The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Although he claims to have had the idea for this book during his stint watching the military in Baghdad, Duhigg wrote this book because he wanted to kick his afternoon-cookie habit, replacing it instead with an afternoon-chat-with-a-friend habit. Most of the book was interesting, including the sports bits where the football team works to hone habitual responses which allow them to react more quickly than if they thought about their responses. Other examples were the introduction of Febreeze and Pepsodent, the safety emphasis at Alcoa, and Starbucks’ training of their staff.

Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort, conserving mental energy. Unless you fight a habit, the pattern unfolds automatically. So how to reshape a habit? Identify your routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue that tells the habit to kick in, and have a plan. When testing rewards, figure out what craving is driving the routine, jotting down the first 3 things that come to mind after you attempt a reward, then set an alarm for 15 minutes to see if you still have that craving.

The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks

Now that I’ve re-read this book, I’ll stop recommending it. While some bits were of interest, Casey writes herself into a starring role in the second half, forcing drama into the book with a storm and swells and a boat that gets unmoored and sails away unmanned. She also shows an extreme lack of curiosity about any of the women interning on the island, giving speaking roles and interviewing only the men, mostly Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson. Casey’s contribution is to inadvertently get Pyle fired from his job because of the scheme he cooked up to have her float off the island in a boat in order to participate in the shark season.

I read this 14 years ago, long before visiting the islands and before getting into birding, and picked it up again as a primer for this weekend’s jaunt out to the Farallones. Nothing of real import was gained by the re-read, just a reminder that it’s 27 miles off the coast of SF and yet part of the city, teeming with great white sharks and birds and seals and whales, and that the USS Independence aircraft carrier was scuttled nearby in 1955 filled to the brim with extra nuclear waste.

Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early)

One of the better books on FIRE, Scott tells the story of how he and his wife turned their back on their high-spending lifestyle in order to focus on what really matters: being able to spend time doing the things they love doing. They went from earning $140k and spending $120k a year to earning the same and spending half that amount, moving from California to Bend, OR, cooking more/all meals at home, investing their savings in an index fund, giving up a car lease in order to buy one for $5k, etc. Not as annoying as it could be, and brimming with the kind of practical common sense advice that everyone needs to be reminded of.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Incredible memoir by Mira Jacob about raising a mixed race child (Jacob is Indian-American, her white husband is Jewish), dealing with the questions that arise from her young brown-skinned son in the wake of Trumpism, handling her in-laws refusal to acknowledge their candidate’s racism. Her son asks how brown is too brown, are white people afraid of brown people, is his dad afraid of them? Honest, painful, and instructive.