The Books Read in 2017:
This past year I read the 44 books listed below. If I’ve tagged you in this note, we have discussed books (or one or more of the books below) in the past year. It took a while to gather my thoughts about the 45 books I read in 2016, and I’m still pondering many of them. My 2016 list of 49 books and my 2015 list of 34 books tie into this as well. What books did you enjoy this past year? What books do you recommend for 2017? What books should I avoid? I love your comments. Thanks for reading.
2017 Book List
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
Notes: This book was epic in scope, fascinating, and extremely well written. A history of certain aspects of human evolution, speculation about the future of humanity, what our best and worst qualities might be, and the interesting detours that humanity has taken in the last 1 million years, including the last 100,000 of brain (and culture) development. A book I’ve thought about in the ten or so months since reading it. Really an excellent and well-written book.
Musicphelia, by Oliver Sacks
Notes: This book starts strong and finishes strong, with many interesting theories and anecdotes in between. Dr. Sacks examines why the brain seems to be exceptionally tuned to music. Brain damage sometimes reveals musical talents (and brain damage which releases musical memories), persons who have a stroke will often hear music long forgotten and becoming proficient in music can lead to other brain skills becoming more finely honed. The opening story about the Irish orphan who had a mini-stroke in her 90s and immediately heard a long lost Irish folk song is one I will never forget. Fascinating and only the beginning of what is certain to be a new area of neurological brain science.
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin
Notes: I can recognize that this book has flaws, but I still recommend it and have mentioned it to many of my friends. Rubin’s book goes over the seven most common goals and utilizes her theories of the “four personality types” and what approach works best, using research, for each personality type. I’m skeptical of the four personality types, but the advice here is solid.
1491, by Charles Mann
Notes: This book is researched and written about what the world was like in North and South America before Europeans first visited, and describes a world rich in culture and large populations, with long-distance trade, astronomy, agriculture, and building technologies. This book was fascinating and amazing, and in many instances completely breaks with what you thought the people of the Americas were like. Highly recommended.
Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker
Notes: This book’s rating from me went up the more I thought about it. It’s an unusual book, that even though it’s “authored by” historian and novelist Nicholson Baker, none of the words are his. The entire book is a collection of actual newspaper articles, some diplomatic cables and radio broadcasts, some magazine articles, and speeches, of the time shortly before World War II started, to shortly before it ended. It was surprising in many ways, as the articles he selected show fairly clear how much of the world was responsible for setting up the worst in the death and suffering experienced during that war. It certainly opened my eyes changed my view of Churchill and showed me the horrors of aerial bombing in much of the war. It also challenged people to take a position on refugees, which were major topics of the time. Really an eye-opening book that will change the way you were told about and learned about World War II.
Command and Control, by Eric Schlosser. Notes: An amazing book, covering the 1980 Damascus Arkansas nuclear incident and the history of arms and nuclear weapons and policies. A shocking review of the history of development of nuclear weapons, and the safeguards and strategies of what may happen should there be a war. Very sobering.
Emily In the Night, by Wendy Walker
Notes: A highly recommended novel about the lives affected by a narcissist and a mystery involving child abduction. (And in that plot element, was influenced and inspired by the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping). A well written suspenseful and fascinating book, with excellent writing and a plot that not only sounds true, but has insights about the human condition.
Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard
Notes: The history of the Patagonia company and corporation, written by its founder. From the mountain climbing start with handmade equipment, to the current involvement in environmental activism and a unique workplace in Ventura with unique policies, this book was both interesting, a great business history, and has many recommendations for responsible leadership and management.
Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
Notes: This book is, of course, famous in the “true crime” genre, in fact, in many ways inventing it, but I had never read it before this year. Sticking to chronological order, the book is well written and a compelling read from start to finish. The portions of the book involving the trial were especially well written. I learned much about the Manson family and all of their crimes (especially relevant in the year that Manson died).
Tribe, by Sebastian Junger
Notes: This short book, written by a great author, describes his epiphany while being a journalist with soldiers in Afghanistan. That epiphany is that we want to be part of a group, or “tribe”, more than almost anything, and that the military, in particular, gives young men that opportunity, and that we fail them in how we look at them and help give them that once they have seen combat. The book points out that most combat veterans feel that society in large doesn’t understand them, and points out how that point of view is correct in many ways, and how we can fix that.
Ready, Fire, Aim, by Michael Masterson.
Notes: An excellent book, focusing in-depth on several problems that entrepreneurs face in growing a business to several levels. The book title comes from the idea that we should not spend too much time readying ourselves and aiming when we can get something out there to see if it works or not.
Mate: Become the Man Women Want, by Tucker Max, and Geoffrey Miller
Notes: Despite the highly cheesy title, this book, mainly written by Evolutionary Psychologist Miller, is really excellent. This is a book that women and men both would enjoy reading. The world needed a book that both speculates and provides solid science about the evolutionary history behind why men and women look for and act the way that they do.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Notes: An exploration of life and culture just before the civil war. A winner of several literary awards, this book had interesting characters and excellent writing, and an interesting, fantastical premise. Many moments of well-written suspense and I learned much from this book.
