Books I've Read

A list of some of the books I've read, starting from around 2017, with a few thoughts about each one. I try to include a few links per review in case you want to do some deeper digging easily.

Know of a book that I just have to read? Send the link to your recommended book to, along with at least 1 (but not more than 3) sentence(s) about why I must read it, and I'll add it to my (long) reading queue!

Just to be 100% clear, I'm formatting the book titles below by "Title (AuthorLastName, FirstCopyrightYear/LatestCopyrightYear)". The "latest copyright year" I provide should allow you to find the exact version that I read, since many of these books have earlier versions too.


Zero to One (Thiel & Masters, 2014)

The title comes from the author's claim that it's a lot harder to create something new ("going from zero to one") than improving/expanding something that already exists ("going from one to two"). In fact, Thiel would probably even agree that it's harder to go from 0 to 1 than from 1 to 100. 

Given that Thiel was one of the founders of PayPal, I'm surprised at the number of mistaken notions he holds about elementary economics.* Fortunately, while his poor economics education crops up throughout the whole book, most of the ideas he communicates don't seem to rely those mistakes. 

I wouldn't consider this book "required reading," but Thiel does conduct an enlightening analysis of how and why (and when) America began to move away from innovation and aggressive growth in exchange for debt, competition in saturated markets, and settling for "ok" instead of creating "amazing." Thiel explains why we always observe near-monopolistic market ownership by the most successful companies; describes the mindset and philosophy required to develop those companies; and gives encouragement to those who will try to (truly) innovate.

* A glaring example is on pages 24-25: "Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit... capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition all profits get competed away." Even if these ideas were true in some esoteric, academic sense, it would at once be apparent that reality is so non-idealistic that these concerns never surface. But I find even that charity a stretch; since, in the course of human history, free market (read "competitive) capitalism has consistently demonstrated that "a rising tide lifts all boats." Western capitalism has created new wealth and new competition, and has improved the life in nearly every corner of the planet, by nearly any metric you'd like to use.

Minds, Brains and Science (Searle, 1984)

Despite sharing one of our names, John Rogers Searle just might be one of the philosophers I disagree with the most. Credit where it's due-- Searle is responsible for the famous Chinese Room Argument. But in most contexts, I've found his arguments too simplistic and poorly demonstrated; and the present case is no exception. 

The topics of the book are things like the mind-body problem, free will, a.i. (viz. its possibility), and the nature of consciousness, but I do not feel I gained any insights into or even appreciation for the topics at hand. Granted, this could be because I am somewhat well read in these areas, but I still wouldn't recommend this book to anyone looking for an introduction. 

My main criticism of Searle's style is that he often takes a deflationary approach to the very intricate topics surrounding consciousness, purporting his own (unsupported) claims as facts, and claiming that some of the most fundamental issues discussed in the field are simply non-issues. Some of his biggest errors stem from his assumptions* that A) mind events have a 1-to-1 correlation with brain events (which hypothesis is still very much up for debate); and B) that the brain functions like a computer (certain valuable analogies do exist, but it has been demonstrated that the brain is not simply an in vivo computer).

* I'm offering partial-- but only partial-- credit for the fact that this book was published in the '80s, and there has been significant neurological research since then.


On Becoming Babywise II (Ezzo & Bucknam, 4th Ed., 2012)

Having bought this book in a used pair with the first Babywise installment I was really after (which is a literal miracle in print, in case you didn't know), I had no extra cost in sampling this book too. Knowing that there are several books in the Babywise series, I was actually hoping to find that the authors didn't have anything helpful to say, but were just clinging to the pants legs of success after the original Babywise-- so that I wouldn't feel the need to add more books to my (too long) reading list. 

So it was a most pleasing disappointment to learn that this book is chock-full of good advice, and I highly recommend it to every parent for help in their child's 5-12 month old transitions. Whereas the first book explains how to set up a sleep rhythm that allows both the baby and his parents to thrive, this (shorter) book delves more into parenting philosophy, providing insights, experience, and common sense for fundamental topics such as discipline, punishment, morality, instruction, and training.

The recurring mantra is "Begin as you mean to go," advocating the proactive approach that "parents should [not] delay in introducing required and acceptable behavior."

It is better that you not allow a behavioral freedom to get established in the first place, if it is one that has to be constantly corrected or restricted. That is not fair to the child, and it will become a source of frustration to Mom. That is why we say: begin as you mean to go.

In addition to the more academic, there are plenty of practical tips, ranging from how and when to (and not to) introduce and use various foods, and effective (and ineffective) punishments. And it actually includes concrete answers and real examples of day schedules, sleep plans, and mealtimes throughout the 5-12 month range.

It has become my opinion that folks at [Baby]wise have a lot of knowledge that I want, and I am planning to read every book in their series, as my children progress through the associated life stages.  

The Gnostic Gospels (translated by Jacobs, 2006/2016)

The basic idea is that Jesus had special conversations with certain disciples (viz. Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Philip, Judas, etc.), during which He imparted secrets and mysterious knowledge to them, thereby setting them-- and anyone else who could obtain these secrets-- apart as the "real" followers.

It is immediately apparent that these "gospels" are incompatible with both Christian* and Jewish** Scriptures, exhibiting a different and strange religious altogether. I can see clearly why Paul exhorted his disciples to guard against Gnostic influences (cf. I Tim. 6:20 in English and Greek). While the Scriptures are unambiguous about the distinction between God and Man, these Gnostic Gospels emphasize the unity of all spiritual and corporeal things-- with God as the "Father of The All"-- and attainment of "Self Knowledge" of one's "True Nature" the pinnacle of human spiritual enlightenment. (Proper nouns unaltered.)

The most interesting thing I gleaned was seeing where some modern church doctrines may have originated or at least taken some influence. E.g.:

In the order the writings are presented, the Gnostic cosmology gets weirder and weirder the more you read. Beginning with more subtle heresies regarding the nature of Mary* and God,** the latter books unleash a full-blown foreign religious cosmology filled with "Archons," "Aeons," worlds/realms, powers/"Pleroma," and angels/beings unheardof in the Old or New Testaments.

The main issues I can see regarding the question of any crumb of consistency with Christianity would center around the Greek words γνώσεως and πλήρωμα (Romanized as "gnosis" and "pleroma," respectively). While these words are nearly deified within Gnosticism, the fact is that both words do occur a handful of times in the canonical New Testament. I'd like to do a more thorough word study on whether or not New Testament writers can be reasonably understood as espousing Gnostic doctrines. (E.g. what exactly is the meaning of "pleroma/fullness" in Col. 1:19?)

I arbitrarily chose this book off my bookshelf to read after having finished The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (reviewed below). This was a fortuitous choice, because it elucidated more about tarot and it's deep Gnostic connections, which I expounded further here. Supposedly there are 53 known Gnostic texts, but this book only gives 14. So maybe I have some more reading to do?

Sufficient "smoking guns" of canonical Scriptural contradictions include:

* "Some claim that Mary's conception was immaculate. They're mistaken; women can not conceive from the Holy Spirit, which is feminine..." -- Gospel of Philip

** "It is I who am with you forever, it is I who am the Father, Mother and Son." -- Secret Book According to St. John

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (Waite, 1910/1971)

I've long wondered how tarot cards/readings have maintained some level of societal standing, why some find them valuable/prophetic, and what tarot even is. A. E. Waite was one of the designers of the most prevalent and famous tarot card art. So, a book written by him, explaining the meaning of the art, seemed to be a good place to start.

Most statements in this book can be categorized as either descriptions of the art on each of the 78 cards, or scathing critiques of earlier works on the topic of the meaning of tarot, rebutting any and all historical or scholarly claims of other authors.*

Regarding the descriptions, Waite's tarot art was designed to rectify the cards' art to what he claims to be the true meanings. However, as a member of a secretive Hermetical order protecting the true meanings behind the symbols, Waite admits to leaving out some important details in his written descriptions:

There is a Secret Tradition concerning the Tarot, as well as a Secret Doctrine contained therein; I have followed some part of it without exceeding the limits which are drawn about matters of this kind and belong to the laws of honour. This tradition has two parts, and as one of them has passed into writing it seems to follow that it may be betrayed at any moment, which will not signify, because the second, as I have intimated, has not so passed at present and is held by very few indeed.

The strong Christian and Judaic overtones in so much of the art convey the Gnostic roots of the tarot (which will relate-- quite by coincidence-- to the next book I review).

As for his critiques of other works, a lot of space is dedicated to explaining what the tarot is not. According to Waite, the tarot is neither of Egyptian origin nor brought to Europe by gypsies traveling from the East; not ancient (probably originated in Western Europe ca. 1400s); and most interestingly, not to be used for divination!

[T]hat which is extracted from the [cards] by the divinatory art is at once artificial and arbitrary, as it seems to me, in the highest degree... The allocation of a fortune-telling aspect to these cards is the story of a prolonged impertinence.

