The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson: Summary & Notes

Front cover of the Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson.

In short

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant is a curated collection of tweets, interviews and podcasts from entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant. The book is broadly divided into two topics – wealth and happiness – and, in general, contains a lot of good advice. Naval is obviously an accomplished and wise person, but it’s good to remember that this is not a book written by him – it’s just a collection of his sayings, and so it lacks a bit of depth and narrative structure sometimes. Still very much recommended for the advice itself of course, but just remember what type of book you’re getting into.

For more details and reviews go to Amazon. The full book is also available online for free.

Book Summary & Notes

All text between quotation marks is taken directly from the book.

Part 1: Wealth

“Almost everything in your house, in your workplace, and on the street used to be technology at one point in time. There was a time when oil was a technology that made J.D. Rockefeller rich. There was a time when cars were technology that made Henry Ford rich.

So technology is the set of things, as Alan Kay said, that don’t quite work yet [correction: Danny Hillis]. Once something works, it’s no longer technology.”

“The specific knowledge is sort of this weird combination of unique traits from your DNA, your unique upbringing, and your response to it. It’s almost baked into your personality and your identity. Then you can hone it.” Examples of specific knowledge: sales skills, musical talents, obsessive personalities, absorbing knowledge quickly, et cetera.

“The best jobs are neither decreed nor degreed. They are creative expressions of continuous learners in free markets.”

“We live in an age of infinite leverage, and the economic rewards for genuine intellectual curiosity have never been higher. Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now. Knowledge only you know or only a small set of people knows is going to come out of your passions and your hobbies, oddly enough. If you have hobbies around your intellectual curiosity, you’re more likely to develop these passions.”

Three classes of leverage:

  1. Labor: oldest form of leverage, in the form of other people working for you. But arguably the worst form of leverage since it’s difficult and messy.
  2. Money: the most dominant form of leverage, scales very well.
  3. Products with no marginal cost of replication: a new form of leverage, which includes books, media, code.

Selling and building: both are broad categories, but to be successful you need to be good at one of them (or both). Building includes design, development, manufacturing, logistics, procurement. Selling includes direct sales to customers, marketing, communication, recruiting, fundraising, et cetera.

Avoiding risks of ruin and major downsides: “Stay out of things that could cause you to lose all of your capital, all of your savings. Don’t gamble everything on one go. Instead, take rationally optimistic bets with big upsides.”

Despising wealth and having a relative mindset:

“If you get into a relative mindset, you’re always going to hate people who do better than you, you’re always going to be jealous or envious of them. They’ll sense those feelings when you try and do business with them. When you try and do business with somebody, if you have any bad thoughts or any judgments about them, they will feel it. Humans are wired to feel what the other person deep down inside feels. You have to get out of a relative mindset.

Literally, being anti-wealth will prevent you from becoming wealthy, because you will not have the right mindset for it, you won’t have the right spirit, and you won’t be dealing with people on the right level. Be optimistic, be positive. It’s important. Optimists do better in the long run.”

“We spend very little time deciding which relationships to get into. We spend so much time in a job, but we spend so little time deciding which job to get into. Choosing what city to live in can almost completely determine the trajectory of your life, but we spend so little time trying to figure out what city to live in.”

“It’s actually really important to have empty space. If you don’t have a day or two every week in your calendar where you’re not always in meetings, and you’re not always busy, then you’re not going to be able to think. […]

It’s only after you’re bored you have the great ideas. It’s never going to be when you’re stressed, or busy, running around or rushed. Make the time.”

“It’s really important to be able to uncondition yourself, to be able to take your habits apart and say, “Okay, this is a habit I probably picked up when I was a toddler trying to get my parents attention. Now I’ve reinforced it and reinforced it, and I call it part of my identity. Does it still serve me? Does it make me happier? Does it make me healthier? Does it make me accomplish whatever I set out to accomplish?”

Simply heuristic: If you’re evenly split on a difficult decision, take the path more painful in the short term.

