Holy cow balls. 2018 was crazy. It was likely the most productive year of my life, yet it’s also the least I’ve published on this site in more than five years. I apologize for that, of course. But know that there’s plenty in store in 2019, that I think (read: hope) will make it worth it for you all.
This year, I started and finished my next book (currently titled: Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope). It will be out in April. I recorded over 40 hours of audio for a new Audible Original project that will be coming out next year. And I signed on to help Will Smith write his book, due out at the end of next year.
All three of those will be coming out next year. And there will be multiple speaking tours, hitting major cities across the US/Canada and possibly UK and Australia, as well. I’m working out how to get site members special access (and maybe discounts) to those events. So, stay tuned.
As for the site, there will be a new course next year, a downloadable app with all of the site’s content, more regular posting, and possibly a podcast. Nope, not slowing down. It’s full speed ahead, motherfuckers. I appreciate your patience this past year.
My Favorite Books of 2018
But on to the books… Each year, I like to look back on all of the reading I’ve done that year and pick out some favorites to review and recommend to my readers. You can see last year’s recap here.
This year I read 63 books. 31 were general nonfiction, 14 were philosophy, nine were biography/memoir, and eight were fiction. In total, I read 21,562 pages (roughly 500 pages less than last year), averaging 59 pages per day, and 342 pages per book. I also started and abandoned 12 other books.
My favorite books that I read in 2018 are, in order: I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux; The Evolving Self by Robert Kegan; The Three-Body Problem Trilogy by Cixin Liu; Democracy for Realists by Christopher Aachens and Larry Bartels; and The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.
Reviews of all 63 books below:
1. I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux
If 2017 was the year I fell in love with Kant, 2018 is the year I fell in love with Nietzsche. I didn’t expect to love I Am Dynamite. Hell, I didn’t even expect to like it. I bought it because I wanted to use one of Nietzsche’s ideas in a section of my new book and was curious about some of his biographical details. This book had just come out and was being lauded as the most humane and accurate treatment of the philosopher’s life, so it seemed like perfect timing to buy it. I’d just pick it up, check out a few details, maybe use an anecdote or two in my own book, and that’d be that.
But I ended up reading the whole damn thing, cover to cover, in three days.
I couldn’t put it down. Not only is it sublimely written. But I had no idea how fascinating the man’s life had been. Likely born with a neurological disorder, Nietzsche spent most of his life in severe pain. He couldn’t be exposed to bright lights. He spent weeks at a time in dark rooms. He had debilitating migraines. Injuries from his military days hobbled him and poor medical treatments for dysentery and diphtheria left his digestive tract in ruins. His body was a ruin.
By all accounts, he should have been a decrepit, miserable soul. Yet, he lived his life with a fierce, shameless vitality. He attracted and mingled a motley band of celebrities, professors, royalty, and bohemians. Intellectually, his thoughts leapt over chasms that had halted those who had come before him. He was a charming, if bitter, man who had an almost prophetic vision into the future of western culture, as well as the world.
That little section in my book that was going to reference Nietzsche turned in multiple pages. Then it became a whole chapter. Then much of the book’s central premise came to rely upon Nietzsche’s thought. I read three of Nietzsche’s other books this year. I read another biography about him. I just couldn’t get enough of the man. One day, I’d like to read all of his major works.
If you are interested in philosophy, this book is a beautiful entry point to Nietzsche’s work and ideas. If you just love good biographies, this book is also a pure joy. If you’re into European history and want to understand some of the social forces that later lead to the German nationalism, the Nazis and how Nietzsche’s ideas were later distorted to justify some of the world’s worst atrocities, then this is also a must-read. I’m into all of the above, so I was in heaven. This was my favorite book this year.
2. The Evolving Self by Robert Kegan
Kegan is hard to describe. He’s like the psychologist version of that obscure band/DJ that is absolutely brilliant, yet somehow not famous and none of your friends understand why you like them. Kegan worked in a niche field of developmental psychology, a branch of psychology that studies how people grow and change throughout their lives, particularly from childhood to adults.
In The Evolving Self, Kegan goes way beyond psychology though, integrating ideas from biology, philosophy and sociology to come up with a kind of “grand theory of everything” for human growth and potential. Much of this post (the year’s most popular post, I might add) is inspired by his work.
The short version of Kegan’s model is this: we all start out pretty self-absorbed and narcissistic when we’re kids. Slowly, through experiencing failures, we are forced to integrate our sense of self with larger and larger circles of awareness, thus taking our identities from a narcissistic self-absorption, to a communal interactivity, to a societal independence, to a sort of transcendent, flexible identity that is always being redefined.