While writing this review, I realized I had learned so much more about the interesting features of the tarot and connections to other topics that warranted further explanation. So more notes and contemplation can be found here.

A free online version of the book can be found here (and there shouldn't be any copyright issue, so you don't have to feel bad about using it).

* Several of these scathes can be found in his reviews of other works within his bibliography. Some of my favorites are, "It is a mere sketch written in a pretentious manner and is negligible in all respects," "This little book... is really without value-- symbolical or otherwise," and "To be frank, these kinds of foolery may be as much as can be expected from the Sanctuary of the Comédie-Française, to which the author belongs, and it should be reserved thereto." Don't invite this man to a roast session!

7 Men (Metaxas, 2013)

Better subtitled, "And the Stories of Their Greatness," as Metaxas isn't really distilling recipies for greatness, per se; but rather giving vignettes of men who did great things. It's also worth noting that these are not "the 7 greatest men," just 7 men who achieved a measure of greatness. Shared aspects are that they A) sacrificed some incredible opportunity for a higher cause, B) showed impressive integrity when few would've even batted an eye had they abandoned their cause, and C) claimed their Christianity as their driving force. I'm embarrassed to admit that I couldn't have named over half of these men before reading this. Even the ones I thought I knew, I still didn't know their greatest moral moments. The men and their contributions are:

Thanks to my parents for giving me this book as a Christmas present in 2015.

When You've Been Abused (Bustanoby, 1986)

The specific abuse dealt with in this book is incest.* Still, many of the insights and recommendations will apply more broadly to sexual abuses in general; while the teachings on forgiveness and coping are applicable to any instance in which "forgiveness" is relevant. Here's one of the passages I found most meaningful: 

[S]uppose a child lies or steals and is confronted with it by the parent. But the child denies he did anything wrong. The child will not be removed from the family for the offense... he always will be a member of the family. But his unwillingness to admit his offense against his parents creates a breach of fellowship... because they do not agree about what has been done. The original offense is not what grieves the parent. It is the unwillingness of the child to confess the wrong. Only through confession – saying the same thing about the offense that the parent is saying – can there be fellowship. It is a proverb of life that two don't walk together unless they are in agreement (Amos 3:3)... I do hope you will reestablish fellowship with [your father]. But you must understand the terms of fellowship. You may be willing to forgive him. But you must be prepared for the possibility that he may deny the need to be forgiven anything.

So Bustanoby helps describe how forgiveness can be enough to release one from internal turmoil, and yet-- without contradiction-- not enough to "make everything better."

This pamphlet is a quick read-- will take you only 1-2 sit-down sessions. Well worth an hour or two. I've read a few other Bustanoby books (not all reviewed here), and he consistently delivers profound yet succinct wisdom. (E.g. the first book I read of his still holds strong in my "most influential" list.) At this point, I just read any book by Andre Bustanoby regardless of the title, because I know I'll learn something valuable.

* I thought incest was more rare than non-familial sexual abuse; but research shows that family members are the most likely abusers, for many reasons. Staggeringly, nearly 1 in 4 of both boys and girls were victims of sexuals abuse by the age of 18 in a quoted study.

Only the Strong (Cotton, 2022)

A surprisingly educational book, written by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, covering the evolution of American political trends and history of pivotal international events through the 20th and 21st centuries. Cotton begins by elucidating the philosophical motivations of Left-wing politics, and then recounts a (depressingly long) list of recent political fiascos (e.g. one, two, three, etc.) in relation to (and in consequence of) poor politics.

Most interesting to me was Cotton's exposé of a growing sentiment I've encountered in common discussions: that today's liberals don't seem to be concerned with preserving "the American way" or "original American values;" but rather believe that our cultural and governmental systems should be changed and updated with the ever-changing mind of the current trends. Cotton traces these sentiments back largely to the mind and influence of 28th President Woodrow Wilson (served 1913-1921). While conservatives seek to interpret the respected intents of our Constitution's authors, the Left wishes to reinterpret the Constitution according to our modern intentions. I never knew how fundamentally un-American Woodrow Wilson's philosophies were; but two quotes from him help pain the picture: "[I]f you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not read the preface," and "No doubt, we are meant to have the liberty; but each generation must form its own conception of liberty."

Thanks to my mother, who got me this book for my 31st birthday. 

On Becoming Babywise (Ezzo & Bucknam, 1995/2006)

Subtitled "Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep," the stunning claim of this book is that, when parents followed the Babywise methods, 81% of babies were sleeping 7-8 continuous hours through the night by the 9th week of life, and 96% were sleeping through the night by week 12.* If this claim alone isn't enough to make you want to read this, you probably don't have children.

Much more than a sleep book, I characterize Babywise as a full parenting theory. The first chapter actually focuses on enriching and stabilizing the mother-father relationship! Then it turns to matters of feeding and general philosophy before you ever read about sleep. Babywise is based on the simple premise that parents will want to do what's best for their children; and claims about "what's best" are based on their own clinical research or the American Academy of Pediatrics

Babywise is succinct and easy to read. I found every chapter beneficial, and the guidelines easy to follow. I think it's so useful and simple that I've written a more extensive review here. If you're willing to trust my reporting as accurate, you shouldn't even have to read the book! (But don't trust me; go get the book anyway.)


I started applying the Babywise methods on my newborn daughter on her 2nd week of life, and have only been following Babywise for 2 weeks at the time of writing. So while I haven't confirmed for myself when we'll achieve "sleeping through the night," I can attest that I noticed immediate and positive effects from the Babywise philosophy! I'll try to update this blurb once we've achieved 7-8 hours of continuous sleep.

The edition I own (4th ed., 2006) is quite old, and there appears to be a 2020 edition available. While I'm sure the core tenets are the same, I did notice several updates/additions in a 2016 edition I had the chance to skim over, FYI.

Thanks to my grad school colleage, friend, and mentor for recommending this book!


[UPDATE 08/27/23] These methods work. My daughter was sleeping 7 continuous hours at night by 9 weeks of life. #mindblown

* You will not find this claim verbatim in the book. The data in the book is more detailed, dividing children into categories based on sex and whether they were breast- or forumla-fed. I averaged the data to present a simplified conclusion. At any rate, my averages are quite similar to the raw data.

What to Expect When You're Expecting (Murkoff & Mazel, 1984/2016)

From conception through the first six post partum weeks, this book was an invaluable go-to reference for me and my wife. It truly is "the pregnancy Bible," and I'm sure newer editions are even better. I strongly advise anyone "expecting" to add this to your library immediately. It's a much safer alternative than Googling your pregnancy questions, not only because of the greater trustworthiness and convenience of this battery-free and singly-bound resource, but also for the extra context and considerations you'll find for any topic you look up. It's organized as a month-by-month playbook of the entire pregnancy, so it's easy to read what's most relevant to you at each stage of the process. I found this structure immensely helpful for studying up on relevant issues without getting overwhelmed by the seemingly countless concerns encountered throughout a pregnancy. It also served as a good starting point for specific conversations with our doctors, informing us of so many topics we never even knew existed. 

On the literary side, the book is superfluously verbose in attempts at cute/poetic/humorous easy reading. I'd estimate a healthy one-third of the book could probably be omitted if Murkoff stuck to the facts alone. Skim-read until you find the valuable parts to you.

To the total minimalist male supporters to their pregnant female counterparts: there are several very short, grey colored pages, specifically speaking to dads.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (unknown, unknown; trans. Tolkien, 1980)

The actual author and date of this writing are not known, though the earliest surviving handwritten copy has been dated to the 1400s A.D., and literary scholars believe the author to have lived in England. I read the version translated by Tolkien (yes, that Tolkien). And just so you know, it's pronounced GAH-win.* It's also probably the only alliterative (epic) poem I've read so far.

I read part of this book in high school-- hated it, and then was reintroduced to it with much more context and cultural awareness in undergrad-- then appreciated a tincture of it. When I saw the trailer for the A24 rendition, I was intrigued. That movie portrayed the story as a dark and fascinating psychological masterpiece. (And the movie is a fantastic picture-- now in my top 10! A must-see!) I re-read the book this year to discover whether my earlier readings had missed the profound depths elucidated by the film. Now I can attest that, while the film invokes some artistic license, I do believe it captures the fundamental heart of the book: following the trecherous and internal personal development of Gawain through his struggle to become a man (knight) in the peril of becoming a failure.

I can not recommend highly enough both the book and 2021 movie. I don't think it matters in which order you digest them. But for your own literary planning, I'll note that I personally could not have grasped this book's psychological depth with any degree of justice before the age of 26-27.

* Thanks to my undergraduate literature professor, Dr. Phillip Anderson, for first teaching me this correct pronunciation, and reading excerpts from the book in Old English for the class' enlightenment.

Permanent Record (Snowden, 2019)

The story of Edward Snowden's rise to infamy is a must-know admonition and caution against the imminent, dystopian future that awaits the free world, if a technology course correction is not immediately employed. 

