MARK'S RECOMMENDED READING
Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. This is the inside story of the 2008 presidential campaign that resulted in Obama's victory. It is based on interviews with all the key players. It is filled with actual behind the scenes quotes and is as readable as a novel. If you have any interest in politics, you won't regret reading this book.
How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. Unfortunately I can't remember any of this book. But it seemed fascinating at the time. No really. You won't regret the time you spend with this. Pinker is a good writer, with a good sense of humor. And he makes the amazing accumulation of knowledge about brain function of the last 20 years easily comprehensible for a lay audience. What he doesn't do in this book is explain consciousness. So I have taken on this task, and we'll see where it leads.....
The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, The Greatest Show on Earth, River out of Eden, and the Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins..... and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING AND READ AT LEAST ONE OF THESE BOOKS!! You can start with The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker or The Greatest Show on Earth. It will change your view of how life developed on earth and the continuing changes we see around us. And if you have the energy, read just the first few chapters of the original Origin of Species. It is remarkably readable, and quite astonishing how simply and convincingly Darwin lays out his basic arguments to a public in 1859!!
Good to Great by Jim Collins and The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge: If you only ever read one book on management, make it one of these.
American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson: Craig Ferguson is, of course, the host of the Late Late Show on CBS and is, in my opinion, the smartest and funniest person on television today (his forgivable bouts of juvenile humor aside). His autobiography is delightful, inspiring and utterly without self pity. How a working class kid from Glasgow Scotland beat alcoholism and ended up with his own talk show in LA. You gotta read this.
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust: Yes, this is the 1,500 page masterpiece in three volumes that seems an impossible mountain to climb and why bother. Well because of what you can see from this mountain top. I haven't quite finished it (200 pages to go). But this is a powerful and completely engaging journey into how we think and feel as human beings. It is not just a foundational work of modern fiction but of modern psychology too. More on this later.......
Met Along the Way and Also Met Along the Way by Con Hogan: You will love these books of stories about life in Vermont. Con is a master story teller and the characters will be remembered and events retold for years to come. Click here for an order form.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: Another masterpiece. Gladwell tells stories about success and the factors that go into it. Intelligence and hard work are givens. But, you also need luck, opportunity, and a culture that supports achievement. There is no argument here about predetermination. And plenty of people without luck, opportunity or supportive culture have been successful. But the patterns suggest ways in which we can level the playing field for all young people. Nothing more I can write here will do the book justice. You simply must read it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling: How can you not like Harry Potter? All you need to know before reading this book is that it has a mostly very satisfactory ending. This may be her best written book. My bet is that there will eventually be other Harry Potter books, similar to the way other franchises have developed over time (e.g. Star Trek, Bond etc.) with other authors producing high quality products under Rowling's strict oversight.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: No matter what your world view, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It is the best constructed argument for why there is almost certainly no supernatural God. And you just might be convinced. Dawkins declares himself a "defacto atheist" which means "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there." Atheists of this persuasion, and I count myself among them, feel awe at the beauty and complexity of the universe and value life as precious because it's the only one we have. Dawkins asserts that morality is innate and not dependent on religious teachings, let alone the promised rewards and punishments of a highly unlikely afterlife. And he inventories the damage that is done to our societies when unquestioned religious faith shuts down the critical thinking processes of children and adults. If you read only one book this year, read this.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell has an uncanny ability to find powerful and useful insights into how people and societies work. This book is about how our unconscious thinking processes work, and how they produce, in the blink of an eye, those important insights that we call gut feelings. If you ever wondered how you could know so much about a person or situation with just seconds worth of information, you must read this book. In the end it offers practical suggestions about how to use this new understanding to bring legitimacy to simpler and less tedious solutions to difficult personal and social problems. Like his other books Gladwell teaches through stories and it's a joy to read.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson: If you like Bryson, and how could you not, you will love this book. It's laugh out loud funny in about 8 places and the rest is charming. It tells a great story about growing up in Des Moines in the 50's. And if you grew up anywhere in the 50's you will see a lot of your own experience in his stories. Definitely recommended.
