• What should I learn about in 2018?

    I spend 2016 learning new things, and 2017 learning new skills. I think 2018 should be a combination of both. I would like to spend most of the year reading history. I’m open to biographies as well. I need recommendations, though. I’m opening comments to allow for those. Or, tweet me. Here are my top level thoughts:


    • Roman Empire
    • The Civil War
    • World War I
    • World War II
    • Nazi Germany
    • The Revolutionary War
    • The Dark Ages


    • Origami
    • Making paper airplanes
    • Cocktails – complex stuff

    What am I missing? What should I read? If you don’t help me, I’ll have to pick for myself!



      Since you missed it last year (and because I’m an electrical engineer) you gotta learn basic programming and electronics. I saw you were interested in Arduino which is a great start. I think when you understand at least the basic level of technology you can filter out so much of the bullshit in the media about tech.Just like you have taught me to filter out most of the medicine news and fluff that isn’t relevant with health care triage. The statistics about meta studies and real medicine science has been so helpful.

    • For your WW I reading: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild Good history of the war AND the resistance to the war from the perspective of Great Britain.

    • See:


      There you go. Covers a lot of your topics and has a general theme to boot.

    • History–excellent choice!

      For Roman history, I’m currently reading Mike Duncan’s The Storm Before the Storm, which is about downfall of the Roman republic. He is the excellent host for The History of Rome podcast, which I listened to a few summers ago, as well as the Revolutions podcast, which has a fantastic overview of the American Revolution as well as others (English Civil War, French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Bolivar and the South American independence wars, and now the year of 1848).

      So, if you’re looking for something to listen to as well as read, you can’t go wrong with him.

    • A Peace to end all peace – about the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the trouble in the Middle East as we know it.

    • RE: cocktails. Liquid Intelligence (book) is a great place to start in the world of complex cocktails. The best cocktail book I own. But beware: you WILL end up wanting to buy a centrifuge.

    • RE: cocktails. Liquid Intelligence (book) is a great place to start in the world of complex cocktails. The best cocktail book I own.

    • Go for PRE-history, i.e. Evolutionary Psychology. The best place to start is The Moral Animal by Robert Wright. Even though it was published ca. 1995, it is still the best book I know on the topic. It addresses the topic of what we know and speculate about human behavior in the hundreds of thousands of years before the ten thousand years of the historical present. Great read.

    • WWI: Thunder at Twilight; 1919. US revolution: Angel in the Whirlwind. US civil war: anything by Foner.

    • WWII:
      The Bitter Woods: The Battle of the Bulge

      Civil War:
      Battle Cry of Freedom

      20th Century History:
      The Glory and The Dream
      Before the Storm:Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
      1960: The Making of a President
      The Prize

      19th Century
      The Path Between the Seas
      King Leopold’s Ghost
      Nature’s Metropolis

    • http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/02/books/02book.html

      Understanding why France is France is a great first step to understanding how France came to be from very disparate entities and provides a nexus to WWII. Of course one could then go into France politically or cheese or wine or the Tour de France – all essential elements of France.

    • Well, Ken Burns’ Civil War series is hard to beat for that topic (and visiting battlefields Gettysburg, for example, is an incredible experience).

      For WWII: The Story of World War II, by Donald L. Miller.

      For WWI: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. The book, not the film, which is dreadful.

      Berlin Diary, by William Shirer (who later wrote Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) describes the rise of Nazism from the perspective of an American journalist who was a foreign correspondent in Berlin during that time.

      And of course Winston Churchill’s volumes . . .

      Rising Sun, by John Toland.

      Song of Survival, by Helen Colijn, is the memoir of a woman who spent the war in a Japanese prison camp and the women there who formed a chorus to sing symphonic melodies remembered and transcribed by two remarkable women. Later the basis of a film starring Glen Close titled Paradise Road.

    • Re: your interest in reading history.

      Not sure how you plan to do this (maybe alternating monthly between a new skill and learning about history) but it may be worthwhile to just pick one or two history topics and really immerse yourself in them. ex. spend a month on general roman history, the next month on some skill, the next month on roman war history, next month skill, next month roman cultural history or something like that.

