Welcome to the last Weekly Contrarian of 2021.
Before I share with you the best of the newsletter from this year, I want to take a moment to thank you for inviting me to your inbox every Thursday. I appreciate each and every one of you.
I have one ask from you as we wrap up the year.
I write these emails to inspire each of us to reimagine the way we see the world, and the way we see ourselves within the world. Please take a moment to think of the people in your circle, and consider who would benefit from reading these emails. Forward this email to them and ask them to sign up at weeklycontrarian.com. Tell them why you think they would enjoy these emails, and that you’d love to hear any ideas that are sparked as they read them each week.
Happy holidays to you and yours,
The five most popular articles I wrote this year
- The death of you
- “There is no trouble with this child”
- To create better, shut down your mind
- Unexpected hate mail
- The myth of shameless self-promotion
The best five books I read this year
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m not a fan of biographies that cover every little detail about the life of their subject. You know what I mean (“At age 4, he stubbed his toe. . .”). For that reason, I was reluctant to pick up this 900-page tome about Lincoln, but it turned out to be a terrific read during a vacation in Mexico (yes, I have an unusual definition of “beach reading”). I loved how the author widened the lens to tell Lincoln’s story—not just through his eyes—but also from the perspective of his rivals for the Republican nomination. “In the mirrors of his colleagues,” Goodwin writes, Lincoln “comes to life.” This is one of those books that lingers with you for a long time.
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. If you’re looking for a fun fictional escape over the holidays, this is a wonderful read. Here’s the basic plot, from the first page of the book: “Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?” Bonus points to the author for coming up with one of the best chapter names ever (“Why want another universe if this one has dogs?”).
- Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. I normally read books in print, but over the past year, I’ve been listening to memoirs narrated by the author. This is one of the very best. McConaughey did a phenomenal job of bringing words to life in his usual McConaughey way. Highly entertaining and insightful.
- Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. This book tells the captivating story of the Mongol Empire that will call into question everything you thought you knew about Genghis Khan. From the description: “In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization. Vastly more progressive than his European or Asian counterparts, Genghis Khan abolished torture, granted universal religious freedom, and smashed feudal systems of aristocratic privilege. . . . This brilliant work of revisionist history is nothing less than the epic story of how the modern world was made. ”
- Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. This book came to me at the right time. It’s long (700+ pages), but it’s exactly what I needed. It made me pause and reflect numerous times on what drives me as a person and what I want from life. It’s a shame when books like this get political labels attached to them. My advice: Read the book and make up your own mind (instead of relying on secondhand commentary). My second advice: If you read it, don’t get the paperback version, which has really, really small print. Your eyes will thank you for it.
The best five movies and shows I watched this year
- The Father. (Amazon Prime | Hulu) This was my favorite of the best-picture nominees for this year. The movie gives you an intimate glimpse into the horrors of dementia, from the perspective of the person suffering from it. Anthony Hopkins is flawless.
- Last Dance. (Netflix) This series follows the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Even though I have zero interest in basketball, I loved it.
- Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). I resisted watching this one for a long time since the premise seemed absurd (an American football coach is recruited to coach a Premier League soccer team). But it was recommended by a number of people I trust, so I gave it a shot. Surprisingly good, a perfect balance of humor and heartwarming.
- Language Lessons. (Apple TV | Amazon Prime) I loved this movie. Everything—from the innovative format to the on-screen chemistry between Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass—is simply spectacular. Don’t read anything about the movie. Just watch it. (h/t Tim Ferriss for the recommendation).
- Nine Perfect Strangers. (Hulu) A gripping drama about a super secretive wellness resort. I felt giddy with excitement each time a new episode dropped. Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy are brilliant.