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January reading

So far so good. If the first month is anything to go by, I will have the 2022 reading list licked by September.

22 books for 2022

This is the bare minimum of non-medical books I should read this year. The last two years were abysmal in that regard, and I look forward to making excuses for why 2022 was no different.

  • The Scout Mindset (Julia Galef)
  • How to Live (Derek Sivers)
  • Understanding Nonlinear Dynamics (Daniel Kaplan and Leon Glass)
  • Light (M. John Harrison)
  • Safe Haven (Mark Spitznagel)
  • Pieces of the Action (Vannevar Bush)
  • The Demon-Haunted World (Carl Sagan)
  • Where Good Ideas Come From (Steven Johnson)
  • Calculated Risks (Gerd Gigerenzer)
  • Making Things Work (Yaneer Bar-Yam)
  • The Morning Star (Karl Ove Knausgaard)
  • Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)
  • Where Law Ends (Andrew Weissmann)
  • The Fifth Risk (Michael Lewis)
  • Checkpoint Charlie (Ian MacGregor)
  • Checkmate in Berlin (Giles Milton)
  • The Complacent Class (Tyler Cowen)
  • Craft Coffee: A Manual (Jessica Easto)
  • The Complete Father Brown Stories (G. K. Chesterton)
  • Foucault’s Pendulum (Umberto Ecco)
  • Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization (Donald W. Braben)
  • Adventures of a Computational Explorer (Stephen Wolfram)

Newsletters of note

Most of these also make an appearance on my list of blogs. All are recommended, though some of the more prolific ones are best consumed in moderation.

Voices in my head, 2022

Listen to podcasts long enough and you are bound to develop tastes. After 15-some years, mine are these: conversations over stories, with minimal to no editing, and lasting no longer than a couple of hours per episode. Even within these constraints, the list of podcasts I could listen to is near-infinite. Yet these are the few to which I keep returning:

  1. Omnibus, which survived John Roderick’s attempted cancelation to continue providing two poorly-researched topics per week. Highlights of 2021: Mobile Jubilees, The Bottle Conjuror, Officials General, Merkins (yes, those), and The Phantom of New Guinea in which the curious popularity of an obscure Canadian detective show in Serbia makes an appearance.
  2. EconTalk, which continues to be the best general-interest interview show for people who’d rather avoid snake oil salesmen. Highlights of 2021: Dana Giola on poetry (which is in fact the best episode of 2021), Julia Galef on her book Scout Mindset (which I am yet to read, but oh well), Anja Shortland on lost art, Bret Devereaux on ancient Greece and Rome, and Johann Hari on lost connections (which reminded me of a particularly sad episode from my tenure as a heme/onc attending).
  3. Healthcare Unfiltered is the first new healthcare-related podcast I’ve started listening in years. Chadi Nabhan is a good interviewer with an even better access to relevant guests, particularly when he attempts to bring together both sides of a twitter-heated medical debate. Highlights of 2021: Bishal Gyawali on clinical trial design, Aaron Goodman and Matt Wilson on CNS prophylaxis for DLBCL, Barbara Pro and Mehdi Hamadani on PTCL, Mikkael Sekeres and David Steensma on mid-career transition, and Aaron Goodman versus the world, supposedly about randomized clinical trials.
  4. Plenary Session was back on my playlist this year, and mostly Covid-free. Highlights of 2021: Chris Booth, Adam Cifu, Manni Mohyuddin, Bapu Jena, and again Aaron Goodman (who should really start his own podcast instead of squatting in other people’s).
  5. The VPZD Show is the one about Covid. Prasad and Damania have their hearts in the right place and fairly sharp minds; they can evaluate evidence on merits and are willing to admit past mistakes. Without mourning days past when these characteristics were more common — because in fact they weren’t — I’ll just note that in times like these, they are essential. Highlights of 2021 include the entirety of the show, which has only just started.

Previous editions: 2021202020192018The one where I took a break from podcastsThe very first one


I, for one, am glad that blogs are making a comeback. Here are a few I’ve been reading for at least a few months, many of them for years, some for decades.

Applied philosophers

The only true philosophers of our time.

The new scientists

People without major academic credentials who have interesting ideas about science.

The old scientists

People with major academic credentials and interesting ideas, something to teach, or both.

The ludites

People against modernity of one sort or another.

People doing their own thing

Unclassifiable but exhilarating.

