One of my goals for 2015 was to get through 52 books, slowly working through a list put together by the Art of Manliness, along with whatever else happened to tickle my fancy. With the year drawing to close however, I will fall well short of that (Around the 33 mark..). Time to give 52 books another go in 2016.
As with any goal, I believe you are far more likely to achieve it if you make it public and are therefore held accountable to something besides your own willpower. We all hate having our failures broadcast publicly and will likely be pushed to do what is necessary to avoid the situation. So that’s exactly what I’ve decided to do with this goal.
I’ll average a book a week throughout the year and post a weekly review on my Instagram, Facebook and this blog. * Note I didn’t say I’d read a book a week, there’s a big difference. I tend to be a bit of a binge reader, sometimes polishing off 4 books in 10 days and not touching another one for a few weeks. I will try to be consistent and keep a weekly update coming though, hopefully with a few recommendations and a little motivation for you to pick up a book yourself.
The 7 Summits Project was founded to provide education to those who don’t currently have the ability to access it. I think it’s the most crucial element in bringing about long-term change in a region that so desperately needs it. I’ve gone into further detail about why I chose education as a fundraising project previously, so I won’t harp on about that here.
What I will do, is challenge you to further expand your own education. Many of you will have finished your formal studies and are likely working full-time. Let me ask you, how much time do you give yourself to learn? How many books did you read last year (or this year..)? How many courses did you take? How much did you expand your knowledge and improve your thinking capacity.. There is a tendency to think that the education process ends once you finish school. I believe it only just begins..
There is perhaps no easier way to learn and build your knowledge than by reading good old books. Whether that be in the form of ink sprawled across paper or projected from a screen, it doesn’t matter. Whatever works best for you.
Hopefully a few of you will take up the challenge yourselves. If 52 books is a little over the top, I encourage you to at least go for a book a month and expand your knowledge and motivation. You never know how it may improve your life.
If you’re looking for a few suggestions to get you started, check this list I put together of 30 Books to Read for under 30’s. That certainly doesn’t mean a 40, 50 or 60 year old won’t get anything out of the literature on that list, most of the books are world-renowned classics and are suitable for any age.
Starting the 52 Book Challenge at the start of 2016, I committed to reviewing each of the books I read. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to keep posting detailed reviews of each book in amongst all the other writing I’ve been doing. I’ll merge all the reviews into this one post, making it an easy resource for you all.
Book #1: Michael Jordan- The Life
If you are after the truly definitive, all-you-could-ever-want-to-know account of Michael Jordan and his rise to the mantle as most renowned athlete alive, this book is for you. It’s incredibly long (650+ pages) and covers the Jordan legacy from the days of his grandfather back in the early 19th century, right through to his (so far) mediocre stint as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
The text delves into Michael Jordan’s psychology and tries to uncover both what makes him tick and what has made him such an incredible competitor over the years. It also details some of the less flattering aspects of his character- his bullying treatment of team-mates and even organisation staff, his long-held resentment of anyone who slights him and his behind-the-scenes gambling and womanizing.
It’s another example of extreme hero worship in our society and the ability to overlook all the aspects of a personality.. so long as the athlete is performing. That was certainly something Michael never failed to do. The level of mastery Michael Jordan displayed on the basketball court also made it very easy to overlook. To paraphrase from the book, perhaps nobody was better at anything than Michael Jordan was at playing basketball..
My key takeaways from this book were:
Book #2: Superfreakonomics
Economics is known as ‘The Social Science’.
That, I believe, is at the premise of what this book is trying to convey.
Delving into the deeper meanings and explanations behind monkey prostitution, why it’s safer to drive drunk than walk & the pay discrepancies before and after having a sex change, this amusing work demonstrates that the facts we usually take as a given, are not always as they first appear.
Economics is usually considered and incredibly stale and boring subject, particularly when dealing with the macro-economy; how interest rates affect inflation, how a tax cut on the lowest income bracket could cause a spike in Economic growth.. Trust me, I know, I studied it.
In SuperFreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner try and prove that Economics deals with much more than simply the large, slow moving parts we hear about on the news and feel like we have little bearing on. On a Microeconomic level, it deals with decisions we make every day and how all of these decisions have consequences, both on our immediate lives and on those surrounding us (Economic lingo: in the form of externalities).
My biggest takeaway from SuperFreakonomics is this: Do not always take situations at face value, or whatever is presented as an irrefutable truth. It is essential to look at the reasoning and explanations that lead to the final conclusion being drawn. The law of cause vs effect if you will. Whether there are ulterior motives behind the presentation/data/story, whatever it may be. Simply put, don’t take everything you see and hear as a given.
