Like Ive done in 2009 (https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=249747479539), and in 2010 (https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150111268299540), here’s a collection of the books I’ve read in 2011. At the end of last year, I committed to reading 24 books, or an average of 2 books a month, and this year I actually read 32 books in their entirety, or an average of 2.6 per month. Even more importantly this year, despite committing to reading more about health and happiness, I tackled some longer books I wanted to read, including Atlas Shrugged (over 1100 pages), On the Origin of the Species (over 600 pages), the Four Hour Body (500+ pages) and Unbroken (500 pages). I want to thank each and every judge that didn’t take the bench on time, the prosecutors that had long coffee breaks, the clerks that brought donuts, and all the long chambers conferences in court that kept me reading this year. 🙂
I tagged some of you because you made book selections, becuase you’ve expressed an interest, because we’ve discussed many of these books, and/or because we’re friends and I wanted to share.
I’ve already planned for a full year of reading in 2012… can’t wait!
Although of Course you End up Being Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace
Started/Finished: December 2010/January 2011
Notes: Although I’m not a fan of Wallace’s fiction and think his writing style is impenetrable in an unforgiving way, these non-fiction essays are both touching hilarious and this is a fun read, despite the suicide of the subject and the indications of severe depression throughout the book. It’s a pleasure sometimes to see highly intellectualized writers as writers, and explore the way they think, and view the world. This is part travelogue, very much part therapy session, and has a lot for fans of writers and books about the difference between entertainment and self improvement of your mind and your craft.
Robert Rating (RR): 4/5
On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
Started/Finished: September, 2010/January 2011
Notes: I’m surprised at how much time Darwin spent on the “artificial selection” of breeders of farm animals, although in retrospect it makes sense and sets up his book. The book is much different than I thought it would be in many ways, although it’s amazing that it’s still controversial. A real eye opener, then and now. Just amazing that this book is over 600 pages, took over 20 years to write, and is so misunderstood as far as what it contains. It is a surprisingly easy read (being both from the Victorian Era, British, and Scientific), but since the author has clearly done his work of observation, testing, and analysis, it’s impossible to dispute the findings. An important idea throughout this book, and certainly an important book literature wise and scientifically.
Robert Rating (RR): 5/5
The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, by the Dalai Lama
Started/Finished: January 2011/January 2011
Notes: I knew of the Dalai Lama’s interest in the scientific method from the writings of Carl Sagan (especially the Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark), but here, the Dalai Lama writes clearly about his first experiences looking through a gifted telescope as a child and creating a hypothesis about what he saw on the moon (a hypothesis which contradicted strict Buddhist teachings), and, although this book doesn’t have a strong agenda, argues that portions of religion that don’t fit scientific scrutiny need to be revised (using the creation myths of Buddhism as an example). This book was a joy to read and didn’t feel like he was trying to shoehorn religion into the findings of science, as other books do. Enjoyable and an easy read.
Robert Rating (RR): 5/5
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg
Started/Finished: January, 2011/January 2011
Notes: Was recommended this book by a teacher at the OC Zen Center and found this a fascinating review of communication. The words “nonviolent communication” turned me off from reading this for a while, but I found the stories of work with prisoners, monks, and practicing ways to communicate more effectively invaluable. This book gives a four step process to lead to respectful and compassionate communication in all relationship types. The writing is clear and interesting.
Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, by Matthieu Ricard
Started/Finished: January, 2011/January 2011
Notes: I was intrigued to read this book, after hearing about the author, his story about leaving the life of a Parisian intellectual to become a month, and the French translator for the Dalai Lama. When his brain was scanned as part of a data gathering experiment, the regions of his brain associated with happiness showed him to be “the happiest man in the world”. In this book he goes into theories and thoughts (and many quotes) about happiness, but the gem of this book, and his story, are his unique meditative techniques for increasing happiness, and his general attitude of how developing happiness takes daily practice, with immense rewards. Despite his pedigree, this was a very inspiring and even simple book. Highly recommended.
