Bunch of Books from August 2023

How to safeguard your attention span, advice for living, the history of precision engineering, and more.

Attention Span

Attention Span by Gloria Mark is an accessible yet detailed overview of how our attention works. It also explores how our interconnected devices and the social practices we built on top of them affect and hijack our focus.

The book reveals how many factors, from entertainment to frictionless business communication, threaten our ability to sustain focus. Learning the mechanics of our attention and how technology impacts them gives us agency. Armed with this knowledge, we can counter the erosion of our mental capacities.

The first part of the book is the one that stood out to me the most. It describes the different modes of attention and their limits. If I were to build a syllabus for a “how to work with your brain” course, those chapters would be necessary readings.

Rather than consider attention as a binary state where we are either focused or not focused, we should realize that attention is far more nuanced. […] Each different type of attention—being focused, doing rote activity, and even feeling bored—has value and purpose when it comes to maintaining a positive balance of cognitive resources throughout the day.

The second and third parts, on the sources of distraction and how to find balance, were interesting but sometimes too speculative. Still, the book shares a hopeful message for the future of our attention. By showing us how our mind works and how it can be hijacked, Gloria Mark gives us the tools to approach technology to augment, not diminish, our potential.

Excellent Advice for Living

With Excellent Advice for Living, Kevin Kelly detours from his usual writing on the interaction between humans and technology to the realm of general advice.

This collection of four-hundred-plus aphorisms (Kelly calls them proverbs) spans from public speaking to home maintenance, passing through travel and business, parenting and creativity. There’s something in there for everyone.

The format is tweet-sized. It makes for memorable and sharable advice, which I guess is the book’s intent. At the same time, like all social-media-geared writing, it suffers from a lack of nuance.

You don’t need more time because you already have all the time that you will ever get; you need more focus.

I’ll share some of the advice that resonated or surprised me and the few I have some criticism for in the upcoming weeks.

Exactly – How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World

Intriguing but sometimes overexposed, Exactly by Simon Winchester is a journey through the history of precision engineering: how it came about, enabled technological progress, and the new frontiers it unlocked.

The most interesting chapters for me were the first few, which looked at how precision engineering came into being as a solution to the problems of steam engines, locks, and guns.

Here’s a passage that resonated. From the chapter on the first automobiles and Henry Royce’s desire to push the envelope in terms of engineering, not luxury in the early days of Rolls-Royce:

Engineers are a breed hardly known for favoring opulence and vulgarity, and they care little for ankle-deep carpets or butter-smooth leather.
They would rather employ their skills to push the boundaries of mechanical possibility, and in terms of making motorcars, that means the use of better materials with a goal of ever-increasing lightness and efficiency, and with the achievement of ever-finer machining tolerances, greater smoothness, more polish, better fit.”

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is a wonderful biography of this larger-than-life character, who ascended to the top levels of American politics by sheer talent and hard work and shaped some of the economic systems that are still in place today. Hamilton lived “the most dramatic and improbable life among the founding fathers,” and “must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years.” I found his story an inspiration to put in the work and to keep reading as a way to broaden my range.

Eager to make his mark, Hamilton was motivated by a form of ambition much esteemed in the eighteenth century—what he later extolled as the “love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds, which would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit.”

Being the biography of one of the United States’ founding fathers, it doubles as a history of the American Revolution, a topic I, an Italian living in Australia, knew little of. History lessons aside, what I found interesting was the window on human nature it offered and the sober realization that little has changed since then.

Hamilton’s life intersected with waves of inflation, lockdowns because of the yellow fever epidemic, a ruthless and partisan press, self-serving politicians, and speculation bubbles—does any of that sound familiar?

The strident tone of The Stand reflects the polarization that had gripped America over the French crisis.
Feelings ran so high that Jefferson told one correspondent, “Men who have been intimate all their lives cross the street to avoid meeting and turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch hats.”
Hamilton thought that America was in an undeclared civil war that had segregated the country into two warring camps.

The more I read history books, the more I appreciate how every generation plays the same human drama. The stage, costumes, and choreography might change, but the core remains the same.


After learning Grand Admiral Thrawn was going to be the villain in the upcoming Disney+ Ahsoka show, I began working my way through the two Thrawn trilogies Timothy Zahn wrote for Disney Star Wars. I have only one book left in the prequel series, but I decided to jump instead into Zahn’s original introduction of Thrawn with Heir of the Empire in case they decided to take inspiration from that version of the character.

I’ve found that what most people call luck is often little more than raw talent combined with the ability to make the most of opportunities.

The Thrawn in Heir is less interesting than his Disney incarnation, but it’s worth noting that the story is not about Thrawn. He is just one of the characters in a rich and enticing saga. As far as I’m concerned, this trilogy from the 90s is the sequel trilogy.


My six-year-old and I finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This one was slightly too advanced for him, which I think is why he preferred reading simpler books from his school’s library in between. We also had to skip the final duel because it was too scary.

Here’s Dumbledore on the Pensieve, which sounds a lot like magical journaling:

“I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”
“Er,” said Harry, who couldn’t truthfully say that he had ever felt anything of the sort.
“At these times,” said Dumbledore, indicating the stone basin, “I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”

By the way, The Goblet of Fire must be read at least twice to properly enjoy it. Spoiler alert: The second time, you’ll see everything Moody says and does under a different light.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and if you have any recommendations. Leave a comment below, get in touch on Twitter, or hit reply if your reading this in an email.