The Best Books From My 34th Year

What do we do about hard books?

You know, the ones. You keep reading the same page over and over again, absorbing none of it. Like attempting to swallow a mouthful of cinnamon.

What do we do about those books? Do we struggle through? Or put them down?

For Readers, capital “R,” this is a very important question. Because you have a finite amount of time (and even less deep, focused time) and there exist infinite books. You must decide whether you’re willing to invest attention in one book or another. (For a good visual way to think about this, check out Tim Urban).

A poll by the Pew Center found that the average American (the “mean”) reads 12 books, with the median being all the way down at 4 four books. Let’s go with 10 books per year for ease of math— very generous considering these amounts were reported by respondents— a number typically inflated.

At 10 books per year, you have maybe 500-800 books you can read in your entire life. That’s not a lot. Especially when you consider the several hundred thousand published annually in the US alone.

The first solution is to increase your lifetime reading potential by dedicating more time to reading books. But, let’s say you manage to even triple your book consumption, you’re still going to face the problem of hard books and what to do about them.

Getting back to our question— since we only have 10 books to read per year, what do we do when we don’t like a book, or we are struggling to get through it, or it’s not pleasurable?

Well, that depends on at least two things:

(1) It depends on you— i.e. Why are you reading in general?

(2) it depends on the book— i.e. why this specific book?

Usually people take one of two hard stances on this subject, both of which I’ve held at different times in my life, and both I’ve since ditched for a more nuanced approach.

Hard Line #1: “I always finish a book I start.”

That gives you a bright line rule. Whether this book is hard or not, you say, I am getting through it, even if it takes me five months. Even at the risk of only reading 6 books or 3 books this year. Even if I hate it.

I used to think that way, but I’ve since changed my view. While there may be psychological value in finishing things you start, I do not think that this should be a blanket rule for all books. Some books deserve to be put down— they aren’t for you, at least right now. If the only reason you’re still struggling through a book is because “I must finish books I start,” you may want to reconsider.  

Hard Line #2: “I only read books that I enjoy. If a book stops being interesting, or I am struggling, I put it down and start the next book.

I’ve also taken this stance in my life, but have found it equally troubling, though in a different way.

 Again, there may be merit in this approach— you’ll certainly get to more books that feel good. But are all books meant to be pleasurable reads the whole way through? I’m not so sure.

What if it’s unparalleled in historical influence— like the Bible or The Iliad? Or a classic fiction like Sherlock or To The Lighthouse or Moby Dick? What if it pioneered a whole new field of study, like Thinking Fast and Slow? What if it’s pertinent to to what you want to learn or be— like On Writing Well or Bird by Bird or the Black Swann or the Intelligent Investor? What if it’s been touted as one of the best books on resilience, like Grit or Endurance, or recommended by Obama and Gates like Sapiens or by half the NFL, like The Obstacle Is The Way. What if it’s from an expert on something as important as sleep? Do any of those justify the extra struggle?

This year, I experienced that struggle quite a few times, including two Nobel prize winners and two National Book Award winners. Sometimes I put the book down. And sometimes I continued. The difference was my answer to some of those questions above. Every time I feel that a book is getting a little difficult to get through I ask myself:

(1) Why am I reading— what am I after?

(2) Why am I reading this particular book? Does it have something I want, need, or aspire to? Did someone I deeply admire tell me it was worth it?

These are not easy questions, but they are questions that I think are worth asking. If reading is “portable magic” as Stephen King said, or if “paradise is a kind of library,” as Borges said, then we need to be discerning in what we decide to pick up and what we decide to put down.

Neil Gaiman says “a book is a dream that we hold in our hands.” If that’s the case, then we should put in those hands only the dreams that we seek.

The List

I’ve listed my favorite books by category and then at the very bottom, I’ve listed the 6 very best books of the year, regardless of genre. The books labeled “HAWI” are books that are Hard and Worth It.

As for the Hard and Not Worth It— well, I put those down.

Books on Health

HOW NOT TO DIET, Dr. Michael Greger

“I’m not interested in offering dueling anecdotes, nor am I interested in dietary dogma, beliefs, or opinions. What I am interested in is the science. When it comes to making life-and-death decisions that concern something as important as your own health and that of your family, as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one question: What does the best available balance of evidence say right now? That’s what I’ve tried to encapsulate in this book.”