Getting Things Done, by David Allen
Started/Finished: January, 2011/Jan 2011
Notes: This is a famous book in the productivity (and tech) world. And it led me to a revelation that most of the organization of what we do depends on being good at a few key skills: Remembering inspiration or mundane things when they strike, being impeccable with your word (to use the language of the four agreements – see below), moving forward on everything you commit to, large projects or small tasks, delegating, calendaring, and keeping track of. The use of “ubiquitous capture”, in the language of the book, and low or high tech ways to do that, and context-based lists, make this easy to understand and a big change in the way I have done things (first hearing of this system in late 2007 and finally getting around to reading the book). The problem with this book, and many many business books, is that it takes a central simple to understand concept, or in this case many concepts, and stretches it out with stories, personal anecdotes, fluff and padding, and appeals to other disciplines to make a full length book, which ends up frustrating those looking for nuggets and watering down the whole. Still, the system is solid, although may not work for everyone, and is tested and can be tweaked to fit anyone. It may be best to get the general concepts from some of the websites and reviews of this book, rather than reading this particular book, in my opinion.
The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey
Started/Finished: April, 2011
Notes: Enjoyed this, despite the very strong Southern Baptist Christian based point of view, tone, and continual bible references,which just seemed to stick out in an odd manner. Very good common sense busting of many financial myths and a great seven step “baby steps” formula for going from being in poor financial shape to being rich, slowly. Even as a connoisseur of financial writing, I found some nuggets in the way this “system” was presented, and learned something here.
Smart Women Finish Rich, by David Bach
Started/Finished: April, 2011
Notes: Received this book as part of a promotion, and I always enjoy this author, even if he takes credit for some of the ideas of others. Discusses why automation is the way to go when it comes to your finances. Much of this seemed very repetitive compared to much of his other work, but sometimes the lessons bear repeating. Unfortunately, this is not his strongest book and seemed to be put out just for the Oprah visit, and of course, the cash. As many psychologists and others in the finance world have shown in studies, automating as much as possible with your finances is the way to move towards financial independence effortlessly.
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Started/Finished: April, 2011
Notes: I didn’t think I was going to like this book, at all, but it was recommended by a friend and I enjoyed the author’s take on self sabotage and the other topics in the book. Well written, although this book is written very, very simply, and it’s best if you don’t think too much about the “hidden/revealed Toltec truths” that supposedly inspired this book. The discussion on the harmfulness of gossip is worth the price of the book, but it also takes a deep look at how we speak to ourselves, and how that “word” to us is powerful and can damage or help you deeply. However, I am sure that almost everyone that reads this and has their mind somewhat open can realize that life is not always as black and white as presented in the book, and sometimes it takes more than four laws to navigate human discourse and interactions.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
Started/Finished: April, 2011
Notes: I read this book in 1997, but thought it was time for a revisit. This is one of my least favorite business/motivational/self help books. Rambles on and on about each “topic” way too long, as if he was trying to fill each chapter with meaningless information to support the main points. Even the main points are not well defined, and this book is not well written, even though it’s a perennial best seller and has made millions. Not one of the strongest business books, or even self help books. The point about priorities, long term goals, and “big rocks”, as the book defines that, is an excellent reminder to take care of what matters and be mindful of what context it’s in.
Horns, by Joe Hill
Started/Finished: August, 2010/May, 2011
A fun and fascinating mystery/fantasy of a man determined to solve two mysteries -one involving himself and the newly formed horns growing out of his head, and the death of the love of his life, his girlfriend. Lots of humor, lots of dramatic moments, a good fun read from the son of Stephen King. I don’t read a ton of fiction, but enjoyed this, even though it took me a while to get it out of the bag and start on it. Very very enjoyable and a fun and somewhat suspenseful read (with a sad ending).