“The reality is, I don’t actually read much compared to what people think. I probably read one to two hours a day. That puts me in the top .00001 percent. I think that alone accounts for any material success I’ve had in my life and any intelligence I might have. Real people don’t read an hour a day. Real people, I think, read a minute a day or less. Making it an actual habit is the most important thing.

It almost doesn’t matter what you read. Eventually, you will read enough things (and your interests will lead you there) that it will dramatically improve your life. Just like the best workout for you is one you’re excited enough to do every day, I would say for books, blogs, tweets, or whatever – anything with ideas and information and learning – the best ones to read are the ones you’re excited about reading all the time.”

Part II: Happiness

“I believe happiness is really a default state. Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life.”

“People mistakenly believe happiness is just about positive thoughts and positive actions. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned, and the more I’ve experienced (because I verify this for myself), every positive thought essentially holds within it a negative thought. It is a contrast to something negative. The Tao Te Ching says this more articulately than I ever could, but it’s all about duality and polarity. If I say I’m happy, that means I was sad at some point. If I say he’s attractive, then somebody else is unattractive. Every positive thought even has a seed of a negative thought within it and vice versa, which is why a lot of greatness in life comes out of suffering. You have to view the negative before you can aspire to and appreciate the positive.”

“There’s a great definition I read: “Enlightenment is the space between your thoughts.” It means enlightenment isn’t something you achieve after thirty years of sitting on a mountaintop. It’s something you can achieve moment to moment, and you can be enlightened to a certain percent every single day.”

Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. I don’t think most of us realize that’s what it is. I think we go about desiring things all day long and then wonder why we’re unhappy. I like to stay aware of it, because then I can choose my desires very carefully. I try not to have more than one big desire in my life at any given time, and I also recognize it as the axis of my suffering. I realize the area where I’ve chosen to be unhappy.

“I don’t think life is that hard. I think we make it hard. One of the things I’m trying to get rid of is the word “should.” Whenever the word “should” creeps up in your mind, it’s guilt or social programming. Doing something because you “should” basically means you don’t actually want to do it. It’s just making you miserable, so I’m trying to eliminate as many “shoulds” from my life as possible.”

Single-player vs. Multiplayer games: most things in life we do for social, external validation (working out, making money, buying things). But happiness is a single-player game; you are born alone, die alone, and all interpretations and memories are yours alone. Since we only focus on multiplayer games, we don’t know how to play single-player games anymore.

“If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day.”

“Tell your friends you’re a happy person. Then, you’ll be forced to conform to it. You’ll have a consistency bias. You have to live up to it. Your friends will expect you to be a happy person.”

“Recover time and happiness by minimizing your use of these three smartphone apps: phone, calendar, and alarm clock.”

“Caught in a funk? Use meditation, music, and exercise to reset your mood. Then choose a new path to commit emotional energy for the rest of day.”

“No exceptions – all screen activities linked to less happiness, all non-screen activities linked to more happiness.”

A personal metric: how much of the day is spent doing things out of obligation rather than out of interest?

“I think almost everything that people read these days is designed for social approval. […] You’re doing it to fit in with the other monkeys. You’re fitting in to get along with the herd. That’s not where the returns are in life. The returns in life are being out of the herd.”

“I think that’s why the smartest and the most successful people I know started out as losers. If you view yourself as a loser, as someone who was cast out by society and has no role in normal society, then you will do your own thing and you’re much more likely to find a winning path. It helps to start out by saying: “I’m never going to be popular. I’m never going to be accepted. I’m already a loser. I’m not going to get what all the other kids have. I’ve just got to be happy being me.”

“Read everything you can. And not just the stuff that society tells you is good or even books that I tell you to read. Just read for its own sake. Develop a love for it. Even if you have to read romance novels or paperbacks or comic books. There’s no such thing as junk. Just read it all. Eventually, you’ll guide yourself to the things that you should and want to be reading.”

Interested in The Almanack of Naval Ravikant? Get the book on Amazon, or view the free PDF/online version.

Or, browse all book notes here.