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
Notes: The most recent book by Stephen King (I believe), I was interested in reading this after finishing the book “11/22/63”. Really masterful character design and presentation, and this was less supernatural than almost all of King’s books. There is both excellent writing and a unique and interesting plot here, with details that feel real and make sense.
Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, by Peter Schweizer
Notes: This book was shocking to me. It turns the narrative that most of us are familiar with – lobbyists constantly working on politicians, showering them with gifts and dinners, and buying their influence, and shows how many politicians expect contributions, gifts, and experiences from lobbyists, and often play lobbyists against each other to maximize the “bribery” inherent in the attention and time from the Washington elite. Full of interesting anecdotes and a discussion of laws that have been proposed to limit things on the politician side (which are rarely passed, due to who votes on the laws).
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
Notes: A classic work of science fiction that contains not only the well-known rules of AI robotics but a thrilling mystery and a fast-paced novel, that still holds up. A great read.
Presto: How I Lost 100 Pounds, by Penn Jillette
Notes: Written by magician Penn Jillette, this story of his dramatic weight loss (he lost an average of a pound a day) starts off with his addictions and adventures in food, including celebrity cooking shows, and him finding Engineer “Cray Ray (Cronise)”, who gets him on a simple diet – eat only one food for every meal for the first 30 days, (he chose potatoes), add no salt, fat or sugar to any meals after that, utilize ice/cold exposure, and only eat “appropriate” cheat meals after that. A highly unusual diet, but there are lessons here about how salt, fat, and sugar are used to make even healthy foods unhealthy.
Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink
Notes: This book, written by a food researcher, summarizes a few decades of food research, some with surprising results. The highlights of this book are more the many psychological studies about what makes people overeat without knowing they are, and the brain’s cues on how much you’ve eaten, and when you’re full. Using smaller plates and glasses, eating with soft lighting and soft colors around you, and creating an atmosphere around your meals will cause you to eat less. Heavy on long descriptions of the studies, but short on practical tips (although they are there).
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
Notes: This book, by a dating coach/blogger, has been given much attention in the past few years and is a reminder of how we overestimate what others think of us and how little attention we have to give. Instead of spending time on the trivial, the shallow, the celebrity, and the mundane, all of which almost never matter, we can focus on what we want to accomplish in our limited time and improve ourselves and the world.
Natchez Burning, by Gregory Iles
Notes: The first book in a trilogy and I am only reviewing this book. (Not the trilogy). This book has many strong characters, including a lawyer and a journalist that stand out, and also has many stereotypes about the South and those that live there. The suspense and the mystery might be inconsistent throughout this long book, but the story is solid, and so is the writing. RR: 4.5/5
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, by Michael Shermer
Notes: A discussion of both how the brain works, with the main thesis being that we are exposed to concepts that make us comfortable or uncomfortable, and then wrap all of our beliefs around supporting those concepts and gathering ideas that foster that, and rejecting those that don’t. Discusses religion, and aliens, and various conspiracy theories, although not as lightheartedly as Shermer’s first book.R/R: 4.5/5
The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine Aron
Notes: For persons that are shy, withdrawn, introverts, or need frequent alone time, this book is well known. It describes how a personality type known as a “highly sensitive” person is affected by loud noises, bright lights, and overload in busy crowds. More written for others to understand this common personality type, it’s well researched and well written.
The End of Overeating, by David Kessler, MD
Notes: Kessler is the former head of the FDA and makes a case that based upon both biology and marketing, commercially processed food focuses on adding fats to salts and / or sugars to trigger food addiction and overeating. He has a good description of the problem, but very few solutions other than the few tips in his book.
Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
Notes: This was the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the musical “Hamilton”. And the amazing story of Hamilton’s rise to the presidency is the story of his time period as much as of him, and of the culture of his time. Even more amazing is that it is true and is a testament to adversity and the rise of the persistent.
My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem
Notes: This book focuses on the biography of Steinem, including her decades of heavy travel and all the people she has come across (famous or not) in her activism over five decades. It focuses a lot on her parents, especially her father, and is frank about looking back at her struggles with her childhood, her financial struggles, and her feelings about being criticized in the press. A really personal read from a great writer.
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor
Notes: This book covers the phenomenon of Star Wars, including how it happened (and almost didn’t happen), and how it’s changed since the first film. This book was fun and a fast read, but strangely devotes many chapters to the more obscure parts of the phenomenon, including translating Star Wars into Navajo, and the 501st Stormtrooper group, while skipping over much of the conflicts with studios, actors, unions, and finances that make up the story of filming the movies.
Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow
Notes: A well written historical novel, with an interesting structure and well-defined characters, some real, some fictional, living in the turn of the century New York. A glimpse into an earlier time, with fascinating subplots and excellent character writing. Definitely a classic of historical fiction for a reason.
Fluent Forever, by Gabriel Wyner
Notes: A singer performer who learned a system that worked for teaching himself any language. Using a core vocabulary, and then flashcards to work on reminders, spaced out in time, for building a larger and larger vocabulary in the context of communication. Interesting (and the success of this book has led to an app), but too complex for many people.
