My Favorite Books

 

I’ve read a lot of books of the past year and a half, and have quite a few that have the potential to change your life. They certainly have changed mine. Disclaimer: each book has an Amazon Affiliates link attached to it, which will help fund this blog.

 

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

If you want to know what it means to be a member of the species Homo sapiens, then this book is for you. Why have advanced so far? Collective illusions which allow us to unite.  

 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

You make them, you break them — they’re habits! Just kidding. More often than not we remain stuck with them, but this book can help you identify ways to change that and break out of downward cycles.

 

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

This was the book that really got me into improving myself. Newport’s main thesis is that we make our passions, and that effort creates a positive feedback loop which leads to skill which leads to enjoyment which ends back at more effort.

 

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I have based a significant portion of my life philosophy on this book. Knowing what the optimal state of experience is is crucial if you want to be happy, or at least engaged most of the time. Flow gives you a benchmark to measure your experiences on and make better long-term decisions.

 

Candide by Voltaire

I really don’t have much to say about this one other than I laughed my ass off.

 

Germinal by Emile Zola

If you have never been poor and want to know how the poor feel and live, then this is the book for you. Zola shows poverty as what it really is.

 

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer

This book is a journey through genetics, and boy is it a fun ride. It got me so interested in biology that I did microbiology research for a month before being disappointed that I was not working in the world Zimmer had so wonderfully described.

 

Cracking the Aging Code by Josh Mitteldorf and Dorion Sagan

This book markets itself as a lifestyle book, but I was amazed at the evolutionary discussions near the start. Basically, working out is good for you because evolution sees an individual destroying himself and wants to preserve the species, so the individual living longer. The opposite works for sitting on the couch and gorging yourself with junk food. Who knew?

 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is a great story about escaping the constraints of societal expectation. It is beautifully written and shows how individual grit can overcome so many things.

 

The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View by Ellen Meiksins Wood

It shows how we got the opportunity to gain wealth. Enough said.

 

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Yes. I really like Cal Newport. I feel like this book is essential for anyone who has been born with technology in hand (and may be addicted). YOU are supposed to control technology, not vice versa.

 

A Marxist History of the World by Neil Faulkner

Okay, this one may sound a little (or a lot) weird. I certainly do not agree with the whole Marxism thing, but this book traces history from A-Z while looking at the general populace. Often we are taught about King X and President Y, but Faulkner doesn’t care about them at all.

 

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

This is like a science fiction fantasy for realists. It’s scary and awe-inspiring at the same time.

 

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I remember after I first read this book that I was seeing into the minds of everyone around me. So many biases! I’m still in the slow process of realizing the ones in myself.

 

Elegant Solutions by Philip Ball

This book is about really cool science experiments. If you like experiments which try to discover the nature of reality, then this book is for you.

 

Naked Money and Naked Economics by Charles J. Wheelan

I had to put these two together because they are just such great introductions to the economy (and money). He is a really fun writer and makes the dismal science a lot less dismal.

 

The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan

Education is 90% signaling. I’m still trying to figure out what this means for my future.

 

The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

If you want to learn game theory, this is the book. In short: cooperate first and then follow your partner’s (or newfound adversary’s) last move.

 

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips

Another book with a great sense of humor. We humans might have science and technology, but boy do we f*ck a lot of stuff up. At least the mistakes remind us that we are biological creatures, not social constructs.

 

Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson

Are humans going to overrun the earth? Are we reproducing like rabbits? No.

 

Quarks to Culture by Tyler Volk

This book is a smidge academic, but it has a very interesting idea. There are a dozen of so layers, from quarks to culture, which add up to have emergent properties when put together. Life is not any more special than any other layer in its increased complexity.

 

Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Wendy Suzuki

I just had to put this book on here because it brought me out of an exercise and mental health lull. Knowing that exercising my body and my brain literally enlarges it got me inspired to keep pushing for mental growth.

 

Sugar: The World Corrupted: From Slavery to Obesity by James Walvin

I hate sugar. Did you know that humans never used to have cavities until we started eating sugar? We went from spiffy clean hunter gatherer chompers to Louis XIV, whose mouth could bring out gasps of horror.

 

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Find a goal. Pursue that goal. Please do not accept all the sh*t which life throws at you, which you are “obligated” to do.

 

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

Schutt is a master biological explorer. I love these people. They go around creatures, finding the weirdest ones. There’s even sharks who eat their siblings in their mothers’ wombs!

 

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Talent means nothing if you do not know how to work hard. Grit is the key factor if you can find the right domain to apply it in (i.e. you need leverage).

 

The Dip by Seth Godin

This book always pops up in my mind when I am struggling with something. I’m at the dip and can make it upwards if I just keep pushing.

 

Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History by Guy Lawson

This is the story of how teenagers weed smokers got a $300 million government contract. What? That’s what I said too.

