In this last year, 2015, I ended up with a grand total of over 34 books read.
The year before that,2014, I read a total count of 44 books, and the year before that, 97 books,with 100 books the year before. Reading lists for past years: 2014: https://www.facebook.com/notes/robert-miller/2014-a-year-in-books/10153001318134540
This year saw slightly less fiction than last year, and a wide variety of non-fiction reading.
As I did last year, I have a rating system for the books I finished, and I have them in ranking from my favorites to my least favorite. Many more books are already on deck for 2016. Let me know your favorite book of last year, and your thoughts on any reviews below, please – I’m curious to know what type of reading you like or your recommendations.
1. Abundance, by Peter H. Diamandis
Notes: This wasmy favorite book of the entire year, and I couldn’t stop thinking of all theimplications of the bold concepts explored in this book. This made me learn very little aboutDiamandis, but lots about all the ways that we can now truly save the world andmake lives better, in very creative ways.
2. Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Notes: A great read, with every turn finding more and more suggestions that are against the conventional wisdom. Written by the entrepreneurs that started the tech company 37 Signals, this book is really the anti-business book – iit’s a reminder that the corporate speak, meetings, and suggestions, productivity techniques, are all there to support work that means something or does something. Building the business, and your schedule, or your employee’s schedules, around that concept, and then refining the work, is simple, but powerful. Whether that works in other industries where the workload is already at capacity (that is, companies other than technology/silicon valley companies), remains, to me, to be seen, but there is no doubt that this is a well written book with powerful concepts all around one theme.
3. Yes, Please, byAmy Poehler
Notes: This book, written (with help) bycomedian and actress Amy Poehler, is an interesting and funny read. It’s a very short read, to be certain. I found her story about finding what you loveto do fascinating, and touching, and her stories about improv training andbecoming successful at what she loved to do anyway were well done.
4. The Purple Cow,by Seth Godin
Notes: One of the current best sellers aboutmarketing in the age of the internet, Seth Godin takes a simple concept – beingso unique and different that you are automatically distinguishable from yourcompetition – and goes into great detail on why that concept works. A simple idea, and a powerful, if short book.
5. Speaking ofFreedom, by George H.W. Bush
Notes: I enjoyed this book muchmore than I expected I would. Bush was president at a crucial time in U.S. andworld history. As the Soviet Union crumbled, the Berlin Wall fell, and theworld seemed to scramble into new enemies and alliances, this is a fascinatingexploration of exciting times for the planet. The real gem here is the commentary by Bush 21 years or so after hispresidency. Yes, you can see the speeches on YouTube or CSpan. But I learnedmost from the commentary of the aged elder Bush, in his own words. He revealsin this book that he was not certain at all that he would win the presidency,or even the nomination, as all polls put him in third place. He would oftenread the speeches before speaking, and would sometimes cry, since they wereoften emotional (and reveals that the Navy Hymn always makes him cry). He had adeep fear that he wasn’t as good a speaker as Reagan, his predecessor. He was hurt that many in the Republican Party criticized his Clean AirAct, as he considered himself an outdoorsman, thought the national parks wasone of the best things the USA ever did, and wanted his party to be the onethat protected the environment. And he had always thoughtthat the Romanians were the eastern block country most opposed to the SovietUnion, and when Lech Walesa in Poland started a movement, U.S. Attentionimmediately changed to support polish interests, which surprised many in theState Dept and Council on Foreign Relations. All in all, very enjoyable. Ilearned a lot about this time in history.
6. Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China, by Yung Chan.
Notes: I only learned at the end of this book, in the epilogue, that this book is still, to this day, banned in China. As an account of three generations of specific women in a specific region of China, it is a fascinating account of a culture that changed dramatically in 100 years. The book begins in the year 1911 with the grandmother of the author, who dictated her life’s history, including having her feet painfully bound for life, and being given to a Warlord General as a concubine when the family could not care for her, through World War II, Mao’s revolution and the country’s mass starvations and killings under Communism, and through the modernization of China from 1976 forward under Deng Xiaoping and up to 1992. An emotional, fully detailed look at three lives, what they suffered, what Chinese culture expected from them, and three women through amazing times in history. I learned much from this book.
7. This Explains Everything,by John Brockman
Notes: John Brockman is a book agent, and highlyintelligent individual, who focuses on science and society writers, and thussurrounds himself with other highly intelligent individuals. This book asks each of his clients onequestion, as he does every year. Andit’s a big question: “What one thing explains everything?” The variety of answers, from a variety ofpeople who are top in their field, including musicians, artists, tech companyvisionaries, psychologists, physicists, and scientists from all disciplines, isreally a fun read, and even though all essays are short by design, many willmake you think long after reading them.
