Parts of Books that I Love
There are certain parts that have gotten lodged in my head forever. These are some of my favorites that I was able to post.
- In High Fidelity, there’s a great quote about how where you are in life depends a lot on chance.
- In Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good, there’s a great treatise that ends with “Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t really claim that shooting presidents wasn’t like him at all. Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs.”
- Dave Eggers’s The Captain and the Glory is a pointed and fun satire of the Trump administration. Here are some of my favorite parts.
- Cary Grant used to greet guests Magic Castle in Los Angeles acting as a faux doorman. Everyone thought it was a doppelganger or impersonator because they couldn’t imagine that Cary Grant would be greeting guests anonymously.
- Anthony Bourdain has some great quotes about how great meals are about more than the food and how workers (like Millenials) need to focus on working hard and getting the job done well.
- In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes about the books 1984 and Brave New World. He writes that in Brave New World, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
- The Story of Art is the book that opened my ideas about art. It talks about how art is for everyone and that teens deserve to appreciate art as much as the most art educated snobs. It also talks about finding pleasure in art wherever you can. There’s no bad reason for liking art; however, there are bad reasons for disliking art.
- Everything is Obvious. *Once You Know the Answer. Is a great book about how confident we are about things we couldn’t possibly know. My favorite part of the book is this study on whether rural or urban soldiers fared better in World War II. The results will surprise you.
- How to Make a Journal of Your Life is a short (128 page) book which changed the way I journal. In terms of materials, I really like Moleskin notebooks. They have a lot of special edition notebooks which make me feel like I’m holding something meaningful in my hands. They come in large (which is actually kind of small) and small (which is tiny). Moleskin has lined and not lined versions. I like it without lines as I feel more free to add art and photos.
- One of my favorite books is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s such a great satire of modern life. My favorite version of the guide is the original Radio Drama before it became a book. Wikipedia has a good list of phrases from the book.
- I just listened to The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I first read the book about 20 years ago when I graduated from college. Re-reading it, it’s still one of my favorite books, and I couldn’t help seeing how many of the ideas in the book have stayed with me all these years like the idea of single combat warriors. Wolfe opens the book with the question, “What kind of person would put himself on top of a rocket that might blow up?” He answers it in Chapter 1 and then tackles the moving target of who has the right stuff and how it changes over time, like Chuck Yaeger.(1)Chuck Yaeger is the pilot who had more of The Right Stuff than anyone else. Micheal Lewis tells a great version of the Yaeger story in How Tom Wolfe Became … Tom Wolfe. Wolfe writes in the book that the low key Appelechean accent that most commercial pilots use when talking to passengers is all an imitation of Yaeger. If you want to hear what Yaeger sounds like, you can listen to this interview of Yaeger that starts with a Wolfe anecdote about the accent. The audiobook is perfectly read by Dennis Quaid who played Gordon Cooper in the movie.(2)If you’re looking for similar books, Leo Janos co-wrote two autobiographies. Yaeger dives deeper into the life of Chuck Yaeger. Skunkworks is the memoir of Ben Rich, the second leader of Lockheed’s super-secret military aircraft division.(4/26/20)
- In his book, Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how difficult it can be to communicate with others and how it can have disastrous results. Here’s his story of how Cortés completely misunderstood Montezuma.
- Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Rabbi Harold Kushner is a compendium of Jewish Wisdom of the 85-year-old rabbi. This is my favorite book on conservative Judaism. It’s a template for leading a practical Jewish life. Rabbi Kushner talks about how Judaism is changing these days. He says, it’s no longer about prividing answers about Jewish doctrine, “In the twenty-first century, the religious agenda will be set not by tradition’s answers but by congregants’ questions.”
- Blessing of the Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogul is a book on how to raise Jewish children, but it’s so much more. The book is broken down into 10 different blessings like “The Blessing of the Skinned Kneee” (resiliance), “The Blessing of Longing” (gratitude), and “The Blessing of Acceptance” (loving your child for who they are). The audiobook is a little bit awkward as the narrator doesn’t know know to pronouce fairly typical Jewish words like “seder.”
- All About Me! by Mel Brooks is a wonderful Romp through the Brook’s history comedy. Brooks, at 95, used the COVID lockdown to write this book. He talks about his career, from Sid Cesear to The Producers Broadway Show, sprinkling in tons of anecdotes. Brooks was always an iconoclast, from the way he met his wife to his very avant garde Academy Award Winning short. Until this book, I always thought of Brooks as a slapstick comedian but I now admire the deep satirical roots of movies like The Producers (his first movie and the one that satirizes show business; it’s a miracle he got to maka another one) to Blazing Saddles (which is the most pointed satire on racism and couldn’t be made today). To get an idea of what it was like in Brook’s time with Sid Ceaser, watch the movie My Favorite Year, which Brooks produced, and was made into a musical with a wonderful overture. Here’s a quote about how Brooks always pretended to kowtow to executives but still did whatever the wanted.