Book #3: The Martian by Andy Weir
Perhaps a few peoples nightmare scenarios play out in this Andy Weir Novel.
On research trip to Mars..
Large storm rolls through on day 31..
You get injured and become separated from rest of crew..
Crew takes off with return vessel and leaves you stranded with no way home.. (ON MARS)
This is what happens to Mark Wastney, a NASA astronaut who is part of a crew of 6 on only the third ever manned voyage to the red planet. After the rest of his crew leaves without him, Mark is forced to fend for himself, left to figure out a way to survive without contact to Earth, or anyone else for that matter.
It is a compelling story, filled with ever-present challenges that Mark must overcome. He knows at some point, another mission will arrive. He is therefore faced with the prospect of trying to survive until that day arrives.
I believe it’s first and foremost, a tale of human will and a testament to the perseverance and endurance we as a species are capable of under extreme duress. Mark maintained a positive attitude throughout, along with a constant sense of humour, which allowed him to meet obstacles as he faced them, rather than sit in a corner and wait for his day of reckoning to arrive.
The major takeaway:
Book #4: The Truth by Neil Strauss
Neil Strauss has finally published a follow up to the immensely popular ‘The Game’, a story about his journey into the underground world of pickup artists and the interesting characters & lifestyle that goes with it. It was a highly entertaining read and I expected similar from ‘The Truth’, a biography of Neil’s life 10 years down the track.
Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the mark. The entire book basically dealt with Neil’s personal psychology and his inability to settle into a stable relationship (in particular, with the ever-present angel Ingrid). It chronicles the incredible amount of therapy he subjects himself to, including a sex addiction centre, intensive tutelage from a ‘relationship expert’ and conversations with music producer Rick Rubin as he attempts to find out what the problem is.. He gets incredibly personal, delving into his ’emotionally incestuous’ relationship with his mother and a father who has an obsession with deformed women.
He also explicitly details his foray into the world of polygamous relationships; giant orgies in French nightclubs, ventures into the world of swingers, communes and his (not so successful) attempts to live with 3 other women ( a ‘harem’ as he describes it) in a polygamous relationship. After having little success with treatment for sex addiction, he really goes all out but eventually finds out this lifestyle is not what he was seeking either.
Neil Strauss is an incredible author, so naturally The Truth is still a well-written and entertaining work of literature. The problem is, I’m just not interested enough in the emotional psychology of Neil Strauss and his past to enjoy 400+ pages of this book. There are a number of profound insights into the nature of relationships between men and women that are offered along the way but they are too few and far between.
Book #5: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
Now, this is not the most exciting book one could read, there’s not a lot of entertainment involved with this one. It does however, provide valuable insight into the world of branding, a very important one if you are running your own business or even building your career. You yourself are in fact, a brand. The point this book emphasises is that brands are incredibly important, perhaps the most important aspect of marketing a business and establishing its reputation long-term.
Al Ries, author of the best-seller ‘The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing’, certainly knows his stuff. He highlights the 22 key aspects of building and maintaining a world-renowned brand (of which he has worked with plenty) and gives case examples of brands that have both succeeded with and defied these laws.
One particular point Mr Ries made in this book is that ultimately marketing and branding are more important than the quality of the product or service you are trying to sell. “Building your brand on quality is like building your house on sand. You can build quality into your product, but it has little to do with success in the marketplace.” This is contrary to what the vast majority of experts would tell you is key to building a successful business.
Well worth a read if you are a budding entrepreneur or looking to establish yourself in a certain market at a more personal level.
Book #6: So Good They Can’t Ignore You
This book takes it’s name from the famous Steve Martin quote “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. The inspiration for the author, cal Newton, stems from 2 key questions; Why is it that some people love what they do while others don’t? & How can you end up loving what you do? The answer- Don’t follow your passion.
Working Right trumps finding the right work
This is the core message of the book. For years the self-help industry has been urging employees to give up the souless drudgery of corporate life and search for their true calling, work which makes their souls ring and leaves them in a state of spiritual bliss.
This is nonsense according to Cal Newton due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, very few people know what their true passion is. Secondly, the majority of ‘passions’ are not relate-able to working life e.g. playing guitar, playing golf or collecting stamps. It is incredibly rare for anyone to make a living in these fields, near impossible when they only deliberately pursue a career in the field later in life. There are several examples throughout the book of individuals leaving their established careers in the pursuit of passion without success.
Instead, Newton argues, you should focus on 3 key areas that will allow you to love what you do.
