You exercise to keep your body healthy, so too must you read for the benefit of your mind.
And for enough energy to do both, be sure to drink lots of coffee.
Here’s a list of some books I’m currently reading, hope to read, or have just finished. And there are some that unfortunately I could not even force myself to finish — these, like misfit toys, are the abandoned.
Last updated: August 2017
If you’ve got a recommendation for something I should read or have a comment/question about something I have read, let me know: @kendallgiles.
And if I haven’t updated this page recently, I’d appreciate a reminder!
Walkaway: A Novel, by Cory Doctorow
I met Cory at the recent Def Con and am looking forward to digging into this novel about the breakdown of modern society and the rift between the haves and have nots. Sound similar to the real world? Let’s see what happens in Cory’s version.
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker.
Many people today think that violence, discrimination, and just about everything else, are worse today than at any point in our history. Yet most people seem to simply just sit in front of the tube or screen, ingesting a pessimistic barrage of “news” — believing those reports as gospel without applying any critical thought. So I can see why it’s so easy for the “doom and gloom” crowd to be so misled and confused. I suspect in fact that the state of the world has never been better. Anyway, this book purports to shine a light on this matter.
Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman.
Ummm…Norse Mythology…Neil Gaiman…is there even a question about why this is on my list?
On the Radar
Cuckoo’s Egg, by Clifford Stoll.
Computer espionage, national security,
and an astrophysicist’s hunt to find the truth. Classic!
Set the Boy Free: The Autobiography, by Johnny Marr.
A memoir by one of our great guitarists.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel, by Mark Frost.
Mark is one of the co-creators of Twin Peaks, and this is said to give more story and setting background to the original series, in anticipation of the continuation in 2017. Time to make a damn good cup of coffee and dig in.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths.
I’ve heard this is an interesting look at applying computer algorithms to our daily lives.
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Rob Young.
This was recommended by my writing mentor Elizabeth Hand as one of her five favorite books about music. Electric Eden traces the mystical, magical history and influences of English roots music and folk rock, including the music of Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and others.
The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Thomas Nichols
In the 21st century, people still believe Earth is flat, that the Earth is the center of the solar system, and that vaccines are hoaxes, among other incredible examples of ignorance. What’s worse, when in the 21st century barriers to knowledge and education are the lowest they have ever been in human history, people are doubling-down on their ignorance — they are proud of being ignorant. What’s worst of all: not only are people proud of being ignorant, but they are increasingly becoming violent about it. There is a dark culture of not only ignorance, but blatant anti-education, anti-expert, and anti-intellectual aggression that does not bode well for us as a society. This book by Thomas Nichols addresses this phenomenon. He also gives suggestions for the various categories of peoples — the experts, the average, and the deluded — to help stop the slow slide into the abyss. The deluded, by definition, will shun the advice, so it is up to everyone else to do the hard work. And there’s a lot of work to do.
Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday
I quite enjoyed this book, as it is a deep dive into what makes a work a classic, whether that’s a book that sells consistently well, year after year, to a movie, like Star Wars, that wins over fans generation after generation. Part of the answer is creating a quality work, and Ryan devotes about half the book to making sure you focus on generating something of quality. But once you create, your work is not over — you need to let people know about what you have created, so Ryan devotes the other half of the book to marketing. Both elements are needed, both elements are your responsibility, and Ryan tells you what you need to know.
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life, by Massimo Pigliucci.
If the Daily Stoic is a light appetizer, then Pigliucci’s book is a main course on Stoicism and living a better life. In fact, there’s so much here, that this is one of the few on my to-be-read-again list. Wonderful insights.
The Fuzzy and the Techie, by Scott Hartley.
I’m seeing a widening gap between those who are technically literate and those who are not, especially many in leadership positions. This is a pretty serious situation, as we incorporate more technology into our lives yet are led by those who cannot understand the implications. But though our future is technocentric, we actually need balance in our education in order to really prosper, suggests Hartley in this book. He didn’t give a process by which fuzzy folks can succeed in a techno society, but rather mainly gave examples of fuzzy folks who worked with techies to realize some product, company, or organization. So while not prescriptive, the book does give examples of hope for fuzzy folks to succeed in today’s (and tomorrow’s)
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition, 4th Edition, by Thomas Kuhn
I read this once a very long time ago, but I decided to read it again because it’s good to be reminded of the best method we have to learn new things and the process for how we come to know what we know. And so that’s why this book is highly recommended reading for anyone in a STEM field, anyone who wants to better understanding scientific progress or how science works, or anyone wants to understand what really is a scientific theory and why scientific theories are the best ways that we can know how the world works. This book would also be recommended reading for that small, but vocal group of people who don’t understand how science works and actively campaign against science, learning, reason, and progress.
You say you want a revolution Well, you know We all want to change the world -- Lennon / McCartney
Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen.