Unbroken, by Laura Hillibrand
Started/Finished: June, 2011/September, 2011
The true story of a South Bay track star named Louie who qualified as a runner on the Olympic team and then fought in World War II (Sound familiar? That’s my dad’s name and his story is very similar!) Deeper than that coincidence, this is also a story about how devastating loss of hope and hate is, and how redemption happened to him personally. Great writing, amazing imaginative visualization of the war in the Pacific and in Japan from start to finish, but much about what happened after the war. The tragedy of war, the great suffering of Americans in Japan as prisoners of war, the hate that fueled his alcoholism, failed marriage, and plot to return to Japan to assassinate a prison guard, and then a total reversal of that way of thinking and a great change to his life makes for an amazing story. Hillibrand gets full credit for researching and fleshing out the details of this best seller and to her credit she is agoraphobic and never met Louie Zamperini. She provides all the details, the thrilling writing, and makes this an amazing read cover to cover.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Started/Finished: July, 2011/July 2011
Notes: 336 pages, and the author’s thoughts, and study, on when people are performing at their absolute best, is a thrilling read. I had heard enough about this book to want to tackle it, and was truly curious about it. Although athletes, students, musicians, artists, leaders in business and elsewhere talk about being in a “flow state”, what they really mean is a type of happiness (and the altered state of being in supreme happiness while performing something you love). Being a researcher is a completely different skill set than being an author (or lecturer), and Csikszentmihalyi is clear and compelling at all three (so is Richard Wiseman, below). The first five chapters have the meat of the theory and how it’s applied to maximize your exposure to true “flow” states, but the rest of the book, with examples and great storytelling, was fantastic.
59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman
Started/Finished: Jun 2011/July 2011
Notes: I love the UK’s Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, and his friendly writing style. This book is one of his smallest (at xx pages) but could be considered his magnum opus, as it distills thousands of psychological studies and decades of research into a truly scientific based examination of self help and pop culture beliefs, and answers the question, as best psychological studies can, “how should we live”? Has information on the best way to set and accomplish goals, the best way to impress a member of the opposite sex, how to have fulfilling relationships, how to get your wallet back, how to make people like you, what to talk about to increase truet, and importantly, how to make yourself happier. I loved this book, and took detailed notes that ended up being almost 100 pages, and read and re-read certain chapters. Highly recommended.
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
Started/Finished: July, 2011/September, 2011
Notes: 1168 pages. Ouch. As I mentioned, this was the year I wanted to tackle many longer and larger books that were important, I had heard about, and wanted to experience as a reader. This is such a famous book, but I found it hard to describe – a mystery? Science fiction? Economic/political thriller? All of the above, and more (several hundred pages more). I couldn’t have picked a better year to read this book, as not only a film adaptation of this novel was released this year, but also references in politics, and in the Occupy Wall Street happenings in culture, a reference to this book influencing Steve Jobs, and a popular documentary about Ayn Rand constantly invite references to this novel again and again.
I found the writing style dry and difficult, but the concepts powerful. I see why the majority of US Citizens point to it as the book that had the most influence on their life (after the Bible and The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck), but the concepts of government and business, and the production of goods, the victim mentality, and the need for freedom for humans to perform at their best, struck me as uncontroversial, although not everyone seems to share that opinion. Technically, the references to oil and railroads seems a little dated in a technology based society, and I found myself wanting to get the story moving along at several points where long monologues are explored to expose wide open philosophy in the plot points. But overall a great read and one I am glad I am finished (and don’t have to read twice).
The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene
Read/Finished July, 2011
Notes: Loved this book. After reading the Rules of Power and the Biography of 50 Cent, by the same author, I couldn’t wait to get into this one, which I see still in bookstores everywhere. (I don’t believe it’s a best seller, or was, but it should be). This book is definitely not what most people will assume from the title. What is is, however, is so much better – it’s historical examples from some of the most amazing stories in history, from Napoleon to ancient Rome, some tragic, and all with lessons about human frailty, victimhood, success and failure. As a fun history book, if nothing else, this book is a very, very compelling read. You almost can’t help see patterns in yourself, and in other people, through some of the examples in this book, and of course, human nature hasn’t changed much in hundreds, even thousands of years. Sometimes there are reasons for the persons we find compelling, and those reasons might be within ourselves, or with the qualities and nature of the other. Take notes on this book.
Don’t Bite the Hook, by Pema Chodron
Started/Finished: July, 2011
Notes: I listened to the audiobook version of this book. Basically, this is well known buddhist teacher Pema Chodron using a student and a live audience to discuss the buddhist teachings from The Way of the Bodhisattva, a well known 8th century poem/text. The book invites people to look at patterns and find ways out of those patterns, not always involving much more than self awareness. Some of the terms may be unfamiliar with those without a background in Buddhism. A good reminder to avoid the triggers we all have, keep mindful of our tendency towards attachment, and not fall into the trap of reacting to negativity.
