Why bother?

In school, if you got all the answers to the tests ahead of time, you got in trouble. In life, they call you "wise".

It's foolishness to pass up on the collective experience of the millions who have gone before you. Until you dive in, you don't know what you're missing.

What follows is not a comprehensive list of everything I've read, but some of what I've read at some point in the past is listed below. I don't have a reliable, low-friction way to track every book I read. 


The List

Carrie, Stephen King

Carrie is King's first book. I stumbled across it the book after seeing a creative movie trailer. It's an excellent read.

Getting Things Done, David Allen

Super-classic. I'm hoping for great insights. This is critical reading for anyone who has to do things every day. Which should be everyone breathing.

The Federalist Papers

Does this even need explanation? I've never read them cover to cover, so I'm making up for lost time. 'Murica.

The Christian Life, Sinclair B Ferguson

Highly recommended by my pastor (who has read it over eight times) so it got placed at the top of my list.

Mathemagics, Arthur Benjamin

"The secret art of mental math" is the selling point of this book. There have not been many real-world applications for these skills, but I sure wish I had picked it up in middle school. I hated doing all the work on paper, and I did not like solving from right to left. ("Lets see... I know the answer ends with a 3" is less helpful then "I know the answer starts with eleven thousand")

The real benefit has been from the short chapter on memorizing numbers. I won't get into the details here, but the author gives a very strong system for rapidly memorizing long numbers. I've used this to memorize street addresses, gate and flight numbers, and even a few critical phone numbers, all of which eliminate the need to constantly refer to the written word.

Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

37 Signals runs an honorable business providing useful service to interested customers. A tremendously talented company that points out a lot of problems afflicting individuals and corporations. This book can be read in a sitting, but you should allot at least a few hours to think about it as you read.

Strategic Customer Support, John Goodman

I do customer support, and there are a lot of things we could do better. Goodman makes a great case for seeing customer support not as a cost center but a revenue generator. Now if only I could get this book in the hands of more people...

Freakanomics, Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner

It's a classic, so I had to read it. I like that he doesn't follow traditional economic theories (besides being boring, they are usually wrong) but he's no Austrian, so he and I don't always see eye to eye. An entertaining read, none-the-less.

Antifragile, Nassim Taleb

This is my second time through this book. If I could recommend only one book to just about anyone, this is it. The premise of the book is this: there is a whole class of things that gain from disorder and stress. It is foolishness for us (individually or as a society) to protect everything that we can from uncertainty, especially since some things are improved by uncertainty. When we do this, we set ourselves up for rare, but catastrophic events. This book ties well into De Soto's Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles. (Hint: Central banks exist to protect "regular" banks from the inevitable failure that must come because of fractional reserve banking. Central banks eventually pick up a liability so great even they cannot handle the burden. Example: America, circa 2013)

I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit Sethi

A personal finance blog for young folks. I get a lot of value from Ramit's blog, and this book is no exception. He focuses on the un-sexy but crucial items that go into having solid personal finance: Get out of credit card debt, max out an employer's match for a 401K, automate good spending habits, have good credit, and don't feel guilty about spending within your means. If you use some of this material to save a little better for retirement, or a trip you are taking, this book has thousands of dollars of value. Read it.

The Seven Habits of Highly Influential People, Steven Covey

My reasons are easy. I want to be influential, and I like habits. It is almost embarrassing that I've not read this yet, because I've heard about it so much. My office has a bunch of good books sitting on a shelf, so I'm systematically working my way through 'em.

Bureaucracy, Ludwig Von Mises

A neat little book by an influential thinker of the Austrian school of economics. If you agree with the Austrians, you'll probably love this book. If you don't, this isn't the best place to be introduced.

The Golden Ratio, Mario Livio

Phi is defined as the ratio between a line, and the same line broken into two segments where the first segment is to the second segment as the second segment is to the whole. And it's a whole book about it. There has been a long history of ancients trying to tiethe forms to physical reality. In The Golden Ratio, Livio debunks most of those attempts, but then busts out an interesting chapter on fractals at the end. I skimmed the book (I'm not that nerdy) but unless you're really excited about obscure things, this is not recommended.

Saving For Retirement, Gail MarksJarvis

Retirement: if you're my age, this is probably not the most exciting thing you could talk about. That said, if you get started now, you can make good things happen with a lot less pain than you would otherwise. Get your ducks in a row, and dive in. Since we're supposed to rely upon the stock market to grow our money enough to retire, I recommend reading both Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles and Antifragile. You might as well have a more nuanced perspective than "the stock market will absolutely grow on average of 10% a year because.... it always has."

No matter how you decide to sock money away for later, a pretty basic requirement for entering adulthood is figuring out how to manage what you have responsibly. So read this book. It's a good intro.

Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles, Jesus Huerta de Soto

If the title didn't scare you off, keep reading. It's massive (almost 1000 pages) but no other book or individual has so clarified my understanding how how money functions in an economy. If you think this does not matter to you, just remember a wise quote that applies to poker, and the rest of life: "Look around the table; if you can't see the sucker, you're it." Do you wonder why America's economy has alternated between boom and bust since the turn of the century? Ignore the damn Keynesians - they're wrong, and someday we'll call them on it. De Soto drops knowledge bombs the whole way through. I read only half the chapters, and about 1/3 of what I read was footnotes, so it's actually fairly quick reading. (If you don't read the footnotes.)

The Stand, Steven King 

After reading Paradise In Hell I was interested in seeing how post-disaster communities are depicted in popular literature. A little poking around Amazon landed me on The Stand. The reviews rave, and I've not read much fiction lately, so I've jumped in with both feet.

The Joy of Less, Francine Jay

We've been on a de-cluttering spree lately, so I figured I might read up on it. The book is pretty repetitive, but since we're all human, repetition can be exceedingly helpful. It's a quick read, and if you are impacted by her writing and make even small changes, over the course of a year or two, it could mean big changes. Read it.

A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit

This is a book that for most people is purely academic, and for a few unfortunate souls (or perhaps fortunate?) could mean the difference between life and death. Since perception can equal reality, its worth your time figuring out what sort of society may arise in the wake of a disaster. Are you a Hobbesian "nasty, brutish, and short" sort of fellow? Guess what - you'll make it happen. Perhaps you're more Lockean, and you think that organized society arises from the mutual interests of all men? Guess what - you can make that happen too. Solnit warns against the dangers of "elite panic", which is when political elites panic about losing their power, and instruct the military to go out and prevent looting. Which almost never happens in a disaster anyway. ("Whoa. earthquake. No power. I'm totally going to score a 48" LCD now!" said no one, ever.) This is one of the top two books I'm currently recommending. Please, read it.

Never Eat Alone, Kieth Ferazzi

It is worth repeating - relationships make the world go 'round. It behooves us all to spend more time out from behind a screen (ahem. As this is created and consumed from behind a screen) and more time in front of real people. This is not the end-all book on building relationships, but it's a quick read, and contains a lot of useful material. Even if you don't read it, pour more effort into relationships. It's effort that can never be wasted. Usually.

Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill

Hill writes a doozy. It was published in '37, and at times seems a bit hokey, but the core is this: If you want something really, really bad, you can make it happen. Just don't accept anything less than success. He spends a lot of time talking about how man can manipulate the ether with his thoughts, but if you exchange "ether" with "the power of mindsets, framing, and heuristics", the book holds water. It's been around for 70 years - that in and of itself is worth quite a lot.

Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis

Who here loves Wall Street and trusts them to hold America's interests at heart? Hm. How about politicians? No one? I wonder why.  Lewis writes about his experience with the hottest investment banking firm in its hey-day. If you thought it was boring, just imagine what you would do with a company credit card good for a few million. It's a good read.

Escape from Cubical Nation, Pamela Slim

Is there life outside the cubical? Yes. Start planning your departure now. Slim is inspirational, but IMO speaking to too wide an audience - the book applies to everyone, but is understandably light on specifics. If you've not yet been convinced that you should not spend your whole life working for someone else, this is worth your time. If you already know this, it's not worth reading.

Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

These are some long books, with insanely complex political relationships. I sort of gave up on the series half way through the fourth book. I wanted more dragons, more magic, and more Others.

The Returners, Mikey Neumann

The Returners started out as a chapter-by-chapter fan-directed experiment, and concluded with the most amazing mix of historical and fictional characters ever assembled on the same planet. It's excellent, and very, very unconventional. (Want to know how Peter the Great and Joan of Ark would interact if they lived at the same time? Read this book.)

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, Ambinder and Grady

A casual examination of how all things "secret" work in the US government. The authors clearly side on the side of the government, and avoid some ethical issues I wish they had covered. Interesting, but not recommended.

Intellectuals and Society, Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is the man; he's written a lot, and I've read most, so eventually his books sort of blend together. Intellectuals and Society instills a healthy dose of skepticism for the proclamations of experts and intellectuals. Since most experts think they are right, and that the world would be a better place if we followed their policy recommendations, you are doing yourself and your country a service by being wary of those experts and intellectuals.

The book does run into difficult spots when Sowell uncritically accepts his own positions, while attacking those who disagree with him, but since its his book, and he spends plenty of time elsewhere building a coherent worldview, this is not a big deal.

I love Thomas Sowell, and if you had a short list of authors everyone should read, he'd unarguably be on that list.

America's Great Depression, Murray Rothbard

This is the explanation for why the Great Depression happened. For all the concern modern politicians have for avoiding another great depression, you would wonder if anyone bothered mentioning it's already been figured out. This truth would be inconvenient, however, because in their fervor to avoid a great depression, they are taking steps that will virtually guarantee future depressions. It's cool to be Keynesian, though, if you're a politician. Arrogant power aggregation gets re-labeled "helping".

Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Peter Drucker

Published in the mid-80s, he was talking about intentional innovation between "iterate", "pivot", and "intra-preneur" were common words. If you want to innovate, this is a good place to get started.

Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, Manning, Bodine, Bernhoff

This book is groundbreaking, and changed my life. It helped me tie a common thread through all the initiatives I've taken at any job I've had - I seek to help businesses better serve customers, and this book, published by Forrester Research, makes a powerful business case for doing just that. They argue, persuasively, that customer satisfaction is ultimately what differentiates a very successful business and a bankrupt business.

The Names, Don Dilillo

This is supposedly one of Dilillo's best works. Genre defining, meditative, thought-provoking, etc. I have no doubt it's all of these things, because a lot of people said so, but it wasn't for me. I just couldn't get into it, and stopped reading about half-way through. (Reading tip #1: Never finish a book you don't want to. There are too many good books, and not enough time, to justify reading books you don't want to read.)

I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit Sethi

This book, more than most, could change your life. If you're finances are not in complete control, Sethi will help you get there. If your finances are controlling you, read this book. He's got an ego, but doesn't write BS. He will help you get to a better place, and being in a bad financial spot darkens your outlook on everything else. Don't be too unaware, passive, or scared to get started. Right now. Click the link, buy the book. If you feel guilty spending the $10 you'll need to buy it used and ship it, let me know. I'll cover half the cost. Seriously.

Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale

Please read this book. It's the story of a true fake, popularized by the movie of the same title. Not only an interesting story, Abagnale's story lends credence to the idea that "confidence is almost everything." I couldn't put the book down, and read it in about two days. It's a true story about one of the best (and youngest) scammers of the century. Oh, and he started when he was 16.

Stiff, Mary Roach

A story about the "curious lives of human cadavers". Since I never thought much about what happened with people when they died (not heaven vs. hell, but more "burial vs. cremation vs. lab vs. other options) I was pleased to stumble across this book. There's a bit of historical perspective (I pity the recently-beheaded persons who were forced to endure tapping on the head and loud noises to see if they still responded...) along with humor. If you want to pick up some trivia that will leave everyone wondering if you're a sociopath, this is a good start.

All the Names, Jose Saramago

The first thing you'll notice in this book is the missing paragraph indentations, quotation marks, and a whole lot of run-on sentences. Saramago writes through the eyes of an almost-mindless bureaucrat who works in the National Registry. After the book, you will feel like you have a new friend, one who you very much wish you could meet and spend time with. If it looks interesting to you, give it a read. If not, you won't be any worse for not reading it.

How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff

You know how you can find a study that says anything? This book will help you understand why, and help you arm yourself against the credentialed elite trying to pull the wool over your eyes. (Or anyone else, for that matter.) It's a short book, but extremelyworthwhile.

Liars and Outliers, Bruce Schneier

Perfect security is an illusion. Bruce Schneier runs a terrific blog, and invented the term "security theater", which applies to, among other things, the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security. I really cannot put the words together that describe out insightful this book is. If you want to know more about security in a society, and have a better BS detector for politicians, read this book. If you're still reading this paragraph, click the link and read the Amazon reviews. Really.

End the Fed, Ron Paul

Dr. Paul is polarizing, to say the least. No matter where you stand in relation to his politics, his book will help you better understand the role the Federal Reserve plays in our nation. And that role is large. (At the time of me writing this, the Fed pumps in $85 billion a month into the economy. Please find another federal agency that exerts a larger or more behind-the-scenes influence in our nation)

The Causes of the Economic Crisis, Ludwig von Mises

America has been in a slump of late, in case you've not heard. Would you like to be smarter than this nation's leading economists? Read this book. Mises saw this coming a long time ago. He is an incredible thinker, and this book will make you feel ill, when you reflect on today's economic policies. If you don't want to feel ill, you probably should not read anything by Mises.

The Law, Frederic Bastiat

Written in the 1840s, as a response to socialism in France, this is book packs a powerful punch in just 60 pages. If someone printed up a few million and air-dropped them on DC, the proof they're good would be that politicians would be running to keep this book out of the hands of the citizens. Bastiat reflects on the role in society law plays, and discusses (with great wit) perversions of the law. Every legislator in public office needs to read this book and regularly publish how their current endeavors further the proper application of law. Every citizen needs to read this book and ask their representatives some difficult questions. Please, read this book.

The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman

There are two paths to a higher education - first, you can pay someone else to take a lot of time and money to teach you things you need to know. Or, you can spend a lot less time and money and learn the stuff yourself. Even if you have no interest in an MBA (and zero interest you should have!) this book will put you in a better place when it comes to building businesses, no matter what your role within that business is. Oh, and remember - you get paid based on how much value you deliver to your business. If you suddenly start delivering more value, you're in a strong position to earn more. "Seniority" is a terrible reason for a raise. "Delivers results and improves bottom line" is compelling.

Still Reading?

Listed above are most of the books I've read on my Kindle, and may eventually encompass physical books (the records for those are much harder to come by.) If you're reading this, scroll back up and pick a book or two to read. It will do you far more good than reading the thoughts I have about them.

Oh, and I don't do affiliate links. Even if half the traffic on this blog (Hi Mom!) bought every book on this list, I'd probably earn something like $2. Hardly worth the time and effort it would take to set that up.