8. Brahms: His Lifeand Music, by Robert Greenberg
Notes: This look at the sad childhood of thecomposer, Brahms, and his eventual success and obsession with writing andrewriting music (none of which he ever thought was good enough, was amazinglywell done. Much of the informationcontained here was well researched, gives a background that makes you feel asthough you were there, or lived during those times, and has many anecdotes andexamples of what made the music of Brahms great. Enjoyable and definitely worth the purchase.
9. As a Man Thinketh,by James Allen
Notes: This book is a classic, originally publishedin 1902 (although not nearly by a couple of thousand years as old at the MarcusAurelius book on this list). A collectionof essays, each are short and well written, and goes into why most respondunconsciously to things, why your long term thinking affects your goals andyour moment to moment thoughts either move you towards what you truly want, oraway (or help define what you want). Short, but powerful, and recommended.
10. Sum of Our Days,by Isabel Allende
Notes: This is more non-fiction than fiction, butnot by much. Playing off the fantasythat the author’s deceased daughter would like a summary of family events sinceshe passed away, this book follows the activities of a charming family, withthe writing (translated from Spanish) following interesting conversations andall the events families go through, including birth, love, death, friendship,and enjoyment of life. Although Allendeis a fiction author (I have not read her other books), and is a very goodwriter, this has the “realness” of describing real events, real successes andfailures, to a real family, and is very very touching in many ways, includingher travels around the world. A great read.
11. The Politics ofDiplomacy, by James Baker III
Notes: This bookonly covers the time period from 1988 to 1992, while Baker was secretary ofState for the US Government. The saying,maybe apocryphal, that in Chinese the wish for good luck is “may you live ininteresting times”, could not be more appropriate here. During that four year period, the USwitnessed the fall of communist states all over the world, and then scrambledto assess whether the new states, some of which ended up in chaos, in war, orin the case of Russia, immediately having a coup and taking Gorbachev hostage, wereamenable to diplomatic relations, joining existing treaties, and securingnuclear weapons. After that, the longbuildup of diplomatic agreements, sanctions, and eventually a coalition warfollowed the years after Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied the country ofKuwait. While I was hoping for a more honest and frank assessment of hismistakes and what might have been done better, Baker is a good writer andexaminer of this portion in history that he flew all over the world dealingwith as it happened.
12. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Notes: Thisfamous book of meditations, written by a Roman Emperor to himself to rememberthe lessons of his life, is timeless. Theedition I purchased had each essay edited by a different translator, which madefor a strange and not cohesive whole, but the information in this short read isworth going over for everyone.
13. Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
Notes: Thisbook, by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, about founding companies, and bringing newconcepts to change the world, through simple steps and actions, was well written. While recommended in the same vein as“Abundance”, above, the other book is very well written and is applicable toevery human on the planet. The furtheraway you are from the world of capital investing and silicon valley tech, theless you may find this book useful or interesting.
14. Out of Your Mind,by Alan Watts
Notes: This book, which is really a transcript ofthe talks on meditation from the famous Alan Watts, was recommended to me, as Ihave always had an interest in meditation. Watts philosophies on life and the mind aresimple, and are discussed here. Theoverall message is to try to see the world as it really is, as difficult asthat might be, and as much as your mind wants to impose constructs of what youwant to have happen instead of the reality of just “what is”. With humor and discussions on theenvironment, technology, and information, this was an interesting book.
15. Physics of the Impossible:A Scientific Exploration into the world of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportationand Time Travel, by Michio Kaku
Notes: This is,as the title suggests, a book written for geeks. Less impossible, and more “can Star Trek and Backto the Future ever become real?”, this book is a little more simplified thansome of his other books in an attempt to reach a more popular audience. The writing, as always, is excellent, and Kakuis great at fantastic speculation, which makes the book fun. I wish there was exploration of other areasnot covered by the book, but this is a book you may want to read twice if it isof interest of all.
16. The Fabric ofThe Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, by Brian Greene
Notes: One of the most famous books in scienceliterature is The Elegant Universe, Greene’s discussion of his work (andcollaborative work on) string theory. Thisbuilds on string theory, and discusses quantum mechanics, especially theHeisenberg Principle, and how that might affect the universe as a whole, butalso speculates on how the universe might be different without either space ortime, which the universe might not even need to exist. Written for the lay reader, which is great,for this high level physics discussion, Greene is always an easy writer tofollow and has some fantastic mindblowing discussions of implications of stringtheory.
17. Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way toUnderstand Basic Economics, by Henry Hazlitt
Notes: This famous best selling economics bookis famous in certain political circles, but is also an easy read and are toldin story form. Brilliant writing, inthat the book explains the “one lesson” in chapter one, and then uses all otherchapters to examine how that one lesson applies to a variety of situations, andhow short sighted policies, or policies intended to address narrower andnarrower situations, usually backfire and fail. This book originally came outin 1946, but is an interesting look at the economy as a whole, and what actionsaffect it.
18. In the Ruins ofEmpire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia, by Ronald H.Spector
Notes: This booktakes a close look at the events starting in July, 1945 and onward, and documentshow, for one, the Japanese surrender did not stop fighting – much of themilitary and the population believed that they should keep fighting despite thesurrender. It also shows how muchturmoil continued for decades in Manchuria, Korea, Indonesia, and China,leaving that state open to Mao’s deadly policies, that killed more than anyoneelse in history. The United States hadnot thought of any policies or playing any significant role in any countryother than Japan, which led to Communism, war lords, and chaos to take placeall over Asia. A very interesting lookat the part of post WWII history that not many write about or discuss.
19. In a SunburnedCountry, by Bill Bryson
Notes: This book hasfamous writer and humorist visiting, writing, and traveling all over Australia,to find out what makes it tick. You might feel you know Australia much betterafter reading this book, as I certainly did. While his look at Australia was very interesting, it seems to coverground that has been well traveled by other observers. Plus, I don’t find Bill Bryson that witty orfunny.
20. Write It WhenI’m Gone, by Thomas De Frank.
Notes: This book is a unique look atpresident Gerald Ford, written by a journalist who traveled with him at the endof his presidency, and afterwards, and was told not to publish any of theirconversations until Ford had died (hence the title). An interesting look at a reluctant president,and writing that makes him more interesting than he probably was in real lifeinteractions.
21. The 4% Universe, by Richard Panek
Notes: One of the most amazing things aboutour universe is that, with dark matter, and dark energy, which constitute 96%of what we know, can observe, and test. We know both are there, but don’t know exactly all the qualities of themajority of the universe. This bookclarifies what that means and comes up with a comprehensive survey of what wedo know about both, and what the leading theories on what it might mean are.
22. The Eye Never Sleeps:Striking to the Heart of Zen, by Dennis Genpo Merzel
Notes: This bookis a commentary and deep exploration of the meaning and lessons of a famous Zenpoem by Sosan Zenji’s. It is based upon lectures and as such, is atranscription of discussions of the opem. Exploring what it means to beconscious, to be self aware, and to be on a path of improvement, it was afascinating look at a narrow text from one past writer, as analyzed by a modernwriter and Buddhist. A very short read, and in some cases profound, in othersillogical in its conclusions.
23. Boundaries: Whento Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and JohnTownsend.
Notes: As the title makes explicit, this book is aguide to determining what you can be responsible for, and what is beyond yourresources, or your time, in an effort to make a balanced lifestyle thegoal. Written very much from abiblical/Christian perspective, there is heavy bible quoting here, which is off-puttingto most. This book could be streamlinedto be an examination of the relationships with friends, family, and othercommitments, and an instruction manual to take a close look at the timecommitments and importance of each. Forthose that have no experience in time management, this may be a good start, butis not well written and is sidetracked in several notable instances.
24. Black Holes andBaby Universes, by Stephen Hawking
Notes: This book is really a collection of essays,most over 25 years old. I am almostcertain that the publisher wanted to get these in print to capitalize onHawking’s position as the most famous scientist in the world. Because Hawking’s work as an astrophysicistthat studies the physics of black holes is so narrow, however, and because thisis a collection of essays, and not a unified whole, this book suffers from manyredundancies, speaking to the same concepts again and again. There are essays exploring his personal life,which are worth much more than the other material, and which were fascinatingand of interest to those who wish to know about his childhood and younger life,and his development of ALS, which is slowly killing him.
25. How to Get What You Wantand Want What You Have: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Personal Success, byJohn Gray
Notes: As youwould expect from the author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, thisbook is very much simplified. But someof the concepts, including that material things and external trappings don’tbring much happiness, that gratitude is one way to train yourself to begradually more satisfied with your life, and that each of us have a “love tank”(corny name) that needs to be filled with things or people in our life, aregood concepts. Unfortunately, a muchlonger book filled with fluff and filler are built around those simpleconcepts, many of which were treated better in other books on this subject.