I don't think you have to read the book to get the necessary details. But everyone should spend at least a few hours understanding the Snowden story. John Stossel's 1:43 hour interview gives a pretty comprehensive summary. But if you want the more complete picture, the book is well worth your time. 

A few interesting points: 

Cross-reference the current versions of these web links. In this review, I took care to use "archive" links at the time of writing in hopes of preserving the true information, but they could become outdated (hopefully by new, true information and not propaganda).

Six Not-So-Easy Pieces (Feynman, 1963/1995)

Second part of Richard Feynman's lecture series beginning with the Six Easy Pieces (see my review in 2022 below), covering more advanced topics. While my review of the first "six pieces" was a little take-them-or-leave-them, the "not-so-easy pieces" were much more advanced and much more practically useful. In fact, I believe that these "pieces"-- unlike the first six-- would be excellent reading for any physics student. (If I teach physics one day, I'll probably make at least a few of these chapters required reading.) Here are the chapters in bold with a thought about each:

I think it would be very good for young physics-minded students to be exposed to these concepts very early in their education. This may serve as motivation to stay the course (physics departments suffer from both a low sign-up rate and a high attrition rate). It may also help develop a more rounded understanding of the connections between different topics.

Never Split the Difference (Voss, 2016)

How to get what you want/need out of a negotiation, and an instant addition to my "must read" list. In case you're skeptical that you don't engage in many "negotiations," realize that any discussion that requires a give-and-take, concession, or change of opinion can be framed as such. Voss was an FBI negotiator, doing his field work during the time the U.S. was developing its counter-terrorism techniques. The title comes from Voss' unconventional stance that compromise, meeting in the middle, or "splitting the difference" are actually non-optimal and unnecessary goals of a negotiation.  In Voss' negotiations, splitting the difference was never an option: he needed to get the hostages out alive and not hand over the demanded sums of money in exchange. Put differently, Voss' counterpart in the negotiation* willingly gives Voss everything while willingly giving up everything (or most) of what was initial demanded. Yeah, I'd like to learn how to do that! 

As an experienced field agent rather than a scientist, Voss has a very satisfying "brass-tacks," no-nonsense, "just the facts, Ma'am," approach to his methods; and doesn't waste any book space describing academic psychology. The negotiating skills developed by Voss and the FBI were not strictly founded on scientific theories; but instead emphasized whatever worked in the field.

A few interesting tactics taught in this book: 

The similarities in negotiation strategy reminicent of Carnegie's seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People (see review below) can be rationalized on the basis that you almost always need to develop some level of rapport to make any headway in a negotiation. While there certainly is some crossover in the people skills required to "influence people" and "negotiate" well (e.g. genuine empathy and listening), Voss' approach is much more tactical and algorithmic than Carnegie's. Never Split the Difference offers a clear yet robust set of guidelines for preparing for and executing successful negotiations of all kinds.

* You're supposed to call them your "counterpart" instead of "enemy/adversary/bad guy" to avoid fostering immediate bias and antagonism.


Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck, 1937/1993)

Before I learned that the title was derived from the 1785 poem, "To a Mouse," I thought an appropriate implied title was The Fate of Mice and Men. Pretty close. If you've read the book, you'll find the poem to basically be an abstract plot for the book. The story is a dark (and predictable) drama following the plight of several men (and mice, and dogs, and rabbits, and women), who-- though outwardly seemingly diverse-- seem destined to the same rat-race fate. "The world keeps turning," "there is nothing new under the sun," "nothing is secret that will not be revealed," etc., etc. "The Green Mile" has a few different aspects that are quite similar, if not modeled after, Of Mice and Men.

For a "classic" of modern literature, I found it underwhelming. It's just fine writing, but isn't an incredible story, one way or another. And it's not deep enough to leave much to be pondered or figured out upon reflection. Not sure how/why it attained "classic" status. But it's a very short, weekender read; the advantage being it'll only take you a couple hours (max) to read the whole thing, and then you can say you've read it.

Good to Great (Collins, 2001/2005)

I listened to the audiobook version, but don't try to tell me that doesn't count. There are actually some advantages that make me recommend this particular book in audio format: A. It's well written and not particularly heavy reading, so I could easily digest this book (with comprehension) at 1.75x the default speaking speed-- which is certainly faster than I can convince myself to read. B. Jim Collins himself dictates this audiobook! I found it really interesting to hear the specific inflections Collins intended, but wouldn't come across in written word alone. C. The audiobook was dictated a few years after the original publication, so Collins adds in some extra notes, reflections, and insights from realizing how the book had been received by the public in the interim. Needless to say, I recommend the audiobook. 

As for the content, excellent. Good to Great was a social science research project, and very well done. Collins' team compares businesses that made a "good-to-great"* transition with nearly-identical companies (similar size, consumer base, industry, etc.) that never became "great," even if they were consistently "good." 

Collins' team takes a very deep look into what made certain companies succeed where others floundered. Some of the conclusions aren't so surprising (it turns out that consistent, honest, hard work pays off), while others are quite unintuitive. Two interesting findings: 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to build something great, whether a business or a relationship (with only a little bit of abstract application), regardless of the size. Each chapter has an accurate 1-2 page chapter summary in bullet points, so I genuinely think that you could learn 95% of everything you'd want to by reading only these summaries, if you're prepared to accept Collins' conclusions without hearing the backstories, reasoning, or research. (This is a praise of the quality of the summaries, not a condemnation of the full chapters.)

* A "good-to-great" transition for a publicly traded company was specifically defined as 15 years or more of beating the average stock market 3x or greater, preceded by at least 15 years without reaching that level. As it turns out, the collective criteria used to identify businesses for the study were so stringent that only 28 companies made it into the study out of an initial pool of around 1,400 candidates.

Six Easy Pieces (Feynman, 1963/1995)

My copy is used, and missing the dust jacket, so I'm not positive if this is exactly the same as mine; but mine is also the combination with Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. It's quite coincidental that I'm now reviewing a work from another scientist so integral in the Manhattan Project, since I had actually started reading this book before I had even considered reading American Prometheus (see previous review).

This book is essentially just a collection of transcribed, introductory physics lectures by Richard Feynman. I'm trying not to be biased (I do have a degree in physics), but these lectures are very cursory. The descriptions are good, and you do get a taste of the uniquely Feynman, common-sense-no-nonsense style. But you won't learn how to solve physics problems; and beyond having some conversational knowledge about how basic physical reasoning works, you'll still need a traditional textbook to gain any functional knowledge. These lectures would be most useful for a young student currently enrolled in rigorous courses (who would gain a different and amusing perspective probably not given in his course-required materials), or someone does not plan to take any actual physics courses but wants to have at least been exposed to some basic concepts. (The latter group should include everyone.) Perhaps the most valuable thing I found was Feynman's explanation of how to reason like a physicist, how certain conclusions may be reached, and some reasons a valid conclusion can not be reached.

Thanks to my grad school lab-mate for recommending these lectures.

American Prometheus (Bird & Sherwin, 2005)

A fascinating biography of the theoretical physicist, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. (The "J" doesn't stand for anything, according to him.) While perhaps most well known for being the father of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer was a brilliant mind who made noteworthy contributions in many fields of physics, including quantum theory, astronomy, and nuclear physics, among others. 

Scientists in Germany were the first to achieve nuclear fission experimentally, which spurred the U.S. to focus intensely on the Manhattan Project-- the effort to produce a nuclear weapon before the Nazis. Oppenheimer masterfully led the team of thousands at Los Alamos, NM (which didn't even exist as a town before the lab). His success in organizing the collaboration of so many scientists at Los Alamos would have bewildered both Stephen Covey and Dale Carnegie (see book reviews below). The skill he demonstrated in corralling such disparate personalities is all the more impressive, given Oppenheimer's less-that-friendly early adulthood (e.g. he tried to poison one of his academic mentors).

Three things from this book stuck out to me above the rest: 

Thanks to my friend from grad school, who did a post-doc at Los Alamos National Lab, for suggesting this book to me.

Sell Your Ideas with or without a Patent (Key, 2015)

I was initial skeptical that this book was just a spin-off of Key's One Simple Idea, which I have already read (see review below). I was pleasantly surprised that there's enough non-overlap information that I can recommend both books! I do recommend One Simple Idea be read first, in order to get a good understanding of Key's approach to licensing. This book is a great next resource for more a more detailed guide to the provisional patent application (PPA). This book really did make me more confident to attempt writing my own PPAs, and also provided more strategy about how and when to use them. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting (or thinking he wants to) patent any idea.

Thanks to Precipice IP for giving me this book as part of a sweepstakes they hosted!

