In 2014, I woke up covered in my own blood.
I was one year into my master’s program, juggling two part-time jobs, planning a proposal to my now wife, and trying to get a writing career off the ground.
To say that it was stressful is an understatement. Every minute of the day was accounted for. But I enjoyed it. I loved feeling like I was finally making headway in so many areas of my life. Progress can be addicting and I was hooked.
But my insane pace eventually caught up with me. Low-grade stomach pain hummed in the background of my busy days, until one night at about 3 am, it woke me with a scream.
That pain was the beginning of ulcers, and that night, one of them ruptured.
The pain was intense, but what got me, even more, was the fear. Depending upon the type and location of your ulcer, when one ruptures, it can send up a black, bloody, acid-filled liquid up and out of your body.
That’s what I work up covered in. And it just kept coming… for almost 90 full minutes.
I didn’t want to spare you any of the graphic details because when I say that adopting a slower pace saved my life, I mean it literally.
Going slow pushed against everything in my nature, everything I was taught, and everything I saw in the successful people around me. But as I embraced the philosophy, I started to understand the advantages it offered over constant-speed.
Slow is not the enemy of success. When done right, it’s the only way to get there.
The Slow philosophy many of us are familiar with today traces its roots back to the Slow Food Movement, which began in the late 1980s as a response to a McDonald's moving into the Eternal City (Rome, Italy).
A journalist by the name of Carlo Petrini saw this contrast between the immediate and the eternal as too much. So he spoke up and sparked a revolution that rippled across the world.
Today, you can find slow cities, slow churches, and even slow-technology advocates. Slow offers supporters a more sustainable rate of growth and exploration than our current world.
This is one of the most attractive parts of the slow revolution: the multitude of beneficial side effects.
Adopting a slower pace in my personal life equated to overall better health (physically, mentally, emotionally). I was also able to make more progress towards what mattered most. When you have the constraint of going slow, as a consequence, you also have to do less. But you’ll find that when you have an abbreviated to-do list, you end up only adding what truly matters to your plate.
In the same way, these principles play out at scale when large groups of people and organizations adopt the slow principles. The environment heals and the economy becomes less volatile.
We need more slow in our world and these books can help us do just that.
Carl Honore deserves credit for bringing what was primarily a European movement to the Americas. A journalist by trade, he found both his personal and professional lives becoming consumed with speed. The rush got so bad that at one point, he found himself thrilled at discovering 1-minute bedtime stories he could read to his son so that he could save a few more minutes in the evening.
That moment was a wakeup call for Carl. If he was trying to rush through something as precious as reading to his child, what was he really valuing with his life? And how could he choose differently?
His search led him to the slow movement, a reasonably small community spread across the globe dedicated to spending their time, and their lives, differently.
One aspect I respect about this book is that the author doesn’t rely on erudite solutions to our speed addiction. Eliminating technology, or many of the other creature comforts we have grown accustomed to, isn’t the answer.
Instead, we must look for balance. When and where does it make sense to go slow? And also, fast? In a healthy society, the two are not mutually exclusive but interdependent. We need both if we are going to create lives and communities we are proud of.
Slow Food is an anthology that captures the heart of the original movement.
Edited by a gifted trio of writers, including the movement’s founder Carlo Petrini, this book offers readers over 100 of the best articles from the acclaimed Slow journal (a popular magazine across Europe).
If you're a fan of shows like Chef's Table on Netflix (this show is literally perfection for foodies), then this is a book for you. The articles dance across the spectrum from practical to theoretical, offering insights into the world of farming, design, business, and of course, cooking.
I included this book on our list because I think it's vital that we understand how the slow movement got its start, and more importantly, how we can begin applying it to our everyday lives. Making small changes to the way we eat is an excellent way to begin.
Whether we realize it or not, our lives are heavily influenced by the rhythm of our meals. What we choose to eat, how we eat it, where we eat, and who we eat with all deeply impact our health, relationships, and finances.
A better relationship with our food can be the gateway to so many good things in our lives, and this book shows us how.
After working in higher education for nearly a decade, I can confirm, first-hand, that a book like this is badly needed.
The phrase “publish or perish” might be a joke in many of our contexts, but it produces a growing amount of anxiety for those who find their professional and economic fates tied up in those three words.
Higher education was founded on the principles of deep thought, collaboration, and quality over quantity. So when you read about how modern tenure practices, hiring rules, and financial mis-priorities have stripped away these values, it’s enough to make any sane person sick to their stomach.
The books’ argument is bolstered by the fact that it was written by two professors, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, who are currently working within the system to change it. Their insider knowledge is what makes the book equal parts engaging and frustrating.
One piece which stood out to me was their discussion of time management. This subject calls out colleges’ attempts to distill many of the institutional problems of speed down to individual blame. Suddenly, it's not that the system is placing too much burden on a person, but rather that person simply doesn't manage their time well enough. Exposing this issue is the first step to remedying it.