Focus on what you can offer the world (the ‘Craftsman mindset’), not what the world can offer you (the ‘passion’ mindset’)
Perhaps the biggest takeaway I got from from this book is to stop worrying about what economists term the ‘opportunity cost’ of your current situation. I think we all have a tendancy to procrastinate on whether there is something better out there we could be doing, a dream job or project that would make our lives complete. That is rarely the case. People who appear to be in that position have started from the bottom and worked hard to get themselves to the point where they are in love with what they do. Whatever you end up doing, if you do it well, there will be boundless opportunities that arise and you yourself may end up in the very position you dreamed about.
Book #7: The Brothers Karamazov
Never have I read another author who gives their characters such depth and personality as does the great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky.
The characters he creates and molds in his novels can in one scene invoke real hatred or contempt from the reader, while in another, reveal a completely altered character, leaving you feeling compassionate and empathetic.
Dostoevsky’s works of literature can be incredibly frustrating to read at times and require deep reserves of patience, but are completely worth it in the end.
The Brothers Karamazov is the third novel of his I have read and all 3 have been completely brilliant in their own right. This is Dostoevsky final novel and many argue, one of the greatest literary works of all time. I find it hard to disagree.
“I think the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”
The Brothers Karamazov is a piece of literature that you really have to invest some time into. It took me a good while to get through it and yet I still feel I needed more to fully digest what Dostoevsky has written. It is a truly deep philosophical discussion on morality, religion, family and again, as in Crime & Punishment, the efficacy of punishment.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
There is not a lot more to say, you have to read it to fully appreciate all that is conveyed & it‘s very difficult to write footnotes on ideas Dostoevsky has used to 500 pages to express.
Simply put, READ IT. You won’t regret it.
Book #8: Why Nations Fail
I listened to this one in audio-book format rather than read it. As such, half the time I was listening to it with distracted attention, usually when doing other things at the same time. Despite this lack of focus, the message certainly managed to reach my subconscious; The economic success of a nation relies almost solely on the type of political institution it has established for itself. Though other factors such as geography, culture and ethnicity may play a part, they appear to be minor.
The written version is 544 pages and as you can imagine, the audio-book goes on for a veeeery long time. It gives examples from almost every key time period of the modern world & proves it’s central thesis throughout each. It also debunks common ‘myths’ economists and historians have held in regard to what makes a country economically successful and the process by which such a state is established.
According to Why Nations Fail, all long-term economically successful nations have in place, what are referred to as ‘inclusive institutions.’ These are systems of governance that represent the majority of the population, rather than an elite handful, and allow free-enterprise (for the most part) amongst the nations’ citizens. On the other hand, those nations which are less prosperous, typically have in place what’s known as ‘extractive institutions.’ These are commonly dictatorships, monarchies and the like where few become incredibly wealthy while the majority remain impoverished.
Practically all examples given have supported this theory, from the rise of the British Empire after shifting from an extractive to inclusive institution, to the vast differences between a small town located on the border of the U.S.A and Mexico. The book does a good job of dismissing commonly held beliefs on the reasons for poverty including geography (it is believed by some that those in hotter, tropical climates are less prosperous), ethnicity (the belief that some races are typically lazier than others) and culture (the affect of religious beliefs, such as Islam, on prosperity.)
Certainly an interesting read, explains a great deal of the rise and fall of nations & empires throughout history. It also allows for a much better understanding of the current state of the world and the direction certain nations are heading. Hint: It doesn’t look too promising for the current superpower of the modern era..
Book #9: What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School
Mark McCormack, the author of What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, is the founder of I.M.G (International Management Group), the largest sports management company worldwide. Mark is widely credited with creating the modern-day, multi-billion dollar sports marketing industry that has resulted in athletes becoming some of the highest paid individuals on the planet. When it comes to business, he’s one of the people you should really listen to.
Luckily, he chose to right a book about just that.
The main point he makes in this book, is that business is all about people. The strategies, plans, tools and jargon are all part of the process but at the end of the day, it all comes down to dealing with people and their unique wants and views. That’s where the title comes from, they certainly don’t teach you how to deal with people at business school.
There are a few key points I took away from this read:
What they Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School is almost a little like a modern day, corporatised version of the Machiavelli classic ‘The Prince’. Rather than the sneaky, deceptive tactics detailed in The Prince however, this book is far more genuine in it’s tactics, encouraging readers to make friends with those they do business with and always be sincere when dealing with clients, co-workers and superiors alike.
It’s a short, easy read, full of classic, common-sense advice that you often tend to need reminding of. Well worth a read for any of you looking to pursue a corporate career or venture out into the entrepreneurial world.
