What I’ve been reading (including recommendations)

“I’ve read books… The unbearable lightness of being… Love in the time of cholera… and I think I’ve understood them. They’re about girls, right?” — John Cusack. High Fidelity.

After I published a blog post recently called “An Ode to Books” about my obsession with reading, several people naturally asked what I’ve been reading lately. Here’s the list for the past two years, since I retired, in reverse chronological order — thanks to Amazon for making it as easy as a cut-n-paste.

I’ve annotated the list with a few comments: “recommended”, “highly recommended”, “book of the year”, “book of the decade”, “disappointing”, etc. but didn’t write reviews. There are already many reviews available online for each of these books and I’m not sure I would add much to the discussion.

If I didn’t comment on a book, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Some of these are quite good but I tried to limit myself to the top ten or so. If you read my blog posts, you will have noticed quotes from and references to some of my favorite books on the list.

(recommended) The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World — Catherine Nixey

Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals — John Gray

(recommended) Educated: A Memoir — Tara Westover

The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life — Jean Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think — Hans Rosling

(highly recommended) The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks) — Edmund Morris

Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society — David Sloan Wilson

Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality — Max Tegmark

(highly recommended) The Silk Roads: A New History of the World — Frankopan, Peter

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste — Bosker, Bianca

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us — Prum, Richard O.

(recommended) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence — Pollan, Michael

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood — Noah, Trevor

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street — Kolhatkar, Sheelah

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World — Pollan, Michael

Freedom from the Known — Jiddu Krishnamurti

(recommended) Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation — Burdick, Alan

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry — deGrasse Tyson, Neil

Letters to a Young Scientist — Wilson, Edward O.

(recommended) Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness — Cahalan, Susannah

(recommended) Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World — Druett, Joan

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit — Finkel, Michael

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge — Edward Osborne Wilson

(good, but not his best, repeats much of Better Angels) Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress — Pinker, Steven

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City — Desmond, Matthew

Lying — Harris, Sam

When Breath Becomes Air — Kalanithi, Paul

(recommended) Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst — Sapolsky, Robert M.

Profiles in Courage — Kennedy, John F

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal — Hoffman, David E.

Leonardo da Vinci — Isaacson, Walter

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made — Sestero, Greg

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — Knight, Phil


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End — Gawande, Atul

(did not finish) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test — Wolfe, Tom

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness — Montgomery, Sy

A Truck Full of Money — Kidder, Tracy

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World — Grant, Adam

(highly recommended) Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion — Harris, Sam

Homage to Catalonia — Orwell, George

Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen — James Suzman

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power — Meacham, Jon

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between — Matar, Hisham

The Guns of August — Tuchman, Barbara W.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition — Kuhn, Thomas S.

(did not finish) Capital in the Twenty First Century — Piketty, Thomas

(recommended) How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking — Ellenberg, Jordan

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story — Preston, Douglas

Lab Girl — Jahren, Hope

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI — Grann, David

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God — Sagan, Carl

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations — Friedman, Thomas L.

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others — Bakewell, Sarah

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice — Browder, Bill

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century — Snyder, Timothy

(highly recommended) Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right — Mayer, Jane

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis — Vance, J. D.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging — Junger, Sebastian

Between the World and Me — Coates, Ta-Nehisi

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds — Lewis, Michael

(disappointing, not nearly as good as Sapiens) Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow — Harari, Yuval Noah

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) — Ridley, Matt

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies — Brynjolfsson, Erik

(recommended) The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion — Haidt, Jonathan

(did not finish) The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism — Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution — Dawkins, Richard

(recommended) Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are — Carl Sagan

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World — Wulf, Andrea

(did not finish) The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life — Lane, Nick

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness — Alexander, Michelle

(book of the decade) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — Harari, Yuval Noah

(recommended) Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption — Stevenson, Bryan

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain — Bryson, Bill

(recommended) Letter to a Christian Nation — Harris, Sam

(book of the year) Alexander Hamilton — Chernow, Ron

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation — Gertner, Jon

(highly recommended) The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood — James Gleick

Former CTO of VMware, former VP at Microsoft, recovering long distance runner, avid cyclist, newly minted grandpa.

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