“Don’t believe everything you think” has become something of a mantra of mine. It’s a simple idea, but desperately hard to accomplish. Once we get an idea in our heads, confirmation bias kicks in and we go looking for evidence that supports it while ignoring facts which would point us in another direction.
What makes the problem even more pervasive is that we tend to get our ideas from people around us who are exposed to the same information sources we are. So our social networks reinforce our biases and increase our level of certainty. That’s how we end up going in very wrong directions and making big mistakes.
One way out of the trap is to read widely. Looking through the books I’ve read over the past year I’m struck by the contrasting points of view and how different they are from past lists. Every year is an opportunity to learn more and see farther, which is what Borges probably meant when he said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
Book (And Video) Of The Year
The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy
Obviously, Ukraine has been a focal point this year and, for many people unfamiliar with the country, can be somewhat confusing. What is at the root of the conflict? What are they fighting over? What did the Ukrainians to raise the ire of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
This book by Serhey Plokhi, who leads Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute and is probably the preeminent authority on Ukrainian history today, provides an excellent guide to Ukraine’s history and culture and does it in a way that makes it not only understandable, but so interesting the pages almost read themselves.
In the same vein, Timothy Snyder’s course on The Making of Modern Ukraine is so good that even Ukrainians I know are hooked on it. The Yale professor does far more than tell the story of one country, he explains its context in terms of European history, the rise and fall of nations, empires and religions. It’s probably the most remarkable thing I’ve ever watched.
Both of these will not only help you understand recent events, they will change the way you see the world, which is what good books and courses should do.