Books I’ve Loved — Matt Mullenweg | The Tim Ferriss Show | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "Books I’ve Loved — Matt Mullenweg | The Tim Ferriss Show".


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Intro (00:00)

"Optimal minimal." "I did this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking." "Can I also repost my question?" "Now what is it?" "I'm a cybernetic organism, living to show a metal antoscour." "My damn ferris show." Books I've loved on The Tim Ferriss Show is exclusively brought to you by Audible.

Main Content & Discussion

AD BREAK (00:29)

There couldn't be a better sponsor for this series, my dear listeners and readers. I have used Audible for so many years. As long as I can remember, I love it. Audible has the largest selection of audiobooks on the planet. I listen when I'm taking walks. I listen while I'm cooking. I listen whenever I can. And if you're looking for a place to start, I can recommend three of my favorites. The first is The Tower of Seneca by Seneca. If you want to hear my favorite letters of all time, it touches on stoic philosophy, calmness under duress, etc. The next is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, G-A-I-M-A-N. One of my favorites, even if you're a non-fiction purist, this is the fiction book that you need to listen to. Neil also has perhaps the most calming voice of all time. And third, Greg McEwen's essentialism. Subtidal, the disciplined pursuit of less. This is one of my favorite books of the past few years. Compinds very well with the 80/20 principle. But more on Audible. Every month, Audible members get one credit for any audiobook on the site, plus a choice of multiple Audible Originals from a rotating selection. They also get access to daily news digests from the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, as well as guided meditation programs. And here are some other amazing Audible features. And I use a bunch of these. You can download titles and listen offline anytime, anywhere. I use this feature even when I could get access. I'll put my phone on, say, airplane mode, because I don't want to get bothered with notifications and I'm taking a walk to clear my head. And you can listen to titles offline in a case like that, or on a plane or whatever. Obviously, I'm not flying much these days. The app is free and can be installed on all smartphones and tablets. You can listen across devices without losing your spot. And Wispersync is another feature I use quite a lot. I love reading my Kindle in bed, for instance. And picking up at the same exact spot where I left off when I go walking and listening the next day. Kindle and audio versions can be synced up automatically. It's just amazing. And if you can't decide what to listen to, don't sweat it. You don't have to rush. You can keep your credits for up to a year and use them, for instance, to binge on a whole series, if you like. Audible offers just about everything. Podcasts, guided wellness programs, theatrical performances, A-list comedy, and Audible originals you won't find anywhere else. And right now, Audible is offering you guys, that's Tim Ferris Show listeners, a free audio book with a 30-day trial membership. And again, my list, if you want to check them out, the TOW of Seneca, the Graveyard Book, Essentialism, those are just three. There's so many good ones out there. Just go to and browse the unmatched selection of audio programs. Then download your free title and start listening. It's that easy. Just check it out. Go to or text TimTIM to 500500 to get started today. Check it out, Hello boys and girls, ladies and germs.


This is Tim Ferris. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferris Show, where it is usually my job to sit down with world-class performers of all different types, startup founders, investors, chess champions, Olympic athletes, you name it, to tease out the habits that you can apply in your own lives. This episode, however, is an experiment and part of a short-form series that I'm doing, simply called Books I've Loved. I've invited some amazing past guests, close friends and new faces to share their favorite books, describe their favorite books, the books that have influenced them, changed them, transformed them for the better. And I hope you pick up one or two new mentors in the form of books from this new series and apply the lessons in your own life. I had a lot of fun putting this together, inviting these people to participate and have learned so, so much myself. I hope that is also the case for you. Please enjoy. Howdy, howdy.

Intros (04:32)

My name is Matt Mullenwood. I am the co-founder of WordPress, which is open source software used by about actually about 35% of all websites now. And I also run a company called Automatic, which is a fully distributed company of over 1200 people that makes services for WordPress and fun service, things like, Jetpack, Tumblr and boo-comers. So this topic on favorite books is very exciting to me because I love to read. So I'm going to go through a bunch of them as fast as I can and basically four categories.

The fun section (05:10)

One, life, professional, and then, well, actually two final bonus categories, like mind expanding authors where I just read everything they publish. So start with the fun ones. The first two are actually collections of short stories, which I love because you can kind of work them in between other readings, almost like a refresher while you're reading longer things. The first is called Paper Marnagery, another stories, which is by Ken Liu. This is kind of sci-fi, but honestly, I recommend this to a ton of people, including getting a copy for Tim before, and they've loved it. It's just a huge variety of stories that really make your mind think differently. And Ken Liu's honestly one of the authors, new authors, at least new to me authors, that I'm most excited about. He also translated one of the three body problem books, and he just has a ton of great work out.

SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (06:07)

The second one is called Some, which is 40 Tales from the Afterlives. This is by a guy who's normally more of a science writer named David Ekelman. Each one of these stories is only two to three pages long, and it starts out at the point of an afterlife beginning. And that sounds, it doesn't do it justice, actually. What I would do is maybe just pick this up and check out the very first story and see what it does to your mind. I love actually reading one of these before I go to bed. I find that it kind of resets my brain a little bit, and also sometimes gives me really cool dreams. I've also even read them to people as gifts at Burning Man. That's how cool the stories are. These first two were actually recommendations that I got from a friend who's a designer named Connie Yang. The third and the fun section, or fiction section that I recommend, is actually kind of a secret weapon in that I've met a ton of other CEOs and founders and folks who ultimately they were highly, highly influenced by this book. And that is The Foundation by Isaac Asimov. It's actually a short series. And yeah, it's just so wild how I'll meet people from all walks of life, including CEOs of companies worth tens of billions of dollars that say this is one of their most influential books, especially when they were young. I read this as a kid. I think it's a great gift for kids. I actually recently have picked it back up and am rereading it. It holds up very well. But if you have any kind of young adults in your life that you feel like could enjoy like some really interesting sci-fi, just the concepts and it kind of makes you think about the world differently. Alright, the second category, I'm going to call Life Things. So the first and foremost I'll put here, which is actually someone I recommended that Tim had on the podcast in Christotippet. It was a great podcast called On Bean and has a book called Becoming Wise. It covers a lot of her, kind of like a best of almost of her work. And I would say if you're only going to be run in the life section, that is the one I would recommend. The second that I'm going to recommend is called On Grief and Grieving, which is by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Kubler-Ross created that scale that you might have heard of, the five stages where it's like an angered, nile, acceptance, blah, blah, blah. She actually created that. And this book was the last of I think three books she did in her series. And it was actually finished posthumously by her writing partner because as she was writing this book, she herself was passing away. This book was extremely helpful and important to me after my father passed. And I've recommended for a number of folks, including those who don't have anyone in their life that's currently ill or has recently passed. It is one thing that is certain for all of us that we're going to, people in our life are going to pass at some point. And how this book talks about pre-grieving, about grieving, it really opened up my mind to really be able to process and deal with what was a total whirlwind. It still is in some ways a whirlwind of emotions. So this is one I can recommend without hesitation to any human. On that topic a little bit, and this one is probably going to make you cry if you read it, is called When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. And this is also a little bit of a posthumous book that was a story of a professor who tragically found out he was not going to make it. And so what he did with his last bit of life and how he acted and his family and everything, beautifully, beautifully, beautifully written, very, very special book. And finally on the life side, this one has a funny title but it's a really, really good book. Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. I grew up Catholic, you know, this wasn't a book. I'm not Buddhist, I'm not becoming Buddhist, I have no plans there. But I found that this book which takes kind of a neural science view of text and Buddhism, Hinduism that go back sometimes thousands of years is really, really fascinating. And it is an interesting juxtaposition of kind of how older wisdom intersects and interacts really well with the latest findings of science and how you can apply that to your life, to quiet your monkey mind, to be able to focus, of course, to talk about meditation and other things that you probably heard a lot on Tim's podcast. So this, regardless of your religious leanings or non-religious leanings, I would say is excellent and great read. This next category section is the one where I have the most books. So hopefully you've made it through the fun and life ones and now you're ready to be more professionally successful. Each one of these has had an influence and I would consider pivotal to my success and the things I've done in creating WordPress and automatic. First, it was relatively new and I wish it had come out a decade before because I could have saved a lot of trouble. It's called Principles by Ray Dalio, who's one of the most successful hedge fund investors. And he runs this company in an extremely interesting way. And this is the first of, I think, several books he's planning on doing where he spells out the things he's learned. He's one of these folks who has an extremely analytical mind, writes down everything and checks it later. So if your mind is not as analytical, like mine is not quite there. Actually, I think probably few people in the world are quite as analytical as Ray Dalio is. It can be, I would say, provocative and challenging you to think in different ways. Also pairs very well with the last recommendation I'm going to do here, the great mental models. The second is another one with not a great title but really good book called Nonviolent Communication, which is by Marshall Rosenberg. And this means non-violent in the sense that Gandhi was non-violent or Martin Luther King, where it's not like don't yell at people, but more how is what we say and how we say it sometimes doing the opposite of what we intend. So there's a way to communicate the exact same thing in a better way that people will be more receptive to whatever you're saying. This book, I think I read originally in like a personal context, I put in this section because I found that it completely levels up all of my communication where that was in family relationships, personal relationships, and where it probably had the biggest impact was in my work relationships. At Automattic we do a ton of communication over text as well using our internal tool P2, also a lot of slack, and applying what I learned by reading non-violent communication, I found I became a lot more effective, particularly at text-based communication and kind of getting the intention of my message across. Speaking of being a distributed company with lots of text communication, I want to recommend a book called Remote, which is by the folks over at Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heimier-Hanson. This is probably the best guide available right now to doing working remotely or in a distributed fashion. Also Basecamp, formerly known as 37 Signals, has a very refreshing, no-nonsense first principles way of working, and I feel like any company that can apply some of their principles, you can pick and choose, it's like a buffet book, can probably become a lot more effective.

