Great Books: 7 Days’ Worth of Wisdom and Life Advice from Will MacAskill, Sarah Perry, Rolf Potts, and More…

The following "Life Advice" was re-published from my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books", which you can enroll in by clicking here. Enjoy!

You'll hear me say this quite often: 

In many ways, great books are like puzzle pieces.

If the “puzzle” you’re trying to solve is the fundamental nature of reality (which is the most fascinating puzzle around, to be honest), how to live courageously in the world, how to achieve worldly success, or whatever else, then reading the best books will help illuminate your path.

To continue with the metaphor that I’m inordinately pleased with myself for having thought up on my own, the best books are like “edge pieces” that help you develop your macro-level worldview, and the lesser (though by no means unimportant) books serve to fill in the details of whichever puzzle you’re trying to solve.

The edge pieces give you an idea of how big the puzzle might be, what its basic structure looks like, and then, if you want to dive deeper and really “fill out” your knowledge, you can keep doubling down on your reading and read more books on the puzzle in question, even if those additional books aren’t as paradigm-shattering as the edge pieces you started with.

Follow me?

The funny thing is though (albeit maddeningly frustrating at times) is that you’ll soon realize how much you didn’t even KNOW that you didn’t know!

If you think of what you “know” right now as one giant room, each book you read leads you into an entirely different room.

And once you get to THAT room, you’ll find that it opens up into three ADDITIONAL rooms that you didn’t even know were there.

Clearly, reading is a giant rabbit hole.

You’ll never find all the edge pieces (because most of them haven’t even been written yet), you’ll never be able to explore every room, and you’ll never get to the bottom of the rabbit hole.

But the attempt itself is the intellectual adventure of a lifetime.

Myself, I’ve set the worthy goal of reading 1,000 books before I turn 30, but I’m quite sure that there are probably tens of thousands of books that are WORTH ​​​​reading.

So, with some measure of sadness concerning the finitude of human life and the immensity of available knowledge, I decided to launch a (free) daily email course where I discuss what I believe are the greatest “edge pieces” that I’ve read so far.

If I were to mix my metaphors, I would say that these edge pieces are the books that pack the strongest one-two punches I’ve ever experienced in all my years with the printed word.

I'd love it if you enrolled in the free email course and received these lessons from me via email, but even if you haven't signed up to my mailing list, I still wanted these discussions to be available to you. 

I love nothing more than to push books into people's hands, and running the course benefits me too, because I've realized that the best way to learn this stuff is to teach it to others.

Below, there are 7 days' worth of course material, free as always, on the books we covered that week in the email course. 

If you like what you read here, please don't hesitate to sign up for the REAL email course and get individual lessons sent DIRECTLY TO YOU dealing with the "Great Books" of human civilization. 

And while I have your attention, I will say that ALL of my book notes from every single book that I've ever read are available on my Patreon page.

My study-notes include thousands of pages of quotes, insights, lessons, etc and I've also distilled the BEST notes from each book into one "master" document that is now over 400 pages long! You can get all of that on my Patreon, and I update my notes monthly as I read more and more books.

My daily email course, however, is absolutely free; all I ask is that you never, ever stop learning, and that you never, ever, stop asking questions.

Anyways, enough of all that. Let's get to the books!

From My Notes:

"When it comes to helping others, being unreflective often means being ineffective."


How do you know the best way to help people in need?

This is not to bash unnecessarily the huge numbers of people who give to organizations that don't do a lot of what they claim to do. But it's true, their good-hearted motives and hard-earned dollars could be better served by giving to the best charities, not simply the ones we've always given to. 

We do our best to help people, and sometimes our efforts fall short. My own time in the mountains of India was a testament to that; it was a colossal failure and I lost a lot of money for no good reason.

If I had been smarter, more reflective before diving in, I would have made a bigger impact than I did. 

The message here is that we need to give a lot more thought to the question of whether our actions are actually helping the people we intend to help, or if we're just making ourselves feel good without bringing about any measurable result. 

Facebook likes don't save lives. 

Ineffective charities don't save lives. 

Caring doesn't save lives.

