Hella Important, Mind-blowing, Super-useful and Fun: 100 books I read in 2016

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screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-11-26-37-amAt the beginning of 2016, I decided to devote more time to my favorite activity: reading. I set myself a rough target of two books a week, and got through 110 of them. Below are capsule reviews and ratings of about 100 of those, categorized into the following 5 headings: Hella Important; Mind-Blowing; Super Useful; Fun & Fast; Loved it!; Heart-Expanding; and More. Note than I’m counting audiocourses as books, some of which are much longer than the average audiobook (36hrs vs 6hrs). If a book looks like it doesn’t have a review, it means I put it in more than one category and the review’s coming right up.

Enjoy, and please chime in with your own reviews, reflections and recommendations in the comments!

HELLA IMPORTANT!
These books aren’t necessarily the most fun to get through, but they’re talking about something super important that is probably affecting your life right now.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport (ebook and paper). The most behavior-altering book I read in 2016. Georgetown computer scientist Newport differentiates between deep and shallow work, making the case that a life of meaning has more of the deep than the shallow. A roadmap for fulfilling your purpose in life, which I intend to fully deploy in 2017 and beyond. 10/10

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle (ebook and paper). We’re in the midst of a social revolution, and not in a good way: digital communication is eating away at face-to-face interaction, with measurable, scary and disastrous effects on our minds and relationships. Turkle places the problem in its proper apocalyptic context and proposes some solutions. 9/10

The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, Adam Gazzaley MD/PhD and Larry Rosen PhD (ebook and paper). You can’t multitask. Period. The authors, a renowned neuroscientist and a psychologist, provide the scientific evidence for how distractions and interruptions of high-novelty digital media degrade our brain function, productivity and relationships. An accessible and thorough presentation of an extremely important, timely topic. My full Amazon review here. 9.5/10

The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State, Graeme Wood (ebook and paper). Who really gets ISIS anyway? Even to an educated audience, they seem like a jumble of acronyms, leaders, factions and philosophies falling somewhere between incoherence and chaos. How did they come about? Are they real Muslims? What’s up with the beheadings, amputations, and sex slavery? What compels so many seemingly nice young men to leave everything behind and join them in Syria? This brand-new book places IS in an historical, religious, geographic and ideological context so by the end of it we can all say, “Aahh, now I get it.” The encounters are kinda amazing. Full review here. 9/10

Tribe: On Homecoming & Belonging, Sebastian Junger (ebook and paper). Pretty short as far as audiobooks go, but it packs a wallop. Junger gets deep into the human psyche’s need for affiliation and fellowship, and how that manifests (or doesn’t) in the modern world. 9/10

Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World, Srdja Popovic (ebook and paper). Loved this book! Enough to review it twice, push it on all my friends, and befriend the author. Srdja knows what he’s talking about. As one of the founders of Otpor!, he masterminded the nonviolence movement that eventually toppled the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Later he and his colleagues consulted with the nonviolent movements in the Maldives, Egypt, and Burma. This book draws upon these frontline experiences: what worked, what didn’t work, and how to do it better. Read my rhapsodizing review here. 10/10

Girls and Sex: Navigating the New Landscape, Peggy Orenstein (ebook and paper). Hoo boy. Sobering, sometimes terrifying stuff here. Our girls are in trouble, and Orenstein shows us why, mostly from the mouths of girls. Eye-opening stuff. 8.5/10

The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture, Philip Slater

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Davis (ebook and paper). A jaw-dropping work of investigative journalism so explosive that it subjected its incredibly ballsy authors to years of harassment and death threats, continuing to this day. You read it and think, “That didn’t actually happen, did it? People can’t possibly be that evil.” Oh yes it did, and yes they are. Remember these names: Competitive Enterprise Institute; Heartland Institute; Marshall Institute; Frederick Seitz; Bill Nierenberg; Robert Jastrow; Fred Singer. These are some of the denialist Cold Warriors and turncoat scientists who for decades defended the tobacco industry, denied the industrial origins of acid rain and ozone depletion, disseminated pseudoscience in support of the Strategic Defense Initiative, defended DDT, and are still trying to discredit the science of global warming. Another fantastic recommendation from Jesse Kornbluth’s Head Butler blog, and one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Know thine enemy. 10/10

