The Best of Farnam Street 2017

Here’s a look at the most popular articles we wrote this year, including what really separates amateurs and professionals, a system for remembering what you read, the powerful interviews of Naval Ravikant, Ray Dalio, and Rory Sutherland, how we abuse time, and so much more.


1. The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals — There are a host of other differences, but they can effectively be boiled down to two things: fear and reality. Amateurs believe that the world should work the way they want it to. Professionals realize that they have to work with the world as they find it. Amateurs are scared — scared to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. Professionals feel like they are capable of handling almost anything.

2. How to Remember What You Read — Why is it that some people seem to be able to read a book once and remember every detail of it for life, while others struggle to recall even the title a few days after putting down a book? The answer is simple but not easy. It’s not what they read. It’s how they read.

3. Naval Ravikant on Reading, Happiness, Systems for Decision Making, Habits, Honesty and More — In this wide-ranging interview, we talk about reading, habits, decision-making, mental models, and life. Just a heads up, this is the longest podcast I’ve ever done. While it felt like only thirty minutes, our conversation lasted over two hours!

4. The Difference Between Open-Minded and Closed-Minded People — The rate at which you learn and progress in the world depends on how willing you are to weigh the merit of new ideas, even if you don’t instinctively like them. Perhaps especially if you don’t like them. What’s more, placing your trust and effort in the right mentor can propel you forward, just as placing it in the wrong person can send you back to the starting point.

5. Maker vs. Manager: How Your Schedule Can Make or Break You – If you’re a maker on a manager’s schedule or a manager on a maker’s schedule, you could be spinning your wheels. Find out the ideal way to schedule your day for maximum results.

6. Charlie Munger on Getting Rich, Wisdom, Focus, Fake Knowledge and More — While we can’t have his genetics, we can try to steal his approach to rationality. There’s almost no limit to the amount one could learn from studying the Munger mind, so let’s at least start with a rundown of some of his best ideas.

7. Habits vs. Goals: A Look at the Benefits of a Systematic Approach to Life — The power of habits comes from their automaticity. This is why they are more powerful than goals. Read this article to harness the power of habits.

8. The Code of Hammurabi: The Best Rule To Manage Risk — King Hammurabi of Babylon, created Hammurabi’s Code. The laws were more effective at containing risk than today’s laws. Here’s why they were effective.

9. Life Lessons from a Self-Made Billionaire: My Conversation with Ray Dalio — In this interview with billionaire investor and entrepreneur Ray Dalio, you’ll learn the principles Ray prescribes for making better decisions, fewer mistakes, and creating meaningful relationships with the people in your life.

10. 29 of the Most Gifted and Highly Recommended Books — It started with a simple question: What book (or books) have you given away to people the most and why? The email was sent to an interesting subset of people I’ve interacted with over the past year — CEOs, entrepreneurs, best-selling authors, hedge fund managers, and more.

11. The Butterfly Effect: Everything You Need to Know About This Powerful Mental Model — The Butterfly Effect shows that we cannot predict the future or control powerful complex systems. Read to learn more about this mental model.

12. The Wrong Side of Right — One big mistake I see people make over and over is focusing on proving themselves right, instead of focusing on achieving the best outcome. People who are working to prove themselves right will work hard finding evidence for why they’re right. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to disagree with someone who has another idea. Everything becomes about their being right. These otherwise well-intentioned people are making the same costly mistake that I did.

13. The Generalized Specialist: How Shakespeare, Da Vinci, and Kepler Excelled – Should we generalize or specialize? This article explores how Shakespeare and Da Vinci excelled by branching out from their core competencies.

14. Seneca on The Shortness of Time — If we see someone throwing money away, we call that person crazy. This bothers us, in part, because money has value. Wasting it seems nuts. And yet we see others—and ourselves—throw away something far more valuable every day: Time.

15. Rory Sutherland on The Psychology of Advertising, Complex Evolved Systems, Reading, Decision Making — In this wide-ranging interview with Rory Sutherland (the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group, which is one of the largest advertising companies in the world), we talk about: how advertising agencies are solving airport security problems, what Silicon Valley misses, how to mess with self-driving cars, reading habits, decision making, the intersection of advertising and psychology, and so much more.

16. How to Live on 24 Hours a Day: Arnold Bennett on Living a Meaningful Life Within the Constraints of Time — Despite having been published in 1910, Arnold Bennett’s book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day remains a valuable resource on living a meaningful life within the constraints of time. In the book, Bennett addresses one of our oldest questions: how can we make the best use of our lives? How can we make the best use of our time?

17. Thought Experiment: How Einstein Solved Difficult Problems — Read this and learn how the mental model of thought experiment, helped people like Albert Einstein, Zeno, and Galileo solve difficult problems.

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