Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the Expert / Ask the Expert / Become the Expert

Week 3 header

I’m happy to be your host for Week 3 of Nonfiction November! Here is today’s prompt:

Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be The Expert/ Ask the Expert/ Become the Expert with Veronica (me!) at The Thousand Book Project): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

Coincidentally, expertise is actually one of the subjects I’m interested in. I tend to read articles and listen to podcasts about productivity and how to improve learning, and I’m always drawn to books on the subject. Here are three that I found particularly enlightening:

flowFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is one of those books that lots of productivity bloggers and podcasters refer to, and it’s for a good reason. The book is, in part, about happiness. Csikszentmihalyi found that happiness does not depend on what happens to you, but on how you view what happens to you. Happiness isn’t about life being easy; instead, we’re actually much happier when we’re challenged just beyond our abilities so that we always have to learn, improve, and work for our achievements. The author recognizes that these experiences aren’t always pleasant in the moment that they occur, but they add up to a sense of mastery that makes us feel more in control of the contents of our lives. The word “flow” refers to “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” While certain basic needs must be met for happiness, beyond that point, our level of happiness really depends on ourselves, and challenging ourselves to become better than we were the day before is an integral part of that. (Review)

peak (1)Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool. You know that 10,000 hours rule that Malcolm Gladwell likes to tote around? He got that from these guys, and he kind of got it wrong. Ericsson and Pool examine the cultural myth that people who are good at something were born good at it and that the rest of us have to accept our lack of innate talent. According to their theory, people who have reached a high level of success or mastery of a certain skill have not done so without time, practice, and effort. They posit that anyone can achieve mastery (or, at least, be really good at something) if they’re willing to dedicate themselves to the work. By looking at perfect pitch, chess players, London cab drivers, and a number of other endeavors, the authors conclude that deliberate practice with well-defined, specific goals is the necessary component for expertise. The specific number of hours isn’t really the question, despite what Gladwell has popularized; instead, it’s that many hours of deliberate practice just outside one’s current level of ability are what lead to development and, eventually, mastery. This book provides good inspiration for anyone who’s trying to improve a skill and questioning whether their regular practice will ever amount to anything nearing greatness. (Review)

sportsgeneThe Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein. I am, perhaps, the least sporty person in the world (I like personal fitness, but team sports…you can miss me with that), but the question of why some groups of people tend to dominate certain sports is intriguing to me. Unlike the first two books I’ve mentioned, this one isn’t as much about how to improve your own abilities as it is about exploring the question of nature vs. nurture and explaining the factors that contribute to athletic success. I’ll go ahead and spoil the answer to that first question: It’s both. While some people are born with physical characteristics that predispose them to success in a certain sport–height, for example–that success can’t be achieved without a number of other needs being met. One of the topics that interested me was why people from certain countries, like Kenya and Jamaica, dominate at running events; it turns out that this has quite a bit more to do with culture and the way athletes are coached than it has to do with any innate talent. Similarly, I enjoyed Epstein’s dive into the question of why black people seem to be better at sports overall, an answer that has a lot to do with the fact of a great amount of genetic diversity among people of African descent and nothing to do with black people just being good at sports. The benefit of this book is that it shows that “talent” often depends less on intrinsic qualities and much more on the external influences around us. (I read this book before I started keeping my blog, so there’s no review to link to with this one.)

Now it’s your turn! What topic do you find you keep coming back to? What would you like to be more of an expert in? What books would you like to read that would further educate you on a particular topic? Lin up below, and don’t forget that you can also join Jaymi at The OC Book Girl for the Instragram challenge every day. The hashtag there and on twitter is #NonficNov. I look forward to hearing all of your answers in the comments and your posts!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

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55 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the Expert / Ask the Expert / Become the Expert

    • It’s really good, as we often think that doing easy things makes us happy. It’ll really make you think about how pushing ourselves to do things slightly harder than our comfort levels actually brings us more satisfaction. It’s great motivation for embarking on anything that’s moderately challenging.

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  2. The Sports Gene looks a very good read and I’m adding it to my wish list – I’ve seen and read a fair bit about the myths around Black Caribbean and African athletes and sprinting and East African athletes and long-distance running and it’s good to have more to debunk the dodgy assumptions that are being made.

    I might have had more than three on my list! I’ll add it when the Linky is open. Thanks for hosting this week!

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    • Glad you enjoyed the pick! It’s such an interesting topic, and it goes far beyond the obviously erroneous belief that black people are just good at sports. In all, it certainly makes people rethink assumptions about why some people appear to be better at things than others.

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    • I definitely think they’re related, and both subjects are addressed in Flow. It’s not reaching an objective level of peak performance that necessarily brings us happiness, but aiming to achieve just a bit more than we did before. Continuing to challenge ourselves, rather than only doing easy things, may seem counterintuitive, but it turns out we crave challenges, just as long as they aren’t too hard. The rewards are very much worth the effort.

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    • Hahaha…yeah, this is something I’ve come to realize. He has some good ideas, but the way he tries to incorporate them into the popular consciousness often lacks nuance. The Sports Gene was surprisingly interesting, given that I never want to kick a ball in my life!

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  9. Haha, Veronica, what a cheeky topic – but a good one. It’s interesting coming up with new topics each year, but this year I went serious, with Climate Change. I added it to the Link thingy!

    I’m not sporty either, but I love to watch tennis, Olympics swimming, Figure skating – and am fascinated by the same thing you are, so the Sports Gene interests me. I remember hearing once that there was a “risk-taking” gene which results in some people loving things like free climbing, walking tightropes without safety harnesses etc. Gives me the absolute heeby jeebies.

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  15. The “Peak” book sounds fascinating. It reminded me of a book called Know Your Strengths which said that most organisations make the mistake of getting employees to focus on improving their weak spots where they should be getting them to work on what is already a strength – and making that even stronger.

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  18. I’ve really enjoyed reading your review of productivity books and pop psychology, because both are topics I’m always excited to learn more about. I think both topics feel like they have the potential to help me improve myself and that appeals to me.

    I almost included The Sports Gene in my list on genetics and genomics, but I decided it wasn’t quite focused enough on that topic. I’d definitely recommend though, so I’m glad to see it on your list 🙂

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    • I’m glad to hear someone else enjoyed The Sports Gene as much as I did! I agree that it’s not as much about genetics and genomics as it is about the nature/nurture debate, which gets a bit into sociology, as well. I love reading books that either help me better understand myself or teach me to improve myself. That’s a pretty wide genre, and lots of duds in there, but I’m happy to have found some gems.

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