Physics of the Impossible (Kaku, 2008)

Michio Kaku analyses the realistic feasibility of a handful of sci-fi technologies in light of real physics. This is not a physics book, per se, but a meta-physics book: a book about physics. Very layman-accessible; you won't need a science degree to enjoy this book. Here's the list of technologies assessed, each of which is given its own chapter: force fields, invisibility, phasers and Death Stars, teleportation, telepathy, psychokinesis, robots, extraterrestrials and UFOs, starships, antimatter and anti-universes, faster than light [movement], time travel, parallel universes, perpetual motion machines, and precognition. 

I really appreciated the fact that Kaku admits that any/all of these topics could one day be shown to be possible. In doing so, he's saved himself from the short-sightedness of some other scientists.* In the title, "impossible" is really just a buzz-word. Within the text, Kaku classifies the different topics in varying degrees of "impossibility" (unlikelihood) based on whether their realization 

Thanks to my undergrad roommate for gifting me this book, I think in 2012. Sorry it took me a literal decade to read it. (In my defense, I wasn't reading it that whole time-- started and finished in 2022.) I hadn't taught myself leisure reading back then; but I always kept it on my bookshelf and always planned to read it.

* However, Kaku does incorrectly associate physical entropy with "disorder" on page 263: "The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the total amount of entropy (disorder) always increases." I realize that he's writing to a general audience; but this paraphrasing of Second Law is wrong on two accounts. I've made this 60 second video and this website that explain entropy correctly.

Enchiridion (Epictetus, ca. 100)

It's pronounced "in-kir-RID-ee-uhn." The Enchiridion (from Greek "εγχειρίδιο," meaning "handbook") is a pamplet-sized collection of 52 proverbs from Epictetus. Can not recommend highly enough. At the time of writing, you could get the Enchiridion on Amazon for $4.00. Just buy it.* This particular edition includes extra writings attributed to Epictetus-- which are all also valuable and/or amusing-- of approximately equal volume to the actual Enchiridion.

Epictetus espouses a very simple, stable and secure, self-empowering philosophy that I'd sum up in two main tenets: 

While re-reading this work this year, I realized that many of these teachings had greatly shaped my thought processes and life outlook since my initial reading back in undergrad. I had forgotten many of the exact quotes, but the philosophies of Epictetus seem so rational and simple that I find them easy to begin to interweave into daily life. This book should be annual reading.

Thanks to Dr. Benjamin Rider for assigning this as required reading for his Hellenistic Philosophy course during my undergrad.

* If you are too cheap/broke to get this book but would actually read it, email me and I'll send you a copy.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 1960/2002)

I think this book could be valuable for just-post-puberty-age children (as the naive gravity of the book hinges on a rape trial), as it may initiate some valuable conversations about right vs. wrong vs. realistic. Reading this book for the first time as an adult however, it falls short of what I would consider "classic" material. (My which-books-make-"classic" nominations form must have gotten lost in the mail.) One thing I finally learned from this book was who Boo Radley is

The title is actually quite clever and subtle, as it stands for "A Sin." Not surprisingly, it is not a manual on how to kill mockingbirds. I don't think the word "mockingbird" appears in the book until chapter 10: 

"…[R]emember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

And if my count is correct, mockingbirds are only mentioned 2-3 more times directly or indirectly throughout the remainder of the book. So in a phrase, I take the moral of the book to be "live and let live." I'm also reminded of James 4:17: "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them."

If you're reading this in grade school, you'd better read the whole thing. If you're just trying to get another classic under your belt, you can probably glean the important points by skipping the first 15 chapters (not hyperbole).

Fart Proudly (Franklin [ed., Japikse], 1990/2003)

This book is not about flatulence. The subtitle, "Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School," is more telling of the contents of this anthology of letters and short articles. Most of these works are sarcastic or satirical writings, by which the editor intends to showcase a very prominent though oft-ignored aspect of the personality of one of the most revered U.S. Founding Fathers. 

The title Fart Proudly appears to be an alternate name of the first work included in this edited collection, "A Letter to a Royal Academy." In that letter, Franklin sarcastically recommends research into the improvement of the odor of "that wind" as a more worthwhile endeavor than the esoteric mathematical challenge that had been issued by the Royal Academy that year. 

My favorite article was an excerpt from Franklin's 1758 Poor Richard's Alamanack, titled "Father Abraham," which is about how and why to use time wisely.

Each of the included works is quite short, so the book makes for easy-reading humor when you don't have much time. (You'll have to read just a little slower to comprehend the older English Franklin uses.) I also believe it is very useful-- now so far removed from the time of this Nation's founding-- to return to a review of some of the prevailing thinkers of that time. In hundreds of years since its inception, this Nation has made many changes, both progresses and regresses. It is instructive and healthy to consider again the ideas and concerns that instigated the formation of this unique Country, whether or not we choose to agree today. These short, clever writings by Ben Franklin offer good topics for friendly political conversation and debate, ever more important as more time passes from the early moments when the ideas were fresh on every American's mind.

Thanks to my parents for giving this book to me as a Christmas present.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey, 1989/2013)

A best-seller for a reason.

The 7 habits are more like 7 skills/virtues that "effective" people cultivate or constantly strive for. Thankfully, never once does Covey say, "You need to start waking up at 4 a.m. That's what all the successful people do!" Nope. Not those kinds of "habits." By "effective," Covey means something like what I would call a "leader," where leadership is defined as "communicating others' worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves." This book is for everyone though, because the 7 habits are grouped into private (directed at oneself) and public (dealing with others) virtues, and everyone should be a "leader" in the sense it is being used here. The private virtues basically deal with effective personal management and life vision, and the public virtues largely deal with effective communication and interpersonal relationships. The term "effective" is key, as it deals with much more than just "efficiency," time management, or profitability. To Covey, "effectiveness" requires a keeping personal health in balance (physical, emotional, and spiritual), balancing P/PC (production/productive capacity), and nurturing personal relationships as a key ingredient in any happy and successful life. 

This book shares aspects of other books I've read: it's more technical than How to Win Friends and Influence People, while more broadly applicable and less technical than Deep Work. Like How to Win Friends and Influence People, this will definitely be a book I come back to on a semi-regular basis to brush up/remind myself of the skills I'm hoping to develop or advice for how to handle a given (relational) situation. Covey offers a surprising amount of great communication advice that could help in any type of relationship.

Thanks to my Uncle Tom for recommending Covey's resources and this book to me.

The Great Sex Rescue (Gregoire, 2021)

Overall message: The Christian Church (collectively) has, in modern times, propagated teachings about sex and sexuality that are often not Biblically implicated/necessitated, biologically/physiologically accurate, or relationally helpful, pragmatic, or wise. The book makes the excellent point that men and women should be understanding of each other sexually, and that healthy sexuality seeks the pleasure of both parties. A+.

Overall thoughts: I agree with the overall message (as stated by me), and believe that this book is very helpful and timely for the (American) Church to re-evaluate where it has strayed far from the mark on the critical subject of sexuality. 

That being said, I found recurring issues within the book. Reading the last chapter first would probably help readers share a greater appreciation for the aims of the book and the heart of the authors (which I believe are all good), and maintain an air of charity while reading the earlier chapters. I felt that this book purports itself nearly as a scientific review of a scientific study; but its style, strength of claims, and use of data are far from peer review quality. The data cited is based on a large survey run by the authors. While the survey seemed valuable (as described within the book), I found the data to be the use of data to be often unclear and at times ambiguous/meaningless. My other major issue with the book is its strong defamatory nature against other works. While one of the self-professed aims of these authors is to point out (what they believe to be) harmful teachings from other sources, I have read some of the materials they criticize, viz. Love and Respect (see review below). The authors are very uncharitable in their pessimistic interpretations of other books; for Love and Respect, some of the "harmful teachings they found" have been taken out of context and misconstrued. I do not have enough knowledge to comment on all the works criticized in The Great Sex Rescue

I believe this book is very helpful for both women and men. Even if you didn't grow up in the Church, you likely interface with Christian sexuality culture if you live in America; and the book promotes a healthy sexuality regardless of your religion. Because of some of the specific messages, advice, and criticisms in this book, I would implore couples to read this book together if one party is interested in it.

Thanks to my good friends for gifting me this book.


The Book of Mormon (Smith, 1830/1981)

Anyone curious about this book or accompanying religion would do well to at least read the abstract, "Introduction," "Testimonies," and "Brief Explanation" printed in the front of the tome. As someone largely unfamiliar with Mormonism* before reading The Book of Mormon (BOM), I found these few pages of introductory material quite useful for understanding some basic beliefs/tenets of the book.

LDS believe that several individuals living in the Americas were supernaturally given inspiration to record the historical account of early Americans, support the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and predict the arrival of Jesus. The BOM is a collection of many shorter books. A major stylistic contrast with the Jewish and Christian Bibles is that the BOM gives a single, linear development of all its characters, places, and events. (E.g. nearly every single year within the span of the BOM stories is described at least in passing.) Because of the focus on its historical timeline, there are very few passages devoted purely to moral or religious doctrine. Rather, fragments of doctrine are interspersed or implied amidst otherwise history-like stories. As opposed to what is taught in most Christian churches, quite little (by word count) of the BOM itself conflicts with the Christian Scriptures. However, the BOM also teaches ongoing divine revelation to its priests and teachers, so there is potential for Christian-conflicting beliefs to arise within LDS but outside the BOM.

