What was the book you enjoyed most, or recommended most, in 2018? This year I was fortunate enough to dedicate myself to reading 22 books. Not as many as the 100 books I read a few years ago (see http://www.robert-miller.com/books-read-2012/), but after two years of reading great fiction, I dove back into non-fiction, and enjoyed all the books I selected this year.
My reading list of the 49 books I read last year is here: http://www.robert-miller.com/the-books-read-in-2017/. I have about 20 books already on deck for 2019. Let me know your thoughts, the books you enjoyed, and your recommendations, please. If I tagged you in this post, we have discussed books, or I have given you books I finished at some point.
Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker
Review: I always love Pinker’s writing style and his command of language and creativity. This book addresses objections so well, and is so well thought out, it’s hard to argue against, and in that regard this book is brilliant. This is the definition of a ”good news gospel”, as it details how, despite the news, the world is getting better in many measurable and definable ways, and that is due to alignment with many of the freedoms and principles of the enlightenment. Definitely worth the long read.
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark
Review: A book that blew my mind at every new chapter. Incredibly well written, inspirational and scary, and challenges us to look at ourselves and figure out what makes us human, and what defects and weaknesses in our own character we may want to have artificial intelligence help us with, and how that creates dangers for us. Tegmark is an MIT professor and a gifted writer. Chapter 1 is compellingly written and invites us to have the most important conversation of our lives, which is not an exaggeration. Both shocking and inspirational.
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari
Review: Hari is a journalist and a great writer, and this book has a premise that is fascinating and uses stories and anecdotes from the last hundred years to prove a simple point – drug policy has been woefully mishandled because humans turn to drugs (prescription and illegal) to cope with a lack of connection in modern society. Shocking and well-argued, even if it relies on stories many times more than scientific data.
The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch
Review: This book might be very hard to describe, but it’s a fairly random assortment of ideas from this physicist (and some would say philosopher of science). Longevity, how biology works, representational government, environmental concerns, quantum physics, all get a thorough discussion with fascinating writing and presentation. There have to be a great number of paragraphs here that are oversimplified and are by nature of what’s being discussed conjecture. But a great read and recommended anyway.
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
Review: A simple book, and a simple concept, but one that is well presented in this book. Little actions, that are done every day, either take you away from your goals or move you towards your goals. Plenty of examples are well described in the book outlining the practical application of this simple concept.
Principles: Life and Work, by Ray Dalio
Review: This book was way better than I had even anticipated. A fascinating story of the building of a hedge fund and less about Mr. Dalio’s unique look at investing and the markets and more about the algorithms in life, relationships, and money that work best, and how he is constantly looking to improve those and learn from mistakes made in the past. A great read.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Review: A review of the history of psychedelics, and a summary of the new research being conducted on the benefits of certain hallucinatory drugs to treat addiction and certain brain dysfunctions. Also a sobering discussion of the dangers and mistakes made in researching this category of drugs, and the need for supervision. Well done and a responsible look at once is again a hot topic, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Review: I had not read this nearly 100-year-old book, but gave it a read on a long flight, and enjoyed the brilliant scenes that Hemingway invites the reader on, again and again. A truly detailed look at a group of people who are struggling with their own worst natures, and feeling like outsiders in a new country, like we all are.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamont
Review: This book is a classic at this point, and positions itself as being about writing, but it’s about so much more. A personal look at the author’s struggles with writing, and family, and teaching, and structure. Many humorous and practical stories in this book, along with an inspirational look into the writer’s life.
The First 20 Minutes: Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, by Gretchen Reynolds
Review: I really enjoyed this book, at least for the most part. This book is filled with practical advice, written in an easy to understand way, towards achieving the goals that people most say they want to accomplish. The ending of the book pushes readers towards finding out which of their personalities (out of four options) the reader has a tendency towards, which doesn’t seem to be as scientifically supported as the rest of the book, and which was the basis for the author’s next book. But overall a good read.
I Hate You Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality by Jerold Kreismaj, MD and Hal Strauss
Review: I read this book (and another similar book, Love Me, Don’t Leave Me, by Michelle Skeen Psy.D.), to understand someone in my life with Borderline Personality Disorder. Makes many interesting observations and connections, and also describes the history of this unusual diagnosis.
The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and by Jonathan Bailor
Review: A plain language discussion of the empirical studies on weight loss and healthy habits, and how to tinker with your own routines to move towards what works, scientifically. The diet recommended here is closest to the Paleo diet, and despite the scientific support, many concepts here may be controversial.
Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
Review: An attempt at a biography of Elon Musk, by someone that interviewed him repeatedly during many of his most famous days. Interviews with family, and past girlfriends, and co-workers, (and employees) of Musk’s various companies are interesting, but the book doesn’t make a cohesive and compelling read as it should. Plus, the news about Musk is a moving target, and once this book was completed, it seems out of date fairly rapidly.
Accessory to War by Neil Degrasse Tyson and Avis Lang
Review: This book goes over the long history of using the scientific method to develop technology to assist the military (going back centuries), and gives the current state of the military’s use of space (as far as classified data allows it). There isn’t really a compelling narrative here, as much as a by the assessment of the number of how science will be used in the near future, and why a relationship between the military and the scientists doing research work. I can’t help but think that this book could have been much more, however.
The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer
Review: Another book by Dr. Shermer, focusing on the religious nature of beliefs and how the same pattern shapes our politics, our conspiracy theories, how real ghosts seem to us, etc. Much of this book has familiar territory if you have read several of Shermer’s past books or writings, especially his first book. The presentation and discussion is good, although in my opinion this book fell apart in the last chapter.
Lost Connections: Discovering the Real Causes of Depression by Johann Hari.
Review: This book, by the same author of “Chasing the Scream”, takes a look at the epidemic of anxiety and depression in modern society, and how certain things, like nature, and friendships and creating family-type relationships, work even better than pharmaceuticals. A very personal summary of what the author has learned and what current research reveals, as this book goes through the author’s personal struggle with medicating depression. As chemistry and medical technology improve, it seems so does the evidence that personal connections work even better.
Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life, by Gary John Bishop
Review: An ode to several well-worn self-help principles, including positive thinking (even though the book says it’s not about positive thinking), and the value of getting out of ruts caused by mental patterns. The author has a likable writing style, and seems like a very likable person, although the writing here tends to veer off and be very much “all over the place”. Luckily it’s a short read.
Unlimited Memory, by Kevin Horsely
Review: This book was amazingly short. If you’ve read up on memory techniques, including the memory palace, or making associations with images (the ruder the better), then you won’t find much new to learn here.
Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive A Mass Extinction, by Annalee Newitz
Review: The title of this book is somewhat misleading, since it is about past extinction events, not involving humans, covers biological and cultural ways to keep the information, and then goes into speculation about what non-humans might need to survive in the far future. It’s not a badly written book, just more of a jumble of ideas, some very thought-provoking, some of which do not have any link to reality.
Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
Review: What was intended to be a very practical book instead seems to be all about marketing the author. In fact, it’s difficult to separate the hype here from the simple advice. A book like the Power of Habit by Dugg (see my list from 2016) is a much better book than this one.
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox
Review: This is a book that reads like a dramatic soap opera. The intention of the book, however, is to provide a system of feedback for manufacturing operations, which takes almost the entire badly written fiction story about a man, his wife, his boy scout troop, etc., to get to. Like I’ve said about other business books in the past, often an easily described central concept gets stretched out to a full-length book, which does nothing for the reader or the book.