Ongoing reading list
I have moved my reading list to a separate page in an effort to better organize my book pages.
This is a mostly chronological list of books I’ve read that I felt like writing about. This page will be updated regularly and is not a list of recommendations but just what books I’m getting through and what I think of them.
Yearly recommendations and all-time favorites can be found at the main book page
Debt: The first 5000 years
I absolutely love this book and HIGHLY recommend it. I'm reading it early in 2020 but it's likely to make my best of the year list. It combines all my favorite topics: History, Economics, Social Culture, and Government. It does have the flaw of being a bit anecdotal but no book is perfect and this is certainly an acceptable misgiving compared to the value I found in it.
David Foster Wallace
I read this book because ~3 years ago I saw Bill Gates (who I'm a huge fan of) say that he's always wanted to read it but it was dauntingly long so he has refrained. Well to me, anything that Bill couldn't do was something I HAD to. Unfortunately it is dauntingly long so I put it off until just now. It's fiction, which I'm generally not a fan of at all and unfortunately this one didn't convert me however there I can say for sure that I've never read anything else like this. For starters, it comes at the tail end of Postmodernism and creates a brilliant critique of the era. The book is an incredible insight into individuality versus consumerism, addiction (of drugs and things), and it's character development is wildly thorough. I'm happy I never have to read it again, coming in at 55 hours on Audible this is the second longest book I've consumed and at this length you really have to commit to a book.
Modern Man in Search for a Soul
A fantastic insight from one of the fathers' of modern Psychology, Jung bridges new age scientific understanding of our consciousness and personalities with ancient religious morals. One of only a handful of books that I have found excellent in reconciling science and religion, this book is also partly the basis for the very popular Meyers-Briggs personality teletype. If you like psychology and/or philosophy this book is for you!
A Universe From Nothing
I try to read a few science books a year. It's not the subject I'm best at but I've always found it useful to understand the biggest possible topics I can which makes the smaller topics much easier. Why is there something instead of nothing? Lawrence Krauss is a famous theoretical physicist and public science educator, a great mind to learn from AND if you listen to audible he narrates this book himself. What a time to be alive! I can sit in my car and learn the physics of the early formation of the universe by one of the smartest scientists in the field through his book and his own voice. This was not possible in any time before now and it's an advantage not to be dismissed.
A People's History of the United States
Do you want to be a cynic?! This is a book crammed full of cynicism. This isn't a patriots account of how great our country is, it's a history of all the things that the US propaganda machine tries to make us forget. Mostly our constant oppression of lower class people here in the US, our imperialist foreign policy objectives, and all the lies that go along with them.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
This incredible work of macroeconomics was well needed for me and I recommend it for anyone who wants a broad understanding of how inequality shaped our past (the most recent 150 years) and will shape our future. The premise of the book is that inequality rises when the R > G. That's the rate of return from wealth is greater than the rate of growth from production. This means when a countries total income increases more from interest accumulated in capital faster than the growth of labor production, inequality increases. Inequality is not a curable phenomenon and this book doesn't' advocate for such an approach. However, how much inequality and how it's spread throughout an economy does matter as rampant inequality is the source of nearly every political revolution in history. From the book: "“When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.”
The Revolution Betrayed
Socialism is a hot topic again these days, as it always is during election season. It's interesting for me to learn how much deep nuance there is in the history of Socialism. Leon Trotsky was a military leader in the red army who, along with Lenin, overthrew the Czarist government of Russia in 1917. On the back of 'The Communist Manifesto" they were going to install a temporary government to distribute resources until they could eventually eliminate the government and have a "dictatorship of the proletariat". Along the way Stalin found opportunity in this new government and hijacked it with his cult of personality. He then did the opposite of what the Bolsheviks wanted and created a massive government bureaucracy aimed at keeping himself in power and eliminating political enemies. Trotsky wrote this book while in exile from Russia against the Stalinist government as a betrayal of the true socialism they were trying to install. Trotsky was later assassinated for his dissent. Most people only know that "Socialism is bad" but have less context about how the history was really formed. If you really want to know the nuance, this is a great insight.
Crime and Punishment
I've been quite clear about my disdain for fiction, but occasionally I get one that pings me hard. This was one of them. Beautifully written, albeit long and sometimes tedious, this is a story of the internal struggle that comes with murder. I love reading moral philosophy and find it incredibly valuable. Highly recommend to anyone who knows there is more to understanding human life than can be found in the shallow writings of self-help.
