My 2014 Book Picks


Goal was simple, 52 weeks in 1 year, 1 book for each week. At first I started by reading whatever book I felt like reading. Those largely involved fiction, and after a while I realized that escaping reality is GREAT but not really the purpose behind my goal. I was grasping for purpose, I can’t just want to tally up 52 books. Thats what the previous year was all about, reading 1 book each month, just to get into the habit of reading again. I wanted my reading to mean something more than just escaping reality, but I didn’t know what to read or how to change my reading choices.

It’s around May that serendipity and intention began to play well together, bringing me to the Farnam Street blog written by Shane Parrish. Here’s a dude who’s reading made me stand in awe. Not only is he going through 100 plus books a year, but his books are intellectually dripping with ooey gooey obscurity. Most of the books he’s downing aren’t for the faint of intellect. Which made me wonder how I could expand my reading horizons. Part of the challenge of stepping into a new world of reading is that we don’t necessarily read things beyond their immediate pleasure. To expand the reading horizon, you also have to change the way you read. In the post “How to Read a Book” there is a wonderful break down of Mortimer Adler’s’ “How to Read a Book” that you should read. It explains how to read in a way that benefits you, and thereby, it leads you to expand your reading horizons.

Revisiting Reading Lists

One major benefit from Farnam Street was that I got sense of how to create a reading list of my own. Graduate students, and some undergrads, get a chance to deep dive into subjects. This process usually involves the cultivation of robust reading list that covers various angles of the subject of interest. In particular about Piracy, Big Data and Algorithms, which in turn led me down a new avenue of inquiry- policy, meeting demands of global cities, and utilizing data. Another benefit of finding Farnam Street was discovering new reading lists, lists that would help me expand my reading horizons.

If you’re not familiar that you should know I have a love affair with reading lists. I have several posts about various lists which started with the first few reading lists I shared based on 9th10th11th and 12th grade reading requirements I had. That love affair with reading lists has taken a whole new level now. For instance, I now have a list of books that were recommended by the venerable Munger, along with a list of books recommended by the US Joint Chiefs of Staffs. After reading Peter Thiel’s Zero to OneI created a list of Thiels recommended books, what I call “The Gospel of Thiel.”

Not everyone can read the intellectually engaging books. In fact, I am not sure I would recommend  reading Jean Paul Sartre or a book on the historical development of copyright and patent law in Western countries. It’s not to say people shouldn’t read those books, it’s just that it takes a certain level of personal investment and practice to digest those reads. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recommend some books to you from my list of books that are intellectually appealing and entertaining and informative!

PS- If you follow the link off of my blog to the book, AND make a purchase from Amazon, you help me out with my reading goals. I get a portion of the sales, and that goes toward buying books off of my reading list!

PPS- Not all the books came out last year, they just happen to be the books that I read last year that I enjoyed and want to recommend to you!

 5 Books to Read From My 2014 Reading List

The reason I recommend these books is because out of all the books I read the information I got from the recommendations were not just informative but transformative. The books shaped in some way how I understand and perceive things. But most importantly, if I had to sit down to read the book again, I wouldn’t feel as though I am wasting my time. I think that last criteria means a lot to me because having to read a book again would be a sunk cost. However, I will point out that these books wouldn’t make it on my annual read list- except for one of them, which I explain further below- consisting of books I read every year from cover to cover because they are that incredibly good.

1.  The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown wrote what I consider an epic book. I started my year off with this book, and it was an incredibly inspiring read. If you read books on business from Duhigg to Gladwell, Pink to Godin, and all the others, then you have to read this book. It simply sums up everything you would find in those books, plus it probably will make our generation look like pathetic parasitical noobs. What the book boils down to is that it is grit incarnate.

That characteristic that separates winners from losers, doers from whiners, men from boys, it is all found in the history of these nine American college students at the University of Washington. People might find historical non-fiction being a bore, however, this doesn’t read like a history book, Brown does an incredible job at keeping the reader’s attention and constantly moving the story forward all the while carefully building the story of why these men are incredible hero’s, and I mean that in the comic book definition of the word not the rhetorical lets give a gold star to everyone and call them a hero sort of way.

Also, before the book was even published, in Dec. 2013, its rights had been sold in 2011 to the Weinstein company as reported by Variety. According to “WME made the deal based on a 17-page proposal, and the agency is hot and heavy with several publishing houses for book rights,” apparently the bidding got as high as $750,000 for the rights. So its your chance to read a book before it becomes a movie (like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild).

You should also read it because the Kindle version is for 2.99, and there is a cheap Kindle here if you don’t already own one.