Perhaps the greatest single point of departure from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures I observe is in one of the more fundamental claims of the BOM: that a select few Jews living in Israel in 600 B.C. were instructed by God to sail to America for a greater "promised land." Given the incredible emphasis given to the land of Canaan for God's chosen people within the Jewish tradition and Scriptures, the idea that the same God would instruct them to willfully leave that land a major inconsistency. This claim has also been challenged on the basis of genetic studies.

* I use this term for familiarity of my readers. But, as is made clear in the introductory pages, "Mormonism" is quite the misnomer, because "Mormon" is simply the name of one of the faith's patriarchs but is not worshipped within the religion. The self-proclaimed title of adherants to the BOM is "Latter Day Saints."

Cornelis Saftleven (Schultz, 1978)

Saftleven is an under-appreciated painter who lived in and around Amsterdam from 1607-1681. I came to admire Saftleven's art when I first saw his fantastical "A Witches' Sabbath" on display at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019. A simple Google search of his art reveals his consistent style of Rembrandt-like dramatic lighting, though with more whimsical themes and allegorical content. It is purely my conjecture-- but also my firm belief-- that style and content such as Cornelis paints can not be merely coincidental but more likely arise from some interesting mental/emotional landscape. I sought out this biography of Saftleven in hopes of understanding his personal motivations behind his more grotesque/disgraceful art.

Schultz's biography of Saftleven in German appears to be one of the few sources of compiled information about the artist, and has no English translation. I used some basic OCR and translation services to glean what I could from this book. While the actual book is sizeable, most of the volume is cataloguing information and photocopies of his art, with only 80 or so pages of biographical prose. Unfortunately for me, this biography focuses on the veracity of dates, authorship, and locations of Saftleven's paintings; and is virtually devoid of psychological or ideological insights about the paintings I find most interesting.

The Power of God's Names (Evans, 2014)

Thankfully, this book is not about some sort of magic formula for getting anything you want by chanting certain words in candlelight, despite the poorly mistakable title. Tony Evans' aim is rather (simply) to discuss various titles referring to יהוה throughout the Scriptures, in comparison of their contextual uses, in order to understand different aspects/traits of God. The Power of God's Names is a very easy read which could be quite beneficial for those beginning a deeper study of the Jewish or Christian Scriptures. (However, this book is written from a distinctly Christian worldview and theology.) This sort of exposition will be particularly helpful to those who have heard some of God's Hebrew titles though perhaps not known the meaning of those titles or the proper context in which they are used. (This is a common knowledge gap in the American Church.)

Thanks to my father for giving me this book.

The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Chalmers, 1996)

This title in my list marks a real personal achievement, for I initially began reading this book in undergrad in 2014, but never finished it. This year, I restarted and completed the book; so in some ways I've been trying to finish this book for 7 years.

Make no mistake: David Chalmers is already in the history books as one of the great thinkers in the philosophy of the mind. That being said, I found this book a bit underwhelming; though these feelings are partly based on my expectations/assumptions about the depth and type of "fundamental theory" Chalmers would propose in the book. If you're interested in the ideas he does develop and are already familiar with some of the famous arguments and examples in this field of philosophy (e.g. if you've taken a college level course in the subject), reading only chapters 8 and 9 would probably yield 80% of the value of this book. That being said, I don't recommend anyone skip around in books; and every chapter does build on the previous ones, so you'd likely be missing key examples if you did.

On the other hand, I think this would be a great book for a philosophy-minded person* who does not currently but wants to both learn the basic stances, difficulties, and subtleties of the subject, and learn the position of one of the world's premier philosophers of mind. (About 70% of the book is dedicated to clearly defining the complexities that a tenable theory must be able to handle.) In all fairness, Chalmers' ideas would likely have seemed more groundbreaking to me had I not read this book 20 years after publication. Most importantly, Chalmers describes his famous brands of reasonable dualism, panpsychism, and the ubiquity of conscious experience (reminiscent of Hofstader's I Am a Strange Loop, see below), as well as his thoughts on the possible overlaps between consciousness, information, and even quantum mechanics. 

* A necessary caveat is that the reader be philosophy-minded. Works of philosophy are not like other types of literature and, in my experience, only a special sort of person willingly subjects himself to such a work and sees it all the way through.

Paradise Lost (Milton, 1674/1962)

I am truly amazed by the creativity, insight, and poetry of this classic work! Paradise Lost is the story of Satan and his demons losing the paradise of Heaven and subsequently Adam and Eve losing the paradise of the garden of Eden. (Free online here.) Bonus points to John Milton for composing this classical epic poem while blind. It's written in unrhymed iambic pentameter-- each line has 10 syllables, emphasizing syllables 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. I used to have less respect for unrhyming poetry, and was therefore especially amused (and partly convinced) by Milton's defense of his choice not to rhyme:

Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meter...

I consider this a very advanced read. Although I had studied small excerpts of Paradise Lost in high school, I am actually glad I didn't undertake the full reading until later in life. The number of subtle details, references, and allusions in this epic would render it not only less rich but borderline incomprehensible to an unseasoned reader. Milton obviously has a broad command of the Christian Scriptures, Greek and Roman mythology, and ancient geography, which he clearly expects his readers to share. The footnotes by Merritt Hughes are quite valuable (and not verbose) at interpreting some of these subtleties, though there are at least a few allusions to Scripture that Hughes either missed or chose not to expound. 

Overall, this is a fantastic work, and lends even further beauty and insights into the Biblical stories. I always appreciate reasonable artistic license that open my mind to possible intents/interpretations. Milton certainly hit near to his lofty aim:

That to the highth of this great Argument

I may assert Eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.

The 4-Hour Workweek (Ferriss, 2007/2009)

This book will likely be a go-to consultation for me for years to come. If you're thinking of starting a business or would like to change your current work environment/culture/attitude, this book is a great resource. I saw three main sections in this book: 

Other perks include Ferriss' refreshing sense of humor and some character-building challenges at the end of each chapter. While some of the links in the book (there are hundreds) are now dead, doesn't seem to be any problem a little googling can't solve.

* The 4-Hour Workweek was actually written first, but I read Deep Work first; see review below.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1964/1993?)

I picked up a copy in NYC's Chinatown. The English translation I read has some obvious transcription errors* (distinct from any possible translation errors, which I wouldn't know about), though I think it is accurate enough to get clear picture of Mao's words. Dates of individual quotes range from ca. 1930s to 1960s. No doubt my impression of "Little Red Book" was colored from having recently read Orwell's 1984 (see review below). If you've read 1984, you will notice that while that book is technically fiction, it was certainly not futuristic fiction even in 1949 when it was written. Current and/or mainstream opinions of the Chinese populous notwithstanding, Mao's CCP was unquestionably (A) very different than the U.S. government, and (B) not at all U.S.-friendly. I feel more Americans would do well to read his "Quotations." 

* My favorite example is on (my) page 37, which reads, "It is wrong not the [sic] understand this and give up ideological snuggle [sic]." I am sure the Chinese version implies "struggle" rather than "snuggle." If you can read Chinese, please write to me to confirm.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wilde, 1890)

The story of a young man, Dorian Gray, who seeks the world in exchange for his soul. (Compare Mark 8:36.) The vast majority of the story is taken up by only 3 characters: Dorian and his two influential friends, Basil and Lord Henry. In the classic "shoulder angel/devil" scenario, Basil plays the angel and Lord Henry the devil. (Spoiler: the devil wins.) On the surface, this book is well worth the read if only for Wilde's grotesque comedy, primarily perpetrated through Lord Henry. If you're willing to do a bit of deeper thinking while you read though, this book can easily turn into a psychological trip down introspection lane. Highly recommend. Short book, but dense in words; an advanced-English read. 

Declaration of Independence (1776) & U.S. Constitution (1787)

If you grew up in the U.S., you should have read these documents multiple times already. Reading them again as an adult will be much more enlightening. I suggest reading the Declaration first; the reasoning behind the statutes of the Constitution become quite obvious this way. I was fascinated to read the two documents together, for the complaints presented by the Colonists in the Declaration show up in their contrary form in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers of the U.S. clearly wanted to ensure that their grievances against Britain were never to be endured by the citizens of the country being created.

One Simple Idea (Key, 2011/2016)

This is a great primer on licensing. As stated by Key himself, this book pairs excellently with The 4-Hour Workweek (see review above)-- giving more concrete details and strategies about how to license your ideas for profit, without having to start your own business. (Licensing is one of the lesser-discussed avenues Ferriss mentions for achieving a 4-hour workweek.) This book gave me a lot of excellent concrete strategies for how to pursue licensing my own ideas, and instantly became a go-to reference book for me in such endeavors. Key's associated website is also a good resource for those interested in inventing/designing/innovating/licensing any manner of ideas.