The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins
Dawkin's 1976 work on our evolutionary biology is a must read for anyone who wants to better understand what our true relationship to nature is. We may have Starbucks and cell phones, but we are still animals. Not nearly as far removed from the habits and behaviors of the animal kingdom as it may seem. To deny this is to deny our natural biology. Man is not selfish as a holistic concept, but our genes are all very selfish on the micro level.
A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution Peter Irons, Howard Zinn - foreword
The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism F. A. Hayek
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong James W. Loewen
Does it concern you that the government makes public school MANDATORY and then gets to dictate the curriculum as well? We learned in school what the government wanted us to learn. Funny how I got out of school and thought America was the worlds purveyor of piece and moral high ground. Most people know that Columbus didn't discover America, he showed up and committed genocide, and now we honor him. Seems weird. This book covers the Indians, black/white race relations, and other taboo topics like class structure and social mobility. Things that the government wants to tell you about but not actually learn about. Take some time to be a cynic like me 😉
Capitalism & Slavery
This book was quite eye opening in how early capitalism changed with the industrial revolution. The quotes from politicians in the days of slavery are astounding in today's context. It's clear that the only reason slavery ended was because the economics of it changed with the invention of machine work. There was very little moral argument to end it other than at the last of the timeline as a political way to leverage the slave owning holdouts. Another thing this book makes abundantly clear is that black chattel slavery was not born out of racism, racism was formed because of the slave trade we created. "God for- bid," said Lord Wynford, "that there should be anything like a forcing of the master to abandon his property in the slave! Once adopt that principle and there was an end to all property."
Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman
This autobiography was great. A Nobel prize winning physicist tells his story about how to think about the world differently through his entire life. It's hilarious, smart, and entertaining. Easy read!
This was a fantastic book. I found it on Bill Gate's reading list (where I find many of my choices). It's a bit of a dense book about the abstract idea of the 'the enlightenment' which like most people I had heard this term and had a vague understanding of what it meant but was quite under informed. Can the world be better in the future than it is today, and what will it take for that to happen? Things don't go well automatically, in fact quite the opposite, if we are apathetic or too cavalier about how we treat the future it absolutely can go worse.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
This book really deserves a full review from me. Maybe I'll add one later, but for now I will say this book is fantastic! It's written in 1961 but it's a history of American society so the older date doesn't negative impact the narrative much. In fact I often prefer slightly older books so I can avoid the politicization of current day books. The premise of this book is that Anti-intellectualism in America has a constant impact that fluctuates in intensity and it's born of our rebellious nature. This book reminds me greatly of another called "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire". Both books are founded on the premise that Americans can find their own truth, and we says fuck you to authority. It's how we became independent and it's built into our culture. In many ways it's a beautiful and encouraging way to live, but it has flaws. The big one being that we can deny science, rationality, and intellect if we so choose and we can feel redeemed for this behavior for the same reason: it's built into our culture to be rebellious. The title is surely a bit pretentious but the content is top notch. Will likely be in my favorite books of the year.
For some reason this author is extremely highly regarded, and I just don't get it. His last famous book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" I thought was inferior to my much preferred "Why the West Rules....for now" and this one didn't do it for me either. I read it because Bill Gates put it on his summer reading list and generally Bill provides great recommendations. This one though is long, tedious, and the motive of the book: understanding how countries adapt to large crisis did not pack much punch in my opinion. Meh
The Dictator's Handbook
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Alastair Smith
This was a fantastic read, albeit quite cynical. I started reading a history a few years back now and I found it incredibly useful to better understand how today's world works. This one in particular is neat because it discusses similarities in all political leadership, from dictatorship to democracy. One thing I've noticed as a never ending trend in human behavior is our propensity to be selfish. This book has only served to confirm that position.
The (Mis)behaviour of Markets
Rarely will I get the opportunity to say this becuase I'm a cerebral stud but: This book was too smart for me I read this book because Nassim Taleb raves about it and Mandelbrot's work, both these guys are outside my level of intelligence though. I read the whole thing, I grasped some but far from all of it. I really need someone to read this book and create a summary for me. Please help!
The Creature from Jekyll Island G. Edward Griffin
Are you a conspiracy theorist, this book is FOR YOU. If you're a reasonable person who likes to understand nuance of a complicated topic and you HATE being sold heavily biased perspectives to push someone else's agenda then this book is NOT for you!
