The star ratings I give the books I read, just like the ratings I give to the music I listen to, are personal and difficult to generalize to others. My 4 star rating today is different from yours, and different from mine a year ago. I also like the idea of bucking the trend of rating and ranking everything.
Instead of including ratings, I will write reading notes for some of the books and link to them below. In the notes I will explain what I like and don’t like about the book, and who, if anyone, should read it. This page starts in 2020 and it will be unlikely to include notes for books read prior to that day, but I will try to get around to some of my favorites.
General strong recommendations
With hedging out of the way, there are a few books I would recommend to everyone. If we were friends, I would talk to you a lot about these books. I can directly attribute ways I’ve changed my mind to at least one of these books.
- The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch.
- The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell.
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.
Listen Like You Mean It.
Good tips on intentional listening and tactics for managing conversations. Primarily targets professional settings; the interpersonal applications seem secondary. The overall message will stick with me, and maybe that was a good enough reason to stick with it till the end, but man was it a slog. Long and slow, like they had to hit a word limit. And the writing lacks personality. Reads like it was written by an ML model trained on all management self-help books.
Full title: Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It. For a book on wit it wasn't very witty. Slow, dry, academic. The play with different forms felt more technical than delightful.
Eh. Sometimes you have high hopes for a book and it lets you down. I thought the protagonist was going to be open and hungry for the world, instead they’re whiny, selfish, superior, cowardly, self-absorbed, and reactive to everything and nothing. You could write a good book about that, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. And it went on forever.
☀ BOOK NOTE
See full Book Note. This is a seriously terrible book and nobody should read it. Please read the full Book Note for an in-depth explanation.
The book's cover says 'Five stories of music and nightfall.' This is accurate. As you'd expect with Ishiguro, the stories are also of heartbreak.
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English.
I'm at a loss with this one. The kind of loss when you have a feeling in your stomach without matching words on your tongue. I will never know what it's like for a non-Egyptian to read this, and I don't know how to tell you what it's like to read it as an Egyptian. I am struggling to understand how Noor Naga could weave relationships, love, sex, Egyptian-ness, Western-ness, and the lack of belonging that comes with being both all in a perfectly written novel like this. I might come back to add some quotes and booknotes, but till then this is for sure one of my favorite fiction books of all time.
The Comfort Crisis.
Overall a good and easy read. It follows a transparent template for this kind of book, and while I personally ding it a bit for that, it’s still worth a read. I’ll revisit my highlights from this book often, but the biggest change in thinking I’m walking away with right now is how I interpret my hunger. Also, okay, the full title is ‘The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self’ but c’mon, I’m running a respectable publication here.
Just Keep Buying: Proven ways to save money and build your wealth.
I don't know. The core advice is sound. The last third of the book which runs through simulations of different investment strategies is great. But there are some sections (e.g., parts of the home ownership chapter) with some very questionable reasoning. You could read this. I think you could also read Invest Like a Pro: A 10-Day Investing Course and get the same ideas in fewer pages.
Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989–2021.
Andrew Sullivan is, second to Christopher Hitchens, my favorite essayist of all time. I added Out on a Limb to my Libby queue after listening to Sullivan's interview with Tyler Cowen on Conversations with Tyler, which was excellent. Sullivan narrates the 21-hour audiobook, which makes it the obvious way to go. Sullivan's writing is great, and his reading of his own writing is even better. I thought I might be able to pick or recommend some favorite essays, but as I write this note, I don't think I can narrow it down. I hope I'll find the time to listen to the whole collection again.
An Untamed State.
It wasn’t for me. Maybe it would’ve been different later, but I decided not to stick around and find out.
Klara and the Sun.
I read this book in one day/two flights. It is so very Ishiguro; it has the same what-is-said-by-not-being-said quality you find in The Remains of the Day. With stories like Ishiguro's, whether the hook gets you from the beginning makes all the difference, and it got me. It was a great story for flying.
Bad Behavior: Stories.
Transgressive fiction short stories. I wonder how much of the writing in this genre, whose name I didn't know until now, is this well-written.
André Maurois (translated by Adriana Hunter)
My copy of this novel is full of highlights and bookmarks, which means something, as it's not what I usually do with a novel. I can see how this French story of love and jealousy isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s beautiful in its frankness.
- A Ghost In The Throat. Doireann Ní Ghríofa (2020)
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
My mind isn't made up about this book. The thesis that generalists and people who take a lot of left turns in life do better than people who specialize early could very well be true, but the book is made up of a long series of anecdotes which I found fascinating but not persuasive of the rule.
Subprime Attention Crisis.
