So, You Like to Read…

Since publishing the first ‘Do You Like to Read?’ post (a list of the best books I read in January 2015) I have received a ton of requests for the next installment.

3 months have passed (I was making and releasing the Present:Reflections E.P.) and I generally read around 3 – 4 books a week.  Which means that I have a lot of books to choose from.  My aim for these posts is to share the absolute best of these.  The ones that truly blew me away.

With this aim in mind, I have pared all the reading I have done in the last 3 months down to just seven insanely good tomes.

Want to know what made the cut?…

I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

MALALAThe first person, true-life account of a young girl who was shot on her way to school, ostensibly for championing female education, both in her region and globally.

‘I am Malala’ is a profoundly affecting narrative that orbits around the issues of education and equal rights, and offers a stark insight into the real-world dangers of ignorance and militant fundamentalism.

What truly elevates this book is the fact that Malala’s story so beautifully echoes and mirrors the issues that she stands and fights for.

Everyone should read this book.

(Note: If you have already read this, then: ‘Three Cups of Tea‘, and: ‘Stones into Schools‘ by Greg Mortenson are really good follow ups in a similar vein.)

Rules for Radicals – Saul Alinsky

RULES‘Rules for Radicals’ is the ‘how to’ manual for organising and affecting real social change, written by one of the most famous community organisers in modern history.

As well as the author’s tried-and-tested principles for organising, the book also contains illustrations and examples pulled from a great many of his real-world personal struggles in the organisational arena.

But it is the fact that Alinsky is, on the one hand irrevocably committed to positive social change, and on the other, willing to do pretty much anything to get it (he is very much a proponent of ‘the ends justify the means’) which adds the layer of real-world interest and practical-ethical complexity which ultimately renders this book fascinating in the extreme.

Lying – Sam Harris

LIEOne of the things that distinguishes a truly important book for me is if, after reading it, it leaves you somehow changed for the better.  Nowhere was this more true for me in the last 3 months than with this book.

This very compact tome (think: long essay) is an exploration and answer to one single question:

Is it wrong to lie?

And it literally changed how I thought about what it is to be truthful.  Which is a rare gift indeed.

Buy this book.  But Caveat Emptor: Once you have read it, there is no going back 😉

Happiness – Matthieu Ricard

HAPPINESSMatthieu Ricard has been hailed by the popular media as: ‘The Happiest Man in The World’.

Surprisingly, this pithy epithet (whilst fairly dripping with hubris and hyperbole) actually has some grounding in reality.  In a study performed by the University of Wisconsin–Madison to determine the ‘happiness quotient’ of an individual, Ricard came out well ahead, far outperforming literally hundreds of other test subjects.

What gives this book it’s extra layer of depth is the fact that the author is grounded in both: Buddhist teachings and practice and the western scientific method (having earned a PHD in molecular genetics long before his life as a monk.)

‘Happiness’ provides real workable answers to one of life’s most important, prevalent, and urgent questions.  Furthermore, it does this in a way that is clear, logical, and actionable, without resorting to: bullshit magical thought, groundless and horseshit ‘you have to take it on faith’ argument, or woo woo purple crystals.

It is a truly great achievement.

Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

ANTI1This book is both, super unusual, and crazy good.

Centred around the authors coined concept of ‘Antifragility’,  Talebs core contention is: there are certain things that, rather than being nurtured by comfort, actually gain from being exposed to varying levels of: disorder, stress, and chaos.

Rather than plodding along in a linear manner, explaining the key concept bit by bit, “Antifragile’ is split into 7 separate ‘books’ of essays which orbit around it, overlapping and illuminating differing facets in order to leave a greater understanding of the whole.

Given it’s ambitious remit and structure, this book could very easily have: fallen flat on it’s ass, or disappeared right up it.  But it doesn’t.  In fact, it manages to traverse a tightrope suspended above a pit filled with intellectual punji spikes with seeming ease.  And not only does it succeed in getting to the other side…

It dances joyeous in the middle.

Letters from a Stoic – Seneca

STOIC‘Letters from a Stoic’ has been called by others: ‘The greatest book of advice ever written’.  I am not inclined to disagree.

Seneca was one of the foremost doer-philosophers from the Stoic school.  Which means that, as well as studying philosophy, he was also an incredibly successful: businessman, investor, playwright, writer, and (for a significant number of years) the foremost adviser to the emperor Nero.

Consequently, this collection of letters does not contain dry, untested, ‘sounds-good’ advice, hoovered up and reconstituted from the popular books of the day or groundless ego-driven intellectual debate.  This is wisdom from the trenches.  Truths that have been tested and anointed in the fires of battle and have emerged, whole and shining, from the crucible of real life.

