War is about many things: glory, violence, courage, destruction. But at its heart is death. Each side in a conflict tries to kill as many of the enemy as possible, while avoiding being killed themselves.
The way these deaths have played out over thousands of years of warfare has changed not simply based on the way martial technology has changed, but also on the way that the psychological and cultural pressures that have led societies and individual men to fight have changed.
My guest today, Michael Stephenson, is a military historian who explores these evolutions in his book The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle. Today Michael and I discuss the forces that led soldiers to their fate over the centuries, from advancements in weaponry to the expectations of social class. At the beginning of our conversation Michael discusses why he wanted to write this book, and the balance he had to walk in trying to describe the reality of death on the battlefield, without conveying those details in a sensationalistic or titillating manner. We then trace the history of death in war, beginning with its primitive beginnings and working our way to the modern day. Along the way we discuss how gunpowder changed the nature of warfare, the effect that distance has on how heroic a confrontation seems, why artillery is particularly terrifying, what motivates soldiers to fight, and much more.
This is a surprisingly enlightening and humane look at an oft glossed over aspect of the human experience.
#612: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection
It's almost summer and you know what that means: grilling season is upon us. To help ensure that you have your best grilling season ever, today I talk to Matt Moore, AoM's resident food writer and the author of Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection. We begin our conversation discussing Matt's trips around the country to glean the best stories and tips from our nation's foremost grillmasters. We first unpack why the Maillard reaction is so important to creating delicious browned food, and how to ensure you get that effect when you grill. From there we dive into more of the secrets of better grilling, including the pros and cons of different types of fuels and grill types and the essential tools to have on hand when making flame-cooked grub. Matt then offers his surprising take on the best way to grill a burger and explains how to grill the perfect steak, cook chicken so it doesn't dry out, and fire up fish without it falling apart. We end our discussion with Matt's grilled, mouth-watering alternative to a traditional peach cobbler.
You'll be ready to fire up the grill after listening to this show.
#611: How a Weekly Marriage Meeting Can Strengthen Your Relationship
Several years ago, Kate and I implemented a practice that has helped strengthen our relationship. It's called a "marriage meeting," and we got the idea from my guest today. Her name is Marcia Naomi Berger, and she's a therapist and the author of Marriage Meetings: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted. Marcia and I begin our discussion with how she developed the idea of marriage meetings and why couples can benefit from implementing this habit. We then unpack the four-part agenda of the marriage meeting, which includes showing appreciation, discussing household chores, planning for good times, and resolving big issues, and Marcia explains why you need to do the steps in that particular order. She then addresses the possible objection to meeting with one's spouse in a more structured way, and explains why the format of the marriage meeting is more effective than trying to discuss these things on the fly. She then provides tips and insights on how to execute each part of the marriage meeting, including the importance of being specific with your appreciation, following up on to-dos, and scheduling good times both as a couple and as individuals. Marcia then shares advice on what to do if you want to start the marriage meeting practice but your spouse doesn't, how your meetings can take as little as 15 minutes, and how best to communicate during the meeting so that each partner will feel good about keeping up this game-changing habit.
#610: Who Lives in Survival Situations, Who Dies, and Why
In disasters or accidents, why do some people survive and others perish? In exploring this question, my guest has uncovered psychological and philosophical insights into not only dealing with life-threatening crises, but strategically navigating any situation that involves risk and decision-making.
His name is Laurence Gonzales and he's a pilot, a journalist, and the author of several books, including the focus of today's conversation: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. Today on the show, we discuss how the story of his father being shot out of the sky during WWII set Laurence on a journey to explore the mysterious underpinnings of survival. Laurence then explains what happens to us mentally and emotionally in a disaster situation that causes us to make poor decisions, how our mental models can get us in trouble, and why rule breakers are more likely to survive than rule followers. Laurence then walks us through complexity theory and how trying to make things safer can counterintuitively make them more dangerous. We then talk about why the frequency with which you yell at your kids correlates to your chances of surviving a life-threatening emergency, before ending our conversation with a discussion of the paradoxes would-be survivors must grapple with, including being both realistic and hopeful at the same time.
#609: The 3 Tasks of Moving From Adolescence to Adulthood
A lot of ink has been spilled about how young people today are struggling to transition from adolescence to adulthood. But these think pieces are often heavy on blame and light on solutions. My guest today takes an understanding approach to the difficulties of growing up, as well as offers practical strategies for facilitating the process. His name is Mark McConville, and he's a family clinical psychologist who's spent decades working with young clients and written a book on what he's found does and doesn't work in getting them to become more independent called Failure to Launch: Why Your Twentysomething Hasn't Grown Up . . . and What to Do About It.
We begin our conversation with how Mark defines a failure to launch, when in his career he started to notice this issue in his young clients, and what factors are behind its prevalence. He then explains the idea of "emerging adulthood" and how it's normal for it to take some time for a twenty-something to start feeling like a grown-up. Mark and I then unpack the three tasks a young person must master to transition to adulthood, which includes discussions of what prevents twenty-somethings from taking on grown-up responsibilities, how parents need to shift from a supervisory role to a consultant role, the importance of getting going in the right direction, and why young adults should treat life like a climbing wall. We end our conversation with advice to parents on the best way to motivate their kids to tackle the tasks of growing up.
