Brain Pickings

An Optimist’s Tour of the Future

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What the fountain of youth has to do with robots and unlearning our faulty thinking.

Earlier this year, we looked at how the web is changing the way we think, alongside 7 must-read books on the future of the Internet. But many of these prognoses seem to be tragically dystopian — could there, perhaps, be a more hopeful outlook for our technology-encrusted future? After a stark confrontation with his own mortality, comedian Mark Stevenson spent a year traveling 60,000 miles across four continents and talked to scientists, philosophers, inventors, politicians and other thought leaders around the world, trying to figure out just that. He synthesized these fascinating insights in An Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer “What’s Next?” — an illuminating and refreshingly hopeful guide to our shared tomorrow.

From longevity science to robotics to cancer research, Stevenson explores the most cutting-edge ideas in science and technology from around the world, the important ethical and philosophical questions they raise and, perhaps most importantly, the incredible potential for innovation through the cross-pollination of these different ideas and disciplines.

This is a book that won’t tell you how to think about [the future], but will give you the tools to make up your mind about it. Whether you’re feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the future is up to you, but I do believe you should be fully informed about all the options we face. And one thing I became very concerned about is when we talk about the future, we often talk about it as damage and limitation exercise. That needn’t be the case — it could be a Renaissance.” ~ Mark Stevenson

Stevenson proses a number of mental reboots that shift some of our present cognitive bad habits, from linear thinking about the future to hierarchical, top-down views of innovation.

Part trendhunting, part rigorous research, part cultural anthropology, An Optimist’s Tour of the Future may just be our generation’s version of Bill Brysons’s iconic A Short History of Nearly Everything — a bold and entertaining blueprint for a future that’s ours to shape and ours to live.

Illustration by John Dykes for WSJ

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6 Popular Business Books Adapted as Comics

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What 6th-century Chinese military strategy has to do with the art of closing a deal.

Comic books resonate so deeply with us because they speak to our brains’ fundamental visual bias, known as the pictorial superiority effect. A new series of books by SmarterComics is harnessing this human predilection and doing for nonfiction what The RSA has done for lectures, adapting popular business and strategy books by iconic thought-leaders into visually-driven narratives. Here are the first six of the series.

THE LONG TAIL

Based on the 2006 bestseller of the same name by Wired editor Chris Anderson, The Long Tail explores a counterintuitive side of business profits as Anderson declares the death of “common culture” and makes a case for the multiplicity of small niches, as opposed to the high-volume peaks of the mainstream, as the sweet spot of market opportunity.

THINK AND GROW RICH

In 1937, Napoleon Hill wrote what’s commonly considered the greatest wealth-building guide of all time. SmarterComics breathes playful new life into the now-iconic Think and Grow Rich, a blueprint for improving your life through the practical power of positive thinking, a cognitive toolkit to which many of modern history’s most famous millionaires and billionaires point as the secret to their success. A self-help book for the hard analytical types, Hill’s classic is considered a landmark publication in success philosophy and has shaped generations of subsequent business books.

MI BARRIO

Entrepreneur Robert Renteria grew up as an infant sleeping in a dresser drawer, then got drawn into drugs and gang violence as a teenager. But rather than letting his circumstances dictate and define him, he let them become a part of him as he grew from a childhood of poverty and abuse into a successful businessman and civic leader. In Mi Barrio (My Neighborhood), Renteria turns his story into a modern-day, real-life fable of persistence and hard work, extending an invitation to all of us to transcend the limitations of our circumstances and the burdens of our past.

HOW TO MASTER THE ART OF SELLING

Since its original publication decades ago, Tom Hopkins’ straight-shootingly titled How to Master the Art of Selling has remained true to — and widely acclaimed for — its title’s promise. Among the many sales scrips and tactics on everything from building trust to closing elusive deals are also a number of anecdotes, which seem to lend themselves particularly well to the storytelling format of a comic book.

OVERACHIEVEMENT

Originally written by performance coach and psychologist John Eliot in 2004, Overachievement offers an ambitious look at what it takes to be exceptional. Eliot explores a number of cognitive performance enhancers used by Olympic athletes, business moguls, surgeons, salesmen, financial experts, and rock stars, pointing to the importance of intuition and what he calls “the trusting mind” — the same idea, no doubt, that inspired Nike’s iconic “Just do it” slogan — as the fundamental make-or-break point of success.

THE ART OF WAR

Chinese military treatise The Art of War (not to be confused with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art), attributed to philosopher and military general Sun Tzu, is one of the world’s oldest and most successful books on military strategy, dating back to late 6th century BC. The wisdom from this 2,500-year-old text remain required reading for today’s MBA classrooms, offering history-tested insight on how to prevail in any conflict, be it in on the battlefield or in the boardroom.

Besides the traditional printed editions, the books are also available in a variety of eletornic formats on the SmarterComics site.

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Old Jews Telling Jokes

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What Milton Glaser has to do with a Rotweiler and your mother.

We’ve previously had our fun with some painfully hilarious politically incorrect books, most of which began as blog projects. But we’d be remiss not to add the apologetically titled, apologetically funny Old Jews Telling Jokes. Available as both a book (Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs) and a DVD, it’s an absolute string of comedic gems that don’t fail to tickle the funny bone of people of all faiths.

The joke-tellers range from mere mortals — doctors, lawyers, wine salesmen, garment workers — to icons like Milton Glaser, for a vibe that’s part Larry David without the painful awkwardness, part Seinfeld without the painful laughtrack, part something completely authentic altogether.

And just in time for Mother’s Day, why not warm up with six jokes about mothers?

via Coudal

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.