How Google Works Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle
My brother recommended this book, it's definitely something he would love. I thought it was ok, but it was useful to hear what those in charge of such an influential company say are important factors in running a business. Consider the customer first and competition last Culture in a company is of utmost importance
The Kingdom of God is Within You Leo Tolstoy
I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the history of Christianity, I received so much more than I could have asked for. I am not a religious person, but I have spent my life learning about religion. This book is truly amazing. It discusses the gap between the teachings of the bible, and the actions of the church. It discusses how the government and church apparatus manipulate the poor to do it's bidding in the name of religion. Really loved this book
A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson
Great book on our understanding of the world, and how we grew to understand it. It's mostly focused on scientific discoveries.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra; A Book for All and None
I absolutely adore this book. It's a 250 year old philosophy on ethics, virtue, and man's journey to reach his fullest potential. I grossly underestimated how much I would love this one
Another self-help book backed by ZERO science and 100% anecdotes. I understand why people are obsessed with finding out why some people succeed and some don't. Instead of finding the answer though they just write book after book about what they think the answer is. This whole book contains no new information and reads more like a research paper rather than a teaching paper. This is super popular book among my peers and that's the only reason I include it on my list. To separate myself from anyone who thinks this is literary gold. Skip this one and read "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Taleb instead.
The Tipping PointMalcom Gladwell
Gladwell's other book, Outliers, is much better. This one is anecdotal and in my opinion very subjective. His writing sort of reminds me of Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short, Flash Boys) in that he tells the narrative of a story to sound way more important or impactful than it really is. It's certainly entertaining and a smart read, but I found it a bit lacking.
The Ego is the Enemy
Have you ever heard me rant about self-help books? I do it all the time. Regardless, I do stumble across a good one on occasion and I'm happy to say this is one of them This book is hard to summarize, it's very introspective and well thought out picture of all the ways our ego get us into trouble.
The Coddling of the American Mind
Greg LukianoffJonathan Haidt
This book is flat out awesome. This book explores the negative sides to safe spaces, micro-aggression, and social justice.
I wanted to write a small summary but it turned into a whole page of thoughts. Check them out here
Letters to a Young Contrarian
Christopher Hitchens is maybe my favorite author (tied with Nassim Taleb). He's a journalist and author, but he's known to be argumentative, combative, and uncompromising for those who are delicate: Pretty much my dream bio. This book is from the point of young kid sending letters with the overarching question of how he can stand up to the world when it tells him something he thinks is wrong. This happens all the time, the world teaches us something that's not correct or something you don't agree with. It's much easier to go with the flow than to debate with people or create a social rift. Especially over the long term.
This book will give you the courage to stand firm on your convictions and be unafraid to fight for them. Hitchens narrates the audiobook version and it's fantastic, he's snarky, charming, and inspirational. Certainly one of my favorites.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reigh
William L. Shirer
This was a DENSE read but it was amazing from start to finish. What an incredibly useful piece of history to know.
I've heard of Noam Chomskey for years but never read any of his material until this year. This book is a critical account of today's mainstream media. The basic premise is that media is a capitalist construct in which companies do not profit from truth, but by clicks. CNN doesn't make money when they do a good job of reporting, they get paid when they keep your attention. Extrapolating this basic understanding the author gives specific examples and details of how the media gives a bias account of reality to the people and many times not explicitly intentional. The nature of this seeing this asymmetry will forever make me suspicious of media, but that's ok I prefer to be suspicious. Great read, albeit a bit dense.
I've already reviewed the main book of this series below, but once I was done I knew I had to write more. This guy Nassim pinged my brain in ways few other writers ever have.
I’ve made a full review of my favorite points from Incerto here. It certainly doesn’t do the series justice, but my hope I can get some other people to find the same value as I did
My dad had this book laying when I was about 15 and I remember it distinctly. These were formative times too. Early in the book, as they are discussing previous understandings of how the earth was formed, and this really just stuck with me:
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
I love this story! The book is about high concept science but it’s written for the laymen, it’s not a hard read (I was 15 and understood most of it!). This particular bit is meaningful to me though because that lady really believed what she said, and she was going around the world educating people on that information….and she’s dead wrong. In fact to hold the opinion that the world is resting on turtles is completely bananas, but so is the claim that the earth is flat and many others. In fact people will tell you lots of bananas stuff in your life, happens all the time, every single day. They tell you nonsense confidently, eagerly, and incorrectly, and it’s been extremely useful for me to learn this fact early on in life. This is a book for everyone who wants to know how the universe works.