Plenty of insights for both young adults and their parents in this episode.
More than 80% of the world's population consumes the same psychostimulant every single day. Yet few of us know very much about our favorite daily drug . . . caffeine.
My guest today will shed some light on humanity's love affair with this pick-me-up substance. His name is Murray Carpenter and he's the author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. We begin our discussion exploring what caffeine does to our mind and body, before delving into how caffeine consumption developed in different places all around the world and how the way we get our caffeine fix has evolved over the millennia. Murray and I then discuss the popularity of coffee in America and how our grandparents actually drank way more of it than we do today. Murray explains how caffeinated sodas became a stimulating competitor to coffee in the 19th century and how energy drinks became a huge business in the late 20th. Murray and I then discuss how you're probably ingesting more caffeine than you realize, and what the generally recommended maximum amount to consume per day is. We then get into whether caffeine can enhance athletic performance, and how much you need to take for it to make a difference. We then discuss the overlooked benefits of caffeine, as well as its downsides, and end our conversation with the question of whether caffeine is an addictive substance.
This episode will get you thinking about your morning joe differently.
It's been 30 years since the landmark self-management book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was published. It's been called the most influential business book of the 20th century and the principles it espouses have become embedded in our culture. The 7 Habits has had a big impact on my own life since the first time I read it over 20 years ago as a high schooler. A 30th anniversary edition of the book is out with new insights from the late Stephen Covey's children. Today, it's my pleasure to speak to one of them, Stephen M.R. Covey. Stephen is the oldest of the Covey children, played an instrumental role in the launch of the first edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as in his father's company, Franklin Covey, and is himself the author of the book The Speed of Trust. Today on the show, Stephen and I discuss why The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has had such staying power and why it's just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. We then walk through the seven habits, exploring how each is lived individually, as well as work together to create a flourishing life. If you've never read The 7 Habits, this episode is a great introduction. And if you've read it before, this is a succinct refresher on a set of principles worth building your life around.
#606: How to Activate Your Brain's Happy Chemicals
Everyone has experienced the way our feelings fluctuate day by day, and even hour by hour. Sometimes we're feeling up and sometimes we're feeling down.
My guest today says these oscillations are a result of nature's operating system and that you can learn to better manage these emotional peaks and valleys. Her name is Loretta Breuning and she's the author of several books on happiness and the human brain, including her latest, Tame Your Anxiety: Rewiring Your Brain for Happiness. We begin our conversation by discussing the similarities between human brains and the brains of other mammals, and how our brains release happiness-producing chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin to spur us to seek rewards related to our survival needs. We also talk about the unhappy chemical of cortisol which is released in response to perceived threats, and the factors that have increased our stress and anxiety in the modern world. Loretta then explains that the boost we get whenever the brain's happy chemicals are activated doesn't last, and how we need to plan and execute healthy options for proactively stimulating these chemicals, including creating expectations for rewards and finding small, positive ways of increasing our status. We end our conversation with how to manage spikes of cortisol in yourself, as well as help other people manage their emotional troughs.
The shutdowns that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc on the global economy. Millions of people are out of work, businesses are cratering, and the stock market has tanked. Whether you've been hard hit by these effects or are so far weathering the storm yet feel uncertain about your future, what financial moves should you be making right now? To get some insight, I brought back personal finance expert Ramit Sethi, author of the book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Since the pandemic started, Ramit has been hosting "fireside chats" on his Instagram account where he covers a financial topic pertinent to the pandemic, as well as answers questions from his community of followers.
Today we discuss some of the ideas Ramit's been hitting on during these chats as well as the common financial questions he's been fielding. I begin our conversation by asking Ramit why he tells people they shouldn't panic, but should overreact. We then dig into Ramit's advice for people who fall into different categories as to how the pandemic has affected them, beginning with survival strategies for those who are out of a job altogether. Ramit then shares the money moves people who do still have income coming in should make and why he's changed his tune on how much of an emergency fund you should have. We then discuss why now is a good time to find ways to earn more money and what investing should look like during an economic slump. We end our conversation with Ramit's advice on how to look for a job during a pandemic and what small businesses can do to adapt to the current climate.
On the surface, it can feel like we've made a lot of technological, economic, and cultural progress during the past 30 years. But if you look closer, you start to notice that in a lot of ways, we've been running on repeat for several decades now. My guest today argues that this is what typically happens to rich and powerful societies: A period of growth and dynamism, such as we experienced after WWII, is followed by a period of stagnation and malaise. His name is Ross Douthat and his latest book is The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. We begin our conversation discussing Ross's idea of decadence and how it's particularly marked by the quality of boredom. We then explore how decadence manifests itself in different areas of our society: Ross and I discuss how even though the realms of the economy and technology might seem vibrant (or at least they did before the pandemic struck), Americans are actually starting fewer businesses, moving less for work, and making fewer life-altering innovations than in times past. We then discuss the fact that clothing styles haven't changed all that much from the 1990s, the repercussions of couples having fewer children, and the calcification of our political institutions. We end our conversation with how each of us as individuals can fight back against decadence.