I Read 25 History Books. These are the Essential Lessons

“History is mostly, it seems to me, a lesson in proportions. You think times are tough? You think you are beset by bad luck? Others have had it worse. Others have gone through worse. Others have triumphed over many more difficult obstacles.” — David McCullough

I Read 25 History Books. These are the Essential Lessons
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust 

Lesson 1 of 14

“History is mostly, it seems to me, a lesson in proportions. You think times are tough? You think you are beset by bad luck? Others have had it worse. Others have gone through worse. Others have triumphed over many more difficult obstacles.” — David McCullough

Lesson 2 of 14

Politicians have always gained popularity by offering citizens land or money. When running for office, promise your constituents more free stuff than your opponents.


Lesson 3 of 14

Always make your endeavors seem altruistic or good even when they are bad.

  • After the first Punic War (between Carthage and Rome), Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general, positioned his army next to Rome and was planning an attack. The Romans noticed and thought it was strange. They asked him why his army was so close to Rome. Hamilcar lied and told them that he was taking over territories in Spain so that he could pay the Romans reparations for the war. The Romans believed him. Then Hamilcar attacked the unsuspecting Romans.

Lesson 4 of 14

“Things that never happened before do happen. And things that haven’t happened yet in an area are likely to happen sometime.” — Nassim Taleb

Lesson 5 of 14

It is possible for a developed country to revert back to primitive and barbaric ways.

  • After the Roman Empire fell, things were actually less advanced than during the peak of their empire.
  • After the US falls, we may backslide to totalitarianism (the rise of China), militias, paramilitaries, and more of a mafia-esque protection system.

Lesson 6 of 14

“Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” – G. Michael Hopf

Lesson 7 of 14

The West developed the idea that human nature is instinctively and inherently compassionate, but history shows us that’s not true.

  • Everyone has the capacity for evil. The Nazis were "normal" citizens but they killed millions of people.

Lesson 8 of 14

People care more about recent tradgedies than historic tradgedies. Evil acts like genocide, slavery, r*pe, lynching, and torture are common in history among all ages and genders. Contemporary tragedies are terrible, but not special or abnormal.

  • We likely care more about more recent tragedys because of recency bias. (A cognitive bias that favors recent events over historic ones.)
  • We care more about anecdotes than statistics. Anecdotes stir emotions, people will care about an individual person being killed. But people care less about statistics: millions killed in a war is not as emotional.

Lesson 9 of 14

Older generations always claim that younger generations are corrupted and lazy.


Lesson 10 of 14

Terrorists cause a lot of damage and they are difficult (or impossible) to get rid of.


Lesson 11 of 14

In-country manufacturing of war supplies and basic goods is essential.

  • The US is currenlty learning this lesson. Covid-19 and rising tensions with China are causing the US to develop more in-country manufacturing.

Lesson 12 of 14

All hardships and ailments feel like torture in the moment but they make you who you are. Great people almost always come from hardship.

  • Teddy Roosevelt had polio and his legs became paralyzed. He later recovered but this experience changed him and shaped him.
  • JRR Tolkien fought in WWI and that experience influenced his Lord of the Rings series.

Lesson 13 of 14

Setting precedents is powerful. Once a precedent is set, it is often blindly followed for decades.

  • A court case ruling can be used as precedent for future cases.

Lesson 14 of 14

People will partner with notorious people or countries if they're powerful enough.

  • Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, and other billionaires wouldn’t say anything bad about China even though they know the inhumane things China does.
  • The US made deals with many Middle Eastern counties who are now US enemies. The US supplied firearms to them in exchange for oil.