Literature

Columbia University has launched a program called the Open Syllabus Project that analyzed 6,000,000 college syllabi in the world to see what the most assigned books are.

They recently came out with an interactive visualization of it. Check out Open Culture to learn more.

The list is great because it opens a world for discovering books that experts have decided are worth exploring to ensure a well-informed citizenry.

Here are the top 10:

1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk

2. A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker

3. Calculus by James Stewart

4. Human Anatomy and Physiology by Elaine Nicpon Marieb

5. Republic by Plato

6. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

7. A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker

8. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

9. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

10. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

Adam Grant in his book Originals relays a lot of useful information. I’m about halfway through the book and already have learned about the relationship between what Internet browser is used and productivity, how to better guarantee your ideas are hits, and the different factors involved with selling a novel idea to an organization.

But my favorite thing I’ve learned is this: Artistic interest drives intellectual accomplishment.

A study that looked at differences in levels of interest in the arts between Nobel Prize-winning scientists from 1901 to 2005 and their scientific peers revealed that the awarded group was dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than less accomplished scientists. The chart below illustrates this.

Additionally, Grant notes that “a representative study of thousands of Americans showed similar results for entrepreneurs and inventors. People who started businesses and contributed to patent applications were more likely than their peers to have leisure time hobbies that involved drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, and literature.”

The personality trait that most associated with an interest in the arts is called openness. This is “Openness to Experience, or openness to considering new ideas … [It] describes a person’s tendency to think abstractly. Those who are high in Openness tend to be creative, adventurous, and intellectual. They enjoy playing with ideas and discovering novel experiences. Those who are low in Openness tend to be practical, traditional, and focused on the concrete. They tend to avoid the unknown and follow traditional ways.”

This definition is from Truity, a website that allows you to take a test to measure your level of openness and four other major personality traits. If you’d like to learn about your level of openness, follow this link to take the test.

[Note: Sorry about the late post. My laptop charger isn’t working, and yesterday was busy. We’ll be back on track tomorrow.]

Gazing upon the still waters of my mind
I sit, pondering
Ripples course through, offering visions of those from another life
Love lost, chains broken, the richness of shared sentiment shattered by mistakes unforgiven and habits untempered
Why do we not accept our own humanity? Why do we not recognize our own selfishness? Why do we wallow in our discontents, paradoxically pleased at the torments and losses of those most near?
I suppose it’s ignorance
I suppose it’s capitalism
I suppose it’s the need to replace the void of our self-worth
To assert that, “Indeed, I know better!”
“Indeed, I am better!”
“Indeed, I am the conqueror!”
“Indeed, I am of the higher class!”
“Of the higher status!”
“Of the higher authority!”
“Of the higher sensibility or absolute true opinion!”
“These are the convictions I have accepted, how could they NOT be right?!”
In reality, none of know barely a thing
We are most but willows in the wind, which is the accepted postulates, positions, or proposed notions of those who have come before, those who, for some reason, have set the standard of behavior and practice
Popular will at the same time abhors and celebrates the eccentric
The eccentric is only odd insofar as they are unaccepted
As their grooves deepen and their art made resonant, so their oddness beams in the darkness, spouting glimmering phantasms that inspire genius and move mountains

Podcasts certainly have their worth. There are many, many remarkable shows like 99% Invisible, Akimbo, This American Life, Revisionist History, and Longform. What podcasts offer uniquely that books can’t is wide exposure and a deep sense of humanity that comes from sometimes intimate conversation. Podcasts, in other words, offer a breadth and diversity that most books simply can’t compete with.

Books, on the other hand, offer depth that blows podcasts out of the water. If you’re trying to be a better writer, you’ll be much better off reading a highly recommended book on it than listening to a podcast episode about it.

If you’re looking for exposure, listen to great podcasts. If you’re looking for a deep dive into particular topics, check out books.

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Kurt Vonnegut is a masterful storyteller. He’s the type of author you might see quoted on social media with a lake at dawn resting calmly in the background – a “post-it note author” who continually calls on us to live a life of thoughtfulness.

Today, I’m offering his lecture on the types of stories we tell. Stories are certain to be a recurring topic in this blog. This is because stories are immensely powerful. From religious texts to the MacBook you bought to the entirety of your self-perception, the human experience is a complex amalgamation of stories, both true and false.

You can find a link to a video of it here. You can also get the gist of it from this infographic:

direct

Imagine this: the bottom of your shoes starts to come off and a hole begins along the side where your arch is, so you decide you should get a new pair. You go to the store and after looking for some time decide on a nice new pair of, say, Nikes.

After wearing these new Nikes for a few days, you start to feel they don’t match your worn jacket, which makes you feel the need to replace the old jacket with something that will create a better look with the Nikes, something you can feel more fresh in.

You get the jacket. Then, inevitably, you get new jeans with the jacket to complete the look, maybe even a new wristwatch.

This, my friends, is the Diderot Effect. It has two formal definitions. First, it means goods purchased by consumers will be cohesive to their sense of identity, and as a result, will be complementary to one another. And second, the introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current complementary goods can result in a process of spiraling consumption.

This phenomenon was first coined in the essay “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or
A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”

It’s classic consumerism and important to be aware of the next time you’re feeling like something you once loved could use a bit of an update.

Continuing this idea that good books provide perspective that can be used to challenge existing beliefs and grow as a person, one might inquire as to what constitutes a good book.

Last month I offered some insight related to this when I wrote that the first step to becoming cultured is to start reading great books, and I provided a list of some of the most wonderful books.

And last September I gave a list of some of the most important books about building character.

Today, I offer a couple more suggestions:

The Golden Verses are a chief inspiration for Benjamin Franklin’s moral development.

They are significant for me as well. I encourage you to try to work them out for yourself.