I first came across Dr. Michael Greger ( just before the time I started eating a plant diet. In fact, Dr. Greger was a huge influence in My Vegan Experiment due to the fact that, unlike past writers and speakers on the benefits of a plant diet, Dr. Greger presented the evidence in a (1) humble and (2) evidence-based way.

And when I say evidence-based, I am not saying that he has no bias towards a vegan diet— that may be true. What I mean is that if he makes a claim, he cites a reference. And he doesn’t just cite the reference but actually shows you the text from the actual study. And he doesn’t pull the trick that many news outlets pull when they cite studies— often telling you something other than what the study actually concluded. He doesn’t over or undersell. And if the reference, like so many studies in the Yellow Light category, concludes that we don’t know, then that’s what he says.

In his first book, How Not To Die, Dr. Greger thoroughly and with a wry humor takes us through the top ten or twelve killers in the US (heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc) and shows how we can potentially mitigate, stop, or even reverse their progression with diet. In this latest book, he gathers the evidence for weight-loss (the actual evidence) and builds a “diet” from the ground up.

I suggest listening to the audiobook— he reads it and he’s pretty hilarious.

Eat Move Sleep (Re-read), Tom Rath

“Small decisions — about how you eat, move, and sleep each day — count more than you think. As I have learned from personal experience, these choices shape your life.”

If you’re looking for a simple, short, well-written book on the consensus opinions of the healthiest ways to eat, move, and sleep, this is it.

You may recognize Tom Rath as the author of Strengthfinders 2.0. What you are likely unaware of is Rath’s life-long battle with a rare genetic disease called Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL). Because of VHL, all of Rath’s choices related to eating, exercising, and sleeping are magnified. That is, if he decides to eat a cheeseburger or sleep less than seven hours or stay sedentary, the consequences are massively heightened.

Of course, we all have immediate consequences from poor diet, lack of movement, or lack of sleep, we just have trouble identifying them until they get really bad. Following the recommendations in Rath’s book will almost certainly make you healthier, and, by extension, happier, kinder, and smarter.

The 12-Minute Athlete, Krista Stryker.

“It’s no secret that the majority of people exercise because they want to look a certain way or achieve a certain physique. But I’m going to tell you this right now: exercising for appearance’s sake only is almost always a recipe for failure in the long run.”

This is one of the most practical, straightforward, human, and balanced books on health and fitness I’ve ever read. Krista takes a common-sense, hard-work, growth-mindset, science-based approach to exercise and health, and that is more than I can say for 95% of all health / diet books I’ve ever read.

And the best part— Krista isn’t only deriving her theories based on other theories, she’s actually done everything she says, and she’s taught it too ( I was lucky enough to be one of these live subjects during my “Project Veggie Muscles.” Krista helped me add 5 lbs of muscles on a 100% whole-plant diet, with no weights and no protein shakes, in just 60 days.

Don’t be fulled by the title, Krista Stryker is not into quick, easy fixes. The 12-minute aspect of this book represents Krista’s belief in one aspect of physical fitness— High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. But, just as for any change to endure, to change your body (and mind), it will take lots of 12-minute sessions. Luckily, Krista has anticipated that. If you follow her prescription, and you’re ready to work, she’ll help you get there.

Honorable mentions: Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies (HAWI), If Our Bodies Could Talk (Hamblin), The Complete Guide to Fasting (Fung), The Longevity Diet (Longo) The Good Gut (Sonnenburg), The Plant-Based Solution (Kahn)

Marketing / Economics / Personal Finance / Statistics

Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore (HAWI)

“The single most important difference between early markets and mainstream markets is that the former are willing to take responsibility for piecing together the whole product (in return for getting a jump on their competition), whereas the latter are not.”

“Big enough to matter, small enough to lead, good fit with your crown jewels.”

Another HAWI— this one a businesses / marketing book that has been on so many lists of people I admire as, not merely good, but required, that I had to read it, no matter how uninteresting it turned out to be. Luckily, in this case, it turned out to be fascinating.

