The Profile: The mentalist manipulating your thoughts & the improbable Bitcoin evangelist

Last week, I watched the Netflix documentary, Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder reflects on his life’s work, speaks frankly about the relationship with partner Melinda, and discusses his passion for philanthropy.

Bill’s obsessions include eradicating polio, bringing better sanitation to the developing world, and searching for innovative solutions to climate change. I have done none of those things. But there is one thing that we all have in common with Bill — a love for books.

A ridiculous amount of my childhood memories involve books. When I was learning English, I would sit with a book (remember the Cam Jansen mystery series?) and a dictionary and look up each individual word until I understood what was going on. For hours. Another time, I pretended I was sick so I could skip school and stay home to read a new book. 

So when I saw Bill with a tote bag full of books, I was like “hell yeah.” He reads 150 pages per hour with about 90% retention. That’s, um, a lot. When he was still running Microsoft, Bill began an annual ritual he refers to as a “Think Week.” Once a year, he goes to a cabin in the woods with his tote bag full of books, and just reads. No distractions — only books. 

He explains that his brain works like a central processing unit. He writes “code,” or questions around the topics he wants to tackle — When will low interest rates end? Why isn’t the clinic working better? What is in human sewage? Then, he figures out which books he needs to read to learn more. And finally, he synthesizes. 

“Bill can deal with a lot of complexity, and he likes complexity, and he thrives on complexity,” says Melinda. “So when he stills and quiets himself, he thinks his best.” 

Here’s the beauty of this: All of us can do a ‘think week,’ and it doesn’t have to be in a secluded cabin in the woods. You can just dedicate a day one weekend to sit with yourself without any distractions. We’re so used to consuming information in bits and pieces that we no longer have the patience to tackle a mind-numbingly dense book that could provide the nuance and complexity we all crave.

In an effort to help you start a Think Week (and to help me reach 10,000 subscribers!), I’ll select one Profile reader to whom I’ll send a tote bag full of curated books. Here are the rules: You tweet the sign-up link ( and ask your followers to subscribe. The more clever the tweet, the more likely you are to be selected. As always, thank you guys for reading :)

The profiles this week were phenomenal.

The next great American whistleblower [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
The mentalist manipulating your thoughts
The tragedy investigators
— The improbable Bitcoin evangelist
— The politically incorrect comedian
— The ‘Queer Eye’ star combating stigma
Eddie Murphy’s long-awaited comeback
The fashion powerhouse aiming for global domination
The photographer documenting the edges of the Earth
The startup making drone-killing robots

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The next great American whistleblower: Val Broeksmit’s fearlessness and addiction to drama have led him, again and again, to the center of the news. Here’s how the son of a dead Deutsche Bank executive has been secretly helping the FBI and the House Intelligence Committee investigate the bank and Donald Trump. Here’s the thing about whistleblowers: They tend to be conflicted and complicated figures. Broeksmit is no exception. (The New York Times)

“We might wish our whistle-blowers were stoic, unimpeachable do-gooders. In reality, to let you in on a journalistic secret, they’re often more like Val Broeksmit.”

The mentalist manipulating your thoughts: Derren Brown has become famous for an astonishing ability to seemingly read people’s thoughts and to control their actions. He has successfully reinvented mentalism for a new generation, framing his feats as a cutting-edge knowledge of the mind and how to manipulate it. In his shows, he demonstrates the power of subliminal persuasion, lie detection, instant trance induction, and mass hypnosis. This one is fascinating. (The New Yorker)

“We all yearn for something that will kind of magically relieve our sense of isolation.”

The tragedy investigators: Senior coroner investigator Tiffany Brown and her colleagues often live deep in the aftermath of tragedy. They do work most of us would find unbearable: examining and collecting dead bodies, notifying families of the newly deceased, and assisting with autopsies. They are experts in death, which surrounds them every single day at work. But the Las Vegas shooting, which left 58 festival goers dead and 422 more injured, was so vast, so horrible, that even they found themselves broken. So who cares for the caretakers? (GQ)

“When an event comes along that is this disturbing to a community, it splits us apart, and our isolation becomes exaggerated. But something else happens, too. There is an opening for creating community.”

