Ongoing reading list
This is a (mostly) chronological list of books I've read that I felt like writing little blurbs about. This page will be updated regularly and is not necessarily a list of recommendations but just what books I'm getting through and what I think of them.
Yearly lists can be found at the main book page
The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower Michael Pillsbury
This is a terrifying book The basic premise of the book is that China is waging an ongoing and covert competition against America, and we are more or less oblivious to it. The book describes in detail how the Chinese culture of warfare and deception are based around a complex language barrier, and how they are playing a 100 year game to accomplish their goals while here in America we change our strategy every four years. The Chinese have cultivated an image of weakness, and we have believed it. They are not investing into military strength as they know they can't compete with us but they also know we aren't likely to go into physical war so they are letting the US spend trillions in defense they are investing trillions into infrastructure and technology with the assumption that these will provide a better payoff in the long run. Reall scary book, but fascinating.
Too Big to Fail:How the Last Financial Crisis Informs Today Kerry Killinger, Linda Killinger
Studying the 2008 global financial collapse has been a fun hobby of mine for a few years now. What I have found most interesting are the narratives people tell about it and how different they are from reality. If you ask most people I think they will say the recession happened because homeowners bought houses they couldn't afford with adjustable rate mortgages, and while that didn't help the situation, that's not really what caused such a big problem. It's just a simple sounding narrative for a much more complex problem. Books written by the Federal Reserve chairman Bernanke, and Treasury Secretary Geithner would have you believe they are the ones who saved the economy with their decisions and without them it would have been far worse. This is the benefit of writing a book, the author gets to tell their story without rebuttal, but again, a good sounding narrative does not mean it's true. Then we have this book, written by the CEO of Washington Mutual about his version of what happened. His narrative is that he was the safest bank of them all, but the evil JP Morgan used their influence to have the government shut WAMU down and allow Morgan to buy them at a dirt cheap price during the downfall. Not that I have any interest in defending JP Morgan, but I can't help but to notice that no one in any of these books takes a lick of responsibility. Which is why I'm quite sure we are brewing another economic storm of greater proportions.
The Closing of the American Mind Allan Bloom
One of my 2021 favorites for sure and one of my all time favorite books on cultural philosophy. It's long, incredibly dense, and full of abstract ideas about the decay of American values. Written in 1987 the critiques it gives about the future of America have tracked well with our current reality. Like all great books, it's very hard to summarize this one. One of the themes is the ongoing problem of moral relativism. The idea is that when we all believe in our own values rather than a common shared values our demise will follow, which I think if you look at the news or social media is hard to disagree with. No one can agree on values or shared truth, and nothing is sacred, this makes unity impossible.
The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy William Strauss
This is a fantastic and terrifying book. What this book claims is that human culture is cyclical, and every ~20-25 years we go through a significant cultural reformation, but every ~100 years we go through an extremely drastic one. The authors claim the next cycle will end in the mid 2020's and no later than 2025. Looking at the fracturing in our culture this seems plausible, more interesting is the fact that it was written in 1997. This is not a scientifically driven book so it's all just a theory, but a very potent and fascinating one. Best of all, in 4 years we will know if it's correct!
Contagious: Why Things Catch On Jonah Berger
This one was ok. A mostly anecdotal opinion about why some things go viral and what makes thing sticky. If the author actually knew how to make viral content he would have done that instead of writing this book. It's an interesting read, but it's little more than a neat sounding narrative about a topic that's actually too complex to consistently and accurately manipulate.
The Righteous Mind Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
This was an incredible book This book takes the teachings of behavioral economics that Daniel Kahneman discovered in "Thinking, Fast and Slow" and instead of applying them to financial markets it applies them to how people hold morals. It's been now proven that the brain has two systems, fast and slow. In this book Haidt calls them the elephant and the rider. The fast system (the elephant) is highly instinctual and works on emotion/efficiency/fear and produces the VAST majority of our decisions. The slow system (the rider) then rationalizes this decision to convince us we are right. It's really important to recognize that the slow system does not help us rationalize our opinion correctly with the world, it rationalizes whatever we think as being right and puts blinders on anything that disagrees with that initial emotional and instinctual position. This means that us humans are HIGHLY irrational, we all think we have correct and well thought out world views, and we are hard to convince otherwise. This is quite dangerous, it doesn't FEEL that way to anyone, and worst of all....it's been proven true over and over. The details of how they prove this are beyond the scope of this blog but they are fascinating and I suggest you read both books to find out for yourself In this book the idea is that you have a moral position about your political and religious beliefs and because this coms from your GUT it's extremely hard to change. This is also partly a biological construct meaning our differences in opinion are built into us, so arguing with people over politics might be as truly pointless as it sometimes feels I love this book because it explains the science behind our differences more than the people you disagree with can explain for themselves. This type of book is a perfect fit for why I read books in the first place: to better understand the people and world beyond what the average person even knows about themselves. HIGHLY RECOMMEND
Beyond Order Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson is non-stop brilliant as always. He's a very polarizing figure in the media but NOT because any of his ideas are particularly controversial, but we live in a world of HEADLINES and very little nuance and unfortunately Peterson is bad at catch phrases and great at nuance. The first book was much better, but this is still a close second. Some of my favorite rules from this book are: "Do not do what you hate." "Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that." "Abandon ideology." "Be grateful in spite of your suffering." All of Peterson's rules have a great tendency of sounding new and unique while also being reinforced by ancient (often biblical) wisdom without sounding cliche or shallow. I HATE self help but I adore Jordan Peterson, and you should too.
Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: The Stairway to Enlightenment David Hawkins
This book is HOT GARBAGE written by a charlatan so full of shit that he has to self publish his own books. I was recommended this by someone I liked much more before they made me waste my time on this. This book contains no actual knowledge or fact whatsoever, not only is it pure fiction it's also poorly written and barely coherent. The author uses profound words for the sake of sounding profound but doesn't actually explain any of his claims and frequently rambles himself into perfect nonsense. This might be the most useless book I've ever picked up
The Coming of the Third Reich Richard Evans
This book is a great addition to another Nazi history book I recommend (and wrote extensively about below) "the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". This book covers the cultural and pollical forces that allowed the Nazi's to take power, all the way back to the late 1800's. It is not about the war, and it stops in 1933 when Hitler officially took power of Germany in a dictatorship. I personally prefer this type of book because I like learning about the abstract movements inside a society. Hitler didn't just take control of Germany one day, it was decades of German culture that allowed it to happen, it took a combination of forces such as a broken economy and specifically a period of hyperinflation, new media inventions such as radio and movies, public anger at the current politician regime, DEEP frustration from the Germany people with how the treaty of Versailles ended, and more. Additionally, Hitler tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the government violently in 1927 and failed but only encouraged him to try again with more legal means. This book is fantastic because it takes a period of history that everyone knows about and breaks out the nuance of cultural change over time that allowed it. People say "It can't happen here" and maybe that's true, but if you don't know specifically how it happened in Germany then you don't know what to look for. As I said in my review of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich": "If you're looking for concentration camps to be alarmed, you're 12 years too late".
Economic Facts and Fallacies Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell engages in many popular "commonly known facts" about economics and really dives into their validity. From the causes and implications of black/white inequality to very common;y repeated "fact" that "women get paid 70% of what a man does for the same job" and others. These are hard to approach topics and non-economists have all sorts of opinions about them but Sowell makes the nuance of these ideas so accessible without resorting to bias opinions. As with many things in the world the more simple the argument the less valid it likely is, this is a great book for anyone who wants to better understand complex economics without the dry tediousness that one would expect from this topic. highly recommend!
Animal Farm George Orwell
I just reread this book for the first time since high school and it’s still as important work as ever. George Orwell, one of the greatest writers of all time, tells a story about the animals on a farm that get sick of their tyrant human overlords and overthrow them to install a governing system for themselves. The story is a reference to the 1917 Russian socialist revolution, which started out with seemingly good intentions but was eventually hijacked by a powerful cynic and cult of personality named case Joseph Stalin. Many people see this book (and Orwell in whole) as a referendum against socialism, but that is not really what this book is about, which is why it’s so important to read this book without political dogma clouding your judgment. The russian revolution, and Animal Farm, show little of the downsides of the political movement of Socialism and everything to do with how authoritarian leaders use political dogma and social chaos as a means to install dictatorships and totalitarianism. Totalitarianism describes when a government has nearly total control of it’s populace, notable examples include Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and current day North Korea, along with other instances. Totalitarianism transcends left or right politics and those who want power take it while the masses are bickering about day to day events. So what does Animal Farm teach us? The idea of the book was that the humans were bad and the animals were good, so when the animals took power they would use it for good when it came to the other animals, but this was not what happened. When the pigs took power, they used it to become tyrannical exactly like the humans did. They lied, manipulated, and oppressed the fellow animals so they could have total power for themselves. The point of the book, and the lesson to be learned is that no person is above corruption and anyone in power will do whatever they can to keep power at the expense of the populous. Do not trust altruistic or well well spoken leaders, falling in love with a politician is like falling in love with a stripper: only a sucker does it. The Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Russia was supposed to install Socialism: a government by the people, for the people, where resources are distributed more fairly. The IDEA of it is great but the problem is that people are inherently susceptible to corruption and none of them are above it. Animal Farm is a brilliant insight into the flaws of human nature and a reminder to always be suspicious of our leaders.