Apple enthusiasts

Some tips, a few tricks, many opinions.


Economists and investors, for the most part.


Former or current journalists who now earn some or all of their living by writing newsletters via Substack, which is slowly reinventing blogs (in the sense of reinventing the wheel, not actually making them better and in fact in many was making them much worse).

Company blogs

For when I really want to know when the next update is coming.

Clearing the PDF log jam

There is a crisis in medicine, but not the one you think:1

Reading primary literature is superior to press releases and tweets — it sounds so obvious, but not many physicians act on it. There no prizes to be won for not just following the KOLs2, nor do you save any time. Quite the opposite: instead of a promoted tweet about the me-too drug de jour falling into your lap, you need to find a way to identify what’s worth your time reading, and also find time to actually read it — not a small achievement, as highlighted by the above tweets.

But then what? Sure, there is profit at the end of the rainbow in the form of useful knowledge, but merely reading a PDF may not result in any knowledge at all, let alone knowledge you can use. Or, as the underpants gnomes would put it:

Step 1. Read PDFs; Step 2. ???; Step 3. PROFIT!

I too had a backlog of unread PDFs once, spent so much time organizing files and folders, using this and that program to store the metadata3, trying out plain paper, a Kindle, an iPad or two, thinking it is how I was reading them that mattered and oh if only I could find the perfect setting, under the shade of an old oak tree perhaps, with some peace and quiet, a pen in one hand and a cup of coffe in the other, well, then the unread pile would melt away and all would be good in the world.

But reading is easy, if what you read is useful, entertaining, or both. For most people without visual impairments or dyslexia, the log jam is at Step 2. We don’t want to read our pile of PDFs because, in most post-GME circumstances, there isn’t a clear goal to reading them (lest you have superhuman memory).5 This is particularly true early on in your carreer, when you have nothing to hang your hat on mentally, and few connections to make between what you are reading and what you already know. Sure, you don’t need to keep track of the articles you’ve read if the only reason for reading is to pan them on Twitter. You do, however, want to summarize what you’ve read and save it for future use, be it in a lecture, article, grant proposal or a blog post. So if and when you find a fairly obscure but potentially important fact about this or that cellular pathway in a supplemental figure from a CNS-adjacent journal, and you memorize the fact for later use, and then a year or so later you do use it to make a figure for the background section of a clinical trial protocol, well, what you do not want happening in that case is to spend hours of your life trying to retrace your steps and figure out the original source when a fellow asks where you got the data.4

I wouldn’t be admitting to all that if I didn’t think I’ve found a solution. A few years ago, I replaced the unsustainable routine of just-in-time literature reviews for whatever I needed done with a robust knowledge management system — a GTD®6 for ideas, if you will. It got to a point where I can read at least one article every day and skim a few more, get the useful information out and into my app of choice7, and have all the information I need to write an editorial like this in a morning or two.

As with most of the things I do it is too personal and Rube Goldberg-y to be of use to anyone else, but it started with a forum post and a book, and if you’d like to turn your plate full of PDFs into something more usable may I recommend that you start with one or both of those and see how it goes. Could it be any worse than what you’re doing now?

  1. And not only in medicine, of course. 

  2. Key Opinion Leaders, the influencers of medicine before influencer became a real noun. Note that unlike the influencers of social media KOLs don’t use the #sponsored hashtag, though there is a hashtag equivalent

  3. NB: if you write any sort of scholarly texts you will still need a reference manager, no matter what system of organizing PDFs themselves you choose. I recommend Zotero, lest your institution has a requirement for Endnote (which must have quite a salesforce, to so thoroughly insert their buggy, laggy, slob of a program into every academic crevice). 

  4. Yes, this has happened to me. We do have good fellows. 

  5. The clear exception here being board exam and MOC prep, where the goal is obvious and the sources of information are all spelled out. 

  6. © David Allen Co. 2001. It is a good system though 

  7. The app of choice before DEVONthink was Roam, which is a web service and a marvelous one at that, but unfortunately not much into encryption, privacy, and other things people dealing with confidential information like to have in the tools they use. 

Things I heard were good but was holding out for reasons unknown then wondered why I haven’t tried them sooner

  • The Americans
  • The Mandalorian
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels
  • Peter Thiel’s Zero to One
  • Sam Harris’s Waking Up app
  • Steven Wolfram’s Mathematica
  • The following Mac “productivity” apps: Omnifocus, Omnigraffle, DevonThink Pro, Tinderbox
  • Zettelkasten
  • Apple hardware
  • Electric bicycles
  • Birdwatching

Obviously, I recommend all of the above.

