Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

I love Bourdain's writing style. Even if you're not familiar with his TV series or an aspiring foodie,  you'll enjoy this book for its vivid, conversational style reminiscent of a rowdy dinner party.

Human Nature

I'm asked a lot about what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it's this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own langauge and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands, using all one's senses.

I don't know, you see, how a normal person acts. I don't know how to behave outside my kitchen. I don't know the rules. I'm aware of them, sure, but I don't care to observe them anymore because I haven't had to for so many years. Okay, I can put on a jacket, go out for dinner  and a movie, and I can eat with a knife and fork without embarrassing my  hosts. But can I really behave? I don't know.

Flaws , Complacency, and Reinvention

Most autobiograbical books written by founders and celebrities are case studies in survivorship bias. They present a carefully constructed narrative of how an individual's choices, intellect, and determination led him or her to success, while ignoring the hundreds or thousands of people who followed the same path yet remain irrelevant.

One of the reasons why this book is so convincing, so relatable, is that Anthony Bourdain's numerous flaws are front and center. If you're worrying about finances, he tells a story of sitting on the sidewalk selling all his belongings for drug money. Busy at work? He can describe frantic, chaotic scenes in the kitchen as busloads of tourists arrive unannounced. Stressed about coworkers? He describes having to fire cooks on a weekly basis and sinking into a deep depression. Everything is amplified to an extreme.

My Highlights

  • Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.
  • To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace or even stinky cheese is not a life worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. (This is something of an "open" inside joke continued into his TV shows).
  • My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, mosst of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct.

I've ordered Medium Raw and the Les Halles Cookbook, and I can't wait to read them.

80,000 Hours: Find a fulfilling career that does good

This has to be my #1 book recommendation for anyone undecided about their career path or dissatisfied in their current role. The book is written in a perfect format for advice: short narratives to explain the 80,000 Hours organization's philosophy alongside checklists and frameworks for taking action.

A short summary of the organization's key ideas:

We started by trying to identify the most pressing global problems to  work on based on this definition. These are not necessarily the world’s biggest or most well-known problems, but rather those where an additional person can make the biggest long-term difference on the margin.  Right now, we think these involve shaping the development of emerging  technologies and reducing the risk of global catastrophes that could  have permanent negative consequences — i.e. ‘existential risks’. Nuclear  war and runaway climate change are the two most well-known; however, we  think that, all else equal, additional people can have even more impact  by working to reduce the risk of large-scale pandemics and to positively shape the development of advanced artificial intelligence (which you can read more about here), mainly because these areas are so much more neglected, which has left many of the most promising interventions untried.

I highly recommend you read the book, but you can also find information on their website and podcast.

80,000 Hours: How to make a difference with your career
You have 80,000 hours in your career. How can you use them to make a difference?

Favorite Episodes:

Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work  that Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back

Most of us want to make a difference. We see  suffering, injustice and death, and are moved to do something about  them. But working out what that ‘something’ is, let alone actually doing  it, is a difficult problem. It would be easy to be disheartened by the challenge.

Effective altruism is a response to this challenge. It is a research  field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out  how to help others as much as possible. It is also a community of  people taking these answers seriously, by focusing their efforts on the  most promising solutions to the world's most pressing problems.

Home - Effective Altruism
Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?

Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations get Stuck

Elizer Yudkowsky is is an influential figure in the AI field, co-founder of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, and known for originating numerous ideas about the safety challenges posed by artificial general intelligence. In conjunction with his work in that field, he is a prolific writer on the LessWrong blog on the subject of rationality.

I am impressed by the originality of his ideas across philosophy, economics, and science. So much so that I ordered the print version of his “Rationality: From AI to Zombies” series as well as a his book-length piece, Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations get Stuck. I encourage you to read some of his works here:

My Review

The “civilizational” title of the book implies a theme like that of a Jared Diamond or Malcolm Gladwell book, but it’s nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s a grounded review of the methodologies individuals can use to correct everything from basic cognitive biases in day-to-day life to systemic inefficiencies in industries. I enjoyed that he doesn’t aim for “Aha!” moments like Gladwell or other pop social [pseudo-]science writers and instead challenges the reader to think critically about each argument. I’d describe the writing style like a Nassim Taleb piece, minus the swashbuckling attitude of Dr. Taleb.