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, author of another one of my favorite books, The Botany of Desire. This new book tells you where our food supply comes from. Pollan's style is a combination of investigative reporter and novelist. It's easy and fun reading. You will learn stuff you might not want to know. But you owe it to yourself to learn some of this. It's not all bad news. How organic is organic? How are animals treated in our industrial agriculture? How many calories of oil does it take to deliver 1 calorie of food to your plate? (The answer is 7 to 10.) How dependent is modern agriculture on petroleum? (Very). And a lot more....
The Portable Curmudgeon by Jon Winokur: A delightful book of quotes from some of the world's all time "best" curmudgeons. Plus never before published interviews by the author with some of the best who were still alive when the book was compiled n 1987. Some of my favorites are from Fran Leibowitz and Dorothy Parker. Here's one from Fran Leibowitz:
Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places. There's one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open a store called Hello Toast.
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton: This book was recommended to me by my good friend Mike Pinnock. The author is clearly French, but lives in London and writes some of the most beautiful prose essays you will ever read. If you have traveled, are traveling, or ever will travel, you should bring this along as a companion. Another good book by de Botton, which I haven't yet finished is "The Architecture of Happiness."
Non-Zero by Richard Wright: This is in my humble opinion one of the most important books ever written. It is a complete reconstruction of the history of human society through the lens of social evolution. As a bonus it then goes back and does the same for all life on earth. The third section is a mostly failed attempt to reconcile all of this with some form of metaphysics/ethics. But the first two sections are fantastic. You really owe it to yourself to read this book.
Genghis Kahn: This book will change your view of world history. The Mongolian empire has been marginalized and defamed in western history (as well as Chinese history) largely because it was so successful, and the societies writing the history were mostly the (sore) losers during the period of its ascendancy. But the Mongolian empire at it fullest extent was the largest empire in history, larger than the Roman empire at its height. And the effects of Mongolian culture are present in our societies today. The reputation for brutality was deserved;.and their artwork more transient. But many of their accomplishments in governance and economics stand as models today.
The City at the Center of the World: This book is based on the translation of over 50,000 pages of Dutch documents from when New York City was New Amsterdam up until 1743. It a fascinating picture of early life in the city. But more importantly it takes on the dysfunctional creation myth that American culture is derived from the close minded theocracy of the Puritans and makes a convincing case for the Dutch legacy instead. The themes of tolerance, the separation of church and state, and property rights / free trade are deeply embedded parts of our Dutch heritage, not Puritan heritage. And it speaks, though not enough for me, about the Dutch Americans who followed, like for example Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt.
The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus: The book's wonderfully ironic title refers to Copernicus' masterpiece on astronomy, printed just before his death in 1543. In an offhand remark at a conference, some erudite speaker noted that no one had ever actually read this book. Owen Gingerich proves otherwise. In a world-spanning hunt ala mystery he tracks down over 600 extant copies. And he studies the history of their ownership and the fascinating annotations that famous owners had made. This is a window into the worlds of astronomy, the earliest days of printing and the politics of the 16th Century. Among the many wonderful stories is how the Vatican attempted to edit out certain sections of the book. A map on page 147 shows that the further from Rome the less the edict was followed. When away from Rome, do as you please...
Some Old Favorites:
The Tipping Point: by Malcolm Gladwell
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, traces the relationship (and co-evolution) of humans to four different types of plants (apples, tulips, potatoes and intoxicants). It is easy and fascinating reading. Get the complete story of the real Johnny Appleseed. Find out why apple trees are grown from cuttings and not seeds. The Granny Smith apple you eat comes from a tree that is genetically identical to the one that bore the original fruit. Learn about the Tulip bubble in Holland where for a time people were paying huge amounts of money for a single tulip bulb. Learn why the Irish potato famine happened (the dangers of mono-culture), and how we as a species have a very long and not all bad history of using mind altering substances.
Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton
Funny Times, the monthly humor magazine
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