Wild at Heart (Eldredge, 2001/2011)

Eldredge offers several interesting points to consider regarding masculinity and femininity. More specifically, he offers his perspective of how these two relate to each other, to our society, and to their original Biblical design/intent, including their best possible manifestations. Aimed more at men, the book is still applicable to women, both for understanding the position, mindset, and struggles of a man, as well as several cross-over points in which his opinions also relate to women directly. His basic thesis is that every man needs: 

Meanwhile the analogous needs he sees for women are:

Eldredge elucidates these points with numerous insightful looks into pop culture movie references and children’s fairytales and bedtime stories.

The Future of the Brain (Marcus & Freeman [ed.], 2015)

Mainly focused on the current state of the art in neuroscience, some contributing authors also give philosophical perspectives regarding what may be possible/impossible to expect from advancing our understanding of the (human) brain and our elusive consciousness. Some of my favorite chapters are:

Inside Delta Force (Haney, 2002)

An interesting read sure to give you a new respect for the U.S. armed forces, specifically Delta Force. This book tells the true story of the conception and formation of Delta Force, giving insider stories of their incredible training methods (e.g. shooting live rounds in the direction of other trainees to practice accuracy and confidence). Haney also gives some of his own opinions on some of the more secret and suspicious political maneuvers and motivations behind the seemingly straight-forward news that makes it to the public. The stories are fascinating; but the life lesson for me was in developing a more realistic thought process to analyzing (possible) political motivations behind armed/tactical actions. 

Amusingly, the Chuck Norris "Delta Force" movie accurately incorporates several details recounted by Haney (with a healthy dose of punches and explosions).

1984 (Orwell, 1949/2017)

Orwell's story of a futuristic dystopia is much more than a mere fiction about a failed socialistic society. The real import of this book its portrayal of the devastating effects of fully matured socialistic ideology on such basic human faculties as friendship, love, and thought. While a few technologies described 1984 would still be considered futuristic as of today, as I mention in my review of "Little Red Book" above, the reality, characteristics, and consequences of the failures of socialism were already visible in Orwell's time. I never spoke with Orwell myself; but my guess is that he simply took account of socialisms he witnessed around the world and wrote a historical fiction with some futuristic components. 

The book follows the experiences of Winston and his interactions with an oppressive government. Two of the most insidious aims of that government are: 

I found especially insightful the rationale described for why the government of 1984 treats citizens the way it does, why certain repressive/oppressive activities are in its inherent interest, etc. Anyone flirting with a romantic dreams of socialism would do well to consider some ideas Orwell puts forward.

Ever heard of "Big Brother," goodthink," or "doublethink"? All from 1984. I'm sure people have been saying this for years, but it's beyond concerning for an American to take account of what is going on in our country right now in light of the Orwellian forecast. The value of free speech and the perseverance of accurate history-- both of which are currently under attack in the U.S.-- can not be overstated.

After finishing the book, I watched the movie. Much of the film's imagery was impressively spot-on with what I imagined from my reading alone. But don't try to just watch the movie instead; I don't think there's any way one could understand the movie without so many details provided only in the book.


The Four Loves (Lewis, 1960/1988)

According to Lewis, the 4 types of love that humans exhibit are:

Through his brief book (almost just a long paper), Lewis compares and contrasts these 4 loves, elucidating where in our lives they most frequenly arise, and what risks and tendencies frequently accompany each. (E.g., regarding Affection, Lewis writes, "...taking for granted, which is an outrage in erotic love, is here right and proper up to a point.") I don't know if it originated from this work, but Lewis gives the now-popular contrast between Eros and Frienship: "Lovers [i.e. those with mutual Eros] are normally face-to-face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side-by-side, absorbed in some common interest." For Lewis, our ability to participate in Charity-- the highest of the loves-- is truly divine, an ability granted by a supernatural Creator. I found the chapter on Eros to be the most perspicacious. Lewis advocates a philosophy of Eros grounded in common sense, amenable to both Biblical and natural reasoning. I find his degree of balance often lacking in most secular and ecclesiastical worldviews.

The Samson Syndrome (Atteberry, 2003)

This was an interesting book for the fact that it introduced me to a very nontraditional telling of the story of Samson (Judges 13-16). While most children familiar with this story probably consider Samson to be a great hero of Israel, full of God's strength and blessing, Atteberry talks about the ways Samson's strength and pride led to suffering in his own life and the lives of those around him. "Very simply, I believe Samson teaches us why strong men fail." 

Did you like Christopher Nolan's Batman-- the version where Batman is a hero, but at the expense of his own pain, frustration, and heartache to everyone around him? Then this book is for you! This book is not an adaptation or different version of the Biblical Samson; but Atteberry uses the stories from Samson's life to delve into the psychology of strong people, like Samson. Here, "strong people" refers to "people with strength(s)/expertise/mastery/power," not at all limited to the physical. Drawing from events in the life of Samson, Atteberry describes the psychological and spiritual pitfalls that typically face the strong, why they occur, and how to avoid or recover from them. I strongly (pun intended) suggest you check out the chapter titles.

Heard about this book on the radio one day.

Cathedrals of Science (Coffey, 2008)

A fascinating history of the development of (physical) chemistry, stretching back as far as the 1700s. This book tells the stories of such legends as Arrhenius (Arrhenius equation), Nernst (Nernst equation), Haber (Haber-Bosch process), Lewis (Lewis structures), Langmuir (got a whole journal named after him), and others. And don't be fooled by my links-- all of these science giants have dozens of other society-changing accomplishments to their names. Coffey's journalism is top-notch: his writing is clear enough that anyone interested in how the modern world came to be should enjoy Cathedrals of Science; while at the same time, scientific enough that even a chemistry Ph.D. student is bound to learn a thing or two. Perhaps the most captivating aspect of this book is the human side of science. Coffey details the grad school headaches of these scientists, the race to pen the 3rd law of thermodynamics, the political (and sometimes petty) Nobel Prize committees, moral and familial struggles of scientists during the World Wars, Lewis' academic inbreeding of the Berkeley chemistry department, and so many other events I had never considered in the history of chemistry. Lot's of information you probably never learned in your college degree. I'll save my favorite quote for another page.

I was interested in how better understanding the historical development of so many chemistry concepts actually enhanced my own scientific understanding of them. (One great example is "free energy," which is a funny term, if you don't believe in free lunches. But early themodynamicists were trying to trick chemicals into doing work for them, so they were specifically interested in how much of a process' energy was free to do work.) 

Thanks to my mentor, professor, and friend for giving me this book.


The Computer and the Brain (Neumann, 1958/2012)

Compiled from a lecture series given by Neumann. Now largely relegated to historical interest by post-publication advances in neuroscience. Nonetheless, Neumann's insight and speculative predictions about the workings of the brain are quite impressive, excentuated by the fact that so much of this work was a prediction at the time of writing. I also learned a thing or two about basic computer logic and architecture.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Manson, 2016)

Easy reading, short book. Probably a good one to re-skim every few years. Manson outlines a down-to-earth approach to a robust life attitude that is solid enough to handle the ___ that will definitely hit your fan sooner or later. I really appreciate his philosophy toward accepting life as it is, yet remaining positive and non-nihilistic. 

Thanks to my brother for giving a f*ck and gifting me this book.

The 10% Entrepreneur (McGinnis, 2016)

The subtitle alludes to one of the core ideas behind this book: that you don't have to dedicate 100% of your time, money, or other resources to be some level of entrepreneur. This book argues that one can choose how much he is willing or can afford to put into entrepreneurial projects, and then participate both valuably and enjoyably at that level of commitment. This strategy is supposed to work for those who enjoy the challenges or excitement of new ventures, want a second source of income, or have an idea to pursue. McGinnis focuses on 3 main roles one might assume in an entrepreneurial venture: investor (supplying capital), advisor (providing expertise), or creator (having ideas and/or elbow grease). For these positions, McGinnis gives suggestions for how to conceive of, contribute to, and advance new projects; using no more than 10% of your own resources. (The idea here is that you'll have other friends/partners that contribute their own 10+%, totaling 100% in all.)

The book provides a great many practical suggestions and exercises for those who want to try this method. For me, some of the most valuable information was in the last 3 chapters (out of 10); though this portion is largely encouragement for the inevitable failures, frustrations, and fears (FOMO, FOBO, etc.) of entrepreneurship. In my personal experience since reading this book, actually succeeding in a new project seems to require something like >50% of your resources. I have trouble seeing how the "10%" strategy could realistically work for someone who hadn't already established a very large network and reputation as a veritable expert with some sought-after skill(s). The problem with the "10%" philosophy is that people involved at <50% (yourself and others, be real) are more likely to deliver something like 1%; and 1% is basically 0%. So you'd better have some all-star friends to make this work, in my opinion.

