60+ Short Book Reviews

Very short book reviews the books I’ve read in my adult life. If a book has particularly influenced or helped me, I’ll review my notes and write a one page summary of the most important ideas and concepts (this can be months or even years later, after a lot of reflection).

This page is constantly being updated – be sure to check back every few months to see what I’ve read.

[My reviews are currently undergoing an overhaul – please be patient!]


 

lessons of historyThe Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant:

Rating: 4.9/5

Finished: 20/Jul/2019

The Durants wrote the 11-volume Story of Civilization – afterward, they went back through and pulled out the most important lessons about human nature, politics, and human society. The Lessons of History was the result. Some of the vocabulary is dated, but every thinking person should read this book.

[Read more about The Lessons of History on Amazon]

 

taoThe Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu:

Rating: 4.9/5

Finished: 11/Jul/2019

“The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.” The foundational text to Taoism. The only way I can think to review the Tao Te Ching is to say this: descriptions of the Tao are not the Tao, in the same way that reading a review is not reading the book.

 

toolsTools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss:

Rating: 4.9/5

Finished: 18/May/2018

“Losers have goals. Winners have systems.” Basically, “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.” A 700 page monster of a book that gives the advice, tools, resources, and book recommendations from 101 ultra-successful people that Tim Ferriss has interviewed on his podcast. Split into three sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, so there’s something for everyone. Bulky. If you’re skeptical, pick it up just for the section with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

total recallTotal Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Rating: 4.9/5

Finished: 22/Sep/2019

“What is the point of being on this Earth if you are going to be like everyone else?” Total Recall tells the life story of bodybuilder, actor, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Really three books in one, it’s a true rags-to-riches story from a massively accomplished and absolutely fascinating human being (even without that, the book is absolutely hilarious). He’s not a perfect human being (no one is), and maybe you don’t share his politics (he may be a Republican, but in practical terms he’s a pragmatic libertarian), but you can still learn from him and his experiences either way. While the ending is a bit sad (with him hoping that he and Maria could still make their marriage work), the book finishes with Schwarzenegger’s personal rules for success. Whether you love biographies, want to be more successful in your life, or just love Arnold, I highly recommend this book.

 

khanGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford:

Rating: 4.8/5

Finished: 12/Jun/2018

“Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.” Tells the history of Genghis Khan, the Mongol empire, and their effect on the civilized world in narrative form. Makes the case that Khan/the Mongols were surprisingly enlightened for nomadic raiding warriors in the 13th century. Has quite a lot to say about leadership, legacy, and the creation of dynasties. One of my favorite books of 2018.

 

zerotoonelargerZero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters:

Rating: 4.8/5

Finished: 09/Jan/2019

“Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them… Zero to One is about how to build companies that create new things.” Advice from billionaire entrepreneur mega-investor Peter Thiel about how to make the next Google. He wants entrepreneurs to not just make incremental improvements – 1.0 to 1.1 – but to go from 0 to 1. Think for yourself, avoid competition, be a Definite Optimist with definite plans, understand that the majority of profits go to the minority of ventures, and get the foundations of your startup right from the very beginning. Required reading for entrepreneurs.

 

4hourchefThe 4-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss:

Rating: 4.7/5

Finished: 06/Jun/2018

“The tools of learning are not fixed, nor is the amount of time needed to become world-class.”  A book on learning anything, written around learning to cook. It has everything: how to cook, how to be a memory master, how to learn a language, how to catch and grill a squirrel, and more. There’s lots of good stuff, but especially check it out for the meta-learning parts.

 

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61PfFFnd-oL.jpgAnimal Farm by George Orwell:

Rating: 4.7/5

Finished: 13/Feb/2019

Orwell’s allegory for the Soviet Union, told using farm animals. Powerfully illustrates how movements with the best intentions can have their principles corrupted, until they’re unrecognizable. If you didn’t read this in high school, you definitely need to read it now.

[Read more about Animal Farm on Amazon]

 

51mqPxF6SnLThe Art of War by Sun Tzu:

Rating: 4.7/5

Finished: 08/Apr/2019

“All warfare is based on deception.” The classic text on strategy and warfare. Obviously much of the text is dedicated to ancient Chinese warfare (such as the chapter on attacking with fire, which is about… attacking with fire), but regardless the Art of War is absolutely timeless. I read the Griffith translation on recommendation, but the Giles translation is also well-known and recommended. Required reading, no matter what your goal in life is.