Giving to the most effective charities DOES.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


From My Notes:

"If it is meaning that justifies the suffering of life, then meaning has a high burden of proof to demonstrate its inherent, non-instrumental value, and the frequent use of illusion in this domain invites skepticism."


If we're going to bring a new life into the world, knowing that life involves unavoidable suffering, then we have to be EXTREMELY certain that there is some sort of redeeming value in life itself. 

That's the point that the pessimistic, though brilliant, Sarah Perry brings up here.

There are so many conflicting meanings, so many subjective meanings, so many plainly FALSE meanings that people have come up with, that she is right: this is a domain in which there is a great degree of illusion. And delusion.

How can you know that a new human's life will be meaningful? Or has a chance to become meaningful?

Who are you to make that choice to live or to have never been born? 

I don't mean to take an accusatory tone, I just mean to point out that we can't ASK children ahead of time if they would like to be born. 

And if life has to be meaningful in order to be "worth it", then shouldn't we try and figure out some sort of DESCRIBABLE meaning that would make ALL new lives potentially meaningful? 

I have eight pages of notes on this book, and almost every page brings up dozens of questions for which I don't have any clear answers.

I don't want to drag this discussion on too long, but it's obvious that many people's lives go extremely well, and others' not so much. Some people experience their lives as meaningful in the highest degree, and others wish they had never been born.

At the very least, we can give these questions some thought, suspending any final answers, instead of rushing to the conclusion that life is a "good" in and of itself.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


From My Notes:

"At the bottom, there is no one there but yourself."


I'm not actually a pessimist, but you'll me say this often: "Life is Suffering". 

Even a relatively "safe" existence is fraught with difficulties that will inevitably come to shake you. And if you're doing creative work, those shocks are going to come as a matter of course. 

Some people are going to hate your work.

Worse, some people will ignore it. 

But here's Pressfield's point: when you hit bottom, all you have to fall back on is your own resources, your own intrinsic motivation for battling whatever has come to shake you in the first place. 

The best part is, it's the bottom. Look at that; there's the floor. That's as far as you can fall. 

The bottom is a great place to be, on occasion. Because it's all you. Your upward trajectory (where else could you go?) is completely up to you.

If you find yourself at the bottom, marshal your own resources, look up to where you want to go, and crush it.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


From My Notes:

"When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions."


You're going to run into all these people during the run of a day, probably.

They are out there, and you can't avoid them for the rest of your life. At least not without letting them severely limit your freedom. And who wants that?

No, far better to recognize that they are out there and resolve to meet them wherever you find them with understanding, patience, and tolerance.

You don't have to be friends with these people; you just need to stop hiding from them. And stop being surprised and irritated whenever they inevitably pop up in your life. Because they will.

And you can always choose a different way of dealing with them.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


From My Notes:

"If you've never worked for your freedom, your travel experiences will have no personal reference, no connection to the rest of your life."


I'm definitely not poor (I've seen people starving to death with my own eyes, and it's not for the faint of heart), but I'm not exactly drowning in cash either. 

I have to work, usually 5-7 nights per week, in order to pay my bills, set some money aside for the future (into what I call my "Go F*** Yourself" account, to be used in emergencies only!), and have some fun with my friends occasionally. Alright, a lot of fun.

But in many ways, this is the way you wanna do it. 

You have to work for your freedom, or else it won't have as much value for you. 

People don't value what they get for free, and if your vacations are "All Expenses Paid", they're not going to be as satisfying as something you had to earn yourself.

Because contrary to what many people seem to believe, you don't actually WANT millions of dollars sitting around in your bank account. You want the EXPERIENCES that that money can provide.

So if you're not making that much money right now, can only afford to put away a couple hundred per month towards a vacation (or less) etc, don't worry about it! 

Enjoy the lean times. 

Enjoy the massive dose of self-respect that comes from identifying a goal, attacking it with everything you've got, and then eventually achieving it. 

That experience is LIFE, man. 

There's no greater feeling in the world. 

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


From My Notes:

"We very often fail to think as carefully about helping others as we could, mistakenly believing that applying data and rationality to a charitable endeavor robs the act of virtue."


I think that Will is onto something here. 

