Jon Krohn, Ph.D.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

Adams’ classic was delightfully amusing to read while he managed to evocatively bring home his serious core themes of human adaptation to technological change (automation) and the futility of the search for meaning. The novel provided me with the background on various cultural memes (e.g., the Babel fish; the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything that “42” answers; “so long, and thanks for all the fish”). Some quotes particularly resonated with me, including:

  • “[Ford] started to count to ten. He was desperately worried that one day sentient life forms would forget how to do this. Only by counting could humans demonstrate their independence from computers.”

  • Zaphod: “I only know as much about myself as my mind can work out under its current conditions. And its current conditions are not good.”

  • Slartibartfast: “Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway.”

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide: “The history of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

It seems that my whole life people have been recommending this book to me so I was excited to read it. A terrifically easy read, in simple language with plenty of repetition, the tale follows the journey of an Andalusian shepherd to find treasure at the pyramids of Egypt, and becomes increasingly fantastical — for my taste, to a fault — along the way. Some of Coelho’s core themes — the primacy of love, the interconnectedness of everything including to God — reminded me of the Gita.

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Two precocious children — a blind French girl and an electromagnetism-obsessed German boy — grow up as national socialism scorches the societies around them. In this rich, tense work of fiction, the vivid accounts of visual, auditory and tactile phenomena are interweaved with engrossing scientific, mathematical and historical details. Doerr’s deeply imaginative development of characters and scenes, as well as his reflections upon the complexities of human thoughts and behaviours, spun a vivid and harrowing tale that closes in Paris’s Jardin des Plantes, which I visited while reading the book.

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

The content covered by YNH — anthropological, historical, scientific and philosophical, with occasional emphases on Buddhism and mindfulness — delved into countless topics I reflect on day in and day out. His writing was clear, concise and playful, and the book left me feeling centred and optimistic about projections involving our species (war, automation, biotechnological augmentation) and planet (climate change, ecological destruction, gene editing) that prominent aspects of my consciousness have found troubling for years. I couldn’t shut up about the facts and ideas I distilled from the text as I read it; Sapiens is my favourite work of non-fiction.

Mastery - Robert Greene

I didn’t love Robert Greene’s writing style — I found it dry and pedantic — and so I waded slowly through Mastery over nine months or so. I kept making my through the book, however, because I found Greene’s biographies of masters — classical and contemporary; across the sciences, arts, and commerce — fascinating, practically informative, and inspiring. The lessons Greene learned from intensively studying the masters were grouped into themes (spread over three life phases: apprentice, creative-active, and ultimately, master) that inform one’s own personal strategy to attaining an innovative and productive life. I’d recommend checking out the “concise” version of the book — if I could go back in time, it’d be the edition that I’d read.



Bhagavad Gita - Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (Trans.)

Aldous Huxley's coverage -- within the introduction -- of the four fundamental doctrines at the core of Perennial Philosophy (i.e., universal religious concepts) resonated well with me, bringing perspective and extra weight to the main text. In contrast with the inflexible, versed Nikhilananda translation of the Gita, Prabhavananda and Isherwood took more liberties, often writing prose and selecting straightforward, modern English. Perhaps because it was a second reading or because the opening chapter of Ram Dass' Paths to God provided literary context within the broader Hindu epic Mahabharata, I found this translation more relatable, leading to a more persistent impact on my perceptions and actions. 


LogicomixApostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou

Beautiful illustrated visual imagery; turn a page and pow -- new theme! At a high level, learned a about the British logician Bertrand Russell's fascinating family, his transformative academic work, as well as the mathematical philosophies of his contemporaries, e.g., Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Vienna Circle of Logical Empiricism. Provided a list of classic philosophy topics to delve more deeply into.


Yoga Anatomy, 2nd EditionLeslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews

Deepened my understanding of the mechanisms of inhalation and expiration, enhancing my conscious experience of breath day-to-day. I didn't love the writing style though I appreciated their rigorous, technical approach to anatomy and physiology. The second half of the book -- detailing individual asanas -- will serve as a practical reference for years to come.


Thinking, Fast and SlowDaniel Kahneman

Delightful book, heaving with economic psychology studies as well as Kahneman's own informed intuitions on the magnificent strengths as well as the related blindspots of our fast (System 1) and laborious (System 2) thinking approaches. The summary wrapped up more quickly than I was anticipating, so am hoping we have much more to learn from the Nobel prize-winning economist. The distinction between the two often-adversarial selves that constitutes each of us -- the remembering self and the experiencing self -- has remained with me in particular, generating recurrent pause for further reflection. 