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
This is a book like no other, and let me state with the utmost of clarity, that is an enticement and a warning. The book is about a committed pedophile and it's written from the first person perspective as if he's having a private conversation with the reader. The main character is not really a protagonist, but he's so compelling to listen to it's hard not to get sucked into his story. Sort of like driving slowly past a brutal car accident, you know nothing good is happening there but we feel urged to watch anyway. I never heard of this book until early in the year when I heard about it 2 or 3 times in a week, which I took to mean the universe is telling me to read it. Then I found out Jeremy Irons is the narrator, THEN I found out Stanley Kubrik had made a film about it. This book is not pro-pedophilia, but it's not really ant-pedophilia either, it's just a bizarre insight into the mind of this creepy dude. It was very intriguing to me that a book about such a taboo topic has been so popularized so heavily So I read it, and I can confirm that it's like nothing else I've ever read. It's bizarre and disgusting in the most straightforward ways: the main character chases around the 12 year old daughter of a woman he's dating. Through the book the character has one goal and a fixed mindset and everything he does revolves around this singular purpose: to have sex with Lolita.
The Paranoid Style in American Politics Richard Hoffstader
This is the second book by this author, the first "Anti-intellectualism in American Life" was a fantastic insight into the history of the education and intellectual culture of the United States. I loved that book so naturally I wanted to read another by the same guy, this entry was a similar history lesson but in politics timeliness matters. This book was written in the 1964 and while I generally prefer older books, this one just didn't hold up as well for me. Hoffstader describes some of the origins of our hyper-polarizing political culture from the 50's and 60's, how politicians create US versus THEM situations especially through emotion rather than policy, but politics has gone so insane over the last 60 years that I think this doesn't get a comprehensive enough insight to be as impactful as it was at the time of writing. A better entry for this type of content is the book below: The Blank Slate, or one I read more recently on this list: The Righteous Mind. I'll still read some more of Richard Hoffstader as he's a great writer and smart fella, this one just happens not to have gained much value with the passage of time.
The Blank Slate Steven Pinker
This was an incredible book and one of the most impactful I've ever read. This book deep dives the nuanced arguments and ideas of both political extremes all surrounding the main idea of "nature versus nurture". I love to discuss politics but I hate political theater, I prefer long deep nuance about a topic, thorough context, and most of all I like when someone is willing to put forth a socially taboo when they think they are right. This is not an easy book but there is a 100% chance this book discusses ideas you have opinions about and provides perspective about those ideas that you haven't considered. This book shows the world is never black and white and always grey. This will be one of my all time favorites.
Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen Steve Sims
An autobiography disguised as self help and good at neither. Barely entertaining. I'm sure the author made a bunch of money selling this book.
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World Tim Marshall
Fantastic book describing the geopolitics that different nations have to deal with. Every country has it's unique neighbors, land, coastlines, and resources to make use of, the world is relentlessly unfair and this book talks about how countries have made decisions based on what resources they have available. Examples include China's giant land mass to manage with multiple neighbors, how a huge Russia has only water access to Europe through the a single Ukrainian port, and how America has 2 neighbors on good terms , ocean front on the east and west, and has a plethora of natural resources making us the luckiest country to ever exist. Fantastic book and not a super difficult read, highly recommend it.
Dune Frank Herbert
Dune is a classic sci-fi book that has inspired so much of our modern culture and with a new version of the movie coming out I just had to read it. I did not love it. It's got a very well written and created world that's thorough and interesting but I found it to be fairly unrelatable story, sci-fi for the sake of it. It's like Shakespeare in its' scope and theater, but without the relatable human archetypes. Worse still the book felt like an incomplete story, which led me to find out that there are something like ~30 books in the Dune series. If you want mindless fiction to poor yourself into endlessly for no benefit, Dune is your book!
The Untethered Soul Michael Singer
This book is not for everyone and I personally would have dismissed it as feel-good silliness 2 or 3 years ago. Luckily, I didn't read it 2 or 3 years ago, and so as with many books in life this was the right book at the right time. After a hard breakup in 2020 I was having a terrible time of dating, until I met this one incredible lady whom I had a single date with and then was very upset she didn't like me in return. She recommended my this book and I'm eternally grateful for, it's a book about finding internal spiritual peace and why we are so prone to depression and anxiety. How to find mindfulness and live in the moment.
I wrote a more in depth review of The Untethered Soul here.