 

feeling goodFeeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns:

Rating: 4.7/5

Finished: 11/Sep/2019

“In my practice I find that the great majority of the depressed patients referred to me improve substantially if they try to help themselves. Sometimes it hardly seems to matter what you do as long as you do something with the attitude of self-help.” The most important book ever written for dealing with depression, and the book that is literally (and I do mean literally) as effective for treating depression as taking Prozac. How does this book treat depression? In short, while there are many factors that go into mood disorders (such as chemical imbalances, poor diet or exercise, etc.), the core cause for most people is dysfunctional and unrealistic negative thoughts. The book takes a deep dive into these dysfunctional thoughts, and how to combat them. Based on my own experiences, and noticing these dysfunctional thinking patterns in people my age (most of whom are depressed, anxious, or suicidal), I think Dr. Burns is absolutely correct. Even if you don’t suffer from depression, there is a HUGE amount of value in this book, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

 

gene350The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins:

Rating: 4.7/5

Finished: 03/May/2019

“We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” One of the most profound books I have ever read. The unit of selection in evolution is not the group or individual, but the gene – and while genes are selfish, effecting human behavior to reproduce and protect themselves (and copies of themselves) as much as possible, we can fight against selfish genes for higher purposes. Doesn’t just talk about genes, but is also the origin for the idea of memes. Any thinking person – who wants to understand the world, or change the world – needs to read this book.

 

sixpillarsThe Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden:

Rating: 4.7/5

Finished: 23/Aug/2019

“The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they look for self-esteem in every direction except within, and so they fail in their search. The ultimate source of self-esteem is, and can only be, internal. In what we do, not what others do. When we seek in the externals, we invite tragedy.” Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden explores the nature of self-esteem, its two key foundations, and the six pillars for building and supporting self-esteem. In addition, he covers external factors that can affect self-esteem, such as parents, teachers, workplaces, religion, and the relationship between self-esteem and tribalism. You don’t have to agree with Branden’s libertarian politics to appreciate the message: you are enough, you have the right to exist, and you have value. For me the best part of this book wasn’t just the content, but the fact that the content echoed a lot of other great books I’ve read (especially Models by Mark Manson). If you’ve ever struggled with self-esteem, confidence, or self-love, I highly recommend this book.

 

modelsModels: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson:

Rating: 4.6/5

Finished: 03/Dec/2018

“The only real dating advice is self-improvement.” Quite possibly the best dating advice book for men that currently exists. Manson’s “method” is based on a three-legged stool of honesty: honest living, honest action, and honest communication. No lines. No crazy charts or jargon. No bullshit. Just dealing with your emotions, desires and with intimacy in an honest and attractive way. I recommend it to all men, and if you’re a woman with a single man in your life, you should recommend it to them.

 

5ringsThe Book of Five Rings by Myamoto Musashi:

Rating: 4.5/5

Finished: 12/Jul/2019

“Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.” Teachings on strategy and combat from master swordsman Myamoto Musashi. While it’s similar to the Art of War where much of the text is about ancient martial arts, the parts about strategy and conflict in general are timeless. But don’t take my word for it – in the words of Musashi, “You must study this.”

 

muskElon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance:

Rating: 4.5/5

Finished: 25/Jun/2018

“He does what he wants, and he is relentless about it. It’s Elon’s world, and the rest of us live in it.” The approved biography of evil genius billionaire Elon Musk. Covers his life growing up in South Africa, immigrating to America, co-founding PayPal, his bizarre relationship problems, and his crazy ventures to create electric cars and reusable rockets when literally everyone was telling him these were terrible ideas. Will need to be updated in a few years though, doesn’t cover the flame throwers he sold to fund digging tunnels under L.A.

 

howtowinfriendsHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie:

Rating: 4.5/5

Finished: 27/Jan/2019

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” Dale Carnegie presents his timeless principles for winning friends and influencing people – make people feel good through things like compliments or sympathy, avoid making people feel bad through things like criticism or arguments, and be indirect when trying to influence people. Probably the most famous self help book of all time, and essential reading for anyone looking to improve their social life. Just read responsibly – people have used these principles to make friends wherever they go, and have also used them to become master manipulators.

