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'Read 2,000 books': Werner Herzog's advice on reading.
The famed German filmmaker offers his thoughts on reading during Eric Weinstein's podcast.
- During Eric Weinstein's podcast, The Portal, Werner Herzog said that reading is essential for any creative endeavor.
- In the past, Herzog has stated that you can't be a filmmaker without a regular reading habit.
- Herzog's reading list includes classics by Virgil and J.A. Baker, and even the report on JFK's assassination.
During the latest episode of Eric Weinstein's podcast, The Portal, an audience member asks German filmmaker Werner Herzog to recommend one or two books that this generation needs to read. His response is brilliant:
"I would not want to give you two books because you would sit down and read them and think that you've done it. You should not read two books, but 2,000 books."
This isn't the first time that Herzog has offered such advice. An outspoken advocate for reading, in 2014 he really drove the point home:
"Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read. If you don't read, you will never be a filmmaker."
It's not that Herzog doesn't prefer certain books over others. In fact, he created a reading list containing six books — three required, three suggested — for his film school. During his chat with Weinstein, he offered two of these classics, along with sagely advice to "read the Russians; read the Germans."
After mentioning two of those six titles during The Portal, Herzog makes it clear that they alone will not transform the reader. It's not what you read but reading itself that truly matters.
"Don't believe this would make you into a different person. It's the permanence of reading, the insistence of reading."
Below are Herzog's six books from his film school.
Werner Herzog on "The Portal", Episode #003: "The Outlaw as Revelator"
Virgil's second major work, written around 29 BCE, is a lengthy group of poems about agriculture. More importantly, the collection is focused on the growth of man and society. Agriculture, it must be remembered, was not always factory farms churning out supermarket aisle produce and livestock. The struggle for existence depends on sustenance; politics grew out of the control of food. It's impossible to rule a population if you are not controlling the supply chain. Virgil pays homage to deities and vines while exploring the role of labor and man's existential struggle against a hostile and unforgiving nature.
During The Portal, Herzog mentions Ernest Hemingway, though he does not cite a title. This masterful short story from 1936 eventually found its way onto the silver screen as "The Macomber Affair" eleven years later. The coming of age story harkens back to a time when men had to hunt for pride and privilege. Thanks to Hemingway's acute sense of social mores, this tale occurs during an African safari. A lion and a married woman become trophies for the protagonist. Whiskey appears — this is Hemingway, after all — as well as buffalo, the spirit animal that sets up the real struggle of this tale: men in conflict with other men. Death naturally ensues. It's also available for free here.
The one required book Herzog mentions is this timeless tale centered on falcon-watching during a time when they were almost extinct. J.A. Baker provides "prose we have not seen since Joseph Conrad." It is the one book Herzog requires of any filmmaker. Baker writes with unmatched precision about a small segment of the natural world with a passion rarely witnessed in literature. (Robert McFarlane, who writes the introduction to the most recent reprinting of Baker's book, also dedicates an entire chapter of his book, Landmarks, to The Peregrine.) Herzog claims that creators and thinkers of any discipline—music, computers, mathematics—will be taken by Baker's "very deep, relentless passion for what you are doing."
American writer Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961) works at his typewriter while sitting outdoors, Idaho. Lloyd Arnold/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
If you're a fan of Herzog's films, you'll know he finds inspiration in places that few dare to look. Thus, the 888-page report on the assassination of JFK commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson in 1963. This report remains controversial in the minds of those who swear neither Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby acted alone. You can read it for free via this link above, but as with The Mueller Report, buying a physical copy will certainly be easier on your eyes.
The Greeks and Romans get the lion's share of credit when it comes to mythology. Indian myths follow in global popularity, but you don't have to watch "Vikings" to know that Norse mythology is as epic as they come. This collection of minstrel poems has influenced everyone from Tolkien to Pound to Borges, detailing the trials, tribulations, and battles of Scandinavia's greatest warriors.
Bernal Diaz del Castillo was a "footman of Cortes," according to Herzog. The conquistador served on three Mexican expeditions for his native Spain, taking copious notes along the way, which resulted in this 1576 book (which you can read free here). Castillo wrote this travel tale when he was 84 years old, near the end of his life. Herzog says that Castillo writes an incredibly rich story that details the heart of men. The adventurous work is summated by its author in one simple and timeless sentiment: "We went there to serve God, and also to get rich."
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.