100 books later, here are the top 5 unexpected things that blew my mind.

Anna Palmer
9 min readJan 5, 2020

Last year, inspired by one of my XFactor partners Danielle Morrill, I set a goal to consume as many books as I could. For the last 12 months I’ve kept notes in margins, highlighted screenshots, and dog-eared pages to revisit later. The effort led me through the depths of quantum mechanics, urban planning, life hacking, neuroscience and more (full list of 100 at the bottom of this post). To sum it up, in the words of one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs: “What a long, strange, trip it’s been.”

This isn’t a post about the profound things I learned that altered my view of life, the universe and everything — if you want that version, ask me sometime over drinks (I’ll even buy if you got that reference). Instead, here are the top 5 surprises from things I read.

1. If you want to hit your goals, rearrange your living room.

When Olmsted & Vaux designed Central Park, they created walkways that subtly pushed visitors towards the center of the park. This idea of the physical environment influencing human behavior has been used for years- it’s why you always leave Target with more than what you went in for (last time, I came home with a nightlight shaped as an airstream trailer. No regrets, it’s actually awesome). However, we rarely think about environmental design where we spend the most time: our homes. We put a TV as the focal point of the living room and then are frustrated when we spend our weekends binging on Netflix. We hide our gyms in our basements and then get mad at ourselves for not working out. We put outlets and phone chargers next to our beds and then lament the fact we stay up scrolling social media.

If you want to radically change your life, use the tricks of design to change your physical space to push you towards your goals. The Peloton commercials with a bike in the living room may look absurd, but if you want to work out every day, making you step over it is a good way to nudge you to do it. If you want to read more, leave books laying out around the house. If you want to cook more, leave your pots and pans on the stove. In a radical move, my husband and I both moved our passion projects to the living room and the kitchen counter. It may be messy, but it worked. If you want to go deeper on design and its influence, I suggest Happy City by Charles Montgomery.

2. There are actually two of you living in your head, not just one.

There is a famous case of a patient that had the connection between the two sides of his brain severed to eliminate his life-threatening seizures. On the outside, he seemed to be progressing well. That is, until he went to hug his wife and while one arm embraced her, the other hit her in the face (unclear if his left brain then stayed married while his right got a divorce). Following this, there were a number of experiments done isolating the left and right hemispheres. It was discovered that he wasn’t an anomaly- it turns out the two halves of a human brain can have entirely different answers to questions like what they want to be when they grow up and if they believe in God. If you’ve ever felt crazy for simultaneously both loving AND hating that “This Is How You Remind Me” song by Nickleback, it might just be your two consciousnesses talking. If you want to go deep on this, check out The Future of The Mind by Michio Kaku.

3. Speaking of twos, thanks to quantum mechanics, something can be in two places at once.

Stick with me here…it’s about to get weird. Do you remember that game “Red Light, Green Light, Dynamite, Boom!” you played as a kid? If you didn’t grow up in the 90’s in the Midwest, it’s where everyone would start moving towards you and when you said “Boom” and turned around, they would freeze. In quantum mechanics, electrons work a bit like that. Scientists launched a stream of electrons and noticed when they weren’t being observed, the electrons behaved as a wave. Just like when your friends are moving all over the place as your back is turned. But…the moment they were observed, they changed from an amorphous wave to manifest as a solid particle in a single place. Like when you turned around and went “boom” and your friends were frozen solid. This is a rough simplification, but they discovered it is the act of observing it that makes the electron appear where it is in space. This doesn’t mean you can yell “boom” and suddenly have particles arrange to manifest a Tesla, but there are some pretty wild implications. If you want to go deep on this, read The Greatest Story Ever Told by Lawrence M. Krauss.

4. Wild card- squirrels were put in parks by city officials just to make people happier.

I know this isn’t anything profound, but the lessons behind it are interesting and applicable. City officials in Philadelphia introduced the first small batches of squirrels to city parks under the theory that being close to nature provided a sense of calm, rest, and respite to city dwellers. Other cities quickly followed and soon, thanks to things unexpectedly working out more like The Bachelor than Animal Planet, the population of squirrels exploded in America’s cities. The next time you pass a squirrel on a concrete sidewalk, remember it was put there intentionally to connect you back to nature. The effects of greenery and natural landscapes on the human condition have been scientifically proven, and so if you are looking for a quick happiness boost, try taking a walk among shade trees or putting potted plants in your windows. If you want to learn more about the effects of our surroundings, I suggest The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