The central point of the book is this: many businesses, especially tech products, follow the same, predictable cycle of adoption by consumers— and that cycle follows a normal distribution curve.


At first there are the Innovators (2%) and Early Adopters (13%). These people are the ones in line at the apple store for the new iphone, the first Tesla pre-orderers, or the ones who actually bought the sham-WOW. They love new tech, want to be on the cutting edge, and /or have a specific and passionate desire for your specific product. They are happy to deal with early bugs and issues and will even help you solve them.

Those guys are distinct from the rest of the curve— the Early Majority (34%), the Late Majority (34%) and finally, the laggards (13%). The “Chasm” exists between the early niche 15% of people, really interested in your specific product, and the “mainstream” rest of the world.

With the early buyers, you have a nice, small business; with the Majority, you have a massive business. Moore explains how to get from the former to the latter.

Naked Economics; Naked Statistics, Professor Charles Wheelen

“Most economists would concede that, in theory, government has the tools to smooth the business cycle. The problem is that fiscal policy is not made in theory; it’s made in Congress.” Naked Econmics

“It’s easy to lie with statistics, but it’s hard to tell the truth without them.” Naked Statistics

On Economics. With all of the figureheads on TV and your overly-politicized friends and family always yapping about the economy and how this or that is stupid or works— its hard to know what is actually true. In a refreshingly funny and balanced way, Dartmouth professor Charles Wheelen, takes on the macro and the micro issues in economics and explains both sides of the aisle. I enjoyed reading this book very much, and came out with a better understanding of just how crazy those friends and family were 

On Statistics. One of the key insights I’ve gleaned from reading behavior and psychology— books like Thinking Fast and Slow Or How To Think, is that humans are horrible at thinking “probabilistically.” Statistics is not as intuitive as other forms of learning, and we dependably, or, as Duke’s Dan Ariely would say, Predictably Irrational. Again, Wheelen makes light and understanding of an otherwise boring and thorny subject.

The One Minute Manager (Blanchard and Johnson); The Richest Man In Babylon (Clason); The Wealthy Gardener (Soforic)

“Take a minute: look at your goals, look at your performance, see if your behavior matches your goals.” The One-Minute Manager

“Advice is one thing that is freely given away, but watch that you only take what is worth having.” Babylon

“Expand your mind until you no longer fit into your current environment” The Wealthy Gardener

All three of these books are the opposite of a HAWI. What they try to do (and do well, I believe), is tot take complex, dry subjects and write them in more simplified, more entertaining parables.

The OMM breaks all of management down into 3-5 rules to follow— all of which I found useful. The RMIB discusses person finance. TWG is sort of a guide to life— a life of someone who ends up financially independent.


Shoe Dog, NIKE founder, Phil Knight

“Nike was more than a shoe. I no longer simply made Nikes; Nikes were making me. If I saw an athlete choose another shoe, if I saw anyone choose another shoe, it wasn’t just a rejection of the brand alone, but of me.”

As I wrote earlier in the year, the story of NIKE founder Phil Knight is rousing, if a bit romantic, and at times hard to believe. I think it offers man lessons on the ups and downs of starting a business, the value of running as an exercise, the perils of identity and burnout, and the virtue of building a culture people care about.

Becoming, Michelle Obama

“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

As I wrote earlier in the year, this book was powerful in showing how a strong and bold woman could struggle from very similar things to the rest of us, and how she handled it. I also found it inspiring throughout and very honest.

Honorable Mention: Eleven Rings (Jackson)

**Other Bios listed in the “Absolute Best 5 Books” Below**

Essays, Non-Fiction Novel

Self-Reliance and Other Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore it if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”

When should you read Emerson? When you’re feeling directionless, a lack of control, or foggy about ethical issues. When you need motivation or an understanding of the most complex or most basic things.

In other words, all the time.

I couldn’t get enough of this book. It has the looks of a HAWI, but actually ends up being sensational, wrenching, challenging, and ultimately, emboldening.

The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Abraham Maslow.

“You must want to be first-class …meaning the best, the very best you are capable of becoming. If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capacities, your own possibilities.”

You’ve probably heard of Maslow as someone off-handedly referred to his hierarchy of needs. But I feel a much deeper dive is warranted.

