achieving a specific state.

Samadhi is “onepointedness”. Meditation cultivates the ability to focus attention. Meditation trains and reshapes the mind.

Sitting meditation means to sit with dignity. Like a mountain.

Let your breath be your anchor during meditation.

For standing meditation, let a tree be your inspiration.

For lying meditation, let a lake be your inspiration.

Watch your thoughts without thinking them. Like you might look out through the window at the water drops while it rains outside.

Aim for 45 minutes of meditation daily, though every moment can be made mindful – if 45 minutes is too much.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

The Big Idea: The federal workforce is full of unsung, passionate people who run important federal programs.

The fifth risk = the risk you haven’t considered.

Presidents come and go, but the federal workforce persists.

Trump’s administration has been incredibly dismissive and antagonistic of these important federal workers

Example of important federal programs mentioned in the book: nutritional programs, coast guard rescues, National Weather Service, uranium security.

The federal workforce is aging quickly.