IslandAldous Huxley

The prolific English writer’s ultimate major work, I read this novel slowly from April through October — an emotional, transformative period in which I struggled to complete my own first book manuscript, culminating in the discovery of a somewhat more compassionate (karuna), present and softer (sukha) iteration on myself. In parallel, Huxley’s protagonist Will Farnaby progressed from sarcastic, cynical and inward-looking to aware of the quotes around “I”, the ubiquity of Self, and the aesthetic bliss of the material world (as in “physical substance”, not as in consumer culture) — largely via dialogue with a sagacious cast of characters and, in the final chapter, exposure to psychedelic mushrooms. A deliberate counter to Huxley’s better-known anti-utopian Brave New World, the Island setting of Pala was his vision for an ideal that blends together eastern philosophy (Hinduism, Buddhism) and mindfulness with western science and technology.



Neuralink and the Brain's Magical Future - Tim Urban

In his characteristic, inimitable style that blends technical content with humour and memorable illustrations, Tim at long last publishes his introductory neuroscience piece. To mind-bending effect, he carefully applies this foundational material to contemporary brain-machine interfaces, persuasively drawing a line of trajectory from the Gutenberg printing press to the society-upending "wizard hats" of coming decades. 


Born to Run - Christopher McDougall

Pulling disparate strands of research together -- e.g., physiological, anatomical, anthropological -- Christopher develops a compelling overarching hypothesis that humans evolved to fit a novel predatory niche: hunting prey to death by chasing them slowly over many hours. While he butchers some of the science, the tales he recounts are gripping and the practical content galvanised, lightened, and enlightened my existing endurance-running practice. 


The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron

As a secular scientist, I harboured initial reservation over Julia's incorporation of terms like spiritual and God into the text, but she later assuaged my concerns. There's no hyperbole in the statement that the weekly readings, questions and activities in this guide dramatically transformed my life for the better. The daily-pages and creativity-date habits that this book ingrained in me facilitated a rapid metamorphosis from an efficient-executor-alone into a dreamer as well. 


Deskbound - Kelly Starrett

Three sentences appearing here soon. 


An Open HeartTenzin Gyatso, edited by Nicholas Vreeland

In straightforward language that renders subtle material readily tangible, Nicholas Vreeland summarises three days of lectures given by the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, in New York in 1997. This summary covered Buddhist doctrine and rituals, meditation best-practices, and the personal and societal benefits of right thought and right action. The concepts resonated well with me, particularly the emphasis on creating knowledge for oneself through experience and reflection. 


The Lean StartupEric Ries

This book is a classic -- perhaps the must-read classic -- in the contemporary start-up world. In common with most modern business books, it is light on content and long on real-world analogies in offensively simplistic English. While drawn out unnecessarily, the topic is nevertheless valuable, describing Ries' agile system for iteratively scaling a data-driven enterprise, product, or service. 


Bhagavad Gita - Swami Nikhilananda (Trans.)

Alongside the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita is a text I regularly hear quotes from during the dharma talks that begin yoga classes. Knowing embarrassingly little about Hindu culture and wading through sometimes repetitive verses, I moved rather slowly through the first chapters of this 1944 translation by Swami Nikhilananda, which largely consists of the deity Krishna imparting advice to the warrior Arjuna as he weighs battle. The occasional thought-provoking verse in those early chapters gave way to a banquet of profound and practical life philosophy later on. I particularly profited from the detailed distinction between the three Gunas (roughly speaking, personality types), that is

  • rajas: attachment, overzealous action, greed, desire for the fruit of one's labour

  • tamas: ignorance, arrogance, deceitfulness, lack of regard for consequences

  • and the ideal of sattva: knowledge-seeking, lack of attachment, freedom from longing and action


The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

This engrossing novel rekindled my love of fiction. I did little else on the days I was reading it. I recommend this Pulitzer prize-winner time and again to folks who, like me, thought they might not enjoy leisure reading anymore. I borrowed this book from Judy Pastushchyn. 


Deep Work - Cam Newport

The first half of Cam's practical guide is concerned with making the case for deep work -- uninterrupted focus on a single task for up to hours at a time -- in a world that welcomes persistent distraction. The second half heaves with practical tips for gradually filling one's life with concentration. I have implemented many of Cam's suggestions and am looking forward to continue integrating more into my life because little brings me more fulfilment and bliss now than the the state of flow evoked by deep work.


On The Road - Jack Kerouac

The stream-of-consciousness style that Kerouac employs for his semi-autobiographical journey back and forth across the United States was not as riveting as I expected it would be. While the real-world Beatnik movement characters and their tales -- immortalised in the Greenwich Village landmarks around my home -- are memorable, I experienced long stretches of the book without feeling hooked to any palpable plot points. I struggled to get through to the end but after several months of effort trudged through the Mexican finale. 


All-Time Favourites


Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

Three sentences appearing here soon. 


Waking Up - Sam Harris

Three sentences appearing here soon. 


Watchmen - Alan Moore

Three sentences appearing here soon. 


Zero to One - Peter Thiel

Three sentences appearing here soon.