Main argument: programmatic online advertising is a bubble like the US housing market was in 2006. It's rotten and doesn't work, and it's funding more and more of the internet. You'll know most of this if you work in tech. I don't think I'm leaving the book having learned or been convinced of anything new, but that doesn't mean it's bad.
- The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. James McBride (2006)
- The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath (1963)
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.
I have many highlights from this book, and I might go back and make a book note out of it. It talked a lot more about me than I expected.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin
☀ BOOK NOTE
See full Book Note. Slow paced, but timely, and meaningful to me.
The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames.
I didn't leave the book thinking I knew enough, or thinking highly of what I did know about Ames' and the CIA's methods and worldview.
My Year Abroad.
Another really good fiction book to note in my 2021 reading list. Read in two days. Contains some beautiful writing.
The Women of Brewster Place.
I liked this book, it's a series of brief character narratives, and I read it in two days. Beware, there are difficult parts in there.
The art of discarding: how to get rid of things and find joy.
I read this for its notability more than anything. A relatively short book, still felt like it went on and on. It tries to be very specific with strategies and categories of things, which doesn't age well. Meta point: amusing how many books exist just to tell you to make yourself get rid of things so you realize that you don't need to buy more things.
Hitch-22: a memoir.
The audiobook version of Hitch-22 is narrated by Christopher Hitchens himself. In my world, Hitchens' writing and oratory are second to none, and I strongly recommend listening to his narration of his own memoir; a memoir that was unfortunately more complete than he realized. This was my first "reading", but not the last one.
The Satanic Verses.
I wish to give credit to the murderous fanatics whose revolting reaction to the book made my reading it a certainty. I wouldn't have known it existed if it weren't for them.
Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life.
It was well-written, and a nice read. It starts as one book and changes into another about halfway through.
Just a Country Lawyer: Sam Ervin and the Unraveling of Watergate.
☀ BOOK NOTE
See full Book Note. Good book if you're interested in Sam Ervin or his worldview; slow-paced and uncritical.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Carol S. Dweck
Growth mindset is a good idea, but the book was too long and repetitive and I couldn't finish reading it before it was due.
The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die (2nd Edition).
Paul A. Craig
☀ BOOK NOTE
See full Book Note. Read it if you're interested in being a safe private pilot, or if you're an aviation nerd.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
Gives you motivation to let go of shit you're hoarding and buy less, but overreaches like most self-help books.
Your Money or Your Life.
Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin
Long and a bit dated; there are shorter, better books on personal finance and frugality; see YNAB: The Book for example.
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone.
Liang writes each chapter about an artist who explored loneliness and big cities; set against the background of her own loneliness in the city.
Classic Ian Rankin police/detective story set in Scotland; read if you like Ian Rankin and/or the Inspector Rebus series.
I think the book is as good as people say it is.
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.
☀ BOOK NOTE
See full Book Note. Unless you're interested in marketing or advertising, I don't think this is for you.
The Remains of the Day.
I read this for a short-lived virtual book club; it's really good.
The Hidden Persuaders.
Curious read, I'm not sure I took anything away from it.
Bullshit Jobs: The rise of pointless work and what we can do about it..
I tried with this book, but it feels like an attempt to capitalize on an essay that blew up by publishing a diatribe that builds one bag argument on top of another. Unsatisfied with being bad and wrong, it's also breathtakingly long-winded.
☀ BOOK NOTE
See full Book Note. I like Rhone's writing; the book is appropriately brief given the topic.
- The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir. Samantha Power (2019)
- Limbo. A. Manette Ansay (2002)
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Junot Díaz (2008)
- Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger. Lilly Dancyger (2019)
- Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America. Beth Macy (2019)
- The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb. Sam Kean (2019)
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.
Patrick Radden Keefe
Good book to read if you're interested in the history of The Troubles; it's not comprehensive, but wraps the narrative around a specific story.
- Tenth of December. George Saunders (2012)
I couldn't stop reading this once I started. I grew up in conditions that, while not nearly as extreme, ran along the same themes, and related to the book a lot. You should read it.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.
I know this is an unpopular opinion in the world I inhabit, but I really liked the book and learned a lot from it. Strong recommendation from me.
- The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.. Evan Ratliff (2019)
- East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. Philippe Sands (2017)
- Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Cal Newport (2019)
- The Fifth Risk. Michael Lewis (2018)
- The Soul of a New Machine. Tracy Kidder (2000)
- Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice. Bill Browder (2015)
- Fascism: A Warning. Madeleine K. Albright (2018)
- Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age. Jeff Bercovici (2018)
The End of the Road: The Festina Affair and the Tour That Almost Wrecked Cycling.
The book to read if you're interested in Tour de France history and the history of doping in cycling.
The End of Airports.
One of the biggest letdowns for someone who loves airports; the book is mostly literary flexing.