Identical, by Scott Turow
Notes: An interesting legal thriller of sorts that focuses on an investigation into prison release and a mystery involving DNA. Tightly focused, suspenseful, and has interesting perspectives on using DNA evidence for identity that many have never thought of.
Lying by Sam Harris.
Notes: This book is very short, half of it consisting of an essay on the ethics of lying, and the problems of lies, no matter how small, in how others treat you.
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder
Notes: Although I’ve ready many Warren Buffett biographies, this book focuses on the unusual marriage of Buffet and his wife, and his lessons throughout life as to how compounding (“the snowball”) could turn his business investment into a fortune.
The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck
Notes: This book from the 1970s is somewhat famous, and I am certain I have read it long ago. Someone mentioned the book to me, and I took the opportunity to revisit it and read it with new eyes. A strange mix of 70s notions (including Eastern religions and free love) and a strict Christian ethic of going to church weekly and hard work makes for a somewhat watered down psychological theory, but one that still has some truths.
Money: How to Play the Game, by Anthony Robbins
Notes: The first book by Anthony Robbins in 15 years or so, this book was triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, his move from California to Florida for tax purposes, and the realization that people don’t have a basic education about financial matters. This is really two books – the first covering basics of investing, which is solid science about how effective compounding is, and how most investment professionals and advisors fail to beat their market index, and the effect of fees on investing. The second half of the book is interviews with star investors, and their method of creating what he calls a “bulletproof portfolio”. That reliance on those “star investors”, and their plans to beat the market, clearly contradicts the first part of the book, which makes it ineffective in its message. Too basic for anyone with a modest knowledge of finance.
Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Christopher Vaughan and Stuart Brown
Notes: I read this book after reading another book about play, and this book was heavy on psychological studies (understandably considering who the authors are) and impresses on you how humans (and some other animals) have brains that are set up to play. We are more effective, and less depressed, when we make time to play, or make games out of things. For some reason, however, probably the dry writing, I found this book tough to read. It goes over some concepts several times as well. RR: 3.5/5
World War Z, by Max Brooks
Notes: This book, which was made into a movie, is a series of fictional interviews after the fact about a worldwide virus that creates zombies. Written by the son of Mel Brooks, this is less comedic than a real-world look at how viruses can spread and how people behave.
The Storyteller’s Secret, by Carmine Gallo
Notes: This book was outlined and grew from around a brief Ted talk, with much filler to pad it into a full-sized book. A fairly amateur book that describes how humans respond best to stories, which probably has to do with the psychology involved in our evolution. This book focuses on sales but could have been a better book.
Savor, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Notes: A book about using meditation techniques to eat better and focus on what you are eating. Co-written with a nutritionist, it is simple, but a good reminder to focus on what you are doing when you are eating, even if the writing is a little dry.
The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena
Notes: A thriller focusing on an incident involving a missing baby and the married couple that left her at home while they went next door briefly to attend a party. With a few moments you can see coming a mile away, and not interesting characters, and too thin a plot.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Notes: A very British novel about a single mother to a young girl genius on her way to a mathematics competition, when their car breaks down, and they are rescued by one of the world’s richest men, who helps them all out, and falls in love with the mother. It relies on many tropes and has poorly written dialogue, even if it has an unsurprising happy ending.
The Talisman, by Stephen King
Notes: One of King’s novels written (with another author) during the 1980s and considered by some to be one of his greatest books. The book follows the format of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in following a young boy and his traveling companion on a quest to find something that may save his mother’s life. Unfortunately, some of the plot is so ridiculous, and some of the asides in the book (including the life of travel of quality cocaine), made this book more of a mess to me.
Why Women Have Sex, by Cindy Meston and David Buss.
Notes: An examination of all the evolutionary and psychological reasons related to the title, but the physical and emotional factors and reasoning behind everything related to the act. Fascinating, even if a little boring in this context.
Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information, by Vlatko Vedral
Notes: This book dabbles in a mix of pseudoscience and solid physics and attempts to merge various sciences with the laws of physics, under the author’s theory that everything in the universe is information. Going from economics to biology, philosophy and quantum physics, he often seems to try to hammer existing data into this overall theory.
Kildar, by John Ringo
Notes: This is part of a very popular best-selling series of novels aimed primarily at men and tells the story of a Navy Seal who wants to get away from it all in Russia and ends up stumbling upon a Chechnyan Islamic terrorist cell. While assembling a team of locals to train and fight, he ends up rescuing a large number of women from local brothels, buying their freedom, and starts a brewery in an ancient castle.
The Naked Jape, by Jimmy Carr, and Lucy Greeves
Notes: This book attempts to analyze what makes jokes funny, and goes over several categories of jokes, and several theories on why we laugh. But, as the saying goes, explaining jokes is the least funny thing of all.
Three Magic Words, by Uell S. Andersen Notes: Full of typos, but also full of information about how humans evolved from Atlanteans (and Lemurians) and how telekinesis is true.