 

meditMeditations by Marcus Aurelius:

Rating: 4.5/5

Finished: 24/Jun/2019

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.” One of the key books in Stoic philosophy. Pursue goodness; be rational, clear-minded, and have self-control. Have a cosmic perspective, and don’t worry about things outside your control. Recognize that things like anxiety or offense are created by your mind, rather than external events. I think there’s a lot of value here – it’s the kind of book you reread several times over your life, even if you don’t agree with everything. Opinions differ on which translation is best, so I’ll link to the two that you’ll see the most: Hays and Long.

 

tribeofmentorsTribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss:

Rating: 4.5/5

Finished: 30/May/2018

“Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask. After all, conscious thinking is largely asking and answering questions in your own head. If you want confusion and heartache, ask vague questions. If you want uncommon clarity and results, ask uncommonly clear questions.” Another monster tome from master guineau pig/experimenter/author/podcaster Tim Ferriss – this time, after turning 40, he got life advice from as many wise and successful people as he could, and collected them in one book. Similar format to Tools of Titans, but with plenty of new faces not featured in Titans. I recommend it, along with Tools of Titans.

 

1984large1984 by George Orwell:

Rating: 4.4/5

Finished: 12/Feb/2019

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” The most famous dystopian novel of all time. Government surveillance. Historical revisionism. Perpetual war. Big Brother. Totalitarianism. Doublethink. Propaganda. Pretty scary to read in the era of “fake news” and Google/Facebook tracking everything you do. You probably read this in high school, but whether you read it or not you need to read it this year. Just be warned that the last third is… intense.

 

4hourbodyThe 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss:

Rating: 4.4/5

Finished: 24/May/2018

“Doing the uncommon requires uncommon behavior.” Health and fitness advice from human guinea pig/wrestler/dancer/martial artist Tim Ferriss. Has everything from gaining muscle, to losing fat, to raising your testosterone, to learning how to swim as an adult, to jumping higher. If the idea of “biohacking” yourself appeals to you, pick this up. I’m not a doctor, he’s not a doctor, self-medicate and exercise responsibly.

 

lyingLying by Sam Harris:

Rating: 4.4/5

Finished: 06/Sep/2019

“Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean what they say; you know they will not say one thing to your face and another behind your back; you know they will tell you when they think you have failed—and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.” A book – really a long-form essay – about lying. In short: don’t lie. All of the reasons given for lying are suspect at best. You will make your life far less stressful – and your relationships more satisfying – simply by avoiding lies at all cost, even white lies designed to avoid discomfort. That doesn’t mean being a jerk – or evading topics you’d have to tell the truth about – it means becoming skilled in diplomatically stating the objective truth. I will say that while he does deal with extreme situations suggested by Kant and others, I would have liked to see him go into more detail.

 

superforecastingSuperforecasting by Phillip Tetlock:

Rating: 4.4/5

Finished: 18/Jul/2018

“Foresight isn’t a mysterious gift bestowed at birth. It is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs. These habits of thought can be learned and cultivated by any intelligent, thoughtful, determined person.” A book on accurately predicting the future, particularly around economics and geopolitics. If you’re at all interested in politics, economics, world events, or becoming a rational person more generally, this is the book for you.

 

81qW97ndkvLThe 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss:

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 13/May/2018

“It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.” Quit your job, delegate everything possible, cut meetings and email down 95%, fire the 20% of your customers giving you 80% of your problems, deliver on time, and travel the world on a shoe string budget. The book that launched a thousand entrepreneurs and digital nomads, and a must read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship or productivity.

 

48 laws fullThe 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene:

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 07/Mar/2019

“To succeed in the game of power, you have to master your emotions. But even if you succeed in gaining such self-control, you can never control the temperamental dispositions of those around you. And this presents a great danger.” The favorite book of rappers, CEOs, and prison inmates. Greene looks over the history of business, politics, and war to distill the lesson of the past into the 48 Laws of Power – following them will make your more likely to gain power, and opposing them will more likely lead you to ruin. Can be read as a manual for manipulation and evil, or a guide for not getting taken advantage of. Also great if you like history or biography. Highly recommended.

 

foundationFoundation by Isaac Asimov:

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 07/Jun/2018

“PSYCHOHISTORY: …Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli…” The first novel of the classic sci-fi trilogy. When the future Galactic Empire is on the verge of collapse from it’s own structural failures, psychohistorian Hari Seldon creates an organization – the Foundation – to guide the galaxy towards reunification into a new empire over the course of 1000 years. A must-read for sci-fi fans, and a favorite of Elon Musk.