The Assault on Intelligence Michael Hayden
This is a book about politics with a fairly one sided negative view of Donald Trump. I DO NOT consider it to be biased one sided propaganda intended to sell an agenda While many politicians and pundits write those sorts of books I generally avoid them like the plague (regardless of which side they are on). This however was reasonable critique from someone who is extremely well versed in the field. I don't think any politician is above reasonable critique. (I provide this comment up front because some people don't care to hear any potential negative comments about their god-king and I want to save them from this potentially scary book.) The Assualt on Intelligence covers the Trump presidency from the intelligence agency perspective, not his cultural or policy stances. I don't think it's any secret that Donald Trump was not a fan of American intelligence agencies, and that was made abundantly clear when in 2018 at the Helsinki summit he sided with Russia over his own FBI. There are always two sides to a story, this is just one of them, but it's interesting.
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race Thomas Ligotti
This book is some hardcore cynicism....which I kina love. It's written by a horror fiction writer and he expresses that it's written with a horror feel to it. The idea of the book is sort of Nihilistic (Nihilism is the cynical philosophy that nothing matters, so everything is permitted) but this book is actually far darker than your standard bleak nihilism. The main idea is that as humans we are all inevitably going to die, just like animals, but we are the only species who is self aware of this fact and to cope with this miserable fact our society has spent thousands of years creating stories, religions, and comforting lies to make us ok with this fact so that we can be productive members of society. This is the conspiracy against the human race. This book is a fun read with a unique idea and it's VERY well written but I don't consider it high level philosophy or psychology.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism Shoshana Zuboff
This was an incredible read and I HIGHLY recommend it to everyone. There was an abridged version of this book combined with another book I loved called "The Coddling of the American Mind" made for Netflix called "The Social Dilemma" which was good but it only scratched the surface of the problem we are creating for ourselves. This book describes the power we are giving social media companies, the obscene amount of data we are giving them for free, and how they are using that data to manipulate our behavior towards their goals and worse than that, there is concrete evidence that it is working. We are being manipulated to the ends of corporate interests who are profiting from it and there is zero regulation or protection for users in place or on it's way. We are creating our own demise and it's worse than I had thought when I picked up this book. The author uses the term 'Inevitabalism' to describe our impending doom. Everyone sort of knows the dangers of social media but you're probably like me in that you only know the surface problems, this book will terrify you but hopefully like me, you prefer scary truth over blissful ignorance.
This Time is Different, Eight Centuries of Financial Folly Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff
Hint, this time is NOT different. Economies have been collapsing since the beginning of economies, and all for a variety of different small reasons and all for a few of the same very big reasons. the big reasons being inflation and excessive debt, which if you're not paying attention to current market macroeconomics, that is what's currently occurring.
Stress Test Timothy Geithner
On the Genealogy of Morals Friedrich Nietzche
I love Nietzche! I know it's old, obscure, and seems like a waste of time but what I've gained from reading his work is far and away more valuable than the cumulative self helps works I've ever read. No one writes with his conviction, and he doesn't lean into the delicate new age self help platitudes of "You can do it if you believe in yourself". Instead Nietzsche says there are weak people and there are strong people, and strong people have a responsibility to exercise their will upon the world. I've added 4-5 more books of his on to my wish list so expect more updates in the future.
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
I love dystopian fiction and I love understanding the dangers of censorship. This book explores a future where society burns all books to prevent the citizens from painful knowledge. Instead the population is stupid, docile, and happy. I identify with this because books often cause me struggle when I learn the world is far from perfect. Not reading books will certainly let you live in blissful ignorance, but is that what is really best for us as a culture? I say no. This book has encouraged me to read more than ever, I highly recommend this one.
The Color of Law Richard Rothstein
This book is about how systemic racism permeates through our culture legally and mostly through real estate. My background is in banking, so much of this wasn't super new information. Things like redlining, blockbusting, and steering are well documented and quite illegal already (though they still do happen). What might not be common knowledge are things like, the VA loan program was the largest generator of wealth for Americans coming out of world war 2, but it wasn't available to black veterans until decades later. This creates generational wealth disparity that is simply not possible to undue in any easy manner. I learned that after the 2008 the subprime mortgage crisis research found that the black community had a very higher rate of subprime mortgages than they deserved. Meaning, a population of people that qualified for low rate, low risk mortgages were not given them! They were instead given higher rate, higher risk mortgages at their detriment.