The Four Hour Body, by Tim Ferriss
Started/Finished: January, 2011/July, 2011
Notes: Another larger book (592 pages), but this book is organized by category, with the suggestion to only read what interests you. And, although there were chapters on improving running, swimming, life extension, the fifteen minute orgasm (note: this is not what you think), building “super freak” status muscles, the chapters on weight loss were what interested me. Full disclosure: I am a huge Tim Ferriss fan, and support him and thank him for his book the 4 hour workweek. But this is not to the quality standards of the 4 hour work week. Some of this is supported by science, some of it is bizarre, and some of it may work for some and not others. The weight loss chapter was interesting and a little contradictory, but it’s the best chapter in the book. I did try the four supplements mentioned, bought a kettle bell, did the ice water baths and followed the diet, but didn’t have the results promised and found it hard to follow. A good practical read if you keep an open mind.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Started/Finished: July, 2011/August, 2011
Notes: A gripping, interesting, brutal and funny well written book about a future, where teens from each province fight to the death in the “Hunger Games”. When a friend recommended this book, I didn’t know what to make of it, other than a book popular with teens that was being made into a movie. It is certainly science fiction, taking place in a future America where the government cruelly and severely restricts and oppresses the residents of the member states. Although the book is published by Scholastic and is meant for young adults, it seemed very brutal for that market. I have only read this one book, and also was unprepared for this to suddenly end without resolution (so that the next book can pick up where this left off). Still, a great concept for a book, and very interesting. Can’t wait to read the other books in 2012 and see the film.
Call Me Ted, by Ted Turner
Started/Finished: September, 2011/December, 2011
Notes: Can’t help but admire and like Ted Turner, even though he’s a brash jerk sometimes. A great and interesting read, and he deserves much credit for his hard work in building up a media empire from nearly nothing in Atlanta to become one of the largest media shareholders in the world. His misogyny and failed relationships with women are discussed with honesty, as is his later charity work, his difficult relationships with his children, and the interests that have his passion – sailing and the America’s Cup, saving the American Bison, and his pledge to help stop nuclear war. The book has “Ted Stories”, from everyone from Jimmy Carter to Ted’s sons, that fill in funny and often not flattering details about this man. After reading this biography, which was fully entertaining, I realized that Ted Turner is not the type of person you’d really want as a friend, but is an amazing businessman and a credit to the planet for his charity work and his work in breaking up the network news monopoly.
The Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beattie
Started/Finished: September, 2011
Notes: Can’t remember who recommended this book to me or why I chose it, but it’s a book about dealing with addicts, which is part of my professional life. The author is known for her famous book on co-dependency. This book is more short statements, suggestions, affirmations, and poems, one for each day to meditate on and think about. A very simple book, but a good reminder for those of us that do a little too much in putting out fires for others.
Take Time For Your Life, by Cheryl Richardson
Started/Finished: September, 2011
Notes: Historically, this book was interesting, as it was written in the 90s by the person that started almost single handedly the entire”personal coach” movement. Although, this is not a book really about coaching, it’s a book about not letting your life pass you by and learning about what she calls “extreme self care” – doing what makes you perform at your best, even if it seems selfish, and setting up your life to energize you and make the type of daily life you want. I listened to the audio version of this book, and her voice is perfect for this subject matter, and the book that comes with the CD has tons of checklists and helpful personal stories.
The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Anchor
Started/Finished: September, 2011/ December, 2011
Notes: I was a little skeptical of this book at first, but really enjoyed it. Is it a business book? Is it a psychology book? It’s a good read. I think we all know, but tend to forget, that our brains work better when we are happy, that other people respond much, much better when we are happy. Has a ton of references to studies and real world examples, so it doesn’t feel like it’s dry, and was a great read (and probably a book I will re-read).
Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Daniel G. Amen
Started/Finished: September, 2011/November, 2011
Notes: I read this book and the next book, by the same author, after seeing it on Amazon’s best seller lists. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s a book with checklists and quizzes to determine if you have ADHD, depression, problems with others, and a host of other problems, and then prescribes the use of the brain 3-d SPECT scan to analyze brain activity and prescribe a combination of pharmaceuticals and herbal supplements to treat various psychological symptoms. Anecdotal studies are used throughout to support this controversial treatment. Not a terribly exciting book, and I think the lack of acceptance from the general medical community makes this either radically progressive, or dangerous.
Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, by Daniel G. Amen.
Started/Finished: September, 2011/November, 2011
Notes: This book is certainly a mess, although there are some nuggets sprinkled throughout, and Dr. Amen goes into the importance of diet and exercise, which is important for changing your body. But there are disconnected parts to this book, and has such basic fitness and nutrition that you’ve heard much of this before if you’ve read at least 10 health articles in your life. The book goes overboard covering almost every herbal supplement there is (all for sale at his website), but doesn’t speak to the interactions between each (there have to be some negative interactions), or peer testing as to any supplements noted.
Official Book Club Selection, by Kathy Griffin
Started/Finished: November, 2011/November 2011
Notes: Hilarious, but also serious at parts. I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I’m so glad – couldn’t put it down and the easygoing fast pace way she “reads” the book like she’s talking to a friend makes the comedy timing all the better. Was surprisingly serious with topics like her pedophile brother, her ex husband who gained 100 pounds and then stole over $70K from her, her plastic surgery (gone wrong) and her struggles in the business and with overeating. But plenty of funny, funny stuff in here, and it reminded me why I enjoyed seeing her live so much in the past. Good, funny, emotional, touching writing here.
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by James Ratey, M.D.
Started/Finished: November, 2011
Notes: It’s impossible to dispute that exercise is good… no, great for your brain after reading this book. This book is certainly good motivation towards exercise. Some higher level medical jargon in this book, and the book certainly is repetitive in parts, but the author focuses on writing about stress, depression, aging and ADHD in particular, and how particularly aerobic exercise helps the brain function at optimal power in all situations.
Stripped Bare, by Richard Branson
Started/Finished: October, 2011/December 2011
Notes: I listened to the audiobook, which is in the author’s own voice. This book starts out by describing how he wrote and is reading the audiobook from his own private island, from the desk in his office. And it feels relaxed and comfortable that way, like talking to an old friend. Branson speaks about the importance of having fun, the importance of people, taking risks, the importance of a “brand”, and the importance of giving back and being philanthropic. The stories of how the record store and the airline were built are worth the price of the book. Contrasted with the story of Ted Turner (above), this gives a very very different picture of “how to build an empire”, but also reminds you there often is no one right way to a goal.
YOU: Stress Less, by Mehmet Oz & Michael Roizen
Started /Finished: September, 2011/ September, 2011
Notes: I am a big fan of Dr. Oz. But this “book” was horrible. There’s a note at the back that this book was culled from various other books and various articles by the two authors and it reads like a blind monkey with scissors put together this book. Repetitive, rambling, incoherent, and non-contextual, this book just seemed to be all about the dollars, which is too bad, because other than reading “eat healthy, sleep well, exercise, meditate yoga” some 15 times on various pages (which sometimes contradict each other on the details), this could have been a much better book with some time and effort.
Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin
Started/Finished: November, 2011
Notes: This book made me think a lot about “Outliers”, the Malcolm Gladwell book I read, which made last year’s list. Although it’s written to be more thrilling and personal than Outliers ever was, and is much more tied to empirical research. The power of deliberate practice and doing what you love to do will make you a top level talent at whatever you choose. A great read, but a terrifying one also, as it (for me) constantly asks the unspoken question in your ear, “why aren’t you doing what you most want to do?”
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Read: December, 2011
As covered in my books of 2009 list, I read Tolle’s more famous book, A New Earth, in that year. This was a much better book, in my opinion, and was more clear and practical. A good and sensible writer, given the other writers in this genre, this was an inspiring and humbling book for me. His story is fascinating, his writing is clear, and this book is a good reminder that we can often get lost in the complexities of other stuff, but the now is the only moment we truly really have.
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
Started/Finished: December, 2011
Notes: An amazing story of three survivors of a plane crash as World War II was ending, in an area of New Guinea never seen by civilization before. Survival amongst tribes known for cannibalism, that had never seen clothing, or white skin before, and the rescue and friendship of natives and survivors alike is well written and gripping. I grew a little tired of the constant description of the amazing beauty of the heroine of the story (as though she had almost no other defining features), but the characters involved here, and the location of this tale, make this a thrilling story and a great read.