Lithium: The Gripping History of a Psychiatric Success Story

“Some 70 years ago, John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist, discovered a medication for bipolar disorder that helped many patients to regain stability swiftly. Lithium is now the standard treatment for the condition, and one of the most consistently effective medicines in psychiatry. But its rise was riddled with obstacles. The intertwined story of Cade and his momentous finding is told in Lithium, a compelling book by US psychiatrist Walter Brown.”

-Douwe Draaisma, “Lithium: The Gripping History of a Psychiatric Success Story.” Nature. August 26, 2019.

Book Recommendation: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A former Russian Count is confined to a luxury hotel after the Russian Revolution. He lives there for a long time, and even in his confinement, life finds him. Even as a fictional character, he’s a pleasant person to spend time with. Touching story that brought tears to my eyes a few times. Quite a few wise observations on life. Recommended.

Quotes I liked:

“Adversity presents itself in many forms; and that if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”

“[I]magining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different [is] the only sure route to madness.”

“By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration— and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

“Trust that life will find you, in time. For eventually, it finds us all.”

“Our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity—a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

Book Review: “The Waste Books” by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“Merchants have a waste-book (Sudelbuch, Klitterbuch, I think it is in German) in which they enter from day to day everything they have bought and sold, all mixed up together in disorder; from this it is transferred to the journal, in which everything is arranged more systematically;  and finally it arrives in the ledger…This deserves to be imitated by the scholar. First a book in which to inscribe everything just as I see it or as my thoughts prompt me, then this is transferred to another where the materials are more ordered and segregated, and the ledger can then contain a connected construction and the elucidation of the subject that flows from it expressed is an orderly fashion.”

—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books. New York: New York Review Books, 2000.

Not recommended. It’s a commonplace book that has some gems in it, but the audience for this book is a small one. The idea of a waste book is a good one.

Here is a sampling of quotes I liked:

“The frogs were much happier under King Log than they were under King Stork.”

“It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing someone’s beard.”

“Let’s let the grass grow over it.”

“I have had all last year’s newspapers bound up together, and the effect of reading them is indescribable: 50 parts false hopes, 47 parts false prophecies, and 3 parts truth.”

“What most clearly characterizes true freedom and its true employment is its misemployment.”

Book Review & Summary: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink

Review: Recommended. There is a lot of sound advice for life and business in this book. While the war stories do help to illustrate the points being conveyed, I thought that they distracted from the principles being discussed. Overall, worth your time.

Summary: The central idea is to own everything that happens to you, i.e., extreme ownership. Human tendency is to try to blame someone else, and the best way to short-circuit that is by holding only ourselves to blame. 

By extension, there are no bad groups, only bad leadership. If the person leading your group is bad, you need to find ways to help them. If you are having trouble with “others”, from suppliers to internal departments, then you need to take responsibility and build relationships with those groups or individuals, finding ways to help them help you. 

Providing so much help to other people requires keeping our ego in check. Believe that the larger goal you are trying to accomplish is bigger than your personal success. Know what you are trying to achieve, and know how what you are currently doing helps you to achieve it. Believe in what you are doing.

As a way of operating in the world, get help and then do what needs to be done. Keep your plans simple. Prioritize, focusing on the most important thing first and working your way down the list. One approach is to use the Ivy Lee Method of picking the most important six things you need to do at the start of every day and start at the top of the list each morning. If you can get someone else to do the job at 80% as well as you can do it, then delegate down. Delegating tasks frees up your perspective to look for problems you might otherwise miss.

To keep your edge, plan and create flexible standards. Lead from above and below. Act decisively with imperfect information. The more discipline you have and the more discipline you instill in your team, the more freedom you will have to deal with strategic goals and outlier problems, rather than spending most of your time reacting to situations with tactics.

Book Review: Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat

Highly recommended. Describes in detail the operation of an industrialized slaughterhouse, from the front office to the delivery of cattle and back again. While it is clear the process is inhumane and unsanitary, the working conditions of the employees are the focus. Even if the ethics of killing animals for food is not an issue for you, a system that has one person kill 2,500 cattle, every work day, in order to put meat on your plate has qualities reminiscent of the hypothetical posed in Le Guin’s, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Horrifying, but a book everyone that buys and eats meat in cellophane packaging should read.

“Like its more self-evidently political analogues—the prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, the execution chamber, the extermination camp—the modern industrialized slaughterhouse is a ‘zone of confinement,’ a ‘segregated and isolated territory,’ in the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bagman, ‘invisible’ and ‘on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society.’ Close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might thus illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable but the ways distance and concealment operate in analogous social processes: war executed by volunteer armies; the subcontracting of organized terror to mercenaries; and the violence underlying the manufacturing of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives…

You may find the descriptions in the pages ahead both physically and morally repugnant. Recognize, however, that this reaction of disgust, this impulse to thumb through the pages so as to locate, separate, and segregate the sterile, abstract arguments from the flat, ugly day-in, day-out, minutiae of the work of killing, is the same impulse that isolates the slaughterhouse from society as a whole and, indeed, that sequesters and neutralizes the work of killing even for those who work in the slaughterhouse itself. The detailed accounts that follow are not merely incidential to or illustrative of a more important theoretical argument about how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in contemporary society. They are the argument.”

—Pachirat, Timothy. “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.