 

principlesPrinciples: Life and Work by Ray Dalio:

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 25/Aug/2018

“If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximizing your potential.” Billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s principles for success. Radical openness, radical honesty, constant self-improvement, and effective decision making, among other principles. It’s not perfect – Dalio has an oddball perspective on China – but it’s one of the best books that I read in 2018.

 

waronnormalpeoplenewThe War on Normal People by Andrew Yang:

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 21/Mar/2019

“I am writing from inside the tech bubble to let you know that we are coming for your jobs.” A warning from entrepreneur (and now presidential candidate) Andrew Yang about a simple truth: automation is coming for people’s jobs, and the world is completely unprepared for it. It’s data-driven and not “alarmist” or hysterical in the slightest (but it is alarming – Chapter 15 presents a scarily plausible scenario of complete societal breakdown initiated by mass automation).

 

giantfullGiant of the Senate by Al Franken:

Rating: 4.2/5

Finished: 10/Jan/2018

“I was born in the house I build myself with my own two hands. I’m sorry. That’s not true. I got that from my official Senate website. We really should change that.” Not sure if I read this in December 2017, or January 2018. The autobiography of comedian and Senator Al Franken. Covers everything from his start as a comedian, to running for office, to a recount that hinged on a few hundred votes, to the 2009 battles over healthcare, to how much he (and everyone) hates Ted Cruz. Awkward to read now that Al Franken has been exiled from U.S. politics in the #MeToo era. Still, I gave it a 9/10 at the time, Franken is genuinely funny man, and Giant is an interesting read on the last several years of U.S. politics and legislation.

 

51b7BzdnqLL22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout:

Rating: 4.1/5

Finished: 27/Feb/2019

“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.” Essential reading on marketing.  Get into your customer’s mind, focus your efforts on a few areas, take the long-term perspective, and recognize that marketing is war. Pretty much everything holds up even though it was published in 1994 (although any Trump references in old business books are always going to be weird, no matter how relevant they might be).

 

anythingyouwantAnything You Want by Derek Sivers:

Rating: 4.1/5

Finished: 09/May/2019

“Just pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you. Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.” Compared to a lot of business and entrepreneurship books, this book is pretty idealistic: don’t sell out, do what makes you happy, focus 100% on helping people over funding or expanding. A short book, and should probably be on the reading list of any aspiring entrepreneur – you can read it in an afternoon.

 

coddlingThe Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt:

Rating: 4.1/5

Finished: 20/Jul/2019

“Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” I read this book because I’ve had a question for years: “What the hell’s wrong with my generation? Why is everyone depressed, anxious, or suicidal?” This book attempts to find an answer. Between paranoid parenting, social media, political polarization, toxic identity politics, accepting several well-intentioned but unwise ideas, and an overall obsession with safety, the youngest generation of Americans are woefully unprepared for college and adulthood. I went into this not sure if I would agree with the premise, but thankfully it turned out not to just be a book hating on social media or social justice. If you went to college in the 2010s, or know a recent college student, I highly recommend you read this book.

 

stealSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon:

Rating: 4.1/5

Finished: 01/Sep/2019

“The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.” A book of advice on how to be more creative – steal and copy from others (gracefully), create the things you want that don’t exist yet, explore as much as possible, and live your life so that you can dedicate your energy and efforts to making things. Parts of this remind me of something I watched many years ago called Everything is a Remix. Thankfully, the advice doesn’t just apply to traditional artists, but also to anyone looking to create something new. It’s short and sweet – only about 150 pages – but ends up containing very little filler or fluff. If you’re interested in creating something new (or something “new”), read this book.

 

itsallrelativelargeIt’s All Relative by A.J. Jacobs:

Rating: 4.0/5

Finished: 04/Jul/2018

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” Jacobs goes on one of his year long quests, this time to explore how all human beings are related to each other and throw the largest family reunion in human history. Turns out A.J. Jacobs is a distant cousin of mine (he’s also your distant cousin).

 

startwithwhyStart With Why by Simon Sinek:

Rating: 4.0/5

Finished: 23/Jan/2019

“It all starts with clarity. You have to know WHY you do WHAT you do. If people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know WHY you do WHAT you do, how will anyone else?” If you want to lead a movement or create a successful business, it’s not enough to tell people what you’re doing – you need to tell them WHY you’re doing it. Most businesses talk about themselves in the wrong order, unlike the businesses and leaders we praise most (Apple, the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King). Good stuff, the part about the Law of Diffusion of Innovations is especially interesting.