Book #10: The Tao of Muhammad Ali
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Book #11: The End of Faith by Sam Harris
As far as I’m aware, this was the first in a string of anti-religious material that hit the shelves in the mid-2000’s. The End of Faith may very well be one of the reasons for that trend.. It’s such a well written, well presented demonstration against religion in the modern world that it would be hard to read it, even as a faithful Christian, and not have questions raised.
Although this book is mainly concerned with religion and the idea of faith, it does delve into morality and the question of ethics. One point in case: “Three million souls can be starved and murdered in the Congo, and our Argus-eyed media scarcely blink. When a princess dies in a car accident, however, a quarter of the earth’s population
falls prostrate with grief. Perhaps we are unable to feel what we must feel in order to change our world.”
I would go into further detail about the central messages of this book but I don’t think I could do justice to Mr Harris’s intellectual arguments. I suggest you read it for yourself and take note of the light-bulb flashes as they go off.
“Faith is simply the license they give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail” Sam Harris
It certainly has provided the basis for an article I recently wrote and impacted my own conclusions on whether religion really does have a place in the modern world. If we want a world full of rational thinking, more considerate and less discriminating individuals, I’d say the answer is no.
Book #12: Searching for Bobby Fisher
After his world championship match with Boris Spassky in 1972, Bobby Fischer was one of the most recognised faces in the United States. He was rich, famous and at the very peak of his creative talents. Most importantly for the Americans, he had defeated their cold-war nemesis in a game that was considered the Soviets national sport. He held the adoration of millions and single-handedly spawned a chess craze throughout a nation. Then, one day, he disappeared. At the time this book was published, everybody was Searching for Bobby Fischer.
This book is the tale of Fred Waitzkin and his son Josh, a chess prodigy who had discovered a talent for the game at the age of 6. Fred was one of the many parents of the era who imagined their children growing up to be the next Fischer, challenging for the world championship and going on to similar fame and riches. The difference is, Josh Waitzkin may very well have the ability to do so.
The story works its way through Josh’s rise up the chess rankings to the penultimate crown for a young player in the United States, the national championship. It comments on the role of parents in the life of a talented child and the pressure on these kids that they must deal with alone. Can such dedication and single-minded focus at a young age lead to deficiencies in other areas, perhaps even spawning a little psychosis/mania as in the case of Bobby Fischer? It also comments on the larger issues of the day, freedom in Soviet Union and the poor state of chess in America, particularly in terms of respect and compensation. Josh may have the chess talents but his father is certainly a great writer.
I was a big fan of chess around the age of 10 or so and even won an outer-school tournament one year. This book rekindled a little of my interest in the game. Chess is truly an artform, such a seemingly simple game full of endless intricacies and possibilities. It encourages (perhaps a better word would be ‘forces) patience, strategic thinking, creativity and discipline. Even if you don’t have your sights set on glory, I believe most people would get something out of the game.
This book is well worth the read & I’ve heard the movie of the same title is also well-done.
Book #13: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
This novel becomes more and more relevant as we move toward an age where A.I becomes a reality in modern living.
The central theme is an exploration of what it really means to be human. In the book, as Artificial Intelligence becomes more and more advanced, the line between machine and human is further blurred. Is it possible for androids to acquire human traits such as empathy and ‘awareness’? That is a question we may possibly have to contend with in the near future.
Interesting read, but not too sure about the ending. A little underwhelming and also a little confusing..
It was adapted into the film Bladerunner which, so I’m told, is pretty decent.
Book #14: Sex at dawn
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Book #15: Left for Dead by Beck Weathers
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Book #16: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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I’ll admit, this was one of the few occasions I have seen the movie before reading the book. Therefore I first came across the story of Alex Supertramp (Chris McCandless) on the big screen. In of itself, it was definitely a solid movie, well worth the 2 hours spent viewing it.
His life is an intriguing one however and as usual, the book was able to shed much more light onto what made him tick and ultimately, how he came to die alone in the Alaskan Wilderness.
It’s been some 24 years after Chris McCandless met his demise and still, his tale remains popular in our collective conscience. There was a recent article published in Outside Online titled “The Chris McCandless Obsession Problem“
Every year, scores of Into the Wild fans tackle a dangerous river crossing to visit the last home of Alaska’s most famous adventure casualty. Why are so many people willing to risk injury, and even death, to pay homage to a controversial ascetic who perished so young?
The story is an incredibly divisive one. Many admire Chris as a brave, adventurous soul who put it all on the line to prove to something to himself, that he had the ability to be truly independent. He could survive, even thrive, outside the boundaries of society. He had forgone wealth and with it, the pleasures & comforts many of us take for granted. he was one of the few who had the courage to truly follow his dreams.