If that sounds complicated, well, it is. But it’s also awesome. And powerful. And makes a lot of sense once you dive deep enough into it. I loved this book because it scratches all of my intellectual itches: integrates a number of academic fields, gives you brilliant theoretical models with pretty charts to play with, and it dares to define the heart of psychological growth and change. I loved it. And while it’s not an easy read, if you’re up for the challenge, I think you might love it, too.
3. The Three-Body Problem (Trilogy) by Cixin Liu
Fiction books rarely make my lists. Especially sci-fi books. In fact, I think these three books are maybe 60% of the sci-fi books I’ve ever read in my life.
These were originally written in Chinese and exploded in popularity in China. They were only recently translated to English, and ever since, people have been raving about them here.
It’s hard to describe The Three-Body Problem without giving anything away. It’s about Chinese scientists, and… well, I’ll stop there. Instead, I’ll describe its scope: the psychology and political movements that would result from extraterrestrial contact. The game theory of galactic warfare. The philosophy of death. Experiments in trans-dimensional exploration. What is a universe?
And much, much more. Honestly, there’s nothing I could write here to do it justice. It’s one of the best fiction experiences I’ve ever had in my life. A stunning achievement. And a must-read for anyone who is even remotely into sci-fi or nerdy space science stuff.
4. Democracy for Realists by Christopher Aachens and Larry Bartels
I wrote a full review of this book on the main site here, so I won’t add much here. All I’ll say is that this book had a pretty profound effect on my political views — more impact than anything I’ve read in many years. I used to be one of those left-leaning, “if only more people voted and/or were informed, everything would be alright” people. This book threw a bucket of ice water on that idea within the first couple of chapters. I’ve spent most of the last six months re-evaluating a lot of my views and I still don’t know exactly what to believe.
Absolutely a must-read for anyone concerned with politics.
5. The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
Ever have that experience where you watch a movie and think it’s okay, then 10 years later, you come across it again and see it in a completely different light?
That doesn’t happen as often with books. Mainly because it’s rare that we go back and reread a book for a second time. And it’s even rarer that we revisit a book that we didn’t absolutely adore the first time. Yet, I found myself in this situation with Jonathan Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis this year.
To be fair, when I read it seven or eight years ago, I thought it was a fine book. In fact, I thought it was one of the better takes on happiness. Back then, happiness research dominated most of my reading, so Haidt’s book was a welcome entry to my research.
Jump ahead to this year. The questions of character and virtue kept popping into my mind. Both in the context of politics (the idea that perhaps it’s better to elect someone of character regardless of policy views, than someone of poor character who shares your views) but also just in terms of mental health, self-help, and all that stuff. In my research this past year, it’s been impossible to ignore the fact that people who really work on themselves and mature psychologically tend to act more ethically (see Kegan above), and people who act more ethically tend to feel better about what they’re doing with their lives. Whereas feeling good is virtue-independent (you can be happy being a total asshole), truly living a fulfilled and meaningful life seems to partially depend on virtue.
This idea, of course, isn’t new. Like most of these “big ideas” it goes back to the Ancient Greeks — Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus, et al. They didn’t see happiness and prosperity in the modern algorithmic terms that we tend to. They saw it as cultivating virtue and character within oneself. Basically: if you get your shit together, good things will happen to you and, eventually, to the world as a whole.
Which brings me back to Haidt. This was actually the whole point behind The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt draws that link between modern happiness research (showing it’s not something you can chase after) and ancient philosophy. It’s just that when I read it eight years ago, I didn’t care about the character and virtue stuff. I just wanted to read about happiness. This year, it was completely the other way around. And I appreciated the book on an entirely new level.
Comments on Some Other Noteworthy Books
Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday – Ryan’s a bud of mine. I’ve read all of his books and I know our fan bases overlap quite a bit. He’s mostly known for his stoicism stuff, but I think Conspiracy is my favorite book of his. And I believe it’s notable for a number of reasons.
For one, I think it’s his best-written work. Ryan’s always been a good writer. But Conspiracy is a page-turner. I crushed it in two days. I couldn’t put it down. It was absolutely riveting from beginning to end.
But another reason I think this book is notable is that there are a lot of subtle undercurrents going on here that are not immediately obvious. What is free speech? What makes a legal case fair? Do celebrities deserve to be treated differently by law? Do media companies? Do billionaires? Are conspiracies always bad or wrong? Is the fact that they are done without the public’s knowledge necessarily evil?