 

astrophysicsAstrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 09/Jul/2019

“We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.” In what could be called the successor to A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Neil de Grasse Tyson has written an up to date brief exploration of astrophysics and the cosmos for the layman. Everything from the Big Bang, to space and time, to dark matter and dark energy, to the search for life in the universe. Read it even if you didn’t do well in Physics class.

 

dataclysmlargeDataclysm by Christian Rudder:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 31/Dec/2018

“Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, all these companies are businesses first, but, as a close second, they’re demographers of unprecedented reach, thoroughness, and importance. Practically as an accident, digital data can now show us how we fight, how we love, how we age, who we are, and how we’re changing. All we have to do is look…” Insights into love, sex, and the human condition from the founder of OkCupid. The parts that use data from OkCupid are AMAZING, and the charts are even better! The parts about Big Data in general are less stellar. Buy it for the charts.

 

dropdeadhealthyDrop Death Healthy by A.J. Jacobs:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 03/Jun/2019

“The MRI has a repertoire of noises that resemble, in no particular order: a game-show buzzer for a wrong answer, urgent knocking, a modem from 1992, a grizzly-bear growl, and a man with a raspy voice shouting what sounds like “mother cooler!” Another of Jacobs’ lifestyle experiments – after Jacobs’ bout with severe pneumonia, he goes on a two year quest to become the healthiest man in the world. Hilarity ensues. He tries to improve each part of his body one at a time to make it into the healthiest possible version (every part of his body), all while talking to different experts. The info is great, the pictures are great, you’ll laugh and then you’ll be saddened by some of the people Jacobs loses along the way. Read it even if you’re not a health/fitness buff.

 

levelLevel Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story by Steve Kamb:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 07/Sep/2019

“Hope needs to be combined with action for the story to progress. A call needs to be answered. Adventure can start anytime, anywhere, but it has to start.” A book about improving your life using principles from video games (and other things from nerdy media) to radically improve your life for the better. Create a secret identity, start taking on quests, and go through your own Hero’s Journey. Pretty solid advice for gamers and other nerds. If you love video games and want to pursue self-development, this would be an excellent place to start.

 

playerpianoPlayer Piano by Kurt Vonnegut:

Rating: 3.9/5

“The machines are to practically everybody what the white men were to the Indians. People are finding that, because of the way the machines are changing the world, more and more of their old values don’t apply any more. People have no choice but to become second-rate machines themselves, or wards of the machines.” Paul Proteus is the CEO of an industrial in dystopian future where all low skill jobs have been automated, and only the construction, management, and engineering jobs are left. Mind the fact that it was written in 1952 and that the main character’s wife is a horrible person. If you’re interested in AI and machine learning, read just for the part where Vonnegut predicts Deep Blue and AlphaGo decades beforehand.

 

powerofhabitThe Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 07/Sep/2018

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” A pop science book on habits and habit formation. Also includes some discussion about Big Data and free will. I know Duhigg probably didn’t intend it this way, but some parts felt like ads for Target and Starbucks. Surprisingly good.

 

millionairemindSecrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 25/Jan/2018

“You can have all the knowledge and skills in the world, but if your “’blueprint”’ isn’t set for success, you’’re financially doomed.” A book on improving your mindset to be more like rich people, for the purpose of becoming rich. Includes “wealth files” which describe the key differences in how rich people think vs poor people. Light on discussion of socioeconomic mobility, like the rest of the genre. Some parts sound like an infomercial, but coming back to it the advice is surprisingly sound. Read it.

 

zenintheartofarcheryZen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel:

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 16/Jan/2019

“What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.” One of the classic texts of Zen Buddhism, and one of the first written by a European for a Western audience. Pretty short. Presents Zen Buddhism as something closer to a self-development philosophy than a traditional religion, as a contest against the self and illusions rather than the forces of evil. Might be of most benefit to the reader if they already have some introduction to Zen and Eastern philosophy.

 

fourtendenciesThe Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin:

Rating: 3.8/5

Finished: 02/Jul/2018

“The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren’t those from a particular Tendency, but rather they’re the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their Tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.” An interesting little book on personality. Rather than creating an overall framework (e.g. the MBTI), Rubin creates a framework of Four Tendencies around the question “How does a person respond to expectations?” Not academic or rigorous at all (and she says so), but I still think about the framework every now and then. Interesting stuff for fans of MBTI, OCEAN, Enneagram etc.