26. Turing’sCathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, by Freeman Dyson
Notes: This book is amazingly well researched, andin brief, looks at the accomplishment in building the world’s first digitalcomputer, in England, to solve the problem of the German Enigma Code machines,and what theories and practice of that event have brought since then. It was having the machine have both the dataand the instructions in the same processing machine that made for a revolution.Unfortunately, the great amount of well documented research makes for asomewhat dry book. And, unlike what youmight expect from the title, the life of Alan Turing, and his personalaccomplishments and private life, are almost nonexistent in this book, althoughhe is discussed along with other people and institutions of his time.
27. The King of Taksim Square, by Emrah Serbes
Notes: Thisfiction novel is one of those “you feel like you are there” novels that havemany scenes that are excellent and skillful in drawing you in as a reader. Takingplace in Turkey, involving the events during the Arab Spring, there arediscussions of Michael Jackson, childhood, living with the constant threat ofbombs, and how family changes in times of war or stress. However, the strong opening of this bookquickly fades, and goes on for many pages just trailing off and away, without astrong message, conclusion, or much of it is boring, and almost calculated tonot be interesting.
28. Debt: The First5000 Years, by David Graeber
Notes: Being a history of debt throughout history, the concepts ofdebt, and how they arose in different societies and civilizations, and whatthey mean today. This should have been amore interesting read, as it is just as important and interesting as the riseof theories and practices of capital, but unfortunately, the book goes on formuch too long, and is too dry to recommend, with a heavier writing style thanis appropriate given the long historical perspective here.
29. The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green
Notes: This book, by YouTube star John Green,became famous for being a major motion picture. I knew John Green for his charity work and science videos on hischannel, and was eager to see his take on fiction (although this is based upona true life girl). Unfortunately, thewriting is fairly amateurish, and the story too predictable to recommend thisquick read.
30. Storming Heaven – LSD andthe American Dream, by Jay Stevens
Notes: This is the first book I’ve read start tofinish via Amazon Kindle (in this case through an iPad). And I find it hard to analyze why I took allyear to read this book. Was it thereading on a screen experience? Part of it could have been because the booktakes a deep look into an interesting time – the, at the time, unregulated drugculture and other counter culture of the 1960s, and the history of LSD, fromit’s accidental discovery through it’s use by the United States CIA andmilitary, and its use in psychology circles for therapy, and beyond. But, while the real life characters presentedhere are fascinating, the writing is dry and brings dullness to what shouldhave been a more vivid subject. I pickedup this book because the writer of the book that became the Bradley Cooper film“Limitless” cited this book as the inspiration to that story. However, Glynn definitely seems like hehandled the basic material with much more skill than this book did.
31. Tattoos on theHeart, by Father Greg Boyle
Notes: This book, written by the founder of “HomeBoy Industries” in Los Angeles, which goes out of its way to employ gangmembers and give people in poverty and in gangs a way out of their cycle oflife. With great humor (some of which iscertainly honed through using the stories in the book in sermons), it can beinteresting. It’s not all good stories –the story of the company burning down for employing someone from a rival gang,and their scandal in funneling money to the Mexican Mafia is explored andtouched on lightly.
32. 2666: A Novel,by Roberto Bolano
Notes: This book had won many awards and was muchtalked about before I picked it up. Partof that, certainly, is because of the author’s death. At 898 pages, it’s not a short read, and is definitelynot an easy read. It jumps around afictional future planet Earth, with discussions and long tangents on a varietyof things, and has characters that are out of novels from 50 years or longerago. Definitely epic, butfrustrating. It’s part fairy tale, andpart a series of short stories, in a way, with much dialog and quotablesections. But overall more a book forother writers interested in epic novels, and for academics interested infiction structure, than a recommended read. I almost was more confused after reading this book than when I started,and was glad when it was over.
33. 13 Things thatDon’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time, byMichael Brooks
Notes: I attended a lecture on dark energy and darkmatter, and so purchased this book, and was curious to read all about both,along with other “mysteries”. Unfortunately, other than the discussion of dark energy and dark matter,there is a discussion of much pseudoscience that has been firmly debunkedelsewhere, from one time alien signals, homeopathy (really?), free will, andcold fusion. Not much mysterious in mostof what the author tries to make otherwise.
34. The Time Of Your Life, by Anthony Robbins
Notes: This several day program focuses onparticular goals, and portions of your life, improving each one at a time.Unfortunately, as is the case in Robbin’s later works, the book rambles intoside issues, bragging, personal stories, that may or may not be relevant, namedropping of people he has met, and would benefit greatly from an editor. It seems to be the policy of the Robbinscompany that “more is better”, and focusing the words or subject matter doesn’tseem to ever happen, as it did in his earlier books edited by a publishinghouse.