Early in his career, Maslow noticed that certain people looked, felt, and, with more study, actually were more confident, happy, actualized. Maslow decided to make a career out of studying these people to figure out how and why. One of his conclusions: “Self-actualized people…live more in the real world of nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world.”

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote.

“Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.”

If you don’t know Capote’s writing at all— read him. If you only know his lighter-side (Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Christmas Memory), read more of him. I wrote more here, but this book is as engaging and phenomenally written as it is harrowing. Advice: read, but not before bed.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace.

“Television’s greatest minute-by-minute appeal is that it engages without demanding. One can rest while undergoing stimulation. Receive without giving. In this respect, television resembles certain other things one might call Special Treats (e.g. candy, liquor), i.e. treats that are basically fine and fun in small amounts but bad for us in large amounts and really bad for us if consumed in the massive regular amounts reserved for nutritive staples. One can only guess at what volume of gin or poundage of Toblerone six hours of Special Treat a day would convert to.” E Unibus PLuram

If you like pedantic, nervously comic, obsessive-compulsive, bombastic, 50-cent-word writing— and it turns out I do— then this is for you. All others, be warned.

BTW – these essays are long. If you’re only going to read one, I’d take a look at E Unibus Pluram. I think you’ll find its content discerning and humorous and its relevance striking, even scary.

Honorable Mention: Becoming a Person (Rogers), Dress Your Family In Corduroy (Sedaris), The Art of The Personal Essay (Lopate)

Psychology and Behavior

The Social Animal, Elliot Aronson.

““What do Hitler’s inner circle, Nixon’s close advisers, and NASA administrators have in common, aside from the fact that they made terrible decisions? Each was a relatively cohesive group isolated from dissenting points of view.

This is one of the only books of it’s kind— a textbook that reads like a novel. As I wrote about here, Elliot Aronson is the most famous psychologist in the 20th century that you’ve never heard about. This is a textbook that reads like a novel. Like Emerson— it has all of the apparent trappings of a HAWI, but it’s actually a pleasure if you have any interest in how the mind works.

Superforecasting, Philip Tetlock

“For superforecasters, beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.”

The thesis of this book is this: the future is impossible to predict. Even the present seems hazy sometimes— whether it’s politics or health. However, there are empirically effective strategies that can be employed to better (a) prepare you for an uncertain future and (b) equip you to deal with an uncertain present. Tetlock leads research on these and reveals his compelling findings. The good news, Tetlock tells us is: “it turns out that forecasting is not a ‘you have it or you don’t’ talent. It is a skill that can be cultivated.”

Range, David Epstein

“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization”

David Epstein, a jounalist who cut his teeth at Sport’s Illustrated, and who also wrote The Sport’s Gene, argues in Range that there are reasons to doubt a career focused on specializing in one narrow field. I was less persuaded by the overall argument as I was dazzled by the examples and anecdotes, and the subsequent ideas the book gave me about my own life and my writing. Whether or not you agree with Epstein overall, it’s an enjoyable and interesting read.

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell

“The first set of mistakes we make with strangers—the default to truth and the illusion of transparency—has to do with our inability to make sense of the stranger as an individual. But on top of those errors we add another, which pushes our problem with strangers into crisis. We do not understand the importance of the context in which the stranger is operating.”

The premise of this latest Gladwell book is that we don’t understand strangers as well as we think we do. And that includes people who are supposedly gifted in this area: judges, attorneys, CIA agents, police officers.

Most of us default to believing someone— especially if they look or feel pleasant and convincing. And like in many areas of psychology, though this makes sense most of the time, there are select times where this can cause major issues.

Like all Gladwell books, you may agree or disagree, but that’s not the point. The point is to see things you haven’t, and things you have in a new light. He’s not a social arbiter; he’s a perspective-shifter.

Honorable Mention: Better (Gawande), Good Habits, Bad Habits (Wood), Farsighted (Johnson), The Laws of Human Nature (Greene), Atomic Habits (Clear), Endure (Hutchinson)

History and Philosophy

The Nichomachean Ethics (HAWI)

“We must not listen to those who advise us ‘being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts’ but must put on immortality as much as possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.”

“Freedom is obedience to self-formulated rules.”