Benjamin Franklin, An American Life Walter Isaacson
Ben Franklin is one of the most impressive Americans to ever live. He was a prolific writer, a successful businessman, an inventor, and a immense political influence. This book is really good for anyone interested in the entrepreneurial spirit and American history. My favorite quote from this book: "“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
I don't read much fiction but Tolstoy is incredible and this book is often regarded as the greatest novel of all time, which means I had to read it! These Russian writers all have the same long drawn out and dreary style and I'm finally starting to understand why: it forces the reader really commit and get involved with the characters. I appreciate this now even though this is one very long book, because I deeply felt what this book was saying about humanity. This book is about many things, part of it is about the gap between morality and materialism, while the big story is about Anna and he struggle to seperate fleeting happiness versus impulsive pleasure. it's quite a tragic book but worth the read, HIGHLY recommend this one.
The Right Side of History Ben Shapiro
I'm not a big fan of Ben Shapiro but in my circles this book got good reviews so I checked it out. Ben's argument is that polarization and overly political correctness are worsening and causing us social harm. I agree with him 100% on this. However, his reasoning for how this happens is somewhere between weak and non-existent. Ben is a right wing propagandist and he's selling books, he can't seem to help himself simply blame the liberals for all problems since the dawn of humanity, which I find to be intellectually lazy. Ben takes account of our value system and how we got here, his understanding of history is thorough, accurate, and impressive. How he uses that knowledge though is lackluster and highly biased. I found this to be quite disappointing and he never really answers the questions he asked at the beginning of the book. I can't stress enough the deep historical accuracy this book contains, I just wish the author was more deliberate in his analysis of that history.
The Fifth Risk Michael Lewis
My criticism of Micheal Lewis is always the same: he tells a great narrative about large topics but approaches them through anecdotes. This is a great way to make readers relate to a story but a terrible way to interpret how the world really operates. This book is a scathing critique of the Trump administration and how they have handled running the government since the election. Donald Trump ran as an outsider with no political experiences, I'm not sure why anyone would expect him to have been doing a good job when he came in and it was clear from his campaign (and up until now, June 2020) that he wasn't going to put a lot of work in to be proficient in government operations. I will say, this book is well researched and very insightful into the nuance of how risks in government compound. If you like politics (not the team sport of politics) you will probably like this one.
World War Z Max Brooks
Despite the raving reviews of this book and particularly the audio version, I completed it unimpressed. I started this at the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic as it seemed really applicable. However, the book doesn't contain a plot or a purpose it's written as a journalist account of the zombie apocalypse after it's already happened. It displays the stupidity, shortsightedness, and panic that humans exude when in situations of mass havoc. There is nothing else to learn from this book other than humans are irrational and stupid in groups. I already knew that so I didn't find much else to excite me in this book.
Beyond Good and Evil Fredrich Nietzsche
I love Nietzche so much! This was the second time I read this book, the first time was difficult for me to understand and the book is largely a response to many philosophy of the day so I needed a bit more understanding of the base material before I really got it. The book dives deep into the question of what is good and what is evil. Nietzsche posits that all morality is relative and there no philosophers that find real morality but simply present their personal opinion of morality “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena” This is just a taste of an outright brilliant text on morality and individualism. Neitzche is a hardcore individualist which pings me in particular but he's also a Nihilist which I relate to as well so this may be my bias but I think most people would enjoy/find value in this book.
The Road to Wigan Pierbr George Orwell
Orwell isn't famous for this book and I hadn't really heard of it either but I went looking for his other works in hopes they would compare to 1984 and Animal Farm. The book is an analysis of the pragmatism of Socialism versus the reality of how people view and support/oppose it. Unfortunately I think the book was bit too time specific for me to find it very useful.
Magna Carta Dan Jones
This book is a bit dreary and not many would enjoy it, I barely enjoyed it. The history of the Magna Carta is interesting, but most people would not find much value here. The Magna Carta, signed in 1215 and was a political mess right from the start was a creation of some local governors airing grievances against the king and demanding concessions from him. This isn't a big deal now, but at the time it was the first time this had happened. Never before had a King had to acquiesce to his subjects, even powerful governors like the ones in questions, and then had the agreement to change with specific conditions written and signed by all parties. It represented a giant leap forward in the rights of the people and even the United States documents of freedom often cite the Magna Carta as a heavy influence.
Trust me, I'm Lying Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday always delivers and this book is no different, the content is exciting if not terrifying. It's pretty obvious that the media is driven by clicks, that's how they get paid, and nothing sells better than sensationalist and controversial content. Ryan tells his story of exploiting the user base for profit, he acknowledges that this makes him a pretty awful human being, and I want to make sure I say it too because admitting you're using your power against your fellow human does make you an awful human and admitting it only partially absolves you. With that said, the book is fascinating if not cynical and it's good for people to know just how corrupt the media is. I recommend this one!