It’s not about how many books you read
Quantity is irrelevant, quality is everything.
It’s not a race to get the most books complete because the value is not in completing the book, it’s about changing our worldview and reading things that force us to grow. Reading books is like going to the gym, you can tell the world you’re doing it, but it really only matters when you do it for yourself.
This is why I’m deadly competitive. Not because I completed 50 easy books for bragging rights but because I completed as many books as I could to cure the massive gaps in knowledge I know I have about the world.
Nothing is more valuable than our curiosity. Feed it!
How I approached my book choices this year
I suppose you could say I have an unorthodox reading list relative to most people I know.
I’ve tried to explain the reason for this a million times but I can never make it coalesce and sound punchy, but here’s a shot.
Essentially, I think the most valuable education is a broad understanding of history and human culture. If I can understand how we got here as a civilization, and how the world works, I believe I can make the most informed decisions in the the largest scope of scenarios. This is applicable for life choices, business, and how to anticipate the future
I’ve also become increasingly vocal about my disdain for self help, and I think I’ve found why. First, any book that makes you feel good about yourself is doing you no favor at all. Growth doesn’t come from comfort it comes from overcoming adversity. If you want to actually LEARN something, you need to read books that are difficult, straight up.
My book choices come from a variety of methods:
One of my main methods is to follow news and politics to learn more about what stirs people up. Every few weeks the media will fire people up about a new topic and people all become passionate experts about something, and happen to be divided in almost perfect opposites. I find this to be incredibly interesting behavior, and I find it useful to learn a deeper context about these issues as a deterrent against harsh ideology.
This year I also started using a new method I really like. I will find prominent role models and thought leaders in my life, and read the books they recommend. Many of them have tremendous books suggestions online, and I figure if I can find out what books taught the people I think are smart then it should make me smart as well. right? This years list has been heavily influenced by recommendations from Bill Gates, Jordan Peterson, and Nassim Taleb.
I read books that are old.
I find reading older books holds much more value than newer books, on average. A book that is 100 years old and still relevant, useful, and potent means the knowledge has stood the test of time through changes in government, economics, and political strife. There is always a reason they have lasted so long and reading them usually makes this reason apparent. There are quite a few 100+ year old books on the list.
My favorites of the year
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Friedrich Nietzsche – 1883
As I mentioned above, older books hold wisdom that have stood the test of time because if they were shallow or useless they would go out of print. This book is one unequivocally is why that rule exists.
The premise of the book is about a guy named Zarathustra who travels around ranting about moral philosophy. He’s a very powerful and introspective orator, fearlessly confronting harsh truths about our own human failings. He describes overcoming humanity to become something greater.
“Man is something that shall be overcome. Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman — a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”
One of my favorite references is his alluding to the mythological Phoenix.
“you must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame;
how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?”
I love this quote because it’s such a universal truth for internal human change. We rarely can become slightly different, we have to become new.
and my favorite quote of the book and one I identify with so closely
“Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.
It is no easy task to understand unfamiliar blood; I hate the reading idlers.
Write from your soul, not for the superficial. Read what was written from a person’s soul, don’t let people sell you with false motive.
If you want to know why I hate self-help, this quote is how I feel.
The Kingdom of God is Within You
Leo Tolstoy – 1890
I am not a religious guy but I love learning about and understanding religion. A few books in the last year have really given me a greater respect for the ancient texts and their lessons.
This book is a fantastic insight into the division band hypocrisy that overlaps the Bible, and the Church. The teachings of the Bible are sound, this I believe to be true. However they are allegorical, not literal.
This book also describes how the state has hijacked the church and weaponized it for political gain. If the 1st commandment is “Thou shalt not kill”, how can the church be be pro war? How can it support a government that supports war? These are irreconcilable, the reason it happens is because people give up their christian values to support the state goals. This is done nefariously.
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”
Here Tolstoy describes the separation of Christianity and the state. How can you be allegiance to the christian God, and have allegiance to the state when thy have opposing interests.
“And therefore the Christian, who is subject only to the inner divine law, not only cannot carry out the enactments of the external law, when they are not in agreement with the divine law of love which he acknowledges (as is usually the case with state obligations), he cannot even recognize the duty of obedience to anyone or anything whatever, he cannot recognize the duty of what is called allegiance.”
We absolve moral responsibility when the effects are in large mass
“One man may not kill. If he kills a fellow-creature, he is a murderer. If two, ten, a hundred men do so, they, too, are murderers. But a government or a nation may kill as many men as it chooses, and that will not be murder, but a great and noble action. Only gather the people together on a large scale, and a battle of ten thousand men becomes an innocent action. But precisely how many people must there be to make it so?—that is the question. One man cannot plunder and pillage, but a whole nation can. But precisely how many are needed to make it permissible?”
but ultimately, which in my opinion the over arching meaning of the bible:
“A man cannot get rid of the responsibility, for his own actions.”
The title is terrible but the book is a profound work that will stay with me forever.
—– MORE —–
These are the other books I loved this year but didn’t feel like writing a long form review, but I still highly recommend them.
400 year old fiction that made me laugh, inspired me to be more fearless in being myself, and the importance of being true to ones self and our morals regardless of what society pressures us to do.
Society is often wrong, it’s best to believe in ourselves.
The Coddling of the American Mind
This is a MUST READ and I wrote a reasonable review for it earlier this year here. It’s a DOUBLE MUST READ if you have children.
Capital in the 21st Century
Inequality is one of the biggest challenges America faces right now and likely will be a struggle for the foreseeable future. Inequality is a complex topic and managing it is an important responsibility in property society-building.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
What an incredible book this was. I’m going to read a lot more from this author going forward. This book covers the changing education system in America, how it became mandatory, how education and the church cross sect, and more. Fantastic from start to finish and probably should have landed higher in the list.
A People’s History of the United States
This book will make you a cynic about the United States. A 500 year history of all our mis-deeds and how the Government has washed over it.
The Dictators Handbook
This book will make you a cynic about government. A great insight into how governments accumulate and exercise power and how that accumulation is different between dictatorships and democracies. (spoiler: It’s not much different!)
Crime and Punishment
I don’t read much fiction but this one was magnificent. It’s about a guy who kills a pawn broker and the internal pain he must deal with after the event. This will give you goosebumps! I read this as a recommendation from Jordan Peterson
Marcus Aurelius’ famous book written 1800 years ago and holds up well! Human values haven’t changed as much as it feels like they have. This book is a deep insight into stoicism, the belief system that says we should endure hardship internally and not make a big fuss of things.
This is a current era book that makes a compelling argument that individuals go through and overcome their personal struggle in a similar manner to how nations themselves go through and overcome struggle. This was recommended by Bill Gates
The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous evolutionary biologist alive. He wrote the Selfish Gene in 1976 and I’m sad I didn’t read it earlier. Do you want to know how humans really work? Not through experience but through science, this will! It also made me feel far more connected to nature since all living things share certain universal traits.
Fully Automated Luxury Communism
Oh boy, that title is sure to make some eyes roll. Ridiculous name aside, I found this to be a smart book. It organizes the problems and potential solutions surrounding the ongoing information. It compares this third disruption of technology similar to the agricultural and the industrial.
Why write about books?
Reading a book will provide one level of understanding, but discussing books brings a whole other level of interpretation. Writing about books is a close second to that for me. It allows me to coalesce and research the main ideas of a book, but it also allows me to organize those ideas and make them coherent. My hope is also that the content sometimes encourages other people to read books that we can share or mutually grow from.