Nassim wrote 5 books in a group called "Incerto". I stumbled across #5, "Skin in the Game", a few months ago and LOVED it. So I picked up "Antifragile" and it's even better. The premise of all 5 books is to talk about behaviour and risk. The book is not the easiest read but it's not technical, it's just complex. Nassim is also flat out brilliant and has a way to blend technical analysis, poetry, and ancient wisdom in a way I've never seen. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite writers
The Gulag Arhipelago
I read this book because Jordan Peterson won't stop talking about it. Glad I did too. It's epic, long, and heart wrenching.
The author was a political prisoner of the Soviet Union. This is his story of going to the gulag hard labor camp and the process of rampant oppression by the Soviet regime. I simply can't do this book justice by providing a lousy summary, I will say it's a definitive piece on morality, politics, and humanity.
Outliers: The story of success
I've heard about this book for years and I'm glad I finally got to it. Outliers is about social and cultural outliers that we call "successful". The narrative in America is that success is determined by the individual effort and ability, but Gladwell shows that the environmental causes matter far more than we like to give credit for. Why are most professional hockey players all born in between January and March? Why does the global airline industry all agree to speak English? These are the types of questions Outliers covers, it's both educational and very entertaining.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Jordan Peterson is often considered controversial, but really he's extremely rational and reasonable. He also narrates the audible version and it's excellent. Peterson has a way to explain complex cultural nuance in a simple and entertaining way. He talks about really complex and high level concepts, and he does so without polarizing. He doesn't take sides, he doesn't bait, judge, and he doesn't walk the fence either. He'll have you looking at the world with a much deeper and more meaningful perspective.
Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist
Richard Dawkins is a famous evolutionary biologist and author. He's always brilliant and I think this is my favorite book of his. The premise is that there is mutual ground for cogent hard scientific understanding and spirituality. Spirituality seems to come in many different forms, it seems to affect everyone and crosses all known belief systems. So can there be a rationalist approach to the spirit? Dawkins thinks there is.
How to change your mind
This is not your typical non-fiction book about self-help, or self-improvement. Michael Pollen goes on a journey to explore psychedelic drug usage, culture, and history. Outside of rumors what do they do? How do thery work, and can they really change the way you think? Psilocybin is starting drug trials for medical use around the globe currently, is there really value in that? This is fantastic look into a very taboo topic and the author is fair, thorough, and intelligent.
Everyone read this one in school right? I was invited to read it with someone recently which I love doing (just ask me!) and I gladly accepted. The book is about a future dystopian society where we are watched constantly by the government, called Big Brother. The thought police would punish us for even thinking of standing up to the totalitarian and invasive regime. Now that I'm older it feels a little more heavy handed than I remembered. That said I also notice a lot more scary similarities of today than I did as a child. Some good quotes:
"Apparently she had not even noticed that the name of the enemy had changed. I thought we've always been at war with eurasia..."
"Who cares, it's always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway"
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
This book is written from a 20 year veteran of the FBI hostage negotiation task force. The premise is that the fundamental rules for negotiating are universal, they apply the same for hostages as they do business transactions. We achieve best results through empathy, leading through open ended questions, and understanding the opposition's position. Negotiating is emotional, and people are generally bad at controlling their emotions, this leaves a wide margin of opportunity. This book is unfortunately not a uniquely profound negotiating book, but it is a very good one. If you’ve ever read “How to win friends and influence people” it’s quite similar and is good reinforcement. If this is your first book on negotiating, then it’s a must read.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel writes pure gold from start to finish. It’s dense, technical and thorough, so it’s not something I would consider highly entertaining, but it’s insight is unquestionable. Our brains have 2 systems: fast and slow. The former works on intuition, instinct, and emotion. The latter is analytical and rational, but it’s LAZY and tends to believe what the first system says more often than not. The reason this is a problem is because while everyone thinks they are rational and reasonable humans, the fact is we are highly biased, emotional, and irrational. Our instincts are often wrong, and we are constant hypocrites, but our systems work together to convince us that our worldview is consistent. It’s a really scary thing to learn, that your brain is making lousy decisions for you, then convincing you they are correct and it does this so well it’s hard to see. The writer won a nobel prize for his research and it’s been widely accepted as current and correct science, it’s also very hard to refute once you read the book.
