Best of 2018

Cheers friends,

Here we are again. Another year older and hopefully wiser than before.

Thought we’d start off 2019 with a quick look back at each of our personal favorites from 2018. 

Thanks, as always, for reading.

- Ben, Max, and Nick

How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
By Michael Pollan
Book, 480 pages
Recommended by Nick

In the opening chapter of How To Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan cites a 1981 claim that LSD and other psychedelics have the potential to impact our understanding of human consciousness in a similar way that the microscope and telescope upended their respective fields of biology and astronomy. Hippie clichés cast aside. This is no joke.

The storied history of psychedelics — 60s heyday, countermovement, ban and backlash — is interspersed with accounts of Pollan’s own trip experiences ranging from psilocybin mushrooms to rare toad venom. In what he describes as "ineffable," Pollan's travelogues help us grasp what these drugs can tell us about our collective state of being, and at times alter our understanding of consciousness itself.

It makes sense that research funding is beginning to pour in at a record rate. That teaching hospitals like Johns Hopkins and NYU are seeing new levels of success using hallucinogens to treat addiction, depression, and PTSD; and that they have had a remarkable impact easing end-of-life anxiety.

How To Change Your Mind provides a timely reminder that we should embrace the unknown without fear. In doing this on our behalf, Pollan proves that the trip inward is nothing short of extraordinary.

First Man
Starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy
Movie, Directed by Damien Chazelle
Recommended by Max

I saw First Man in a crowded New York city IMAX. When the credits rolled and the crowd filtered out, I sat still in my seat, felt the pull of gravity, and said out loud to no one in particular that it might have been the best movie I’ve ever seen.

Yes, this is a gorgeous film. Yes, it’s an immersive masterpiece (especially in IMAX). But how you really perceive First Man and what you take away from it will run deeper than an appreciation for cinematography. I’ve always thought that the best stories tell us about ourselves too, and for me this was much more than a space flick about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.

Who hasn’t felt the turbulence? Director Damien Chazelle seems to ask, as Ryan Gosling catapults through the screen, a shaky camera capturing his ascents to the unknown. Who hasn't looked up to the stars and sought answers?

We all have our moonshots, our missions to become greater than ourselves. Like Armstrong’s, they’re tangled in ambition and pursuit, love and loss, grief and hope. And If we're bound by anything at all, it's our collective ability to wonder.

Not that Chazelle captures all of this in a single movie. But I thought he came pretty damn close.

Can’t Hurt Me
By David Goggins
Book, 364 pages
Recommended by Ben

David Goggins is an ex Navy Seal, professional ultra marathoner, world record holder in pull-ups and wildlands firefighter with a biography that is the story of him against himself. The things I learned about mental toughness through this book surprised me. Instead of taking the view that mental toughness is a series of psychological tricks, Goggins views body and spirit as able to be commanded and conquered through constantly facing our own limitations.

While this idea may seem tired - we are after all inundated with hollow aphorisms by the likes of athletes and the Rock - Goggins’ autobiography shows rather than tells. Running on literally stress fractured ankles, doing pull ups on exposed flesh, running through frost bitten toes and fingers - this is a tale of a man putting himself in positions where death is very possible by choice. Goggins attributes his success to enjoyment of the pain that comes through brushing up against perceived human limits. Importantly, he stresses how this enjoyment was learned. The takeaway from this book for me was that where and when we give up is a choice - and that we can choose not to give up at all.

Won't You Be My Neighbor
Directed by Morgan Neville
Documentary
Recommended by all of us

This Fred Rogers documentary is an exploration of one man’s belief that children deserve better than popular television. Rogers’ immense respect for children - their ability to understand what is difficult, to interact with complicated and non-black-and-white ideas - drives a documentary that is not for the faint of heart. Someone as mission-driven as Rogers is fascinating to watch. The gift he gave his audience is delivered again through what we feel was among the best films of the year.

Ben Brostoff