 

Manhunt by James L. Swanson

I just find it really interesting to see how murderers fled people in an age of almost no surveillance. Lee Harvey Oswald goes on quite the 12 day journey.

 

The Most Dangerous Man in America by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

This is the story of Timothy Leary, possibly the most high man on earth during the 1960s. Go on a magical journey through this book so you don’t have to yourself.

 

Mastery by Robert Greene

A really, really inspirational book. I still have a quote of Greene’s on my tablet’s home page: “Boredom no longer signals the need for distraction, but rather the need for new challenges to conquer.”

 

Boon Island by Stephen A. Erickson and Andrew Vietze

This is a real life shipwreck story which features a naughty captain or a naughty crew (depending on who you ask). This is a great example of a fun nonfiction story.

 

Erebus by Michael Palin

A ship which ventured the furthest South and almost the farthest North during its time. Erebus and its crew find the massive icebergs of the South Pole, and eventually get stuck in the icebergs of the Hudson Bay. Oops.

 

The Science of Enlightenment: How Meditation Works by Shinzen Young

If you want to learn how to meditate or are struggling with meditation right now, please, please read this book. I have never changed so much in one day than after reading this book. Shinzen combines science with Eastern meditation to create great mental models for any meditative practice.

 

How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett

I don’t who we have been deluded by, but the fact that emotions are not 100% innate things seems obvious to me now. We pair emotions with sensations, and this pairing is unique for everyone. There are lots of great mental models in this book, including my favorite about maintaining a balanced body budget (work out, sleep, etc.) so that you are not constantly in a state of bad affect.

 

Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings by Mark Twain

I truly love Mark Twain’s work. This book is worth it alone for the first section, which is a satire about good ol’ Adam and Eve having wonderful conversations about “scientific inquiry” and the friendly God in the Garden of Eden.

 

A History of France by John Julius Norwich

THIS is how history should be written. This book has the perfect amount of depth: enough to be interesting, but not to drag on and on. I also have some weird obsession with French culture, so that helps too.

 

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Adam Kay is (was) a junior doctor in the United Kingdom. This is a bloody scary book and a bloody funny book at the same time (quite literally). It convinced me that I certainly do not want to go into medicine.

 

In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin

If you want to learn the basics of quantum physics in a conversational and awe-inspiring manner, then this is the book. If you are afraid of massive equations, then this book will be perfect for you. Gribbin will make you question reality and wonder what is really going on out there.

 

The History of Sexuality: An Introduction by Michel Foucault

This is a fascinating book about our current views on sexuality. If you want to know how our values and institutions can be traced to historical developments (with French style), then this is the book for you.

 

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault

How did the prison arise? Why are we no longer torturing people? Why is there massive surveillance everywhere? These are just a few of the historical questions that this book answers. I love how it traces the institutions we see as inevitable as historical developments. It allows for us to trace our past (and break out of it if we so choose).

 

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

Why is the world better today than ever before? How has the human race advanced past all other in the animal kingdom? According to Matt Ridley, it is because of exchange. Our exchange of ideas and things have brought us extremely far, and will continue to do so in the future.

 

Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings by Michel Foucault

Here is another one of Foucault’s amazing writings. In the book, he discusses the nature of power and also has an argument with Maoist Communists, which he wins. 

 

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

How much does the environment effect human societies? Well, a lot. More domesticable animals leads to more human concentration, which leads to cities, which leads to greater innovation, which leads to . . . Christopher Columbus.

 

On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

Okay, I didn’t fully understand this book, but Nietzsche is like a furious child. He is very fun. He gets very angry (or worried?) about certain societal institutions. He will definitely give you some energy in thought and action.

 

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

If you want to learn about why the principles your parents and teachers shoved in your head actually work, then read this book. Why is freedom such a good thing? Why must we respect others? I honestly only had robotic answers for these questions before I read this book.

 

The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin

There have been two waves of globalization in the past. The first was the industrial revolution and the second came with computers. What’s next? The third: holograms. In the future, Trump will be afraid of Mexicans holographically taking our jobs. I guess the wall won’t work! 

 

This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution by David Sloan Wilson

This author is really cool. He uses evolution to try and improve peoples’ lives. He even explains many historical developments with evolution. This is just a short journey into how we can use our biology to explain so many things about our world.

 

A Companion to Marx’s Capital: Volume 1 by David Harvey

I think it is important to understand Marx’s ideas about capitalism. This book does not call for revolution, but merely tries to explain. Of course the original is the best, but I think David Harvey is a great companion. If anything, read this book to know what is going on in the bigger picture of capitalism.

 

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

Another fascinating book about the natural world. It is crazy just how much variety there is out there, and the wonderful things evolution has created. The book also refutes creation, by showing how evolution creates what I call “compound interest” to make extremely complex things.

 

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

Amazing, amazing book! Economics as a “science” is bullocks. Graeber is an anthropologist who knows how humans have functioned since their hunter-gather days, not just since we created Homo economicus. Debt (both monetary and not) has been central to human life for millennia.