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey (ebook and paper). Another life-changing book I’m embarrassed to have taken my sweet time to get to. Ratey makes a spirited case for exercise being the best thing you can do for yourself, ever. Fun to read and highly motivating. Exercise makes you smarter! 9/10

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer (ebook and paper). Where do fanatic nutjobs come from? Hoffer – an unaffiliated, self-educated longshoreman awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his writings – breaks it down in exacting and prescient detail. When he wrote this in 1952, WWII was still fresh in people’s minds, and folks like Mao and Stalin were still in power. With the 2016 US elections, fascism and nationalism on the rise, this classic is a timely read. 9/10

The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care, Angelo Volandes (ebook and paper). Have you talked to your parents about advance directives, living wills and other uplifting topics yet? What, you think they (and you) are somehow exempt from death? This is pretty important stuff, folks. Take-home message: the three end-of-life care choices are life-prolonging care (“Do everything, doc!”), limited medical care, or comfort care. After watching the videos, most people opt for comfort care. Watch the videos here in 20 languages. The book also has links to all the forms you’ll need. Every new book these days has the word “revolutionary” in the title, but this one earns it. Essential resource. 9/10

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage, Brené Brown (audiobook). How good is this? Really, really good. 6 hours to shift your thinking and change your life. Screw perfectionism. 9.5/10

The Power Paradox: How We Gain & Lose Influence, Dacher Keltner (ebook and paper). How is it is that to get power, you have to be nice to people, but once people become powerful, they tend to turn into jerks? Keltner is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and this book illuminates the relationship between kindness and power. Lots of useful, revealing tidbits about human behavioral quirks. 8.5/10

MIND-BLOWING
My reaction after reading these books was “Holy cow that was amazing,” whether due to content, style or both. Many of them would also fall under the “Important” or “Loved it!” categories.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari (ebook and paper). Deep insight into what it means to be human, from evolutionary beginnings to modern days, from micro to macro. Seriously mind-expanding stuff. Everybody’s read it, so why haven’t you? 10/10

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, Phil Knight (audio, ebook and paper). An intimate, revealing, moving, poetic, and often hilarious account of an extraordinary life. I cracked up listening to this book more than any other since Dave Barry. Knight may have missed his calling as a writer, but I’m glad he made some damn good shoes. A masterpiece of the genre. 10/10

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt (ebook and paper). Normally, I don’t read a lot of history, and I only came to possess this book through a Harvard January-term class taught by Greenblatt himself. Years later, I finally deigned to pick it up. It’s astonishingly, mind-blowingly good. There is a direct line from the modern world to the writings of the preposterously prescient Roman poet Lucretius. Greenblatt takes us through the history of classical Rome, re-creates the world of the Renaissance book fiend Poggio Bracciolini – quite possibly the only person who could have dug up a copy of De Rerum Natura – and makes it all relevant to our present-day lives. This book deserves its Pulitzer and every other accolade it ever gets. 10/10

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee (ebook and paper). I acquired the galley of this at Book Expo America six years ago, and thought I’d leaf through it before putting it in a donation pile. Except that I couldn’t put it down till I’d read the whole damn thing. Holy rumbling Krakatoa it’s one of the greatest books I’ve ever read! Sid Mukherjee is a brilliant scientist in his own right, and therefore supremely qualified to write on this topic. What he does above and beyond the call of duty is to tell a damn fine story, too. Humane, erudite, moving. Can’t wait to dig into his new one, The Gene. 10/10