5. You can change your life in one minute a day.

Yes, you heard that right — one minute. Our brains are a magical place that default to autopilot. If they didn’t, we would burn so much energy we would literally think ourselves to death, like your car engine overheating. This means if you want to do something new, the hard part isn’t finishing, it’s building a new path for your brain to follow. In the book “Atomic Habits”, the author tells a story of a guy who wanted to start working out more. Every day, he would lace up his tennis shoes, walk into the gym, hop on the treadmill for one minute, and then walk out. Since it’s easy to work out for one minute, he established going to the gym as a habit and never skipped. Soon, that minute turned into five then ten, then he found himself working out daily. This means if you want to be the type of person that rides 100 miles on your bike, start by changing into biker shorts, riding to the end of your driveway, turning around, and putting your bike away. Do this every day for a few weeks and you’ll eventually be cruising around the streets in no time (though you may have become the talk of the neighborhood in the process). Check out Atomic Habits by James Clear if you want to lean into this.

For those of you looking to follow along, here is my full list from last year. I put asterisks next to a few of my favorites.

Physics/Quantum Mechanics:

  1. Brief Answers to Big Questions by Stephen Hawking
  2. The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind
  3. The God Particle by Leon M. Lederman, Dick Teresi
  4. Relativity by Albert Einstein
  5. Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli
  6. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli*
  7. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking
  8. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far by Lawrence M. Krauss

Cities and Citizenship:

9. On The Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

10. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton

11. Alienated America by Timothy P. Carney*

12. Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas*

13. Tribe by Sebastian Junger

14. Tribes by Seth Godin

15. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

16. Seeking Bipartisanship by Ray Lahood

17. Urban Planning for Dummies by Jordan Yin

18. The Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser

19. Jane Jacobs The Last Interview by Jane Jacobs

20. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

21. Happy City by Charles Montgomery*

22. When to Rob a Bank by Stephen J. Dubner, Steven Levitt

23. Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell

24. Food Security, Farming and Climate Change to 2050

Neuroscience/How the Brain Works:

25. Thinking Fast and Slow by ‎Daniel Kahneman

26. Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky

27. Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths

28. Nudge by Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein

29. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Joshua Waitzkin

30. How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil

31. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

32. Decisive by Dan Heath, Chip Heath

33. The Power of Moments by Dan Heath, Chip Heath

34. Law of Attraction by D. D’apollonio

35. The Future of the Mind by Machio Kaku*

36. E-Squared by Pam Grout

37. Attached by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller

Startups & Technology

38. Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

39. The Membership Economy by Robbie Kellman Baxter

40. Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen*

41. Traction by Gino Wickman

42. Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman

43. Influencer by Brittney Hennessy

44. Mastering the VC Game by Jeff Bussgang

45. The Myth of the Garage by Dan Heath & Chip Heath

46. Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz*

47. Small Data by Martin Lindstrom

48. Lab Rats by Daniel Lyons

49. The E-myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

50. 1 Million Followers by Brendan Kane

51. The Challenger Sale by Dixon and Adamson

52. Start This. Stop That. by Jennifer Cowart, Jim Cowart

53. Technology as a Service Playbook by Thomas Lah & J.B. Wood

54. Grind: A No BS Approach to Take Your Business from Concept to Cash Flow by Michael J. McFall

55. Stretch by Scott Sonenshein

Executive Coaching, Habits, Productivity & Self Improvement:

56. Finish by Jon Acuff

57. The Dip by Seth Godin

58. The Second Mountain by David Brooks*

59. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

60. Financially Fearless by Alexa Von Tobel

61. Love Does by Bob Goff

62. Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna

63. 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington

64. Extreme Productivity by Robert Pozen

65. Letting Go

66. Atomic Habits by James Clear*

67. Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

68. The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth

69. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig

70. The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

71. The One Thing by Gary W. Keller, Jay Papasan

72. Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

73. Radical Candor by Kim Scott

74. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

75. Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart, Randy Street

76. Range by David Epstein

Biographies & Memoirs:

77. Grant by Ron Chernow*

78. Theodore Roosevelt For the Defense by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

79. Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin*

80. Jens Jenson Writings Inspired by Nature

81. William Shatner Live Long And…

82. Ronald Reagan- His Essential Wisdom

83. Educated by Tara Westover*

84. Fast Girl by Suzy Favor Hamilton

85. Heartland by Sarah Smarsh


86. The Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card

87. Artemis by Andy Weir

88. Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson

89. The Other Einstein by Heather Terrell

90. Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams*

91. Foundation by Isaac Asimov

92. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

93. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens*

94. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick


95. Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell

96. Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni

97. Bicycles by Nikki Giovanni

98. A Good Cry by Nikki Giovanni

99. Whiskey Words & a Shovel I by R.H Sin

100. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou



Anna Palmer

Co-Founder @ Dough & Investor @ XFactor Ventures. On a mission to help women rise with our wallets.