Written circa 65AD, these timeless and profound bite-size chunks of wisdom remain as applicable today as they were 2000 years ago.

(Note:  I have read a few different translations and have found the Penguin version to be the easiest to read.  It also offers only the choicest selection of letters, so repetition of subject is kept to an absolute minimum.)

(Second note:  During the last 3 months I also reread Seneca’s essay ‘On the Shortness of Life‘  which is likewise, incredible and pertinent.)

The Tigers Wife – Tea Obrecht

TIGERS WIFE‘The Tiger’s Wife’ is a long and wondrous tale about Many Things.

Set in an unnamed Balkan country, it is ostensibly a story told from the perspective of a young doctor, orbiting around her relationship with her grandfather (both past and present), and featuring an assortment of characters which run the gamut from the merely whimsical to the utterly fantastical.

From the very first page the prose sings out, drawing you deeply into an immersive, widescreen, technicolor world.  The characters and the imagery are breathtakingly vivid and incredibly well drawn, and the book itself, whilst structurally complex, belies this fact by flowing onward towards its destination as effortlessly and easily as a bubbling mountain stream.

A truly beautiful story.  A truly beautiful book.


Important Note:

If you want to buy any of these books, you can now do it whilst supporting this blog.  Just click thru to Amazon using any of the links on my site and I’ll get a small percentage of the sale price.  This doesn’t cost you anything extra and all proceeds will be funnelled towards: the running of this blog, the coffee needed to fuel it, my unstoppably voracious reading habit, and the creation of more articles like this one.

(The above links above for Amazon.com, links for UK readers can be found below.)

I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

Rules for Radicals – Saul Alinsky

Lying – Sam Harris

Happiness – Matthieu Ricard

Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Letters from a Stoic – Seneca

The Tigers Wife – Tea Obrecht


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85 Replies to “So, You Like to Read…”

  1. Thanks for the introduction to Lying by Sam Harris – looks like I need to read that. In my PhD thesis I write about Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell, in which a dissenting minister is persuaded to lie about the circumstances of an unmarried pregnant woman. The question of whether he is right to lie (he does it to protect her from a brutally unsympathetic public) is central to the novel.

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    1. It is definitely these kind of questions that Harris uses in his meditation on Lying.
      It is such a good book, I really can’t recommend it enough.
      If you do get round to it, let me know what you think of it, and thanks for stopping by.
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great list! A couple have been on my radar, and a couple are on my shelf (but I have yet to read them). If you like the Stoics/Seneca, have you read Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”? That was one of my favorites of everything I read last year. I’m a voracious reader like you. 🙂

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  3. I was pleased to see you picked I am Malala. I told the story of her name in one of my blog posts a few weeks ago (Does Your Name Tell a Story) and posted a great photo of her. Nice to have a visit from you at my blog today.

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  4. Wonderful post! My dream – to spend my time reading and writing. I was a voracious reader as a young girl, and still love reading. It’s amazing how the society we have built has taken away the time that we need to pursue what we most love. However, I do have a stack of poetry books that I’m reading. I will definitely get the Mathieu Ricard book on “Happiness”. Thanks for the inspiring post.

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  5. Nice recommendations…Though my plate is already full with orhan pamuk books ..once i complete them ..i will surely go with I Am Malala 🙂 b/w have u read khaled hosseini’s : A Thousand Splendid Suns..if not then read it… that book will surely gonna give you goose bumps
    One more thing.. the links you have given are for amazon.uk…if i buy from my country amazon link then i think u wont b benefited?
    And yes thank you for liking my blog 🙂

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    1. Hey there, 😉
      First, thanks a lot – I really appreciate you taking the time to write this to me 😉
      I am defintely going to get to: ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, that book has been orbiting me for a while now.
      The links with the actual reviews are for Amazon.com (USA) and the ones below are for Amazon UK (UK). If you are in neither of those places then don’t worry, the main thing is just to recommend the coolest books.
      Big love and hug to you.

      Like

  6. Have you ever read The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan? Those are my all time favorites, I’m having a hard time finding something to fill the void left from them.

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    1. I have heard of them but haven’t tackled them yet.
      Have you read Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘The Name of the Wind’? Or Brandon Sanderson’s (I believe he finished the Wheel of Time series) ‘Mistborn’ trilogy? Those would probably be my recommendations to try and fill that void.
      Oh, I also really enjoyed ‘The Ocean At The End Of The Lane’ by Neil Gaimen.
      Hope those help. If you want more, just hit me up. Alternatively, you can hit me up to tell me how awesome these books are – that would be cool too 😉
      Hope you are well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brandon Sanderson finished them off amazingly! I was eyeing his books afterwards, I forget why I didn’t commit… I tried out a Terry Goodkind series, the Seeker of Truth, and it’s similar in ways and started with some good reads but isn’t quite the same… I’ll have to try Sanderson. I haven’t heard of Rothfuss or Gaimen, writing those down now – thanks!