Thanks to a guy I met on an airplane for recommending this book.

Sacred Marriage (Thomas, 2000/2015)

The tagline says a lot about this book: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" In fact, the potential for marriage to make one "holy" is the reason "sacred" is used in the book's title. (The English word "sacred" is derived from the Latin word meaning "holy.")  I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is married or is considering marriage. My own beliefs and opinions about marriage were both altered and improved as a result of this book. 

Early on, Thomas confronts the notion that being married somehow hinders one's walk with God. Instead, the book explains how every aspect of a marriage-- the good, the bad, the fun, the miserable-- can all be used by God, help point us to God, or make us more like God. Ever notice how many marriage metaphors are used in the Bible for the relationship between God and His people?

Perhaps one of the best things I can say about this book (without quoting countless valuable sections from it) is that Thomas demonstrates a very robust and well-rounded view of marriage. By "well-rounded," I mean that he neither pretends that marriage is or should be 100% romantically blissful, nor advocates an ascetic relationship as part of some pious journey. He deals with a large variety of marriage topics in a frightfully realistic and down-to-earth manner. By "robust" I mean that I found his marriage philosophy to be sound and mature enough to handle both positive and errant dimensions of C.S. Lewis' 4 types of "love." (See review of The Four Loves, above.)


Outliers (Gladwell, 2008/2011)

Gladwell delivers a very intriguing read, encouraging new modes of reasoning about common experiences. Outliers decries the notion of the "self-made individual," noting instead that "...these kinds of personal explanations of success don't work. People don't rise from nothing. We owe something to parentage and patronage." This book takes a very different approach to analyzing the success (or lack thereof) of common examples, from business tycoons to farmers, from top-tier atheletes to the average grade schooler to high-IQ "geniuses." In all cases, Gladwell finds subtle yet strong reasons for the success achieved. (Spoiler: it's never as simple as "he was just born with it.") The upshot is that, by understanding more of the variables that contribute to common measures of success, we can actually help ourselves, our children, and our society to be more successful! 

One major factor in "success" is frequently plain, old-fashioned, long, hard work. To my knowledge, Gladwell coined "the 10,000 hour rule," which basically says that, on average, it takes 10,000 hours of [practice] to master a [skill]. (That's about 2.75 hr/day every day for 10 years, or 40 hr/wk for 5 years... which explains why grad school takes an average of 5 years.)

I believe this book taught me how to take a deeper look at the root causes in otherwise "simple" phenomena.

Life on the Tenure Track (Lang, 2005)

A short, easy-reading mix between a lightly comical journal of a young tenure-track academic and a behind-the-scenes glance at the tenure process at an American university. While Lang works in the English department, I found this book to be sufficiently short, amusing, and informative to be helpful for anyone pursuing a tenure-track job.

I read this book as part of a course I took in grad school called "The Professoriate," taught (at that time) by Prof. Bill McComas.

Believing God (Moore, 2004)

I underestimated the value of this book before I read it. The title Believing God might sound like a volume on apologetics or evangelism, but this book is written for current Christians who find themselves struggling to continue in their faith. Once again, this work is not about reminding or re-convincing readers of evidence for the Biblical stories. It is for helping personally, internally struggling individuals get back on their (spiritual and emotional) feet when we're too overwhelmed with ourselves to believe that God can or would reach out to Man the way the Scriptures describe. I found particularly helpful some of Moore's reminders, such as, "Faith is not just something you have. It's something you do;" "Our promised lands are characterized by the presence of victory, not the absence of opposition;" and "...sometimes God may prioritize performing a miracle on our hearts and minds over a miracle concerning our circumstances."

To bolster confidence in persevering faith and accepting God's promises awaiting in the Scriptures, the book develops the following psychologically and spiritually re-centering [mantra],* expounding each statement in its own chapter(s):

* Upon a complete reading of the book or a proper background knowledge of the Christian faith, I find also find a pleasing degree of logic in the order and import of theses statements.

The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (Manson, 1998/1999)

I don't usually get very excited about (auto)biographies, probably because I'm more often interested in learning how to do something, a philosophy, a matter of science, etc. But I'm also not the first to note that Marilyn Manson (both the person and his band) is like a grotesque train wreck-- it's very hard to look away. When I started listening to his music near the end of 2017, I was instantly drawn to the (unexpected) fact that everything about his lyrics, image(ry), person(a), music, and message were masterfully intentional. In all his art and public life, Mr. Manson makes bold and reflective statements that, in my opinion, effectively accomplish his self-stated purpose of making people think differently. This book gives a satisfying look into his personal life and developments that created the all-American monster. The stories in this book elucidate the origins of some of his early famous songs and imagery. As has been well-noted by many others, Manson's wit and intellect give frequent pause for reflection or a good laugh.

My biggest complaint is that this book only covers the history of Marilyn Manson through his second album; at the time of writing he has published 11 full albums and lived almost twice as long. Mr. Manson, we're waiting for the second installment! 

12 Rules for Life (Peterson, 2018)

There are good reasons this book became an instant best-seller. Not surprisingly, there are 12 main chapters, each of which fully develops one of the 12 Rules. But Peterson has highly integrated views of politics, religion, morality, health, literature, history, and psychology; so while there is certainly 12 chapters' worth of material here, there are a few common threads throughout the book. I believe that Peterson would encourage this viewpoint too: not seeing the chapters as distinct, but as different aspects of a powerfully cohesive and optimistic worldview. The common threads most impactful to me were something like the following (my wordings, not his):

For those that will read this book, be ye forewarned: it is not a simple read. The writing is much more digestible than that of more traditional philosophers, and yet much more dense and deserving of reflection than most of the other books I've reviewed. It took me much longer than normal to work through each chapter. J.B.P. has an extensive vocabulary, and you will need a dictionary handy while reading! While not required, it will be helpful if you are familiar with the Bible and other Western Christian traditions. (I do feel that Peterson does a good enough job explaining on the spot to get most of his point across, even for unfamiliar readers.) 

Peterson has very thought-provoking interpretations and applications (viz. psychological) of Biblical and fairy-tale mythologies that, at the time of reading, were mostly new to me. My biggest disagreements with Peterson arise from his treatment and interpretation(s) of Jesus as the Christ, where I feel like Peterson makes the most mistakes in handling the Scriptures. Nonetheless, I found his insight into the value of the Christian Scriptures to be profoundly profitable, and learned a lot from J.B.P. that I now agree with but have never heard mentioned in churches. 

Thanks to my friend in grad school for introducing me to Peterson and giving me this book!

* I like to apply this incremental approach to everything new I try to accomplish.

The Total Money Makeover (Ramsey, 2003/2013)

An easy-reading, non-technical introduction to handling money like an adult. Even if you're already self-sustainably proficient at budgeting, Ramsey still has plenty to offer. I was glad to finally read a good explanation of the why's, and when's (and equally importantly, the when-not's) of life insurance. This book also helped me understand a burning question I had had for a long time: "What will it take to retire?" (Page 147, in my edition.) Ramsey walks you through very simple and robust budgeting for sustainable living and moving towards freedom from debt-- regardless of the size of your debts or income level. As a result of reading this book, I learned how to build up my own "emergency fund." I was thrilled to learn that there is at least one financial guru that advocates a no-loans lifestyle.* A credit score is just an assessment of how good you are at managing debt, and Ramsey teaches how to live well and make big purchases without relying on debt (I mean loans, credit cards, etc.) He uses layman's terms throughout, for a truly accessible introduction to personal finances. This edition is also chock-full of real-life examples of folks successfully implementing his principles, which I found valuable.

* While Ramsey advocates cash purchases as often as possible, he does warrant home loans in many cases, since a home is usually one of the largest purchases one ever makes.

Goliath Must Fall (Giglio, 2017)

A decent read for Christian positive thinking and mental recouperation, with a tincture of personal psychology. (Giglio is not a psychologist, so I took psychological statements in this book-- while valuable-- as anecdotal/coincidental/observational rather than academic/factual/calculated.) I emphasized "Christian" because this book is overwhelmingly and intentionally geared toward current Christians, to the extent that the book would be largely useless to someone who wasn't at least strongly seeking after Christianity. For the Christian, this book can be a great reminder of many of the place in which and the reasons for which we are supposed to exhibit faith rather than fear. I found at least a few noteworthy snippets in every chapter. 

I can't agree with Giglio on 100% of this material; though in most cases I think my disagreement can be traced to the positive/hopeful/optimistic attitude of the book. Life is tough, and I don't think everything has-- or needs to have-- a positive angle to it. While I appreciate the desire to exude gentleness and optimism in front of the [suffering] reader, I believe some Biblical and spiritual truths are simply stern, hard, or bitter.