If you, or someone you know, works in the field of higher education I recommend picking this book up.
Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite modern writers, so when I saw that his latest work was diving into the theme of slowness I was thrilled.
Stillness offers a broad overview of slowness as an alternative pace to life. But what Ryan does so well is offer specific, practical applications to so many distinctly modern scenarios where speed is the assumed default.
The book's use of historical examples is one of my favorite parts, because it moves the context of the slow conversation from a recent phenomenon to one that has been happening for millennia. The obsession we have with speed may look different in our world because of technology, but at its core, it's a problem humanity has faced for quite some time.
Learning this fact will hopefully give readers some relief. They are not broken. Speed didn’t become our default because we did something wrong. Rather, its human challenge. And one we can engage with human solutions.
James Gleick is a different kind of writer, and I respect that about his work. His books play with the themes of science and technology, but usually in angles not seen in the mainstream, which makes his insights truly unique.
In Faster, Gleick addresses the "hurry sickness" so many of us now live within our modern age. A disease that keeps us constantly moving, with little time for anything else.
This was a key insight from his work. We assume that by going faster, we include more in our lives. More experiences, more relationships, more stuff. Where in reality, speed is more accurately about replacement. We trade the meaningful slow for the meaningless instant.
For most people, going fast costs us more than it offers. Which is why an alternative is so badly needed.
If Slow Food, the book mentioned above, educates readers on all the benefits of slowing down, Fast Food Nation accomplishes the polar opposite.
A book filled with fascinating, albeit terrifying, accounts of how fast food has changed our world, it succeeds at showing the high cost we have paid for convenience.
The author, Eric Schlosser, exposes the economic, health, and environmental impacts of the chains we have come to know as a staple of the American culture.
Even though this book released nearly a decade ago, the stir around it has only grown during that time. Especially as we move towards a more health-conscious nation. Hopefully, its lessons can help us refrain from making the same mistakes again.
I chose to include a segment of books, rather than another singular title, in this list because I believe they are one of the most effective ways to apply the slow mentality to our daily practice.
I once read that the ideal reading schedule was one new book followed by one old book (100+ years is a good place to start). This offered readers a type of grounding, or historical context, that we often lose by only reading current thoughts and trends.
Old books challenge us differently than new books because the authors themselves faced different challenges. Their worlds looked wildly different than ours, which enables their words to speak into our situations unlike any living authors could.
My recommendation is to start with an anthology like this one and read a section after each new book you complete. You can also find historical anthologies on science, fiction, and many other topics.
You’d be surprised how timeless much of what they wrote hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago turns out to be.
I’ve written at least a dozen times about this book over the last year because I believe it should be required reading for every human.
In his book, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-winning psychologist, breaks down how our minds work and why. He illuminates the assumptions we make, why we make them, and how we can guard against poor decision-making scenarios so that we can do better.
Much of the book’s argument centers around the two competing systems we have in our heads. One system wants to go slow, to analyze, to grind through all of the data until we reach a sound conclusion. While the other is racing to keep us alive and, as a result, uses forces like intuition and familiarity to drive us to quick decisions – whether or not they are best.
The goal is to learn how each system works so that you can make sure you are using the appropriate one for the circumstance you find yourself in.
I’ve included this book because learning how and when to think slow is vital to implementing more slow practices elsewhere in our lives. A slower world must begin with a slower us.
In a similar strain to the book above, The Things You Can See, takes a philosophical approach to the speed-addiction in our modern world.
Written by a Buddhist meditation teacher, Haemin Sunim, this book explores several areas of our lives where we have allowed speed to strip away our peace and happiness.
But rather than focusing our attention on what’s gone wrong in the world, Sunim asks readers, “Is it the world that’s busy, or is it my mind?” This transition from external to internal is an important one.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this article, many of the solutions we hope to promote through a slow movement must begin with us. They have to start as small choices we make. Small adjustments we choose to apply to our behavior, our reactions, and our priorities.
If slow is what the world needs, then we are the remedy.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own work on the subject. Slow is a short but valuable piece that offers readers a practical way to apply slow.
Over three sections, I move from the history of the slow movement into its future, while highlighting many of the key figures who have made it what it is today. With that, I also wanted to start a real conversation about the role of speed in our lives.
Like Carl Honore and Carlo Petrini, I believe the best lives we can live strike a balance between the world’s call to speed up, and our internal call to slow down. And the challenge is more doable than we think.
You can buy Slow: An Essay on Amazon now.
If you found this list helpful, share it with one person you believe would benefit by adopting a slower pace in life. And if there are any slow books that have profoundly improved your life, please take a second to write the book’s title in the comment section below.
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