- My Name Is Asher Lev. Chaim Potok (2003)
The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography.
Pantani is a beast and this biography does him justice.
- The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs. Tyler Hamilton (2012)
- Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts—Becoming the Person You Want to Be. Marshall Goldsmith (2015)
- Last Train to Istanbul. Ayşe Kulin (2013)
- A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa (2018)
- Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew. Michael D. Leinbach (2018)
The Conquest of Happiness.
One of my General strong recommendations.
- All the President’s Men. Carl Bernstein (1974)
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.
One of my General strong recommendations.
- Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History. Saul David (2017)
- Among the Thugs. Bill Buford (1993)
- Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel. Dan Ephron (2016)
- Runway Zero-Eight. Arthur Hailey (1969)
- Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs. Henry Carroll (2014)
- Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth. James M. Tabor (2010)
- Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Hannah Arendt (2006)
- Thoughtful Machine Learning: A Test-Driven Approach. Matthew Kirk (2014)
- Inside the Third Reich. Albert Speer (1997)
- Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge. Said K. Aburish (2001)
- Story of My Life. Moshe Dayan (1992)
- StreetCreds. Zach Fortier (2012)
- The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. John le Carré (2001)
- Cat’s Cradle. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1999)
- Slaughterhouse-Five. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1999)
- The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq. Fouad Ajami (2007)
- Brotherhood of Warriors: Behind Enemy Lines with a Commando in One of the World’s Most Elite Counterterrorism Units. Aaron Cohen (2009)
- Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II. Robert Kurson (2005)
- Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression. Charb (2016)
- The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. Michael Lewis (2015)
- أولاد حارتنا. Naguib Mahfouz (2006)
- Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever. Reed Albergotti (2013)
Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.
Walsh pursued Armstrong for a long time and was skeptical when everyone else worshipped the fantasy; it's right and proper that he gets to write this book, and if you have an interest in cycling you should read it.
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Ed Catmull (2014)
Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot.
A pilot seduces you with romantic story-telling about long haul flight. The author will also teach you some cool things about aviation.
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Stephen King (2001)
The Transhumanist Wager.
(Spoilers ahead) I had to stop at the point where Jethro, the presumably rational and transhumanist character of the book, falls even deeper in love with Zoe, who had just tested him and their relationship by jumping off of a mountain summit and forcing him to almost die trying to save her. The fact that he was in love with her given all her mysticism and irrationality is one thing that was difficult to believe up to that point, but that this love is encouraged by such a moronic test was a final straw for me. Other things sucked too.
- The Miracle Inspector. Helen Smith (2012)
- The Prospect of My Arrival. Dwight Okita (2011)
- A Man Called Intrepid. William Stevenson (2000)
- In This Arab Time: The Pursuit of Deliverance. Fouad Ajami (2014)
Daimones (Daimones Trilogy, #1).
'I guess Mother Nature is wiser than any human ever could be.' A typical anti-humanist naturalist story. Just leave everything to mother nature and she'll take care of us type thing. It's silly. Even in the book's own created universe the 'Selected' could not have survived without advanced and mystical alien technology. I know it's fiction, but it's still a pass.
- The Crisis: The President, the Prophet & the Shah-1979 & the Coming of Militant Islam. David Victor Harris (2004)
- The Fry Chronicles (Memoir #2). Stephen Fry (2010)
- The Fall. Annelie Wendeberg (2013)
The Girl Who Disappeared Twice (Forensic Instincts, #1).
A nice easy read. I enjoyed the plot. I was never bored reading the book. The dialogue is a bit cheesy and clichéd at times. The characters sometimes narrate too much. Claire and her abilities do not fit in with the rest of the book.
- Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response. Aaron J. Klein (2005)
- The Falls. Ian Rankin (2005)
- The Falls (Inspector Rebus, #12). Ian Rankin (2005)
- Tooth and Nail (Inspector Rebus, #3). Ian Rankin (2005)
- Hide and Seek. Ian Rankin (2005)
- Hide and Seek (Inspector Rebus, #2). Ian Rankin (2005)
Answer To History.
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
Iran. What a tragic story.
- Molasses. Antonio Michael Downing (2010)
- On Liberty. John Stuart Mill (2004)
- The Bourne Supremacy (Jason Bourne, #2). Robert Ludlum (1986)
- The Bourne Identity (Jason Bourne, #1). Robert Ludlum (2010)
- The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson [#4]). Robert A. Caro (2012)
- Master of the Senate. Robert A. Caro (2003)
- Margrave of the Marshes. John Peel (2006)
- Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. Paul Dickson (2011)
The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes–and Its Implications.
One of my General strong recommendations.