There are a lot of threads to pull on from this book, and I was surprised by how few of them were after the book was released.
In a strange irony, Conspiracy received far more media attention than any of Ryan’s other books, yet I’m pretty sure it’s one of his lesser-selling books to date (I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s the impression I’ve gotten from conversations with him). Regardless, it goes to show, just like the book shows, that media success is not the same as real success. That depth is not the same as popularity. And what is ethically right may not always be what is popular. It’s a book and story that I find myself thinking about at random times. And I wonder (also hope) that one day it gets its intellectual due.
On What Matters, Vol 1 by Derek Parfit – Derek Parfit is like the George RR Martin of modern philosophy and On What Matters is his Game of Thrones. And I make that comparison in all of the best and worst ways.
Parfit blew up the philosophy world in the 80s with his book Reasons and Persons. He then spent the next 30 years working on On What Matters, a book that, for over a decade, was rumored to completely change the face of ethics.
Finally, in 2012, Parfit started releasing On What Matters in a four-volume series. Except, before he could completely finish Volume Three, he died.
I won’t go into the details of his arguments (the two volumes total almost 2,000 pages). But what starts as incredibly promising and intriguing in Volume One just turns up a huge nothing-burger in Volume Two. Honestly, the only other time I’ve read 2,000 pages and been this pissed off about it was when I read the fourth and fifth Game of Thrones books. So there’s your Martin comparison.
All I’ll say is that, though well-intentioned, I think Parfit completely misses the forest for the trees in these books. His arguments are so meticulous and its clear he spent years thinking about every page. Yet, the breadth of his understanding is surprisingly, and disappointingly limited. There are no considerations of breakthroughs in behavioral economics, cognitive biases, neuroscience or a bunch of other fields that have happened in the past 30 years. Many of these breakthroughs completely change or contradict many of his assumptions. What was supposed to be the book series that saved philosophy from obscurity, sadly, only seems to have confirmed it. Parfit didn’t get out enough. And the limited scope of these books, though great they are for stretches, confirms that. Not recommended. Yet, highly noteworthy.
Hunger by Roxane Gay – This is the type of book I would never normally read, but I forced myself to. Hunger a memoir by a morbidly obese feminist activist (“morbidly obese” is the medical term, not my own personal indictment). Gay weighs over 500 pounds, and by her account, is addicted to food. This is a memoir about that relationship with food, with her body, and her life. It’s extremely powerful in its bluntness and vulnerability. She has suffered a lot in her life. And she doesn’t shy away from any of that suffering.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that Gay is aware of all of the dominos that have kicked over to lead her into her situation — severe sexual trauma as a young girl led to her “hiding herself” by being fat, which led to her food addictions, which led to a lifetime of strange and messed up relationships. She owns all of it. States it plainly. And is honest about her ability/inability to cope with it at times. Some days are better than others. Some years are better than others.
All in all, it was eye-opening and I’m glad I read it. I’ve definitely gotten a number of angry emails over the years for making fat jokes on this site. A while back, I went through the archive and removed the ones I could find. This book has only made me more sensitive to that kind of stuff going forward.
12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson – Ah yes, Dr. Peterson. I got asked about this book more than any other book this year.
I’ve talked about my views on Peterson in other places, but here’s the quick version: There’s a lot I like about what Jordan Peterson says and there’s a lot I don’t like. I think he’s a powerful speaker and clearly very intelligent. But I also think he’s got some blind spots, some of which are problematic. My disagreements with him are mostly around religion and feminism. My agreements with him are around personal growth, psychology, as well as the science of gender and sex. He knows his data, that’s for sure. Every media criticism of him that has tried to color him as a hack or an unserious scholar has, in my opinion, simply embarrassed themselves (looking at you, Vox). He gets the science right. I just don’t follow him to all of the conclusions he draws from that science. And that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
Put simply: he’s a mixed bag for me. 12 Rules for Life is, too. I thought it was overly-long and rambly. But also extremely powerful for stretches. His chapter on parenting, in particular, struck a chord with me. But other chapters, he completely lost me halfway through.
Overall, I think he’s probably a net positive force in the world. He speaks to people no one else is speaking to, and for the most part, giving them a healthy message of empowerment and responsibility. He’s the first respectable conservative academic I’ve come across in my lifetime. And I think that’s what drives the American left so crazy about him. He’s smart. He’s not some crazy religious loon that can easily be brushed off. He knows the research. He has lots and lots of facts. They’re not used to having to argue against facts. And their inability to put together some coherent opposition to him has only served to expose themselves, sadly.