2.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Covey wrote a staple must-read-for-our-age book. This book is simply on everyone’s list. I have met only a handful of people who have nothing good to say about this book. Its pretty much staple reading. I had this book for some four years, and finally in 2014 I got to reading it. I regret that I waited so long to read it. I hate that what I read in this book were things that would have immensely helped me sort out my early professional, probably even academic, life. But this book is for those who are ready to let the ideas settle into their lives. I was not ready to read this four years ago, heck, I could barely sit down for thirty minutes to read a book back then. Even now, I don’t think I am completely ready to come to terms with what I read, I read it with my eyes, underlined but have kept from digesting the contents because I am simply not ready for it.

Like me you may not internalize the content, but this is not a type of book where you read it once and your life is set. Rather this is the type of book where your life circumstances will dictate what content makes most sense to you. It is the sort of thing that you read, go out into the world apply, forget and then come back to get a reminder while you read for a second or third time. Simply put this book is an annual read, I put this book on my annual read list, that’s how much value you can expect to get from it.

You can get this book, its pretty cheap, but remember its a book that takes time implement, not just read!

3.  The Power of Habits: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

This little gem by Charles Duhigg is just incredibly eye-opening. By far it is one of the most engaging and stimulating reads for me. It explores the science behind habit creation and reformation in human nature; what works, why, how and what happens when you set out to reform habits. I think it’s a common struggle, especially given our penchant for New Years resolutions, we want to change what we perceive as bad habits and reform our ways to reach our full potentials. But its easier said, or thought, then done.

Duhigg optimistically states that “[o]nce you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom — and the responsibility — to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.” He also suggests that by understanding the nature of habits we can influence social and group behavior; habits are integrally entwined in the way our institutions corporate, government, and not for profit- function. We can succeed by approaching habits as programmable and re-wirable behavior.

I’ve enjoyed reading this book, and you too should pick it up and start digesting it.

4.  Golem and the Jinni

Written by Helene Wecker, this is an enchanting and lovely piece of fiction from 2013. This book is from my NewGround: Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change reading group list. It was one of the books that I most looked forward to reading and it did not let me down. Its fiction, but its more then that because it revolves around these big ideas. Of all the fiction I read this year, only two stood out as recommendable, this one in particular stood out as universally readable work of fiction; while the other one was a dystopian, technology depressing, fiction that deserves its own separate post.

What made Golem so enchanting was the weaving together of two faith traditions mythical characters- the Jewish Golem and the Muslim (in this case Arab) Jinn- whose stories crashed together in nineteenth century New York City. Like many immigrant New World experiences, these two mythical creatures also had the layer of having to “pass” themselves off as being human. I will write more reflecting on this later.

Golem represented a whole new level of passing because it was mythical in its scope. Wecker constructs a magical world in downtown Manhattan, that very few people know of today, but it is where the city’s Arab population centered back then. While the plot to bring together the mythical creatures is expected, the twist lies deeper, and that is where the lesson about intertwined fates of humanity comes into full force.

Get your copy of Golem and the Jinni here.

5.  The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs

This book, by Ryan Holiday, is a mixed bag- either you like it, or you hate it. If you read the reviews, they will leave you wanting not to read this one. However, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or what a handful of strong critics are suggesting. My approach to reading has always been to try to find some benefit in the book, and a number of things that I was attracted too.

One of them is that Holiday brings Stoicism to the fore throughout his work. Critics charge that Holiday borrows heavily from intellectually superior person, in fact some even charge him of doing a shoddy ‘copy and paste’ job. However, if you’re not familiar with Stoic philosophy or its application to self-development and psychology, you would find “Obstacle” a beneficial read. Our current society is severely in need of Stoic thought, and Holiday provides it in a wonderfully digestible fashion. In terms of the charge about copy and pasting, I didn’t get that, then again I am not as well read as those criticizing the book.

Another charge against Holiday is that the book lacks meaning, that Stoicism has been gutted. It’s true that Stoic philosophy has been given the popular culture treatment by Holiday. But then this is also why I think it’s not just a “copy and paste” job, that there is originality in Holiday’s application and relation of Stoic work into contemporary life. There is value in this criticism of “pop culturing,” however, I counter with the above: If people aren’t familiar with Stoic philosophy then this book represents a wonderful, accessible, and comforting introduction. On that last note, comforting, is precisely how I would describe Holiday’s book. He writes in a fashion that presents a bit of life coaching, personal therapist, and your personal cheerleader combined into one.

The Kindle version is on sale for 3.99 now and you can buy a Kindle for a much reduced price as well.


4 thoughts on “My 2014 Book Picks

  1. Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler


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