The improbable Bitcoin evangelist: Everyone thought Michelle Phan had died. After 10 years, 385 videos, and over 1 billion views, YouTube’s biggest beauty star disappeared abruptly in 2015, leaving her Twitter, Instagram, and video channels silent. More worryingly, Phan also disappeared in real life. And then she mysteriously re-emerged ... as a Bitcoin evangelist. “I’m actually more excited about Bitcoin than I was when I first discovered YouTube,” she says. (New York Magazine)

“Ten years ago, I was ridiculed for quitting my job to pursue my YouTube channel. Years later, I was ridiculed again for investing in BTC and ETH. I like having the last laugh.”

The politically incorrect comedian: Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Crying rooms. Microaggressions. All of that is bullshit, according to comedian Bill Maher. He says political correctness was invented by millennials whose helicopter parents coddled them into becoming fragile. “We live in an age where people want to cancel other people and disappear them,” he says. “Who’s going to be left?” (The New York Times)

“I define political correctness as the elevation of sensitivity over truth. We’re not getting to the truth, because we’re too sensitive.”

Eddie Murphy’s long-awaited comeback: Eddie Murphy has been MIA for three decades. He was one of the funniest people to ever tell jokes into a microphone, but then he disappeared. Over the years, Murphy has teased fans with talk of a comeback, but this time, he appears to mean it. He signed a deal with Netflix to put out a new special next year, and has a theater tour lined up, which means he could be in clubs working out jokes soon. “I didn’t want to just pop back up,” he said. “I wanted a funny movie to remind them that they liked me.” (The New York Times)

“I’m still Eddie. The way I look at things and paint pictures with words, I’m still that guy. I’m still going to be what I was. And then some.”

The ‘Queer Eye’ star combating stigma: You know Jonathan Van Ness as the cheery, boisterous “Yass queen” star that fans of “Queer Eye” have come to love. That’s not at all what he’s like in this profile. He often speaks of the power of vulnerability, and now, he’s laying it all out there. In his early 20s, he was addicted to sex and drugs. Van Ness went to rehab twice and relapsed both times. But everything changed when he tested positive for H.I.V. “That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” he says. (The New York Times)

“I want people to realize you’re never too broken to be fixed.”

The fashion powerhouse aiming for global domination: For nearly 40 years, Michael Kors has been a designer who has blended luxury and popularity to create a global empire. But the question is, with the internet upending his industry, how will he push forward? Kors answers as only he can: By going big and doing it all. (GQ)

“We're living in trying times. Everyone's sad. Everyone's overwhelmed. Yet people looked more glamorous on the street than ever before.”

The photographer documenting the edges of the Earth: Thomas Joshua Cooper risks his life to document the world’s most remote places. He sets his camera in places with names like Cape Frigid on the Frozen Strait and the Lighthouse at the End of the World. Take a look inside the project he’s been working on for the last 32 years that he calls “The Atlas of Emptiness and Extremity,” a collection of 700 black-and-white photos from the most secluded places in the world. (The New Yorker)

“Emptiness and extremity are what I was searching for, with the firm belief that it’d kill me or transform me.”


The startup making drone-killing robots: Anduril, the secretive defense tech startup valued at $1 billion, works with the government to build surveillance systems on military bases and along the Mexican border. Now, however, it’s getting into the hot-button issue of developing automated weapons. As the pace of innovation accelerates, the startup will have to navigate ethical implications surrounding the dehumanization of decision-making, the use of surveillance to collect mass amounts of data, and the deployment of AI-based weaponry. Can it succeed in the face of political bureaucracy and public mistrust of the government? (Bloomberg)

“How is it there’s so many billionaires and no Iron Man?”

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