The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff – I’ve already written a review of this one on the main site, but just want to give it some special attention and recommend it again. Especially to anyone with kids. I think this is, to date, the clearest argument of what is driving the cultural decay going on in many western, liberal societies right now. It’s well-written and well-researched. Definitely worth the time.
Aaaaand, the Other 53 Books — In the Order I Read Them
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume – Pretty incredible how much Hume got right in the 1730s (evolution, free will, moral psychology, the impossibility of knowledge, etc.) But reading it in 2018 presents one with a lot of, “Well, yeah, we know that…” moments. Must have been revelatory at the time. Not to mention scandalous — the fact that Hume can only criticize religion in the form of hypotheticals involving his “friend” is telling.
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich – Oral history of female Soviet fighters in World War II. Pretty much any book about the Eastern Front in WW2 is harrowing and jaw-dropping. This one is no different.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff – It seems everyone had to read a Trump book this year. This was mine. Though pretty much everything in here was horrifying, none of it really surprised me. We always knew what he was.
The Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, The Tower of Swallows, and The Lady of the Lake (Witcher Series Books 4-7) by Andrzej Sapkowski – I love the Witcher video game series, so last year, I started reading the books. Finished them off early this year. Books four and five dragged a lot and felt like a chore at times. The last two books were great though, particularly The Lady of the Lake.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – More Haidt. I read (or re-read) all of his books this year. This is the only one I’m not crazy about. My academic BS detector got tripped a few times while reading it, and it turns out that there are a number of better measurements emerging in moral psychology. I love his other work, but I wouldn’t take the data here as gospel.
Lying by Sam Harris – Don’t remember what inspired me to read this but it’s short and mildly interesting.
Payback by Margaret Atwood – Almost made my “noteworthy” list. Fascinating look at the idea of debt in human relationships, society, economics and so on. Brilliant for stretches but also kind of weird and rambly for stretches as well. A very uneven book, but the great moments make the others worth it (har har, get it?)
Obliquity by John Kay – One of those business books (and there are many) that you can get the main idea within the first 20 pages and can stop reading there. I skimmed through most of it. Clever branding.
Twilight of the Idols/The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche – Late Nietzsche, when he was becoming particularly angry and a little bit crazy. Some real gems. Also, some long diatribes about German culture, Wagner, etc., that I didn’t fully grasp until I read his biographies.
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker – Optimism porn. I’m a bona fide Pinker fanboy, but was disappointed with this, for a few reasons. It’s not that Pinker’s data is wrong, it’s just that it’s incomplete. Pinker has been criticized for years for cherry-picking his data and using bad studies to overwhelm his readers with just massive amounts of graphs and charts. I never gave those criticisms much credence until I hit the “Happiness” chapter in this book. And yeah, there might be something to it. The repeated anti-Trump diatribes were also distracting and unnecessary.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker – A fun romp through a lot of counter-intuitive studies and data on success, happiness, relationships, etc. Eric is like an endless stream of interesting factoids.
Isaac Newton by James Gleick – Another “almost noteworthy” selection. Just a really, really well-written biography. And of arguably the most important man in history. Is that an over-statement? I kind of feel like it’s not. Another page-turner. I read it in a few days.
Lost Connections by Johann Harari – I really wanted to get on-board with this book, especially because I loved his book about drug addiction. But there’s definitely a lot of personal bias going on in the research he shares here. Depression is a complicated and highly personal issue. Everyone is affected differently, therefore they must be treated differently. The criticisms of pharmaceutical companies and over-diagnosis and stuff is definitely legit. But sometimes those criticisms go too far into “throw the baby out with the bath water” territory. Useful and interesting read. Touching at times. But as an academic work, it’s flawed. I’d recommend The Noonday Demon over this.
Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb – Strangely, it’s in maybe Taleb’s worst book that I found him the most tolerable? Taleb usually blows one’s mind, and is completely insufferable while doing it. Here, he didn’t blow my mind (the whole “skin in the game” thing is kind of common sense, and not argued thoroughly), nor was he unbearably condescending. What’s the world coming to?
The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts – I reread this for book research. Watts grabs me less and less the older I get. I’m not sure why that is. Beautiful writing though. And still a great book.
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen Brilliant but flawed. Deneen tried to argue that the ideals of the western enlightenment are ultimately self-defeating. I think he was onto something, but I don’t think he totally got his argument straightened out. Some of his logic doesn’t make sense, and his definition of “liberalism” moves all over the place, depending on what chapter you’re in. This book actually inspired me to attempt to tackle the same argument in my new book. So, there’s that.
