8 Books to Make Covid-19 More Enjoyable
On the bright side, self-isolation offers a bit more time to read than usual. To help, below are eight books to help make the most of the extra time.
For some historical perspective
1. “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb
Crazy stuff happens, and it pays to be prepared or it. The world is incredibly complex, and it is usually the risks we things we aren’t considering that eventually will get us. Within my industry — real estate — an annual publication asks sector experts a number of predictions. When asked about real estate in 2020, the risk of pandemic came in dead last. This is not necessarily a fault of the predictors, as in most years there is no pandemic! However, when pandemics matter, they REALLY matter while other risks such as regulations and land costs are only white swans. Really, questions like this should consider both likelihood and magnitude (but we likely would continue to underappreciate the highly unlikely).
2. “Wealth, War and Wisdom” by Barton Biggs
In the middle of wacky times, it can be helpful to read about other wacky times. It offers some perspective (and frankly makes you feel better). How did people feel, how did they act? How would you have acted? Biggs is most interested in understanding how the stock market anticipates and prices society’s big moments, focused specifically on World War II, analyzing stock market performance in junction with the ebbs and flows of the war. He believes the stock market was pricing in the Allies’ victory well before most experts saw it, and that the market can guide us with far more precision than can talking heads.
For some hot virus talk
3. “The Great Influenza” by John Barry
A terrific history of the Flu of 1918. The Bubonic Plague of our time, which killed 50–100 million people around the world. Reading it today, one is struck by (too) many similarities, as leaders continued to hold events despite the obvious risks (Google the “Liberty Loan Parade”, it was the flu-spreading Spring Break equivalent of 1918). Although they had much less information back then, there was also considerable disinformation, predominantly due to the war and its propaganda.
What bothers me when reading this book: One, although our medicine has come a long way, the process for finding treatments is troublingly similar. Two, close to 700,000 people died in the U.S. during this flu, at a time when the population was 1/3 its current level. When this book was written a few years ago, that number seemed absurdly large, like measuring the miles to the moon. Now it doesn’t seem as outrageous.
4. “Hot Zone” by Richard Preston.
A thriller about the Ebola outbreak outside Washington DC in the late 1980s, which was followed by a six-part National Geographic series starring Julianna Margulies and Noah Emmerich (aka Stan Beeman from The Americans). Although it was written to frighten, what will strike today’s readers is how quaint it is, a potentially terrifying disease which killed no humans (in this iteration).
For mind and body
5. “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney
You can either make yourself uncomfortable, or something else will do it for you. Counter to our evolutionary history, most of our life today is spent living at degrees between 68 and 72, well-fed and sedentary. The author seeks to find those people who are fighting against this norm, doing extraordinary physical things. One character of the book — Wim Hof — is an interesting character known for taking on feats such as climbing Everest shirtless and swimming 100 yards under a sheet of ice. Most relevant for today is his documented ability to over-ride his immune system, to eliminate the wall between the autonomic and the somatic systems, and use his brain to alter his health. He advocates things such as breathing exercises and cold plunges to improve the body’s immune systems.
6. “Complete Guide to Fasting” by Jason Fung
Fasting has two key benefits in times of quarantine. First there are numerous health benefits, some of which I would argue will help the immune system. Second, fewer meals means fewer trips to the grocery store!
7. “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday
Holiday is a modern-day Stoic and this moment seems appropriate for philosophy. I think a lot of Stoicism can be boiled down to a few things. 1. Be objective and remove yourself from the situation. What is real and what is simply perception? 2. Determine what can be controlled and that which you have no control over. Right now, we all face a negative situation. For some it is much worse than others. But we call can do better about focusing on those few areas that we have control over, and put our energy there. How can we use this obstacle to make us better?
8. “The Sopranos Sessions” by Matt Zoller Seitz
Commentary from each session of the Sopranos. Let’s be honest, it’s a decent time to get caught up on the modern-day mafia.