If you like philosophy this obviously a stalwart. One I’d never read in its entirety, only excerpts. I finally was pushed to it when I was thinking about and writing about moderation and how to apply it. Though difficult at time, the balance of the book kept me engaged and excited.

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond (Pulitzer #1) (HAWI)

“All human societies contain inventive people. It’s just that some environments provide more starting materials, and more favorable conditions for utilizing inventions, than do other environments.”

This one isn’t easy. It’s a pretty dense book. And yet, I still felt, as I tend to feel with many history books (especially “big history” books) that it was written sufficiently like a narrative to warrant ‘story’ consideration. In this case, the story that Diamond tells is how it came to be that Eurasian societies dominated the world, and not African or aboriginal Australian, or Native American. 

Diamond uses the history of agriculture, climate, geography, innovation, and disease at his disposal to make the case that it was not by talent or intelligence of one society or another, but by dint of these random, contextual, non-human realities that lead to Euroasian dominance of the world.

While I’m not sure If I agree with Diamond to the full extent that he applies his argument, I do think this book is probably indispensable to anyone who wants to understand the arc of history.

I’d pair this one with other Big History books like Sapiens and Homo Deus, as and Bryson’s, A Short History.

(More on GG&S here).

The Future Is History, Masha Gessen (National Book Award) (HAWI).

“The Soviet regime robbed people not only of their ability to live freely but also of the ability to understand fully what had been taken from them, and how.”

This book was a great example of a HAWI. It was hard to get through, and, at times, brutal. I particularly found it a bit hard to follow, as it kept bouncing around in an anachronistic way. At times, I wanted to just be like: stop—please just tell me this insane history. 

But, then there were times of elucidation and ease. Not to mention giving me a close-up and experience-based perspective on a lot of the Soviet struggle through communism and dictatorial regimes and back again. An area that I previously knew next to nothing about. Fascinating and scary.

Honorable Mention:  (1) History of the Jews (Johnson) (HAWI), (2) The Book of Five Rings, (3) The Wise Heart (Kornfeld)

Fiction and Poetry

Poems, William Blake.

“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.”

Reading many of Blake’s poems, as when I read any poetry with which I can relate, I get absorbed by the rhythm, and forget where I am.   

To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf.

“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”

You can read about it here, but I finally see why Woolf is considered a master. Some of the passages are otherworldly. Or, more nearly, they are so specific to our world that it feels as if you know this family.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

I’d heard about this book dozens of times over the years, but never actually read it. When I realized that the likes of Maria Popova read it every year, and always learn something new, I clearly had to read. The book tells the fictionalized-but-still-mostly-real story of the books author— a pilot who crash-landed back in the 30s. It goes on to go through various and subtle lessons of life in a soothing and delicate manner. It’s wonderful. And others think so— it’s sold something like 140 million copies.

(More here.)

Honorable Mention: The Killing Floor (Child), Golf In The Kingdom (Murphy), Nine Horses (Collins)

The Very Best

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  

““On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question, “Is it right?”… The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy”

I read (and listened to) this book on MLK’s birthday weekend.

Let me just tell you flat out— I think that every single person in the world should read this once per year. And I’m not exaggerating. I don’t want to add anything else except for a tip: purchase the book and the audio version. As you read the book and come upon a speech, listen to the audio, which in many cases gives actual clips of MLK speaking. I cried, multiple times.

Aspiration, Agnes Callard (HAWI)

“The aspirant sees that she does not have the values that she would like to have, and therefore seeks to move herself toward a better valuational condition. She senses that there is more out there to value than she currently values, and she strives to come to see what she cannot yet get fully into view.”

I first got wind of Agnes Callard, a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, via Tyler Cowen’s podcast called “Conversations with Tyler.” (I talk about the podcast more here).

This book is about what it means to aspire to something, and how aspiration is distinguished from other concepts, such as (crucially) ambition. So what is it?

Ambition is desiring to get better at something you currently value— say you want to make more money, get into better shape, or improve your parenting. Aspiration, on the other hand, is not desiring something you know or currently value, but rather, acquiring the desire to value something that you currently do not.