The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture (2008), Philip Slater (ebook and paper). Every once in a while a book comes along and tilts your whole world such that you can’t but see it differently. This is one of them (like Sapiens). Slater is a deep thinker, and his formulation of Control Culture vs Integrative Culture has enormous explanatory power, especially in an age of rising authoritarianism. Read it and be blown away. Another Head Butler favorite. 9.5/10

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi (ebook and paper). For the three people who haven’t read this yet, Kalanithi was a hotshot neurosurgery resident with a wobbly relationship when he got diagnosed with lung cancer. With months to live, he decided to finish residency, get married, have a kid, and write this book. We’re really glad he did. Life-affirming, poetic, deeply moving. Next time someone asks, “What is the meaning of life?”, hand ‘em this book. 10/10

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, Sean Carroll (ebook and paper). It took me a month to get through this, and I’m glad I did. Sean is a brilliant theoretical physicist who has the distinction of being the only person to turn down a postdoc with Stephen Hawking twice. He’s also one of the best living popularizers of science, with a lively and funny delivery. This is a deeply rewarding book, if not one you can necessarily speed-read. You end up questioning your assumptions, and reconfiguring your worldview on almost every page. 10/10

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Alice Schroeder (ebook, paper, audiobook) An amazing book! It’s really a biography of 30+ people – not just Warren Buffett, but also Charlie Munger, Ben Graham, Susie Buffett, Buffett’s grandparents, parents and children, Katharine Graham, all of Buffett’s business partners, Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway, and the US economy in the 20th century. The vividness and empathy with which Schroeder describes them makes each character come alive, illuminating Buffett and his era through the prism of his relationships. You also get inside the head of one of the richest men who has ever lived. A masterpiece. 10/10

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism, by Karima Bennoune (ebook and paper). The atrocities, inhumanity, resistance, bravery and hope that Bennoune describes in this 2013 collection of interviews and stories from around the Muslim world will shake you to your core, bring you to tears, and ultimately, make you hopeful for humanity’s future. She collected these accounts at considerable risk to her own safety. Bennoune’s father was a noted fighter of fundamentalism in Algeria, so she speaks from firsthand experience. Mind-blowing stuff. 9.5/10

The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, Charles Spence (ebook and paper). Once I had heard about Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Lab, I had to get this book written by its director. I used the book to design my first Neurodinner Party, and it worked magnificently. Required reading for neuroscientists and aspiring chefs. 8.5/10

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (ebook and paper). Mitchell is a genius, and his book is a mad tour de force of novelistic craft. He re-creates or invents six worlds, getting the tone, diction, genre and feel for each one pitch-perfect. Who can sound convincing as a 19th c. sailor, a 1930s aristocratic English musician and a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian? Whether the novel itself is fun to read is another question entirely, and although it was mostly riveting, it was also a slog at times. However, my sense of the possibilities of fiction has been expanded, and the likelihood of ever writing a novel commensurately shrunk. 9.5/10

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease, Dan Lieberman (ebook and paper). One of those awe-inspiring reads that makes you wonder what took you so long to get to it. Dan is the man. 9.5/10

Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science, Steven Gimbel (Great Courses) Prof Gimbel goes through the history of revolutionary scientific thought – micro to macro, from Aristotle to Copernicus to Galileo to Newton, Eintein, Hawking, Darwin, Freud, Kahneman – and how our view of the world reconfigured itself each time. Mind-blowingly good. Learned so much. 9.5/10

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, Huston Smith (ebook and paper). To write a great memoir, it helps to have lived a great life. Huston Smith has lived at least five of those. Astonishing story from a generous, wise soul. Very sad that he passed away on 30 Dec at 97. 9/10

The Future of the Mind, Michio Kaku (ebook and paper). Physicist Kaku is a great popularizer, and this journey into cutting-edge neuroscience is exciting, accessible and thought-provoking. 8.5/10

SUPER USEFUL
I read a lot of personal growth books, and these are the ones I found particularly useful.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson & Robert Poole (ebook and paper). A superb compendium of the work and thought of Ericsson, the undisputed god of high-performance studies and father of the misnamed 10,000hr rule. This book completely upended my notions about talent, achievement and expertise. Hard work beats talent every time. 10/10

Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within, Chade-Meng Tan (ebook and paper). You may be tempted to dismiss this book because of its goofy humor and non-sequitur cartoons. That would be a mistake. Meng, the Google engineer who founded their in-house meditation program, packs this book with transformative meditative practices, most of them new to this long-time meditator. I expect to re-read this one regularly. Full review here. 9/10

Money: Master the Game – 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom, Tony Robbins (ebook and paper). Tony’s first book in 20+ years. Wordy and exhortative in Robbins’ trademark good-natured hectoring style, this book makes all kinds of sense. Well worth the slog. 9/10

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, Neil Fiore (ebook and paper). One of the most popular books ever written on procrastination. And effective, too! Fiore decriminalizes the habit and provides some solid tactics for managing it. I’ll start implementing its suggestions next week. Maybe. 9.5/10

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, Raj Raghunathan (ebook and paper). This is the best book on happiness I’ve read so far because it’s so damn practical. The exercises are excellent. Take the free online course that goes with it. 9.5/10

The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown (ebook and paper). What with Oprah as a fan, all women seem to already know about Brené Brown. If not, this is where you start. Transformative thoughts on living a more self-compassionate, fulfilling life rid of perfectionism and other pernicious cultural afflictions. If you’re too lazy to read a whole book, start with this 27.7m view TED talk. 9.5/10

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating Like Your Life Depended On It, Chris Voss (ebook and paper). In business, parenting and relationships, we’re negotiating all the time, so we might as well be good at it. Voss, the former lead FBI hostage negotiator for 20+ years, spills the beans on how it’s done. With pithy maxims and riveting anecdotes, this book is both compulsively readable and eminently useful. Essential reference. My full review here. 9.5/10

Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Robert Cialdini (ebook and paper). I’ve been a Cialdini fanboy since 1997, and pre-ordered this, his first real new book in over 20 years. It did not disappoint. Full review here. 9.5/10

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Shawn Achor (ebook and paper). Because of its practicality, this is one of the better happiness books I’ve read. And I’ve read ‘em all. 9/10

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, Susan David (ebook and paper). One of the best personal growth books I’ve read in recent memory. David, a South African psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School, has seen and experienced a lot. Her storytelling and clear instructions for implementing change make this a standout. 9.5/10

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson (ebook and paper). Outstanding guide for all levels of speakers. Enjoyable and authoritative, considering the hundreds of TED talks Anderson has vetted. 9/10

Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life, Michael Port (ebook and paper) Port sets out a whole program for conceiving, outlining, rehearsing and delivering a great speech. I particularly appreciate his emphasis on rehearsal, and doing it in three separate phases. I will be taking almost all of his suggestions to heart in my next performance! 9/10

Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation, Mark Muesse (Great Courses). Muesse is one of my favorite teachers at The Great Courses. Even as a long-time meditator, I learned a ton, and the guided meditations were excellent. Fantastic introduction to the field. 9.5/10

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Matthieu Ricard (ebook and paper). Based on his brain scans, scientists have called Ricard the happiest man in the world. I think of him as one of the wisest. This is a broccoli book for sure, and if you follow its precepts, your life will improve. 9/10

Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Peter C Brown (ebook and paper). Very good stuff, of which very little managed to stick since I listened to the audiobook. Lesson: visual learning lasts longer. 8.5/10

The Doors to Joy: 19 Meditations for Authentic Living (2014), Daniel Odier (ebook and paper). Daniel Odier is my secret stash for esoteric Eastern wisdom. I started with Tantric Quest, and have been hooked on his stuff ever since. Great little quick read to lift you up. 9.5/10

Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World, Adam Grant (ebook and paper). I was bowled over by Give and Take, Grant’s life-altering first book, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this, especially since I’m a creativity junkie (see Amazon review). I found the title a bit of a misnomer since the central message of the book ends up being that massively successful people are often more risk-averse conformists than not. Otherwise a hugely informative and fun read. Favorite bit: to disarm your audience when pitching, open with your flaws. 8/10