 

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen

Why are Americans so fascinated with fantasy? Andersen shows how we’ve been crazy all along. The pilgrims were crazy. The 49ers were crazy. “But us, no way!” Well, look at Disney World, Las Vegas, even video games. We’re all living in fantasy land!

 

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland

This is not a history book. It is an adventure. It traces the downfall of the Roman Republic and how Caesar eventually took over. But it is actually a story, the story of one of the defining periods in Western civilization.

 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This book is recommended everywhere, and for good reason. I still can’t believe the absolutely atrocious conditions in Nazi concentrations camps. But even more than that, Frankl was able to survive, not just physically but physiologically. It just shows how powerful the human mind can be if it finds a purpose.

 

The Incerto Series by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Okay, full disclosure: this is my absolute favorite series of books I have ever read. Taleb is a radical thinker who is not afraid to say anything. What he believes is what you get. And it is so fun! He hates bankers, economists, etc . . . and has so much to teach. Learn about the power of antifragility and the need for small variations in life. There is so much material in here than can transform your life. Read it!

P.S. I would start with The Black Swan if you are not sure about Nassim Taleb’s writing.

 

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol

Gogol writes some really funny stories. Sometimes men lose their noses, sometimes they go to the moon, and sometimes they are just literally insane. It’s all in good fun!

 

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

This book really touched me. I see so many of my peers literally being controlled by their phones, and I have been in the exact same place too. I have clawed my way out of complete addiction, but it is crazy just how powerful software engineering can be. This is a tremendous book for understanding why the FAANG companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) are literally taking over the world.

 

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

Why is America splitting itself apart? Why can we never agree on anything? Why are there two “truths” in every debate? Klein shows how the divide which currently shapes America has developed, starting its ascent in the 1960s. This is a great book to be informed about our current political situation without going into rage.

 

ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind by Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders

Wow! What a book. Humans have literally been transformed by the alphabet. We think differently. We remember differently. We live our entire lives differently. This book traces how that process occured, from Homer to the computer.

 

A Little History of Religion by Richard Holloway

This is a great little book if you want to be informed about all the religions out there. And yes, that includes Scientology.

 

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard

History is so strange. It can literally be shaped by words. My history teacher says that there is definitively three regions in the United States, but that is bullocks. Once you read this book, you will not only understand why we Americans sometimes hate “each other,”  but have an informed mind when moving to certain regions of the country. We are more different than similar in America (regionally speaking).

 

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland

We are too rational. We make perfect plans that sound great, but which then fail. We have to take our biases into account. Sutherland does this all the time in his marketing career, but we have to take advantage of that wacky things that drive us in our own everyday lives. If it works, then that’s all that matters.

 

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward by Benoit B. Mandelbrot

I found this one through Nassim Taleb. Basically, all of traditional finance is total and complete BS. The Market is not a biological process, and is not normally distributed. There are much, much more extreme events than should happen. Read this book if you want to not be tricked by the gurus who shout everyday on CNBC. Also, after this book you will see the beauty of fractals everywhere. Just look at trees!

 

The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life by J.L. Collins

If you want to read one personal finance book, then this is the one. You will learn how powerful saving early and consistently is due to the wonders of compound interest. You will learn how to slash work (the set of things you don’t want to do but have to) and to begin to live a freer life.

 

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

This book has many audiences: Disney fans, managers, creative types, people who love stories. It covers the story of Pixar Animations (which I grew up loving), while showing how to cultivate creativity in businesses and in yourself. Steve Jobs also stars in the book.

 

Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

Like I said before, I love Mark Twain. He is so wonderfully satirical. This book shows how stupid the whole of slavery was. A 1/32 black child is switched with the plantation owner’s child and chaos life goes wonderfully until everyone finds out. The book shows just how dumb social status is. Ignore it and pursue your own dreams.

 

Language in Thought and Action by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa

Wow! Everything you could ever want to know about how to effectively communicate with someone is in this book. There are even exercises after every chapter! It was written in the 1940s, but the style of writing is still entertaining to read today. 

 

Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume I by Marcel Proust

I have no idea what literary scholars think about this work, and I do not care. It is sublime. It is beautiful. Just appreciate the flow and you will have a wonderful evening. You will grow fascinated with the little things in life, start describing them like a poet in your own mind.

 

The Flame of Attention by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti is a spiritual leader who shuns all forms of religion and guru worship. We must discover the world through ourselves. We must not separate things in life. We must pay attention to the little details, and not place our mental abstractions into reality in place of the actual beauty of reality.

 

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

Biology is essential in order to understand ourselves. We not can be reduced to social constructs which have no descent from monkeys. We are monkeys! I can tell from listening to mind. Biology helps us understand how we function, how males and females have evolved slightly differently over millennia, and why we are in an age of over-abundance today. Evolution is key to a solid understanding of this planet; it is crucial to know what it means to be human.

 

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