On the other hand, many dismiss Chris as a crackpot, an arrogant and incompetent young man who had no business venturing into the parts of the world that ultimately cost him his life. The story shouldn’t have been popularised and certainly not glorified, as it sets a bad example to those who may attempt to follow Chris’ lead. There is also the view that McCandless was suicidal, venturing into the wild as a last hoorah. An adventurous demise.
I tend to lean towards the former view of Chris, as I believe, does the author, Jon Krakauer. Many of us at certain age have the desire to prove something. Many feel the need to prove to their fathers, their peers or to the world at large that they are worthy. Others, I include myself in this category, want to prove something to ourselves. This no doubt, is the category Chris fell into. He knew the fate that may have awaited him when he made his journey into the wild, but he went anyway.
He confronted his fears & his doubts, summoning the courage to follow his dreams, what he truly felt he needed to do. If it wasn’t for a few minor errors along the way, he would’ve proven that to himself and probably lived a much more contented life thereafter. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be and although the story of Chris McCandless appears a tragedy, I don’t think he would’ve seen it that way.
He had the courage to live life on his terms and whatever the outcome, I think he proved that to himself. Ultimately, he’s proven it to us as well.
Book #17: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyyl and Mr Hyde
Popular culture has likely ensured you have previously heard the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Unfortunately, this understanding of the central theme takes away from the book a little. It is such a well done build up to the point where you are told of what has actually occurred, it’s a small tragedy that you can’t go in with ignorance of who Jekyll and Hyde actually are.
That being said, the 1886 novella by Robert Stevenson is still well worth a read. It’s short, captivating and gives you an insight into where the infamous expression has come from.
It’s an interesting concept, the idea of having 2 personalities, certainly something those with bipolar and multiple personality disorder deal with everyday. The difference in this case being that Dr Jekyll could switch between them at will, only requiring a special formula he had concocted. He was therefore able to keep his righteous form intact and allow his depraved natures to take flight in another, leaving his conscience clear (at least initially)
Despite the atrocities his ‘evil’ alter-ego had committed, Jekyll found himself unable to resist the temptation to return to his form as Hyde and it turned into an addiction for him, ultimately proving his demise.
Book #18: White Fang by Jack London
Call of the Wild by Jack London is one of my all-time favourite novels. I imagined White Fang would be a fairly similar story and therefore put off reading it for a long time.. While many of the elements are the same (e.g the Alaskan setting) the two stories are basically played out in reverse and complement each other nicely. While Call of the Wild chronicles the journey of a domesticated dog into the life of an wild hound, White Fang practically works in reverse.
This is a brutal book, particularly the first two thirds. You always suspected a redemption story was coming, but it sure took its time.. I almost wouldn’t recommend reading it if you are an unflinching dog lover as the story will likely make you cry or throw the book across the room in a fit of rage. White Fang highlights the absolute worst of animal cruelty and yet, you have to be willing to accept that so much of what is written actually occurs.
If you’ve ever owned a rescue dog, you’ll know there is no more loyal pet. This is highlighted in the books protagonist and goes to show that no matter how ‘bad’ a dog may appear, there is always a shot at redemption if they are treated with kindness and love.
The book also gives a great account of Alaska and the ruthless state of life that is at play in such a landscape. Jack London was one of the Chris McCandless favourite authors and probably played a key role in his quest to experience the harsh Alaskan wilderness for himself. (Into the Wild is the true story of McCandless and his fatal Alaskan experiment. I highly recommend it to those of you who enjoyed White Fang)
Book #19: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
There is nothing I can offer in summary of this book that would give adequate due to the way Richard Dawkins completely disassembles religion in every facet.
Even the strongest of the faithful would have a hard time retaining their unquestioning belief system if they truly took the time to read through this book and ponder the arguments Professor Dawkins presents.
I used the God Delusion as part of my inspiration for The End of Religion, a post I wrote not too long ago. You can find a summary of the key arguments presented there..
Book #20: Abundance- The Future is Better Than You Think
Book #21: God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
Another from the 2006 ‘New Atheist’ movement which also produced the previously-reviewed works of Dawkins and Harris.
This is perhaps the most hard-hitting of the lot (and that’s saying something..) Hitchens is not a scientist like the other 2 and so doesn’t get into the depths of scientific argument to the same degree. Instead he argues from more a philosophical perspective, using personal experience probably far greater than the others.
The other 2 (The End of Faith & The God Delusion) also focused on Christianity and Islam as their key points of discussion. Hitchens doesn’t stop there, targeting Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism in his attack on religious institutions. Make no mistake about it, it is an attack, but maybe that’s what’s required.