The most disappointing aspect is Giglio's failure to capitalize pronouns referring to the Deity, which fault probably lies as much or more with the publisher. This failure is also by no means unique to Giglio: it's an unfortunate trend that seems to have thoroughly infected modern Christian literature.


Can Men and Women be Just Friends? (Bustanoby, 1985/1993)

One of the most potent and influential books I have read. This book is out of print (even at the time that I bought it), though I can't understand why. Almost short enough to be considered a "pamphlet," even a slow reader could digest this book in a single weekend. I found every page to be dripping with concise and straight-forward wisdom. Bustanoby's wisdom in this book is useful for friendships both platonic and intimate, as well as private, public, family, and business/workplace relationships. If you can find this book, buy it. This book would be beneficial required reading for any co-ed work environment.

One of the most valuable aspects of this book to me was how Bustanoby distinguishes between different types of relationships which are often colloquially conflated with "friendship." In this book, he defines "friends," "companions," and "intimates," and describes how each of these arise, relate to each other, and morph into/between each other. "Companionship is found among people who do things together for enjoyment or survival. Friendship involves admiration over the way they do things together."

Though I had not read C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves (reviewed above) at the time I read this book, the two pair nicely. I might recommend reading Lewis first, then reading this book as a deeper/further resource. (However, if you must only choose one, read Bustanoby. Sorry, Lewis.)

Andre ("Andy") Bustanoby is a very impressive author. At the time of writing this, I have read 3 of his books; each of them has been profoundly potent while unexpectedly concise. 

Deep Work (Newport, 2016)

The advice and strategies were life-changing must-haves for me. This book is excellent for grad students and academicians in all stages. These principles are certainly not limited to academia, though they do most apply to those Newport calls "knowledge workers"-- basically someone whose wage depends on the outcome rather than the hour, and which outcomes are largely creations or exercises of the mind. (Instead of machine or algorithm operation, for example. The more closely/hourly-managed by a boss you are, the less this book will apply to you. However, it would still be useful for showing you how to get the most out of your personal time.) "Deep work" refers to any activity that requires extended periods of intense focus. First ≈1/3 of the book is dedicated to "why you should read this book," which may seem like a bit of a waste if you already bought the book. I still recommend those early chapters though, because they give the scientific research ammo needed to ward off friends who want you to get better at "multitasking" instead of reading some yellow book. I credit a sizeable portion of my success in grad school with the principles of focus and efficiency learned from Newport. That being said, this book may win the award for the ugliest cover (and I generaly advocate judging books by their covers, but not in this case).

Thanks to my pastor for recommending this book to me in a time I found it hard to focus.

How to Win Friends & Influence People (Carnegie, 1936/1981)

This book definitely helped me begin to understand that personal success means less about being able to force the world into what you wish it was, and more about learning to use the world as it is to your advantage. One of the most valuable lessons from this book is that it is much easier to get others to work with you than to try to change other people. I don't know if Carnegie would fully assent to this interpretation, but what this book meant to me was something like, "The world is a game; it is the way it is, you did not (and do not) choose the rules. But the rules are fairly simple, and you can learn them easily. Understand the simple ways the world works ('the rules'), and play the game so as to win!" 

Thanks to my father for giving me this book. I wish I had read it sooner.

The Four Agreements (Ruiz, 1997)

In this book, "agreement" refers to a life principle that we affirm/assent to-- whether consciously or implicitly. The 4 agreements are Ruiz's take on the 4 most noble and important principles one could strive toward: 

While I value the 4 "agreements" as listed, I generally found the book to be a little too new-age spiritual for my taste, and found myself often disagreeing with Ruiz's reasoning to arrive at or support the "agreements." Other sources of similar wisdom I find to be foundationally better grounded are the Bible (cf. "agreements" 1 & 4), 12 Rules for Life (cf. "agreements" 1, 3, & 4), and Enchiridion (cf. "agreement" 2).

Love and Respect (Eggerichs, 2004)

Like The Five Love Languages, I find Love & Respect to be a valuable framework for understanding relationships. I like to describe this book as "The Two Love Languages." Even simpler than that, the book goes so far as to tell you what your love language is! The central thesis is that men want "respect" and women want "love." (Before you get upset that someone else is telling you what your love language is, note that I've put respect and love in quotes. This is to emphasize that you have to read the book to get a true understanding of the way Eggerichs uses these terms.) So in some senses, one could call this book "Here's Your Love Language." I think the Love & Respect framework could be a valuable basis out of which a deeper mastery of The Five Love Languages could be developed. Perhaps the second biggest message in the book is to realize that men and women tend to fundamentally (naturally) see things differently. There is hope for accurate communication; but one can gain a significant edge by realizing the lenses through which each partner sees his/her world.

Interesting trivia I learned from this book: the hit song "R-E-S-P-E-C-T"-- popularized by Aretha Franklin, was written by Otis Redding as a message to his wife.

The Five Love Languages (Chapman, 1992/2010)

A simple and valuable framework for evaluating the different ways people communicate with one another. Especially, the ways people communicate (or fail to communicate) love-- whatever that means to you. According to Chapman, what "love" means to you can be categorized (giving and/or receiving) as one of the following: 

To me, it matters not whether Chapman is "right" or not; but whether his ideas present a valuable framework for understanding and better navigating your world of relationships. (Spoiler: the framework is valuable.) Some oft-overlooked and underestimated features of these "love languages" is that you can have multiple, and they can change over time. What are your love languages? Take the quiz!

The Quran (translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 2003/2007)

Not exactly what the cover of my Quran (a.k.a. Koran) looks like, but the translation should be the same. 

I read this for two main reasons: 1. About 25% of the world population subscribe to this religious book; This fact alone means that this is an important and relevant work for understanding the world. 2. It is claimed that the diety of the Quran (i.e. Allah) is the same as that of the Jewish Tanakh (Christian "Old Testament") and Christian Bible (Jewish Tanakh + Christian New Testament).

One of the most noticeable aspects to me of the Quran is its difference in style when compared to the Jewish Scriptures. While the Bible is a compilation of many different books of many different styles/purposes from many different authors, the Quran was written entirely by Muhammad. The Bible is written as a historical account, the majority of which relates events of various individuals, the effects they had on their culture and/or those around them, and stories about the Jews' ongoing relationship (both good and bad) with יהוה. In the Bible, the Law is handed down to the Jews directly from יהוה, in relatively few passages. By contrast, the Quran reads more like a diary-- an ongoing, in-the-moment account of the actions of Muhammad and his followers, and is penned entirely by Muhammad. Allah's commands come to the Islamic prophet mediated by an angel, and are continuously being given and/or evolving throughout the entirety of the Quran. 

After reading both the Bible and the Quran in their entirety, I am left with the conclusion that the personalities and actions of the dieties described in each [book] can not reasonably refer to the same entity.

I Am a Strange Loop (Hofstadter, 2007)

Personally, the biggest impact that this book made was convincing me of the idea that consciousness probably comes on a sliding scale. Early in life, I was unconsciously (no pun intended) something of a strong Cartesian dualist: "Consciousness comes in 1s and 0s; Humans get '1,' and anything non-human gets a '0'." (I think this mode of thinking is also often or partly a residue of Western religious ideas.) But Hofstadter made me honestly consider-- in fact, come to believe in-- alternatives to the 1/0 thinking. 

I Am a Strange Loop makes a decent case for a special form of panpsychism, which, at the time I read this book, I thought was obvious philosophical and rational heretical anathema. Now, Hofstadter pushes his panpsychism quite a bit further that I am willing to follow him, suggesting that certain classes of numbers could even be "conscious." (Roger Penrose has a funny story about this viewpoint at around 8:45 ff. in this interview.) My main critique of Hofstadter is that I found a lot of his reasoning to be on the conjecture/artistic/folk side, rather than the careful/logical/deduction side, which is my philosophical preference. Nonetheless, he did a fine job of making me uncomfortable enough to expand my thinking and restructure a few very important aspects of my worldview.

On the literary front, Hofstadter is an amusing writer. He frequently uses rhymes, plays on words, and Seussian made-up words to get points across in a playful manner. The book abounds with pictures (as seen on the cover and in the works of M.C. Escher) and comics which are sometimes directly related to what you read in his book, and other times just seem to break up the visual monotony of pages of nothing but text.

The One Year Chronological Bible (NIV)

An interesting way to read the Bible! This format helped me finally read the Bible cover-to-cover, which had been a long-time goal. This version breaks up the canonical books of the Bible, placing passages in the order in which the events actually occurred. (E.g. the story of creation is still read first, but many of the Psalms are interspersed throughout I Samuel.) Taken from this Bible's Introduction: "Unlike a regular Bible, The One Year Chronological Bible places related passages one after another so you can see how they illuminate and complement [one] another." This format becomes particularly useful when it comes to the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), because you get to read each synoptic account side-by-side without having to flip pages back and forth.