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Angela Duckworth (ebook, audiobook, and paper). I listened to the audiobook twice, and enjoyed it both times. However, I couldn’t help but think about all the people with passion and perseverance who still didn’t make it big. Without accounting for them and only looking at the victors would make grit merely a psychological just-so story. Also missing: how to get grittier. Still, the central message of hard work trumping talent every time holds true. 8/10

Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health, Prof Jason Satterfield (Great Courses). Really good. 9/10

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert (ebook and paper). 9/10
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work, Steven Pressfield (ebook and paper). 8.5/10
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield (ebook and paper). I read these three books in rapid succession in April, probably feeling the need for a creativity boost. All three are excellent, able to pull you out of a creative rut of any depth. I refer back to the Pressfield books periodically. The War of Art is rightfully considered an indispensable classic, which is why I give it a 10/10.

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype — and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More, Michael Breus (ebook and paper). The science of chronotype is just emerging, and I predict that the near future will make it a major part of how we think about work and health. This book helps classify yourself into one of four activity patterns of lion, wolf, bear or dolphin, with corresponding recommendations. 8.5/10

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain, Prof Jason Satterfield (Great Courses). As a part-time therapist, this seemed like a topic I needed to know more about. CBT is no panacea but a useful tool nonetheless. Satterfield is an immensely knowledgeable and sympathetic lecturer. 8.5/10

Million-Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, 5th Editionby Alan Weiss (ebook and paper). Weiss is Jesus, Buddha and Moses rolled into one when it comes to solo consulting practice. I consider him the ultimate authority. Whether you’re a seasoned consultant or just about to strike out on your own, his principles can multiply your income, sometimes overnight. The section on value pricing alone is worth 100x the cover price. 9.5/10

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage, Brené Brown

The Man’s Guide to Women: Scientifically Proven Secrets from the “Love Lab” About What Women Really Want, by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, with Doug & Rachel Abrams (ebook and paper). John and Julie Gottman are the husband-and-wife founders of the University of Washington’s Love Lab. For the past 40+ years, they have observed thousands of couples, and know of that which they speak. Gottman is the Magus, and I consider his word gospel. A treasury of insight into relationships; should be required reading for all heterosexual males. 9/10

Nutrition Made Clear, by Roberta Anding (The Teaching Company). This audiocourse filled a part of my missing education. Heck, this stuff was not even taught to us in medical school! Everybody needs to know what they put in their body, what they should put in their body, and why. Highly recommended. 9/10

If You Really Want to Change the World, Norman Winarsky & Henry Kressel (ebook and paper). When it comes to tech startups, these two guys are the genuine article. Required reading for all starry-eyed entrepreneurs and the VCs who would fun them. 8.5/10

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt (ebook, paper, and audio). There’s a ton of science on traffic, and you spend half your life stuck in it, yet nobody seems to know anything about it. Huh? There are very few books that will help you understand your world better. Get the audiobook to listen in the car so you can make traffic educational. 9/10

The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life, Piero Ferrucci (ebook and audio). Got this audiobook on a lark since it was on sale for $2.95 and I’m a sucker for that kinda thing. Brilliant choice! Drawing upon his lifelong experience as a therapist, Ferrucci sprinkles his precepts with case histories and touching fables from ancient traditions. 9/10

Your Body at Work, David Givens (ebook). A good reference on body language at the workplace, by one of the pioneers of the field. 8/10

Wired to Connect: The Surprising Link Between Brain Science and Strong, Healthy Relationships, by Amy Banks (ebook and paper), 2016. The clever bastards at Amazon somehow figured out that a book on brain science applied to relationships would hit the sweet spot of my brain, so I let this one skip the queue ahead of 100+ other books on my list. The centerpiece of the book is Dr Banks’ CARE protocol, an acronym for Calm, Accepted, Resonant, and Energetic.

