Zero to One

30th March 2018

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Books of the Week

This week we read two related books:

  • From Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters. This classically important book helps readers understand the importance of creative entrepreneurial thinkers to the world’s future. Even if you have no interest in business, the book is worthwhile for its insights into contrarianism and creativity.  We like New York Times best-selling author Neal Stephenson’s characterization: “The first and last business book anyone needs to read; a one in a world of zeroes.” (The audiobook is read by Blake Masters—you may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.) 
  • Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, by Ryan Holiday.  Holiday’s book tells the story of Peter Thiel’s behind-the-scenes destruction of online media company Gawker. We have to admit, Conspiracy is a page turner, and Holiday’s access to both of the principals in this case, Peter Thiel and Nick Denton, gave the kind of insider details that really kept us hooked.  It was amusing to watch how journalists’ seemingly objective view of the verdict flipped once they discovered Thiel’s involvement. Ryan Holiday’s entire career has arisen from his ability to keep journalists happy (he wrote the best-selling Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, which we admit we really liked). So it’s no surprise that he ends the book by going almost comically over-the-top in siding with journalists.

Learning Lays a Path to Recovery

Here is an inspiring message we received from LHTLer Izzy Gifford on the effect of learning on her health. Izzy writes:

          A couple of years ago I took your learning how to learn course, on Coursera. I don’t recall the exact date, but I wanted to email you and thank you.
See, I suffer from chronic migraines, and the medications they’d put me on not only made me struggle with my physical health, my brain health suffered. My memory was failing me and I was suffering from terrible depression.

          Thanks to your course, I learned that I could hack my brain. That no matter what I was going through, I could keep learning. Even on the days when I was unable to get out of bed, I reminded myself that learning just prior to sleep could help cement a pathway. So I’d read a little, or study a little. I’d focus on things that were important to me.

          Now, a few years later – my health is finally starting to improve because I didn’t give up. I’m still studying, I’m still learning, but now I’m writing too. Because I didn’t give up.

          What’s really significant about it all is that learning that I wasn’t just a helpless victim to my brain made it possible for me to keep going. I might never be as bright as some other people, but that never mattered. I can keep learning and enjoying life and I feel like I have you to thank for it.

Top Three Lessons on How to Have Higher Impact in Your Career If You Are Trying to Help Others

Here is a great video from Benjamin Todd at 80,000 Hours on how to work on something that will truly have an impact.  (Warning—the first couple seconds are a bit graphic.) As Ben points out at, it’s easy to be seduced into pouring enormous energy and resources into programs that not only do not help, but which actually make the situation worse.  But there are smart ways to approach the challenge. (Incidentally, Ben’s book 80,000 Hours: Find a fulfilling career that does good, is an excellent one.)  

Earn Tuition-free College Credit

Saylor Academy is a nonprofit initiative working since 2008 to offer free and open online courses to all who want to learn. As Wikipedia notes, “the foundation offers 317 free, college-level courses, which are selected as typical courses in high enrollment majors at traditional U.S. colleges.” Through Saylor Academy, you can earn modern, digital certificates of completion; earn tuition-free college credit through their network of partner schools; or even start a low-cost, convenient degree program.

[Hat tip, Enrique Planells Artigot.]

Visualizing Japanese Grammar

Here’s an interesting video by Jake Hebbert on his efforts to learn Japanese by creating flashcards that don’t refer to English. Jake would welcome your comments and suggestions.

Are French People Rude?

Here’s a fun but insightful article by Géraldine Lepère on Fluent in 3 Months about why French people seem rude sometimes, and how you can use a few techniques to prevent any unpleasantness. As language expert Benny Lewis explains, Géraldine “has a real knack of getting right to the point and explaining exactly what’s going on when you encounter a French person who seems rude.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Get the course recommended text, A Mind for Numbers!

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