Thinking Fast and Slow* by Daniel Kahneman – It had been a long time and I wanted to reread it for research for my own book. Still the definitive book on cognitive biases and behavioral economics. Also has a bit of a “laundry list” feel though, as you get further into it, so I ended up skimming a lot of sections.
The Republic by Plato – I had to read part of this in college and got little from it. Read the whole thing this year and loved it. Very illuminating. Like Hume, it’s just amazing to see how many of the ideas we worry about today were already being discussed 2,400 years ago. Particularly interesting given all of the political turmoil the “free world” is experiencing at the moment with democracy. If there’s ever a time to go back and read this, it’s now.
The Rise of Victimhood Culture by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning – A self-published academic book that tries to analyze the rise of the radical politics on the right and left (mostly left) through the lense of sociology. Victimhood culture literally means that: a culture that values and rewards victimhood. The authors then look at how this affects communities and environments, how to counteract it, etc. I think Coddling of the American Mind hits a lot of the same notes, but in a better and more accessible way. But this is still interesting and worth a read if you’re concerned about this.
The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson – This book had so much potential. I feel like it just didn’t know what it wanted to be. It starts out making the argument that the hierarchical nature of social networks — “towers” that are tall and authoritative vs “squares” where large amounts of people are connected on equal footing — largely determine the contours of history. Ferguson’s motivation, I think, is to show that social media’s effects on the world are neither new nor unexpected. That this stuff has happened a number of times throughout history, usually when new communications technologies (phone, telegram, printing press) reconfigured how communities organized. Unfortunately, I think Ferguson gets lost in the weeds of network theory and nerding out by applying it a vast array historical anecdotes. As a result, I think his larger points get lost about halfway through the book. There were many chapters where I had no idea why I was reading what I was reading.
Average is Over by Tyler Cowen – This is one of those books I meant to read for years but never got around to it. In 2018, a lot of it strikes me as obvious. Although, in 2013, it probably wasn’t at all. If you’re new to thinking about how technology and automation is reshaping society–and not always in good ways–then it’s a nice primer.
Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor – One of the best narrative history books I’ve ever read. I read it in Russia. Couldn’t put it down. If you love WW2 history, it’s a must-read.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – My struggle to enjoy Dostoevsky continues. Every year or two, I try him again. And each time, something doesn’t quite click. I don’t know why. (I’m a Tolstoy man, I guess.) Fun fact: I sat down and read this for about an hour in Dostoevsky’s house in St. Petersburg while I was there.
Stalin by Oleg Khlevniuk – A fairly new biography of Stalin. It utilizes all of the Soviet archives which weren’t opened up until the 90s. Interesting but also a little dry at times. One of those biographies that ends up telling you more than you probably wanted to know. Still, though: fucked up dude; fucked up political system.
Sovereignty of the Good by Iris Murdoch – I grabbed this short book because when I googled looking for modern arguments for virtue ethics it was one of the only ones that came up. Bonus points for it being written by a prominent woman philosopher in a time that there basically were no women philosophers. Unfortunately, I didn’t really grok it. She ultimately argues that love is the root of virtue. And while that feels really nice to play around with in one’s head, I could never totally buy it.
The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis – A short Audible-only book. Interesting look at the history of weather forecasting that kind of doubles as a criticism of the Trump administration. Mildly interesting. Worth it if you’ve got a long commute or road trip coming up. Otherwise, skip it.
48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – Another “great” author that I try again every couple years and just don’t get it. I admire Greene’s work but I don’t enjoy it or get much out of it. I think I’ve just come to accept that.
Atomic Habits by James Clear – James’ super power is boiling down research and complex topics into something that’s extremely practical and immediately usable. Atomic Habits is the pinnacle of that, and therefore, kind of the pinnacle of his work. I know he busted his ass on this book for years, and it shows. One of the best guides to actually changing your behaviors I’ve ever come across.
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer – Reread it for research. Still baller as fuck.
The Crowd: A Study of Popular Mind by Gustave Le Bon – This is apparently the “OG” group psychology book about crowds and why they do awful shit. Written in the late 1800s by an incredibly racist Frenchman. Kind of interesting, but not much was said that isn’t said better in later books (and without racism).