Being Better Better: Living Better With Systems Intelligence, Raimo Hamalainen (ebook). A quirky little Finnish book referred to me by another quirky book. 8/10

Touch: The Science of the Hand, Heart and Mind, Robert Linden (ebook and paper). I must have highlighted half of this book! Almost all its information was novel to me even though I’ve studied neuroscience and medicine. Touch is such an integral part of our lives, yet it’s remarkable how little we know about it. The good news is that the science of touch has been on the rise in recent years, and Linden does an excellent job of presenting its findings in a comprehensive yet engaging manner. I’ll be recounting several of the stories from this book at lectures and cocktail parties many years hence. 9/10

Unmasking Narcissism, by Mark Ettensohn and Jane Simon (ebook and paper). The US Presidential Election of 2016 made it necessary for me to find out more about narcissistic personality disorder. This is a very good primer. 8/10

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph, Ryan Holiday (ebook and paper). Quick read, time-honored precept, middling book. If you can get past Holiday channeling the voice of his mentor Robert Greene without being as clear a writer or thinker, the message is still worthwhile. Good for a dose of applied Stoic philosophy. 7/10

Nutrition Made Clear, by Roberta Anding (The Teaching Company). This audiocourse filled a part of my missing education. Heck, this stuff was not even taught to us in medical school! Everybody needs to know what they put in their body, what they should put in their body, and why. Highly recommended. 9/10

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention and Energy, Chris Bailey (ebook and paper). Read this in one sitting, but can’t say it had any breakthrough ideas. 8/10

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (ebook and paper). Start with your endpoint: where do you want to be? What does success look like? Then trace backwards and find that one thing that needs to be done to get you there this year, this month, this week, and today. Then do it. Written by two real estate moguls. 8/10

The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate, Eugene Ehrlich (ebook and paper). Basically a word list for those who already know a lot of words. About 25% were new to me, making me happy enough. 8/10

How Sex Works: Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Act the Way We Do (2009), Sharon Moalem (ebook and paper). A primer on the science of sexuality, with lots of tidbits on the role of smell, the origins of circumcision, the neurological effects of being in love, and the use of leeches on wedding nights. A good, breezy read for beginners to the topic. 8/10

The Gift of Gab: How Eloquence Works, David Crystal (ebook and paper). Not sure if the book delivers on the promise of its title. So I will just say that this book is entertaining and useful, but perhaps less so if you’re already a professional speaker. 8/10

FUN AND FAST
I picked up these books mostly for kicks or out of curiosity. All of them are quick, entertaining reads.

Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals, Elizabeth Murray (Teaching Company). Every once in a while, I pick a course solely based on the fact that I know little about the subject. Now I know all about Lizzie Borden, forced confessions, and the utter unreliability of eyewitness testimony. 8/10

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg (ebook and paper). I freakin’ loved Duhigg’s first book, The Power of Habit, and judging by its 4,000 Amazon reviews, so did everyone else. And how am I supposed to resist a title like this, especially when it’s about productivity? Bring it on, I say. Hell, I even pre-ordered it, which I never do. Unfortunately, it’s not really about productivity. What?!? Yeah, Duhigg spins a yarn like nobody’s business, but the book’s simply about stuff other than productivity. Kinda like buying a pound of apples, and when you come home, it’s turned into a porcupine. Still pretty cool, but not what you paid for. 8/10

Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal, Erik Vance (ebook and paper). A brand-new book about suggestion, placebos, hypnosis? Yes please! Quick, engaging read. Especially if you’re a professional hypnotherapist. 8/10

Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World

The Warrior Ethos, Stephen Pressfield (ebook and paper). I did not know Pressfield had written this. Once I did, I had to read it, duh. Short (122pp), wallopy, inspiring. You will probably want to go to a kickboxing class afterwards. 8/10

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (ebook). A science fiction classic, and a thriller all the way. Kept me up past 3am, with one of the most jaw-dropping plot-twists of all time. 9/10

The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, Trevor Corson (ebook and paper). A super-fun, light read, full of cocktail-party fodder. Eat rice sushi (nigiri) by hand, sashimi by chopstick, and always dip sushi in the soy sauce fish-side.