Also Basecamp, formerly known as 37 signals, has a (13:44)

And like I said, it's probably the best resource for distributed work right now, but I will also take this opportunity to plug my podcast, which you can find at, which is interviewing folks, including the Basecamp folks at some point, on how to be effective while scaling distributed companies.

Dgis book (14:00)

Writing is so key, and you might be detecting a theme here, and the book that's been most influenced my entire life there was called On Writing, or is called On Writing Well by William Zinsler. Writing to me is not just something for communication, it's also something that really helps me learn how to think better. And I would point pretty much anything significant that I've done in my life to something that I sat down and wrote, and really worked through it in a written forum first. And I have all sorts of hacks, sometimes I write things out long hands, sometimes I type it in simple notes, sometimes I type it in WordPress, sometimes I do a Google Doc and collaborate with people, sometimes I just text my friends. But this book I would say is probably the classic for improving the clarity of your writing, which therefore improves the clarity of thinking of anything I've read. And I've probably read dozens of writing books at this point, because it is a topic and genre of a book which I find very fascinating. So save lots of time, you don't have to read the dozens of books that I read, just check out this one, and it will definitely level up your written communication. I'm going to go a little esoteric for this next one and talk about a book which is a little more academic, which is by an author named George Likoff, and it's called Metaphores We Live By. It's definitely a writing theme here. So many people don't know this, but a lot of how we talk is actually in metaphors. What this book breaks down is what these metaphors are, many of which you probably use day to day without even realizing it, and how you can change how you use metaphors to basically say what you're trying to say and not negate what you're trying to say. So as one example of metaphors that you probably use all the time but don't think about it, there's categories, one that he talks about the book is argument is war. As examples, your claims are indefensible. He attacked every weak point in my argument. The criticisms were right on target. I demolished his argument. I've never won an argument with him. You disagree? Okay, shoot. If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out. He's shot down all of my arguments. If you listen there and really dig in, you'll see that there's a lot of war metaphors and terminology and imagery being used when talking about something not to do with war at all, which is arguments. There's all sorts of examples like this, including what I find really fascinating, which is spatial metaphors. And if you learn this, this actually I think goes a bit to how the mind works. This brings us pretty well to the final one in this section, which I recommend. Also a fairly new book by Shane Paris, best known for Farnham Street, which has a great podcast and it's great site, F.S. blog I believe.

The speeches were not terribly accessible though (17:18)

And they're doing a five volume series called the Great Mental Models. You probably heard about mental models if you follow Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger at all. And in fact, previously there's this great book called Poor Charlie's Almanac, which was a collection of Charlie Munger's speeches where he really laid out a lot of his sort of very heterodox thinking things have made him very successful as half of the pair. That's been probably one of the most successful investors in history alongside Warren Buffett. These speeches were not terribly accessible though. They had a lot of extraneous material. They were repetitive in some ways. The book itself was a little hard to access. So these great mental models is one if you can't buy the hardcover. It's one of the most beautiful books I've actually interacted with in a long time. If you're able to build what they call this lattice work of mental models, it can make you essentially approach all sorts of situations much faster and more effectively than you would if you're trying to figure out things from scratch every single time. This pairs really, really well with principles by Ray Dalio. Okay, fourth category I'm going to call Mind Expanding. So these are two books. Actually, ones I've just read this year, both of which go pretty well with metaphors we live by, but around consciousness, theory of mind, kind of how everything works. It was a little bit of an older book I think from 1980 and it's only available in print which I think everything else I've recommended that you can get on the Kindle or something.