If you like feeling like you’re in control of your brain, don’t read this book lest you may find your free will is not so free. That said, if you like to know how human brains work to their most basic decision making, then this is top notch learning.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
I didn’t know much about Nike, or Phil Knight, until I read this. The CEO isn’t a media famous guy so this book sort of caught me off guard, but it was so highly regarded I had to try it. Glad I did too, fantastic story about the company from its start until today. It’s quite a personal journey too, funny, exciting, and easy to identify with Lots of business books talk about theory of business, and those are great, but this one is a biography of the struggles one must face when building a new business. These days it’s the king of athletic wear, but for the first few decades it was a company constantly on the verge of collapse. Similar books: Autobiography of Lee Iacocca
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
I read a lot of science because I think understanding the underlying systems of how the world works is important. What happens to those who do not read science is they may find themselves listening to what someone else tells them is the true way the world works. Without a solid base understanding of the facts, we are susceptible to charlatans and those who are just incorrect. Carl Sagan is one of only a few famous scientists who helped educate the masses, and what a valuable talent to provide. Sagan has a long list of culturally iconic work: cosmos, the book and movie “contact” and the famous picture “the pale blue dot”. In this book Sagan brilliantly explains how the uninformed and the disingenuous spread misinformation about the scientific world. He touches on Astology, acupuncture, flat earth, the earth being 6000 years old, and many more topics that are flat out nonsense, yet somehow gain credibility in today’s world. He talks about how this happens, and how to prevent it.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari
My favorite book of 2018? Maybe my favorite book of all time. Yuval Harari has a way of describing humanity from a very unbiased historical viewpoint. Almost written as an alien historian observing humanity objectively and from a distance. Yuval doesn’t inject bias or morals at any point, he writes as if humanity was one of many species and he’s just documenting what happened so far. This is why it’s so brilliant because it gives such an objective and thorough history not just about what humans have created, like many history books, but how our species has developed outside of culture. He doesn’t mention what is good or bad, or really what has worked or not worked, he just describes the events that shaped our world outside of common narratives we prefer to believe. This book is raw data and that’s a breath of fresh air compared to other similar books which usually try to assert and convince the reader of an overarching motive. I highly recommend this book, and he instills strong confidence to agree with this famous quote of his: “Never underestimate the stupidity of mankind”
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari
Homo Deus and Sapiens go hand in hand. Sapiens is a history of mankind, and Homo Deus is the future of mankind. The instant I finished the first one I started on this one, and they are both brilliant. I think Sapiens is a bit better, and a bit more useful, but if you have the chance to read both there is no way you’ll be disappointed. Carl Sagan is one of only a few famous scientists who helped educate the masses, and what a valuable talent to provide. Sagan has a long list of culturally iconic work: cosmos, the book and movie “contact” and the famous picture “the pale blue dot”. In this book Sagan brilliantly explains how the uninformed and the disingenuous spread misinformation about the scientific world. He touches on astrology, acupuncture, flat earth, the earth being 6000 years old, and many more topics that are flat out nonsense, yet somehow gain credibility in today’s world. He talks about how this happens, and how to prevent it.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Have you ever heard, or commented yourself about how bad the world is getting these days? It doesn’t take a long time watching the news to get this feeling. Violence is up, we are getting overpopulated, poor countries are still poor, and there is always some viral or environmental threat. Seems like we are always a short bit away from doomsday. The problem with this thinking is that it’s just not true. The world is better than it’s always been and continues to get MUCH better, so why the disconnect? Lots of reasons! Hans goes into detail about how the data we have is distorted from the data most people actually see. Everyone knows that despair sells far better than positivity. This book is for anyone who is pessimistic about the world, because they are likely to find out they are wrong, and that’s the point of learning right? That said, I’m an optimist and I loved this book as well. Regarding this book, Bill Gates says “Everyone on earth should read this book” and I agree. This is staple information to help form your worldview.
The Federalist Papers:
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
I love understanding politics, but I hate arguing about politics. I read this in hopes to cut through some of the noise and really learn what the constitution was designed to do. Written as essays to the new in the late 1700's, this was essentially a sales pitch to the American people to agree with their platform. It explains exactly why the constitution was written as it is and what problems to expect defending it. It's admittedly a difficult read: long, written for a newspaper in 1787, and it's about political structure. It ain't got no MAD DRAMA neither, and that's refreshing.