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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