This is how you write a rock memoir. Bruce is a wonderful songwriter and a legendary performer, and all of that and more comes out in his book. When I read a book about someone, I want to know more than just a chronology of their life — Wikipedia has that. Instead, I want to know what motivates them, what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what makes them get up every day and create, write, and love. This book has all that — it let’s me get a glimpse inside Bruce’s head, to better understand his demons, his drive, and the grit that allows him to wow rock audiences around the world by giving each and every performance his all. This is rock and roll.
Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World, by Marc Goodman
The Digital World is here, and learning how to navigate it safely is so important. That’s not this book though. This book is about making you aware of the dangers. It’s not meant to teach to you travel the Internet safely, but after reading this book you’ll at least know to travel with your eyes open.
The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday.
2016 was a year consumed by excessive work demands. I picked up this book to help get 2017 back in balance. This book is great for a daily reminder to focus on what’s important in life — a chance to reflect and center yourself before the storm of each day.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.
I’ve loved the works by Tolkien and Lewis for years, and had often heard rumors of their mythic group at Oxford called the Inklings. This book tells the tale of Tolkien and Lewis, along with the stories of the others who were involved in this intimate, groundbreaking, and world-changing gathering. I’ve not come across a similar group as the Inklings before or after them. They were dedicated friends — in their case associated with the University of Oxford, who met twice a week — Tuesday mornings for breakfast and Thursday evenings for “beef and beer,” over the course of about 20 years! Group membership changed over time, of course, but it can be argued that the Inklings at their core were Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams, and this book tells their extraordinary tale. In these meetings they shared their thoughts, their current projects, and their lives. Yes, given modern understandings of the cosmos, learning about the strong religious bents of my literary heroes took some adjustments — that Lewis was a Christian apologist, sure, but who would have imagined, for example, that The Lord of the Rings was written by a zealous Roman Catholic? However, times were different then, and authors are not their writings. Nevertheless, after reading this book I can only hope that one day I can find true fellowship with such a group of like-minded individuals — to meet each other regularly to exchange ideas, drinks, and dreams for the future. The Inklings are an example of what can happen through fellowship, discourse, understanding, and the will to actually think, create, and do. For those who keep that fire of learning, magic, and creation kindled in their hearts, I think you will enjoy this detailed look at the lives of a group of friends who found each other during difficult times and then proceeded to change the world.
Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success), by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright.
Do we really need another guide on how to become an independent author? A successful author? A professional writer? The title has the right attitude — if you want success you’ve got to do the work, then do it again. And the content over-delivers — it’s more than worth the price of admission. I’m not aware of a self-publishing guide better than this one (please let me know if you do!).
The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, by A. G. Sertillanges.
While the title of the book is true in that the main focus is cultivating someone who produces work based on their own intellect — someone who writes, thinks, and creates — be forewarned that the original was written in 1934 and many of the author’s base attitudes do not fit well with today’s sensibilities. The work is heavily religious (in particular: Catholic mysticism), and it may seem to the modern reader rather orthogonal — a bit of an oxymoron, even — to combine such religious beliefs with intellectual thought. There is also the typically religious assumption that only men could have such a life of mind — the book advises such a man to find himself a good woman to support his intellectual endeavors, Amen. But if you can set aside such pathologies, there are some gems of wisdom and insight you can pick out. The best chapters for me (based on the number of entries in my notebook) were Chapter 3: “The Organization of Life,” Chapter 4: “The Time of Work,” Chapter 7: “Preparation for Work,” and Chapter 8: “Creative Work.” I almost abandoned my reading, but I’m glad I pushed through to the end.
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, by Elvis Costello.
Now this was a really interesting rock memoir. I’m not familiar with too many of Costello’s works, but this was still a really great memoir. He writes well, and you can really feel the anguish, darkness, and sorrow that he felt and that drove his songwriting. From the influence of his father to stories about his many, many music collaborations — well done. I’m going to immerse myself in music now — you go immerse yourself in this book.
Some books change your life.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.
Yesterday, Robert Pirsig died. His book influenced not only my life but many other lives as well. It’s not just the motorcycle trip, though that certainly inspired my love of building, tinkering, creating, and maintaining. But book’s inside trip, the travels one can take with the mind, learning and debating and solving, has set me on a quest that has, for me, not yet ended. I’m still on that road, as is Robert Pirsig.
Some books require effort — and reward you for it — but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Life is too short to waste on a book that just doesn’t click for you.
Appetites: A Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain.
One has to eat, right? Then one might as well endeavor to eat well. While this may not be a riveting novel you devour in one sitting, he writes well and has interesting things to say. And the recipes and food you make from this book? You’ll never eat better.
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, by Neil Young.
Would have loved nothing more than to enjoy this account of Neil Young’s rock career and life. However, I found the jumbled, meandering narrative too plodding and too repetitive to keep my interest. He deserved a better editor.
Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, by Chrissie Hynde.
Another rock memoir disappointment. Sure, Chrissie Hynde paid her dues, but that story came out rather empty, emotionless, and confused here. It seemed like the majority of the book was just her experiences as a screw-up teenager trying to escape Ohio by chasing men and drugs. A career and fame found her — by random chance, from this telling. I wish it had more of what drove her, or what she learned, or something — anything but Ohio.