 

howtowinatthesportofbusinessHow to Win at the Sport of Business by Mark Cuban:

Rating: 3.8/5

Finished: 22/May/2019

“Success is about making your life a special version of unique that fits who you are—not what other people want you to be.” Mark Cuban’s advice for entrepreneurs. How to get started, how to get ahead, how to handle the challenges of business, and Cuban’s rules/mantras for success.

 

leaderseatlastLeaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek:

Rating: 3.8/5

Finished: 01/Feb/2019

“When our leaders give us something noble to be a part of, offer us a compelling purpose or reason why we should come to work, something that will outlive us, it seems to give us the power to do the right thing when called upon, even if we have to make sacrifices to our comfort in the short term.” Culture starts at the top, and unless leaders create healthy organizations where trust is possible, dysfunction is inevitable. Your job as a leader isn’t to take care of the numbers – your job is to take care of the people, so that the numbers take care of themselves. The central message is great, but it might be a little fuzzy on the scientific details.

 

manssearchformeaningMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl:

Rating: 3.8/5

Finished: 05/Apr/2019

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Frankl uses his experiences from surviving the Holocaust to present his philosophy for finding meaning and purpose in spite of suffering. Incredibly profound. If you struggle with depression or finding meaning in your life, I highly recommend it. When I was looking into the background of the book, it turns out it has some historical issues that forced me deduct points – but I think people should read it anyway.

 

makeyourbedMake Your Bed by William H. McRaven:

Rating: 3.7/5

Finished: 16/Feb/2018

“At some point we will all confront a dark moment in life. If not the passing of a loved one, then something else that crushes your spirit and leaves you wondering about your future. In that dark moment, reach deep inside yourself and be your very best.” Short read on habits and mindsets for success/life fulfillment from a retired admiral. Emphasis on short. Based on the viral 2014 commencement speech that the author gave.

 

principlesPrinciples (2011 pdf) by Ray Dalio:

Rating: 3.6/5

Finished: 29/Jun/2018

“If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximizing your potential.” Read in preparation of the full book. Note that I’m talking about the 2011 pdf, and not the full book. Great content, but for whatever reason I didn’t enjoy reading this. Maybe it was the format? Read the full book instead.

 

asamanthinkethAs A Man Thinketh by James Allen:

Rating: 3.3/5

Finished: 15/Dec/2018

“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” EXTREMELY short read on mindset and the importance of thinking. If you haven’t read much self-help, it’s great. If you’ve read a lot of self-help, it’s OK.

 

effectiveexecutiveThe Effective Executive by Peter Drucker:

Rating: 3.3/5

Finished: 11/Aug/2018

It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” One of the must-reads for anyone interested in business or self improvement. The fact that it’s a little out of date (Drucker is skeptical that AI will ever outclass humans, and Australia is referred to as a developing country) made me enjoy it less.

 

philosophicalinvestorThe Philosophical Investor by Gary Carmell:

Rating: 3.3/5

Finished: 04/Feb/2018

“I have worked in the world of investments for nearly thirty years with the same firm, CWS Capital Partners… I am confident that the lessons learned have been universal: applicable to any serious investor or thoughtful person who finds great rewards in following the advice of the Oracle of Delphi to ‘know thyself.'” Medium length read on the author’s journey from political science major to successful investor, and on philosophy being useful for investing. Still not sure what to think about the part where he talks about his daughter’s fanfiction.

 

moonwalkinglargeMoonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer:

Rating: 3.0/5

Finished: 24/Apr/2019

“To the extent that experience is the sum of our memories and wisdom the sum of experience, having a better memory would mean knowing not only more about the world, but also more about myself.” Classic book on Foer’s quest to become a memory champion. The techniques are great, but some of the more politically incorrect parts of Moonwalking are not going to age well, even if you don’t find those parts offensive.

 

A1rO5vz1xzLWay of the Superior Man by David Deida:

Rating: 2.8/5

Finished: 30/Aug/2019

“As long as life continues, the creative challenge is to tussle, play, and make love with the present moment while giving your unique gift.” A book about sexual polarity between men and women, and how to become a spiritually aware superior man. I have mixed thoughts. On the one hand, there are some interesting ideas, mirroring other books I’ve read, and I can see why this was recommended to me. On the other hand, this book is far more spiritual and poetic/flowery than books I usually read. Plus there are some parts that are just… weird. What do I mean? There’s a part where Deida describes casually talking with your bros about cheating on your spouse, but it’s more than that. There are other parts where you’ll go “Huh? Where’d that come from?” or “Why is he even talking about that?” With all that said, here’s my overall take: if you’re a man interested in relationships with feminine women, there’s going to be some value for you, even if some parts are kind of weird (I’d also suggest checking out Models by Mark Manson if you’re looking for rock solid men’s advice).