There seems to be an unspoken rule that charitable giving has to be completely from the heart and that any attempt to intellectualize it somehow tarnishes the act of giving itself. 

In fact, however, our charitable activities could be rendered unbelievably effective if we only took a step back, cautiously evaluated the good that we plan on doing, and do our good work according to a solid plan.

Sure, it's not as "spontaneous", or "random", but it's a hell of a lot more effective. 

Someone who can't afford to send their daughter to school doesn't care about how good it made you feel to give. I'm sorry, they just have other things to deal with. 

Like, you know...sending their daughter to school!

If random giving led to sending 4 children to school, when giving to a more effective educational charity could have sent 15 children to school, I think it's worth it to take some time out and evaluate the effectiveness of different charities and see which ones do the best work.

Don't you?

Look, I ran into the same kind of thinking when I was first starting up my own nonprofit, The Volunteer Incentives Program.

Volunteers enrolled in the program receive discounts from businesses just for tracking their volunteer hours. 

So, they're "getting" something from volunteering, and that made some initial sponsors uncomfortable. 

But if my program ends up recruiting more volunteers to worthwhile causes, who CARES if they get some discounts in exchange for their time spent volunteering. It doesn't MATTER!

Today's lesson isn't just a subtle plug for my nonprofit (although, hey, if you're a volunteer you should check it out), but rather, the point is to stress that we can use our heads AND our hearts in order to decide which charities and causes deserve our hard-earned dollars, and which initiatives are going to do the most good. 

There are people in need who are counting on us to make the right decision. 

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


From My Notes:

"Nobody can relieve you of the burden of freedom."


Jean-Paul Sartre said that we are "condemned to be free" and part of that idea is that no one can bear your freedom FOR you. 

You are completely and totally morally responsible for everything you do, and everything you do matters. 

You are part of a network, your actions affect others, and your life choices are yours alone. This is a terrifying realization, the essence of becoming an adult really, that there is no one you can appeal to for help with your own undeniable freedom.

You are ALWAYS free to choose, and further, you MUST choose.

Even the choice NOT to decide is a choice. 

Stay in the same town you grew up in or move to any of the 190+ countries that make up the world...

Study engineering, or business, or philosophy, or international development, or auto repair, or drama, or any of the hundreds of things you could do with your life...

Every woman (or man, or whatever) that you DON'T ask on a date might just be gone from your life forever. You simply don't know how your life could have been different had you stopped them and asked them their name, instead of just letting them walk on by. 

You are completely and totally free, but that realization is dizzying, to say the least. I'm sorry I don't have any conclusive answers on how you should deal with that; it's just the way human life goes. 

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I've ever read. Organized so that you can find what you're looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the "Great Books". It's basically in this format that you're reading now, except sent directly to your email.


EXTRA CREDIT:

I've recently discovered that I really, REALLY enjoy answering questions on Quora! 

If you've read this before, by all means skip it, but here's an answer I wrote to the question "What is a life-changing book?" that more than 196,000 people read and more than 1,000 people "Upvoted". 

It really seemed to resonate with people, and so I think that's something I'll keep doing. I've got a whole bunch of book questions lined up for me to answer, which means that what I'll probably do is answer a question on Quora every single day for the foreseeable future.

Seems like a fun experiment!

The Bouncer's Book Club

This is a Facebook group I started where we discuss books and ideas. You're welcome (and encouraged) to join, but spamming the group will get you kicked out. I AM a nightclub bouncer after all.

My Patreon Page

Here's why I don't have time for a girlfriend: I take notes on every single book I read, and over the years, those have grown into a collection of thousands of pages of study-notes on hundreds and hundreds of books. I've even distilled the best notes from each book into a "master" document that is now over 400 pages long. 

You can get ALL of my notes by clicking here, and these are updated monthly. I read around a dozen books per month, so this collection of notes is growing all the time. There are some other cool rewards on this page too. Check it out!

Blinkist

Don't have time to read for 7 hours a day like me? Well have no fear! Not only can you get my OWN notes by checking out my Patreon page, you can also use a handy app called Blinkist, which gives you access to thousands of excellent non-fiction books, and distills their key ideas into 15-minute summaries.