Ali and NinoKurban Said (ebook and paper). A dear friend gave this novel to me about 15 years ago, presumably because it had my name in the title. Now I know why it’s considered a classic. Ali and Nino, both around 20 and living in Baku, Azerbaijan, are in love. He’s a Muslim Persian prince; she’s a Christian Georgian princess. The backdrop of their love affair is the perennial power struggles in the Caucasus and Middle East; ethnic conflicts between Georgians, Turks, Azerbaijanis and Persians; religious strife; gender politics; East vs West, Europe vs Asia, Christianity vs Islam; and impending takeover of Azerbaijan by the Red Army. The depictions of the various locales and ethnicities are lovingly precise, and I learned a hell of a lot about exactly how backward Islam has been, especially in its treatment of women. It’s a quick read, and it’s considered the national novel of Azerbaijan, for what it’s worth. 8/10

Into the Magic Shop, James Doty (ebook and paper). A quick, easy, entertaining and uneven read. Not fully memoir, not fully self-help, and not a whole lot of science. Doty, a noted neurosurgeon who started from hardscrabble beginnings, is a curious character who can spin a good yarn. 7.5/10

The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, Don Lattin (ebook and paper). This sat on my shelf for about 6 years, then I picked it up on a lark and devoured it in an afternoon. Helluva story about four dudes at the forefront of the psychedelic revolution who shaped the 60s, 70s and way beyond. 9/10

Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream, James Altucher (ebook and paper). A Kindle freebie, so I downloaded it and even read it. Short essays of bracing honesty that deliver a much-needed kick in the rear. I now understand why he has a following. 8/10

Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, Mark Manson (ebook). Stumbled on this and just had to find out what the fuss was all about. Learned some stuff. Title made no sense. Good for nice guys who want to be better at dating. 8/10

Weird-o-pedia: The Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts About (Supposedly) Ordinary Things, Alex Palmer (ebook and paper). An impulse bargain buy, ‘cause I dig trivia and stuff. Fun read. 8/10

LOVED IT!
My reaction after reading these books was “That was awesome! Why did it have to end?”

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives, by Steven Levy. The amount of access Levy got to the top Google brass is impressive. The backstories of the founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin explain a lot about their ethos and how they handle hiring, fundraising, expansion, and crisis. 9.5/10

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance (ebook and paper). Vance does a great job with this biography of arguably the busiest, most interesting man alive. Have no idea how he got such crazy access. Loved it! 9/10

Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way, Richard Branson (ebook and paper). What an amazing memoir! Loved it, and will probably end up reading all his other books now. 9/10

The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology: A Memoir (2016), Thomas Dolby (ebook and paper). Delightful! Bought this on a lark on the recommendation of several sites (thanks, Amazon). First a precocious pop music icon, then a producer, then a pioneering Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, and now a professor at Johns Hopkins, Dolby’s tale of hard work and serendipity warmed my heart and had me guffawing loud enough at 2am to wake my neighbors. Inspiring stuff. 9/10

Proof: The Science of Booze, Adam Rogers (ebook and paper). Read this one in a day. Thoroughly enjoyable, literally full of cocktail party fodder. 9/10

HEART-EXPANDING
These are the kind of books that can help you become a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful version of yourself.

Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connection, by Christine Mason (ebook and paper). An MBA serial tech CEO and mother of 6, Mason is a survivor of her mother’s murder at age 9, the Iranian Revolution, and two rancorous divorces. This memoir-travelogue-personal growth book explores her journey into yoga, prison peace mediation, restorative justice, intentional communities, and the heart of healing the sources and effects of violence. Beautifully written and deeply personal, this is the grown-up, battle-hardened sister to Eat, Pray, Love. A call to deep compassion and connection. 8.5/10

The Charisma Code: Communicating in a Language Beyond Words, (2016) by Robin Sol Lieberman (ebook and paper). A spirited, exhortative self-help guide more than an explicit manual for developing your charisma. 8/10

The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life, Piero Ferrucci

Devotion: Love and the Power of Small Steps, Kim Nicol (ebook and paper). A gemlike series of vignettes about centering yourself, taking time to smell the roses, and expressing love. Short, easy, uplifting read. 8/10

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

MORE
I read only books I like, and don’t report on the mediocre ones I stumble on. These books didn’t quite fit the categories above, so here they are.

Isaac Newton, James Gleick (ebook and paper). Concise and thoughtful, Gleick places you in the midst of Newton’s world: his farm, lab, thoughts, alchemy, books, and romping genius. 9/10

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks (ebook and paper). I was the last science-minded person never to have read an Oliver Sacks book, so I got this audiobook. Just wasn’t my dish. It’s good writing and some fine musings, but very little by way of actual science and diagnosis. 7/10

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington (ebook and paper). A timely book written by a sleep enthusiast (if not a scientist), ‘cause we definitely need more books on sleep. Arianna’s style is light and breezy, first presenting a strong case for making sleep the centerpiece of your day, then the science behind it, and practical suggestions for good sleep hygiene. For the definitive resource, see the related Great Course reviewed here. 8/10

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity, Douglas Rushkoff (ebook and paper). Wasn’t expecting much from this one, but Rushkoff spins a good yarn, making a convincing case for how fantastically costly the growth-at-any-cost mindset is, with some suggestions for taking local action. Required reading if you’re all about the sharing economy and reducing your footprint. 8/10

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, Amy Chua & Jed Rubenfeld (ebook and paper). A sense of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control: this “triple package” enables cultural groups like Cubans, Chinese, Iranians, Jews, Mormons, Nigerians and Lebanese to do much better than average in America. In spite of the anathema heaped upon the Tiger Mother and her husband, this book has potent explanatory power. 8.5/10

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age, Dan Levitin (ebook and paper) Levitin, a renowned neurology professor and professional rock music producer, is my personal hero for writing This Is Your Brain on Music. However, this was thinner than expected. 7.5/10

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius. This is a classic of the Stoic literature, and a remarkable book in its own right, written mostly in battle-tents by perhaps the wisest Roman emperor who ever lived, and the most powerful man of his day. My version was a bit archaic-sounding and hard to apprehend. Get a modern translation and run with it. 9/10

America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, Ruth Whippman (ebook and paper). An Englishwoman moves to the US and notices that Americans’ obsession with happiness is actually making them miserable. Acerbic and well-researched, with astute observations about parenting, Mormons, and other American peculiarities. 8.5/10

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, Jen Sincero (ebook and paper). A quick, irreverent and motivating get-off-your-ass self-help book. 8/10

Code to Joy: The Four-Step Solution to Unlocking Your Natural State of Happiness, George Pratt & Peter Lambrou (ebook and paper). The authors are experienced therapists who claim to get excellent results. However, their methods contain a bit too much unscientific mumbo-jumbo (e.g. muscle-testing) for my taste. 7/10

Man Interrupted: Why Young Men Are Struggling & What We Can Do About It, Philip Zimbardo & Nikita Coulombe (ebook and paper). As a habit, I buy a friend’s book at his reading and get it signed, even if I don’t fully intend to read it. This one turned out to be much more interesting than anticipated. Video games and pornography are reprogamming young men’s brains en masse, and not in a good way. A cautionary tale and call to awareness. 8/10

Collaborate or Perish: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World, William Bratton and Zachary Tumin (ebook). Lots of great stories of the triumph of collaboration, many of them drawn from the two authors’ illustrious career. A bit dry; mostly skimmed it. 7/10

Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change, Michelle Gielan (ebook and paper). More about the workplace than happiness in general, so less my dish than usual. But it had “happiness” in the title, so I had no choice but to read it. 7.5/10

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