 

littleprinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Rating: 2.7/5

Finished: 08/Jul/2019

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” One of the best-selling books of all time, which I never read growing up. Honestly? I’m not sure I “got it” – part of me says it’s a zen koan about adulthood and loneliness, while another part of me says it’s a children’s story that doesn’t mean anything at all. Disregarding that, I feel like I’m going to offend a lot of people just from not giving it a perfect 10/10. I’m still not sure what to make of it, other than being kind of bummed out about the ending.

 

masteryleonardMastery by George Leonard:

Rating: 2.0/5

Finished: 16/Jul/2018

“Perhaps we’ll never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself.” Good information and ideas about the process of mastering skills and mastering your life. Mind the parts about energy healing and other things not relevant to mastery.

 

heHe: Understanding Masculine Psychology” by Robert A. Johnson:

Rating: 1.4/5

Finished: 12/Aug/2019

A man must consent to look to a foolish, innocent, adolescent part of himself for his cure. The inner fool is the only one who can touch his Fisher King wound.” A book by Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson exploring masculine psychology, primarily through the the Camelot myth. It starts off with an interesting discussion of childhood psychological wounds (the “Fisher King” wound) before getting bogged down by weird interpretations (not to mention unsupported assertions and free-association) of old meanings of words, comparative mythology, and numbers. This really put into perspective what I find frustrating about Jungianism: lots of interesting concepts, but too often it relies so heavily on myth and interpretation that it eventually gives up on logic or rules of evidence. Read if you really like Jungianism and Jungian psychology.

 

12rulesforlife12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson:

Rating: 1.0/5

Finished: 25/Oct/2018

“So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.” Clinical psychologist/internet sensation Jordan Peterson gives his 12 rules for life based on a viral Quora post. This ended up being one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. I went into this with high expectations, and ended up stopping somewhere in Rule 8. While there are parts about self-help or evolutionary biology I found interesting, and other parts I found frustrating, the thing I found most frustrating was that Peterson is basically trying to use Nietzsche/Dostoevsky/other authors to create a secular/existential/pragmatic Christianity, thus preventing metaphysical chaos in the West. It doesn’t matter if God or Jesus exists, be a Christian anyway. This isn’t an idea I (or many of the authors Peterson quotes) can support, and Nietzsche especially would have scratched their head at Peterson’s bizarre theology. Maybe I shouldn’t be so blunt – but Rule 8 is “Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.”

 

whomovedmycheeseWho Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson:

Rating: 0.9/5

Finished: 04/Jul/2019

“The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese.” Change is difficult, but when things change in your life you need to change with it. The end. The book is incredibly condescending, telling a preschool level story of mice and little-people in a maze, and from what I can tell is often bought in bulk by upper management to “prepare” departments for layoffs. Then, it puts critics in a box where not liking the book means you’re afraid of change (if your book puts skeptics/critics in a box, I’m going to become more skeptical/critical). The lessons might be good or important, but there are better ways to tell those lessons and better books to get them from.

 

thealchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:

Rating: 0.7/5

Finished: 08/Jul/2019

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” A young Spanish shepherd named Santiago goes on an international adventure in search of treasure, meeting a cast of characters along the way. Lots of talk about destiny, omens, alchemy, the power of love, and listening to the language of the universe. It’s supposed to be profound and moving, but ultimately amounts to nonsense. If you’re spiritual-but-not-religious, you’ll probably like it. If you’re either very religious or very irreligious, avoid at all costs.

 

thinkandgrowThink and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill:

Rating: 0.5/5

Finished: 20/Feb/2019

“You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” The second most famous self-help book of all time. Absolute bullshit. Surprisingly the worst part wasn’t all the magical thinking (not to mention telepathy, quantum mechanics, “infinite intelligence,” etc.), it was the part where Napoleon Hill forbids his deaf son from learning sign language based on Hill’s belief in the magic of thought. See this article for more on Napoleon Hill.