      Assuming you have a basic understanding of most eras of history that you mentioned, I think you’d get the most out real immersion through analysis from multiple viewpoints

    • The Eighth Day of Creation and anything about Rosalind Franklin on the history of biology. I agree with the writer who suggested coding and computers. I appreciate your insight into which resources you found most helpful in learning on your topics and often read them myself.

    • For Dark Ages: Wickham’s Inheritance of Rome and Ward-Perkins’ Fall of Rome and The End of Civilization (definitely read Ward-Perkins).

      For the Roman Empire: The History of Rome is a good podcast to listen to (though pretty detailed). In addition to any history that you read, I would also recommend the speculative fiction Kingdom of the Wicked (I always find it interesting and useful to think of things that weren’t and consider why). Some excerpts of Gibbons Decline and Fall should be consumed if only for the beautiful style and (at times) contemptuous tone (but probably not for factual accuracy). Maybe listen to or read Beard’s SPQR and then supplement with something from the time period that interests you (I was always fond of the 5 good emperors).

    • Though I cannot personally vouch for it, my husband is reading and loving the Ulysses S. Grant biography by Ron Chernow. He told me about a gripping scene in which Grant is stared down by John Wilkes Booth as Grant is in a carriage–just before Wilkes Booth shoots Lincoln.

    • If you are going to do a history kick, I would suggest learning about some history of early banking, in particular either the Mississippi Company or the South Sea Company. Don’t get pulled in by the bank-hating goldbugs who use these as examples of the folly of modern banking, but it is still an interesting period with some crazy characters doing unbelievable things.

      You had a failure trying to set up an Arduino, but you might find it interesting to try and learn some really basic, low-level electronics first. You should try getting a breadboard and some simple logic gates and learn how to make basic things like an adder. If you don’t want to do the physical version, you could also try computer simulators.

    • Wow. where to start?

      Roman Empire – Mary Beard SPQR
      Nazi Germany – William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and his Berlin Diaries
      World War II – B.H. Liddell Hart’s History of the Second World War followed by books by Max Hastings and Antony Beevor. Not only to you get details, you can see how the writing about WW II has changed over time. More recent books offer more on experiences of individuals
      Civil War — Bruce Catton’s 3-book history of the Civil War

    • Highly recommend Chernow’s Grant biography – it will give you a good overview of the war and reconstruction period as well as insight into Grant’s actions as general and president.

    • For Civil War, I would go with Mr. Coates suggestions:


      For Revolutionary, add in John Adams by Mcullough. I know it was “popular” but a great read.

    • Hi Aaron – for history you might check out the podcasts and recent book from Mike Duncan:

      – History of Rome (podcast)
      – Revolutions (podcast)
      – The Storm Before the Storm (book)

    • For Nazi Germany, I recommend the biography:

      Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

    • I think that the French Revolution would be a good subject. The roots of modern democracy really begin there.

      As for things to make… maybe try making your own soap. It would be useful, your wife might like it if you get fancy with fragrances.

    • Maybe it’s slated for 2019, but you might want at least one month dedicated to non-European history. Even creeping a little bit east to Russia (bonus: timeliness!) could make for an interesting contrast with the rest of your education.

      Good luck!

    • Hi Dr. Carroll

      If you decide to read about WWII, I recommend the liberation trilogy by Rick Atkinson. These books give a really good insight into the horror and heroism involved in the war, and Atkinson doesn’t hold anything back.

    • Great idea for 2018!
      Some of my book suggestions take your medical/scientific background into acount. I’ve put them in order, based on what I think you’d most appreciate – after reading you on TIE/Twitter for years.