For example, you don’t want to listen to Classical music or learn about Art History right now— you don’t currently like it or even value it. But you want to value these things. Why? Maybe you get the feeling you are missing something. You get the sense that if you could learn to value these art forms you’d gain something in your character. You don’t really know what, but perhaps you’ve seen others that value it, and they seem to have it. What’s next is getting there— that’s what this book discusses.

This book is hard. It’s hard because it reads like a philosophy text, which can be difficult if you haven’t done much of that kind of reading. And it’s also hard because it is dealing with a subject whose nature is tough to grasp. But, like the other HAWI’s, if you can stick to it, I think you’ll see extraordinary benefit. For me, it was illuminating.

Figuring, Maria Popova (HAWI)

“Lives interweave with other lives, and out of the tapestry arise hints at answers to questions that raze to the bone of life: What are the building blocks of character, of contentment, of lasting achievement? How does a person come into self-possession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism? Does genius suffice for happiness, does distinction, does love?”

I have forthcoming a more in-depth look into this book, and it’s unparalleled author, but I’ll say a little here.

Maria Popova ( is one of my heroes. She thinks deeply and honestly and is willing to struggle and persist through the most difficult and important of subjects. I go to her for references, I go to her for guidance, and, most importantly, I go to her for hope, particularly when hope is in short supply. (On cue—I’m publishing this amidst a time that could use some).

Figuring grapples with love and regret, civil disobedience and friendship, searches our stars and our cells. It explores these topics through the stories of some of histories greatest writers and thinkers—Emerson and Dickinson and Hawthorne and Thoreau and Carson — stories I can’t imagine many have heard. Or if they have heard them, they haven’t heard them told like this.

I don’t want to sugarcoat the book— it’s not easy. Taking from Agnes Callard— it’s both ambitious and aspirational. But if our focused time is spent in pages, I can’t imagine a better way to spend 600 pages of my time.

My favorite story— one I knew next to nothing about prior to Maria— the story of Rachel Carson. And I knew I liked it most because of the telltale sign: immediately after reading about her story, I purchased two books by her— her famous, Silent Spring and her lesser known, The See Around Us (National Book Award). Which, as you can see, is conveniently next.

The Sea Around Us,  Rachel Carson (National Book Award, Non-Fiction, 1952)

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”

This book is sort of like an impressionist painting. The underlying truths, knowledge, and reality are the subject, but it’s written with an artists pen. It’s like you told Monet to paint a dataset.

Rachel Carson is the rare combination of the artist and the academic. Read this book and you’ll get spoon fed the knowledge of the great wonders of the sea all encased in the sugar capsule of Carson’s writing.

The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee (HAWI) (Pulitzer Prize Non-Fiction, 2011)

“Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking “sanctuary” in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.”

Speaking of academics with an artist’s flare— Mukherjee tells the ‘biography’ of cancer with a story-teller’s voice. The book takes us from the early discovery years, the many strategies we’ve thrown at cancer, cancer research’s greatest successes and failures, its greatest proponents and its “realists,” geniuses and frauds, hope and despair.

After reading this book you’ll get a sense of how far we’ve come in understanding this multi-shaped disease (or, collection of diseases), how far we’ve come in fighting it, and how far we have to go. At the same time disheartening and encouraging, it’s a must-read for anyone curious about the history and the future of cancer.

Total Recall, Aahhhhnold Schwarzenegger  

“From the bodybuilding days on, I learned that everything is reps and mileage. The more miles you ski, the better a skier you become; the more reps you do, the better your body.”

“It’s not what you get out of life that counts. Break your mirrors! In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighborhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating”

Pop quiz: Ahhhnold made his first million dollars via what profession? An actor? Bodybuilder? No. As a real estate mogul? And, btw, that was in 1970s money. In today’s dollars, we’re taking closer to $5,000,000. Cha Ching.

What can you learn from a guy who has basically done it all— an athlete, an actor, a writer, a business owner, a politician, an amateur painter, and a philanthropist? I’ll go with Nic Cage here, my first thought would be: a lot.

Arnold’s life is compelling to say the least, fantastical to say more. You’ll either enjoy it, or learn from it; likely both.

That’s it, my friends. My 34th year in the books.

Here’s to your next year spent in pages, and mine.

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