        As for Robert Jordan, I love it b/c he does a really great job of creating another world. He integrates lots of characters, story telling from all of their different POVs similar to Game of Thrones. He also has lots of countries you eventually end up traveling to that all have their different customs/accents/apparel. The plots are well interwoven as well, and there’s a lot of good character development and fantasy 🙂 I loved them and will be rereading!

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        1. Ahhh, you are so going to love Rothfuss’s world. You really haven’t heard of Neil Gaiman? Is that even possible? 😉
          You are selling me on the wheel of time series. There are so many books that I want to read (this is a cool problem).
          Totally try the Mistborn trilogy – I really loved the ending, he is not afraid of going big, and it’s always nice to have a female protagonist.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yea you’ve sold me on all three of these! I’ll feel bad if they’re all better than The Wheel of Time haha but in my opinion, that one is hard to beat! There are a couple in the series (the last Jordan wrote) that are slower, too slow for some peoples’ taste, but I still loved them all and Sanderson finished with a bang with the last three

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              1. I’d already committed!! Deal 🙂 It’ll probably take me a lot longer than you though… I want to finish my current series first, and I don’t pop out 3-5 books a week! haha. I’m also switching jobs this week so we’ll see how that goes 😛 but I WILL be reading these next!!

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                    1. LOL. That’s the one. There’s also a prequel, but I think it’s best to read that later – in the order that the books were written. I think I really fell in love with the series during the second book. I’ll make some purchases tonight for yours 🙂 did you say to start with Rothfuss?

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  7. I love Mathieu Ricard’s Happiness book! I have it on my desktop highlighted so I can read passages from it occasionally. That’s the only one I’ve read from this list but I’ll be sure to start digging in to the rest. Thanks for the list!

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    1. Totally welcome. I love that book too. I love the fact that he manages to express such complex ideas and philosophy so simply. I guess that’s what you get when you are the Dalai Lama’s interpreter tho. 😉
      Hope you are well, thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  8. Thanks for this list! Trying to decide which one to dig into first! Malala is speaking at Leadercast this year…in two days, actually. Maybe I shall download that one!

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  9. I Am Malala is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you’ve finished – I read it a few weeks ago and it still hasn’t left me. Simply gorgeous, no? And I’m most certainly looking forward to picking up the other books you mentioned – thank you so much for the lovely recommendations, James! x

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  10. Reblogged this on Yin Yang Tao and commented:
    If you are intellectually curious and enjoy enriching your mind and soul with a great read every now and again, have a look at James Radcliffe’s review of some stellar books. I’ve read a couple of these myself, and can vouch for the high ratings!

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  11. I agree totally about “The Tiger’s Wife”–a totally fascinating read.!! My all time favorite book is by a Native American writer, Leslie Marmon Silko: “Storyteller”, a compilation of stories including the title story, poems, photos, anecdotes, and musings. It contains one story I have probably read over fifty times, “Yellow Woman”. Thanks for a new list of must reads.

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  12. Mathieu Ricard may be considered the “Happiest Man Alive,” but Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche considers himself the “Happiest Man in the World.” Maybe a fine difference, but it’s no mistake that both are Buddhist monks.

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  13. Okay, today I really read your post, yesterday I could’t focus on it very much, just to the comments… 😉 . Now, thanks for the recommendations, I’m really curious about Antifragile, the Tigers wife, Malala’s book and of couse, the cover that capture me and you with your review complete the “picking” package! But the issue stills… Get the books in this part of the world, maybe Malala’s book is an easier option… anyway I’m going to try!Thankyou shurro! Muak also!… And always!
    #Tribe

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    1. Malala’s book is incredible. I cried at the end.
      But all the books are incredible, I read so many more, but these seven are just the Bomb.
      You should read them all and then we can chat about what you think of them.
      #Fact

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I just want to mention that I read the Mortenson books and loved them–until I read Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer, which debunks large portions of the books. Deceit is available as a Kindle single.

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  15. Some great books here! Like to read books/quotes on philosophers, from so long ago, wise beyond there years. Antifragile I book very true, I know. Malala such a courageous & inspirational person. Just to get an education. And you are an inspiration James to people, hopefully for yrs. to come. Best & safe travels, R&R you deserve it. TY for the gift of “Invocation” to listen to.🙏🌲🌞📚🎶🙋🙆👏

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