      1. For WWII, Nazi Germany, and a good dose of situational history (aND quite a bit on 19th century German science & technology):
      John Cornwell
      Hitler’s Scientists: Science, War, and the Devil’s Pact
      ISBN-13: 978-0142004807, ISBN-10: 0142004804

      2. Also for WWII and a true war story, with some personal vignettes:
      John Nadler
      A Perfect Hell: The True Story of the Black Devils, the Forefathers of the Special Forces
      ISBN-13: 978-0891418672, ISBN-10: 0891418679

      Others of interest:

      Iraq War, from perspective of a combat hospital psychologist:
      Heidi Squier Kraft
      Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital
      ISBN-13: 978-0316067911, ISBN-10: 0316067911

      An MD on living with PTSD, caused by the Vietnam War:
      John A. Parrish M.D.
      Autopsy of War: A Personal History
      ISBN-13: 978-0312654962, ISBN-10: 0312654960

      Rwandan genocide:
      Roméo Dallaire
      Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
      ISBN-13: 978-0786715107, ISBN-10: 0786715103

      Several wars/”armed conflicts”:
      Linda Polman
      We Did Nothing: Why The Truth Doesnt Always Come Out When The Un Goes In – International Edition
      ISBN-13: 978-0141012902, ISBN-10: 0141012900

      Good luck!!

    • Linux

      Programming, recommend Java or Python for desktop development or even HTML/CSS and JavaScript for web development, it might seem too complex in a month but you definitely write some basic programs in that time or more!

      Somebody mentioned Prehistory up there, that would be great, or specifically, human evolution, Richard Dawkins’ book Greatest Show on Earth is fascinating for this

      Pick one country, any country and learn everything you can about in the time you have allotted, history, geography, politics, etc. Pick one you know the least about, perhaps an African country or a Baltic state.

      Might have done this one already, not sure. Investing in stocks, hedge funds, penny stocks or a crypto-currency. Doesn’t have to be much money. The point is to learn something from it.

      Robotics, make something that moves.

      Learn Basic Animation using free software like Blender

    • For skills, I’ll second paper airplanes. There have been lots of nerdy books on the subject over the years. With all the squawking about drones, I wonder if there are things that can be done with remote control in paper aircraft. I remember there being some simple but not so obvious designs that flew really well.

      Another nerdy skill is juggling. That I’ve done a lot of, and it’s great fun. (My late father once said it was the best thing his son learned at MIT; I think he was joking.) Although I’m not doing it seriously now, but at over 65, my occasional 1-minute aerobic exercise break consists of juggling three two-kilogram balls for 60 seconds. It leaves me quite winded. (And I have three three-kilogram balls waiting if that becomes less strenuous over time.)

      Both are things your kids (and patients) will be amused by…

    • There’s . . . a lot of good stuff out there on each of those periods/events in history; could be a lot to chew on to do each. But super interesting. Some good books:

      The Civil War: McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is probably the best single volume on the war out there. Excellent on the political/social/economic elements and the causes of the war. I’d also second the earlier comment about reading Eric Foner (esp. his book on reconstruction). Haven’t yet read the Chernow bio of Grant but it’s next on my list. Grant’s own memoirs are themselves quite good and worth reading.

      World War II: A World at Arms, by Gerhard Weinberg is a dense, long, but well done single volume. Max Hastings has written many histories of parts the war that are well worth reading. I’d recommend Armageddon for a view of the later stages of the war in Europe, and Retribution, for the same covering the Pacific. He’s also done a single volume (called Inferno) that I have not read but may be worth checking out.

      Nazi Germany: Richard J. Evans wrote, relatively recently, a trilogy on the Third Reich, the first volume covering its rise; the second covering its time in power, pre-war; and the third, wartime. They’re dense but fantastic, and draw on more recent scholarship and uncovered sources than some of the earlier studies. Hard to pick one, but each is interesting, and depressing, in its own way.

      The American Revolution: Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions, a Continental History, is excellent for providing a modern, clear-eyed analysis and explanation for the revolution–which he sees very much as the country’s first civil war–with a lot of really interesting context that you don’t traditionally get. Can’t recommend it too highly. He’s also written a fantastic earlier volume, called the American Colonies: The Settling of North America, that examines colonization from a perspective much broader than just English colonization of the eastern seaboard. It pairs well with his book on the Revolution.

      Happy reading!