The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith – Saw this in a bookstore and had to grab it. Meaning is a central theme of my next book, so it was a compulsory purchase. Turns out she’s a site reader! Very cool. Good book. Well researched and easy to read. Similar arguments I’ve been making for years, so nothing revelatory, but I discovered a lot of useful research that I wasn’t aware of. Definitely recommended if you’re on the whole “meaning over happiness” bandwagon. (Welcome aboard, by the way.)
The Three Languages of Politics by Arnold Kling – Short. A bunch of smart people said it was important. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just really jaded from political stuff right now. But a lot of it struck me as obvious. It’s just differing moral values as expressed by language.
Identity by Francis Fukuyama – As a card-carrying member of the Fukuyama fan club, I was a bit disappointed with this book. Most of it is pretty common knowledge stuff that rests on a fairly flimsy argument about human identity and dignity. I don’t know if I disagree with his conclusions as much as I just expected more out of him.
Essays and Aphorisms by Arthur Schopenhauer – Hit and miss. But when it hits, it really fucking hits. Inspired me to want to read his 700-page magnum opus The World as Will and Representation one day… when I’m feeling particularly masochistic.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari – Another for the “disappointed” pile. Like everyone, I loved Harari’s first two books. But this smelled of a cash grab. Lot of recycled material. Lot of ideas that were already covered in his previous work or covered better by other authors. Wasn’t crazy about it. Skimmed much of it.
Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard – Philosophy as literary art. My first introduction to Kierkegaard, and while it certainly wasn’t always easy or pleasant, it did leave me wanting more.
Stubborn Attachments by Tyler Cowen – An odd book for me, and I have no idea why. Incredibly short, yet it felt long, like it was somehow not getting to the point. Basically, Cowen argues that everything that anyone could reasonably define as “good” stems from economic growth. Therefore, we should be more conscious about our decisions in those terms. I agree with him. But for some reason I found myself resisting a lot of arguments in this book. And I have no idea why. He’s vague and hazy at times when he probably shouldn’t be (i.e., human rights) and supremely analytical at times when maybe it doesn’t make sense (calculating compounding value of future lives versus the present). I don’t know. I read his blog every day, but reading this book was… weird. Even though the ideas aren’t that weird at all.
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols – A nice, straightforward take-down of the culture of anti-intellectualism, its causes and consequences. It gets angry at times. Which I liked. More academic non-fiction should be emotional. Nichols is a long-time professor who has a bone to pick with… well, everybody. Nobody is safe in this book. Media, internet, universities, parents, government. Throw a rock, and it’ll hit somebody who is partially guilty. Now that I think about it, this is a good companion book to Coddling of the American Mind. Whereas Haidt and Lukianoff focus on our stunted emotional development, Nichols covers the same ground but in terms of intellectual development.
10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier – A little over-the-top, but his points are well-taken. Kind of a watered down and easier version of his book Who Owns the Future? below.
A Natural History of Morality by Michael Tomasello – Research. A bit dry, but useful. If you’re into game theory and evolutionary psychology and that sort of thing.
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott – Beautifully written. But not my cup of tea, I guess.
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neill – I get the point but found it less-than-convincing. Highly political. And it’s unnecessary, I think. Again, I think Lanier’s book Who Owns the Future? accomplishes the same thing, but better.
Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier – Probably could have added this to the “Noteworthy books” list, as the ideas in it are pretty profound. It’s basically one of the original architects of the internet, criticizing what the internet’s become. And doing it in brilliant and creative ways. I just think it should have been shorter. He repeats himself a lot and goes on some tangents. It’s maybe 100-150 pages of brilliance stuffed inside a 400-page book. And as an author, I have trouble not being annoyed by that.
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche – Probably the best “first Nietzsche book” of the one’s I’ve read. Most of his other books require you to have some context or to have read his previous work to fully appreciate. But this one is a great starting point.
Plato at the Googleplex by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein – Beautifully inventive and endlessly clever. A bit self-indulgent at times, too. But that comes with the territory of getting crazy like this. Examines the importance of philosophy in the modern world by imagining what would happen if Plato visited Google.
Becoming by Michelle Obama – OK, so I haven’t quite finished it yet (it’s still the 31st) but it’s beautifully written. And considering the theme of this year for me was the question of character, it seemed fitting to finish with it.
Looking for More Books to Read?
The School is a collection of 6 brand-new video courses each with a pretty printable workbook, plus 3 bonus courses, ebooks on my favorite topics, commentaries on all my books, and a “library” of best books to read. Oh, did I mention I also do a live monthly webinar with members where I’ll answer all your questions and talk about tacos?
I also have an all-time recommended reading list which non-members can access. You’re welcome.