In 2023 I didn’t read as much as I wanted so as a bit of a forcing function I’m planning to talk far more about the books I’m reading in 2024 starting today with a recap of what I read in January 2024. The year has started off well with 5 books read in January, all non-fiction.

Here’s a short recap of them.

The Bill Gates Problem – Tim Schwab

The Bill Gates Problem by Tim Schwab takes a look at the whitewashing of Bill Gates by The Gates Foundation. If you didn’t already know it, The Gates Foundation is the biggest philanthropic organization in the world, as such it has a huge influence on a lot of the research and programs that get run in the world.

Schwab feels that we saw the real Bill Gates during his interviews for the browser wars. He’s an arrogant jerk that thinks he knows more than you about any subject[1]. This hasn’t changed when it comes to the philanthropic endeavours of his foundation. They are known to give you a check, and then want to have a say in what you research and who you hire[2]. The control the organization exerts means that few people are willing to speak out about the ills of The Gates Foundation for fear of never getting funding or a job in their field again.

Coming out of this book you wonder why we allow a single person at the head of many foundations use their private wealth to control much of the “public” research that gets done in the world. You also wonder about the tax break system that leaves the American taxpayer footing a large part of the bill for the funds that they donated.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

Purchase The Bill Gates Problem on Amazon

The Third Door – Alex Banayan

The Third Door is the story of Alex Banayan, a kid who was studying at USC, but decided that his time would be better spent reading books in his mom’s storage room at work as he worked on a book he felt the universe called him to write. Yes he’s got an interesting story about getting on Wheel of Fortune and winning some money to support himself through part of the book writing process, but he also had parents that could afford his tuition to USC and could afford to have him live at home without needing to contribute anything to the household.

The book is full of anecdotes from ”successful” people who sleep 4 hours a night or work 18 hours a day, both of which are terrible advice. 99.9% of people need at least 7 hours of sleep a night and much research shows that if you work more than 50 hours a week your productivity goes down after a few weeks and you’d be better off working a standard 40 hours because you’ll get just as much done.

This book is pure hustle culture tech bro and the author never acknowledges how much financial privilege he has to be able to jet set around the world in pursuit of interviewing people for his book. There was definitely a time when I would have loved this book, but I can’t help but distain the hustle culture vibes coming through it. At no point does the author spend any effort on the systematic issues with capitalism that prevent most people from having anything like the life he highlights as what will help you “make it”.

I don’t recommend this book.

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Feel-Good Productivity – Ali Abdaal

As I review books, this book was sent to me by Abdaal’s team with the hope I’d talk about it at some point. I expect that I’ll go deeper into the specifics of the book in the future as I want to talk more about books/ideas in 2024. Outside of being sent the book and some stickers, nothing else was exchanged.

If you’ve missed it, Ali Abdaal is a former Doctor and currently famous YouTuber who talks about productivity and living a decent life. Abdaal builds his framework on top of positive psychology research, which is some of the research that has fallen into the replication crisis[3].

One of the big pillars of Abdaal’s system is having autonomy over your work[4]. He says that the more you can decide what you work on the more enjoyment you’ll have in your work, which is true but for many jobs not something that comes without lots of effort and being lucky enough to have a boss that will allow autonomy.

One thing I did appreciate from Abdaal is acknowledging the privilege he has had, and how hard it can be for many to do what he recommends. If you have kids, you have far less time than he does. If you have 2 jobs to make ends meet, you have less autonomy and less energy for after hours activities[5].

I think that Abdaal’s book can be helpful to you if you’re looking for ideas to get stuff done and want a framework to work inside.

Purchase Feel Good Productivity on Amazon

A Simplified Life – Emily Ley

Emily wrote this book mainly focused on the overworked mothers out there as a way to help them simplify their lives. Since my wife works after school, I do most birthdays dinners and all the running around to get kids to their activities and that means that many of the issues Ley cites are the issues I deal with in my week.

Ley talks lots about choosing to do with less of the stuff you have around you[6]. All that clutter overwhelms, and you’re never going to use most of it anyway so pair it all back. You don’t need 5 different spatula’s pick the 2 that you need and use those. From simplifying your wardrobe to making meal plans to make the week easier, Ley has advice to help you have a more restful life.

One big assumption that Ley makes is that you have control over every aspect of your life. This is not true if you have a job with an asshole boss that asks for more hours all the time without more pay but you have to keep the job because it’s how your family eats. I suppose I can’t ask every author to spend a bunch of time in the social ills of capitalism, but I wish that more spent any time at all acknowledging the issues inherent in the economic system under which we exist.

Purchase A Simplified Life on Amazon

Powder Days – Heather Hansman

Powder Days takes a look at the economics of skiing and how it’s mostly about serving the wealthy on the backs of a group of workers that are continuing to be squeezed out of the cities they grew up in[7]. From looking at the racism inherent in ski culture, to the idolization of the ski bum, who is barely living a life so that they can ski, Hansman takes a critical look at the industry she loves.

I enjoyed this critical yet loving look at the ski industry and while Hansman doesn’t offer solutions to the problems facing the industry, she does highlight people working towards a version of the ski industry that isn’t so focused on drinking hard and being rich.

Purchase Powder Days on Amazon

  • [1] The Bill Gates Problem Pg 7
  • [2] The Bill Gates Problem Pg 12
  • [3] Many studies that have formerly been “pillars” have been found to not have as much support as once thought since no one has been able to repeat the results. You need to be real careful when you cite social psychology research.
  • [4] Feel Good Productivity Pg 70
  • [5] Feel Good Productivity Pg 127
  • [6] A Simplified Life Loc 74
  • [7] Powder Days Pg 120

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