What the speeches Freya (18:43)

It's called The World is Sound or Nada Brahma. It's by a German author, Joachim Ernst Berrent. And basically goes through just really, really interesting as a musician myself. I learned about things like the harmonic series or the overtone series, which is a beautiful set of whole number of ratios that sort of govern Western music and the 12-tone scale and things. But I didn't know as much about just versus even intonation and how also these ratios show up kind of everywhere in life, be it from how plants formed, to the orbit of the planets, to lots of things. I've Googled a lot as I read this book. Some of it is still spot on. Some of it's been, we have sort of newer understandings of some things that talk about. But again, this is the mind-it-spanning category. So I will say it is an interesting, I'll put it as provocative as well read. Not something that you agree with everything in the book, but something that probably opens your mind to a lot of things you hadn't thought about before or never even considered.

Not something that you agree (19:52)

I would also say it's completely accessible to non-musicians as well as musicians. I just found it particularly interesting because it applied to things I had learned in different sort of fields or different contexts in a more scientific context. The second, which is also a fairly, fairly new book, is called Conscious, a brief guide to the fundamental mystery of the mind. It's by Anika Harris and this is what they call the hard problem. What is consciousness? Where does it come from? Who is listening to me talk right now? And who is it that listens to you talk to yourself? All of these questions I find endlessly fascinating and is an area of, in some ways, a lot of study and in some ways, much less than you would expect. So this was a very short book. You can actually get through it just an hour or two. So I feel actually even better recommending it because it packed a huge amount of information and value into a very kind of tidy package. I always love when books are just as long as they need to be no longer. So this will definitely give you lots of talk about at parties or with friends. And I find it's good from a philosophical point of view to sometimes think about and ponder these bigger questions. Okay, last I promise to the authors that I read literally everything they publish no matter what it is. And these are besides Tim, of course, because if you're listening you probably already read all of his books. So two folks I'm going to recommend here and I apologize if I'm a sponsor to their names. But the first is Yovall Noah Harari. He's probably best known for sapiens, which is, I say Yovall is an author who can synthesize a ton of information across history, both modern and older and presented in a really compelling way. So I love sapiens like everyone did, I read homodails. But I would say my favorite if you're going to pick one book of his was his last one, which is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Two book recommendations. (22:07)

Super fascinating, very cool to see a historian look at the contemporary things and I thought he was spot on in many of his thoughts. The second is a much more controversial author, but I would say ever since I was exposed to one of his early works, Fool by Randomness and Black Swan, I will probably always be a fan of Naseem Taleb. And he is a writer who is not humble, who is not afraid of sprinkling tons of obscure references and non obscure references. You could easily take one of his books and then read 20 or 30 others, but he is a provocative thinker. He is an original thinker in many ways. He's a fun writer. He writes in a very engaging style. And whether you agree with or disagree with him, I think your mind will be sharper for having read his work and considered it. Black Swan was I think the very first one I read of his in a wonderful introduction, but all of his books are quite fun and funny and I will continue to keep reading everything that he publishes. Alright, again, my name is Matt Mullenway, co-founder of WordPress, CEO of Automatic.

Parting thoughts. (23:23)

If you would like to check out more of my random musings, my blog is at I'm on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr at photo-matte, that's ph-o-t-o-m-a-t-t. And I love hearing from folks. So you can also check out some of my photos at I've been publishing online for a long time, so I'm sorry I have so many places. But I learn a lot from Tim's podcast and I can't wait to hear what other people's book recommendations are because I'm always looking for new things to read. So if you end up reading any of these, drop me a note or a tweet or something. If you like them, if you hate them and I hope you have a wonderful day. Bye bye.

Closing Remarks

5-Bullet Friday. (24:11)

Hey guys, this is Tim again just a few more things before you take off. Number one, this is 5-bullet Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me? Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little more soul of fun before the weekend? And 5-bullet Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week. That could include favorite new albums that I've discovered. It could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I've somehow dug up in the world of the esoteric as I do. It could include favorite articles that I've read and that I've shared with my close friends, for instance. And it's very short. It's just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. So if you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to That's I'll spell it out and just drop in your email and you'll get the very next one. And if you sign up, I hope you enjoy it.

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