See also: Things I used to like but now wonder what in the world I was thinking.

Voices in my head, 2021

If there is a theme to this year’s list it is the intentional omission of all things biomedical, which I hope is self-explanatory considering (waves around) all this.

  1. Omnibus, wherein two nerds, one professional the other amateur discuss topics of great interest, including bad architecture, bad cinema, a bad sister, and a very bad husband. It is at once entertaining, educational, and en…titilating?

  2. Lex Fridman Podcast, wherein the said Lex Fridman, an AI researcher from MIT, discusses history with Dan Carlin, programming with Chris Lattner, cryptocurrency with Vitalik Buterin, Joe Rogan with Joe Rogan, et cetera, et cetera. File under “good for exploring the back catalogue, not so much for regular weekly listending”, like so many others.

  3. 20 Macs for 2020, which is a weekly-ish countdown of notable Apple computers, with comments from notable Apple aficionados. Listen and appreciate how enthusiastic some people can be about some things.

  4. Dithering, which is a — shock, horror — paid podcast, but one well worth your money and time if you know the two men responsible, Ben Thompson and John Gruber.

  5. People I (mostly) admire, wherein an economist of some fame and with a good sense of humor talks to, well, people he (mostly) admires, including Ken Jennings of the first podcast on this list, and what a nice way to end it.

Previous editions: 2020 - 2019 - 2018 - The one where I took a break from podcasts - The very first one

Things for which I am thankfull, in no particular order

  • A toddler’s giggle
  • A third-grader’s pout
  • Foam mat floor tiles
  • Child locks
  • Apple TV+, including but not limited to Ted Lasso, Tiny World, Mythic Quest, Fireball, and Wolfwalkers which even before being released has provided hours of entertainment for my children by the virtue of its most excellent trailer
  • Essential workers
  • A working internet connection, on weekday mornings in particular
  • My coworkers, each and every one
  • Overcast
  • Belgian beer, more specifically Duvel and Chimay Tripel (aka Chimay White)
  • Wireless buds, even though they remind me of that one episode of Doctor Who
  • Fresh towels
  • Reliable pens (this one too, and here’s a good mechanical pencil)
  • Good journalism
  • Blurred backgrounds (but I may soon start using these instead)
  • Physical mute buttons
  • Reliable cars
  • Fast pipelines
  • Thoughtful interviewers
  • Saturday afternoons when we’re all back from a long walk outside and tired enough to have a good appetite but not too tired to spend the evening doing something fun knowing there’s also Sunday to look forward to
  • Long sentences
  • Good endings

Voices in my head, 2020

EconTalk with Russ Roberts is the best interview podcast I’ve listened to, period. Unlike Tyler Cowen Roberts focuses on an issue or two, not the personality being interviewed. He gives fewer if any passes. The effect is that I feel like I’m actually learning about the thing in question, not just getting acquainted with Cowen’s personality du jour. Whether any learning actually takes place at my advanced age is another matter.

My top 5 episodes: - Keith Smith on free market health care - Venkatesh Rao on Waldenponding - Adam Cifu on the case for being a medical conservative - Patrick Collison on innovation and scientific progress - Andrew McAfee on more from less

Honorable mentions: Cowen, Holiday, Hossenfelder, Bertaud

Conversations with Tyler are as good as ever. This year’s favorites: - Mark Zuckerberg and Patrick Collison - Margaret Atwood - Masha Gessen - Emily Wilson - Ezekiel Emanuel

(Note that the majority are episodes with women - Cowen has Roberts easily beaten here)

Breaking Smart with Venkatesh Rao I would recommend to anyone who’s enjoyed the above-linked interview Russ Roberts did with Rao on one of the better Breaking Smart essays. It’s 15-20 minutes of Rao performing mental stretching excercises, solo.

Plenary Session with Vinay Prasad is another podcast that shines with the solo performances, but the interviews aren’t half-bad either. That isn’t a surprise, since this year Prasad has talked to David Steensma, Frank Harrell, Adam Cifu, H. Gilbert Welch, and Clifford Hudis, among others. Sadly, the podcast still doesn’t have a proper website, so I can’t link to any of these episodes directly.

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