What to Read This Weekend: Why Nice Baboons Finish First, Leadership Requires Solitude, and Humans are Naturally Empathic


Hi everyone,

Here are this weekend’s reading suggestions:

1. “Solitude and Leadership”: This brilliant essay by William Deresiewicz was just nominated for a National Magazine Award. It was adapted from a speech the author gave to the plebe class at West Point, and argues that leadership and moral courage require quiet contemplation. It also says that intimate, one-on-one interactions lead to higher understanding than does group socializing. Reading it will give you that pleasing sensation of watching a ridiculously articulate person champion ideas that you’ve always felt to be true.

2. Do you know the work of primatologist Robert Sapolksy? He’s one of the most intellectually winsome minds I’ve ever come across. Sapolsky ventures into the African jungle every summer, where he interprets the social life of baboon society in ways that are meaningful, profound (and funny) for us humans back home. I recommend his books “Monkeyluv” and “The Trouble With Testosterone,” and in the meantime, please get acquainted with Sapolsky, here. (See especially the bit about how nice baboons finish first.)

3. The Empathic Civilisation: Here’s a fascinating video based on Jeremy Rifkin’s recent book of the same name (which I haven’t read yet so I can’t comment on it. ) Rifkin argues that empathy is the primary drive of human beings, and that violence, narcissism and matieralism are secondary drives exaggerated by our current systems of parenting, education, and government. Whether or not he convinces you – after all, there’s plenty of brutality among primates, and they have no middle schools, or houses of representatives – his video is thought-provoking. Rifkin also believes that our awareness of death – which we don’t share with animals – makes us more empathic. We start to understand around age eight how precious and precarious life is, and we feel for others in the same predicament.

Happy reading! As always, I’d love to know which picks you like, and to hear your reading suggestions too.

*Thanks to Al Cain, my grand father-in-law, for alerting me to the Solitude and Leadership essay.




  1. Susie on 08.04.2011 at 14:33 (Reply)

    Intriguing! I look forward to be enlightened in the sociobiology/primatology front. Also, thanks for mentioning that empathy arises around eight. I’ve been concerned that my seven year old was a proto-sociopath (not really, but some days . . .). I enjoy your blog because it challenges our assumptions.

  2. Kyra on 11.05.2011 at 10:41 (Reply)

    Thank you! These are great suggestions.

  3. Danielle on 12.05.2011 at 20:05 (Reply)

    Dear Susan:

    Just finished reading the article by primatologist Robert Sapolksy. Does this guy know how to tell a good story or what!! It’s been a while since I’ve had such a good laugh. But it is encouraging to know that nice baboons finish first. Now if we could just get human beings to follow their lead, we’d be all set.

    I could just picture Benjamin looking under the jeep… what a cut-up.

    Thanks for bringing this article to our attention. It was terrific.


  4. Danielle on 15.05.2011 at 15:43 (Reply)

    I just finished reading “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz.


  5. Danielle on 15.05.2011 at 15:55 (Reply)

    I just finished reading “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz.

    A. This man deserves a medal.

    B. Unfortunately, anyone who dares to think for himself and take a stand for what he believes in is going to ram head first into a brick wall. We live in a world of conformity and anyone who dares to rock the boat gets axed. I congratulate him for trying to turn things around, but he’s outnumbered and so are the young people he gives these talks to. It’s a crying shame, but that’s a fact. I’ve seen it my whole life in each and every office I’ve ever worked in.

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Quiet: The Book

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Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

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1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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