- Comm Check…: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia. Michael Cabbage (2004)
- Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #2). Robert A. Caro (1991)
- The Naming of the Dead (Inspector Rebus, #16). Ian Rankin (2006)
- Mortal Causes (Inspector Rebus, #6). Ian Rankin (2008)
- The Path to Power. Robert A. Caro (1990)
- How to Be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils. George Mikes (1977)
- The Black Book (Inspector Rebus, #5). Ian Rankin (2000)
- Personal Witness: Israel Through My Eyes. Abba Eban (1992)
- Cryptonomicon. Neal Stephenson (2003)
- The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. James Hogg (2010)
The Ransom of Black Stealth One (Aerospace Systems, #1).
I liked it. I don't regret reading it. Will probably not read it again. I wish his writing style was better/easier to take in.
- Wolves Eat Dogs (Arkady Renko, #5). Martin Cruz Smith (2005)
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Steven Pressfield (2003)
- The Stand. Stephen King (2011)
- The Souls of Yellow Folk. Wesley Yang (2018)
- The Real Jack The Ripper. James Tully (2005)
- The Partner. John Grisham (2005)
- The Murder Book (Alex Delaware, #16). Jonathan Kellerman (2002)
- The Lonely Dead. Michael Marshall (2005)
- The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory 1874-1932. William Manchester (1984)
- The Last Lion 2: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-40. William Manchester (1988)
- The King of Torts. John Grisham (2003)
- The Killer Inside Me. Jim Thompson (2006)
- The Iliad. Homer (1999)
- The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (The Gonzo Papers, #1). Hunter S. Thompson (2003)
- The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand (1952)
- The Firm. John Grisham (2000)
- The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. Miguel León-Portilla (2006)
- The 4-Hour Workweek. Timothy Ferriss (2007)
- Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character. Richard P. Feynman (1997)
- Stitches: A Memoir. David Small (2010)
- Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Simon Sebag Montefiore (2004)
- Schindler’s List. Thomas Keneally (1993)
- Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. Dan Gardner (2008)
- Resurrection Men (Inspector Rebus, #13). Ian Rankin (2002)
- Polar Star / Rose. Martin Cruz Smith (2002)
- Polar Star / Rose (Arkady Renko, #2 included). Martin Cruz Smith (2002)
- Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide. Eric Bogosian (2017)
- One Last Breath (Ben Cooper & Diane Fry, #5). Stephen Booth (2007)
- Motorworld. Jeremy Clarkson (2004)
- Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1). Art Spiegelman (1991)
- Live Bait. P.J. Tracy (2004)
- Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1). Ian Rankin (1995)
- Infidel. Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2007)
- Inferno (Inferno, #1). Larry Niven (2008)
- I Know You Got Soul: Machines With That Certain Something. Jeremy Clarkson (2006)
- Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi. Neal Bascomb (2010)
- Huge. James W. Fuerst (2009)
- How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. Mortimer J. Adler (1972)
- High Fidelity. Nick Hornby (2000)
- Heavy: An American Memoir. Kiese Laymon (2019)
- Gorky Park / Nightwing. Martin Cruz Smith (2003)
- Gironimo!: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy. Tim Moore (2016)
- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker. Kevin D. Mitnick (2011)
- Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. Mark Balaguer (2009)
- Fleshmarket Close. Ian Rankin (2005)
- Fleshmarket Close (Inspector Rebus, #15). Ian Rankin (2005)
- Exit Music (Inspector Rebus, #17). Ian Rankin (2008)
- Dragon (Dirk Pitt #10). Clive Cussler (1991)
- Don’t Stop Me Now. Jeremy Clarkson (2010)
- Digital Fortress. Dan Brown (2004)
- Dead Souls. Ian Rankin (1999)
- Dead Souls (Inspector Rebus, #10). Ian Rankin (1999)
- Daemon (Daemon, #1). Daniel Suarez (2009)
- Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst: A True Story of Inside Information and Corruption in the Stock Market. Daniel Reingold (2007)
- Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-connected World. Bruce Schneier (2018)
- Clarkson on Cars. Jeremy Clarkson (2004)
- Christopher Columbus and the Enterprise of the Indies: A Brief History with Documents. Geoffrey Symcox (2005)
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Thomas Piketty (2014)
- Born to be Riled. Jeremy Clarkson (2007)
- Black and Blue (Inspector Rebus, #8). Ian Rankin (2002)
- Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East. David Hirst (2010)
- Badenheim 1939. Aharon Appelfeld (2009)
- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. John Carreyrou (2018)
- Altered Carbon. Richard K. Morgan (2007)
- Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1). Richard K. Morgan (2007)
- Airport. Arthur Hailey (2000)
- A Question of Blood (Inspector Rebus, #14). Ian Rankin (2004)
- A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers. Lawrence G. McDonald (2009)
- 1984. George Orwell (2008)