- The Every is Dave Eggers’s sequel to The Circle. The Every is an omnipotent tech company, the combination of The Circle (a thinly veiled Google) and The Jungle (a thinly veiled Amazon). Eggers does a wonderful job of satire, as he did of Trump in The Captain and the Glory. Here are some of my favorite bits of satire from the book.
- Foreskin’s Lament is Shalom Auslander’s story of how growing up in a dysfunctional ultra-orthodox Jewish family in Monsey. It’s a story of how Auslander gradually broke from his upbringing and family. It’s a great window into the world of the ultra-orthodox from a cynic who was born into it but never really fit in. It reminds me of the idea that Judaism has two main components, highlighted by the 10 commandments. The first 5 commandments are about the Jews relationship with God. The second 5 are about the Jews relationships with other people. In Auslander’s world, there was a lot of the first but very little of the second.
- Woke Rascism is a book by John McWhorter, a black linguistics professor at Columbia, against anti-racism, a movement that he writes is focused on “Battling power relations and their discriminatory effects must be the central focus of all human endeavor, be it intellectual, moral, civic, or artistic” and “Racism is baked into the structure of society, whites’ “complicity” in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them, including a suspension of standards of achievement and conduct.” Instead of focusing on racism and anti-racism, he thinks that black people would best be helped by the following 3 things: “There should be no war on drugs; society should get behind teaching everybody to read the right way; and we should make solid vocational training as easy to obtain as a college education.”
- Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger is an impassioned plea to pay attention to the architecture around us. Goldberger gives us great guidance and how to appreciate it. Architecture is an unique art form. As the great Roman architect Vitruvius wrote, architecture must have qualities of “commodity, firmness, and delight.” It’s an art form that must be useful (commodity), and pretty (delight), and it needs to not fall down (firmness). I love that Goldberger brings me up to his level and makes me feel smarter and more in love with this art form. He writes that master builder of Yale, James Gamble Rogers was often looked down upon by architectural purists. However, Gamble Rogers’s Yale is about feeling good and showing what Yale wants to be. Yes, it’s a stage set, but in this case, it’s a wonderful thing. Goldberger also includes this lovely section about how revolutionaries of the past turn into today’s cliches and why Yale’s famous “American Collegiate Gothic” is wonderful and important even if derided by architects at the time.
- Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein is a wonderful little audiobook that plays like Goldstein’s podcast Planet Money. However, it all comes together nicely to highlight what money is—a fiction that helps the world go round. Just to give a brief insight into how weird money is, Goldstein points out that even though we learned about money as a more advanced form of barter, “No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money.”
- The Godfather makes such a good audiobook. I actually like it more than the movie. The audiobook is read wonderfully by Joe Mantegna, who plays Fat Tony, the mobster from the Simpsons. It formed the basis of the movies Godfather and Godfather II. Additionally, it created the modern myth of the American Mafia as a story about loyalty, friendship, and power.
- Figuring (my summary here) by Maria Popova is a wonderful mix of poetry, history, and philosophy. It focuses on the trailblazing women who managed to break into our male-dominated world. This wonderful book reads like a 500 page poem of interpresed quotes and content. It’s a story that meanders through topics of history, science, poetry, and feminism to paint a holistic view of the world. I’ve listened to it when I woke up for a good portion of the year to clear my mind.
- I have a lot to say about When Breath Becomes Air. In summary, Paul Kalinithi wanted to understand what it means to be human. As a neurosurgeon with a background in literature, he had a unique perspective. Additionally, he was dying from cancer and finishing up his residency at exactly the same time, giving him the perspective of both doctor and patient.
- Thy Neighbor’s Wife is Gay Talese’s jaunt into the history of American prurience and sexuality. Talese, the great magazine writer spent many months experiencing the Sandstone Retreat to research the book. It’s a crazy and fun book but it drags a bit at times. I got most of the way through it and then got bored.
- The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger is a light book, mainly focusing on Iger’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Viacom. I was most interested in the Pixar story which was the most difficult and most important. Disney needed Pixar to revitalize Disney animation. Iger needed to convince Steve Jobs, who was fighting with Michael Eisner, to partner with Disney, eventually buying the company.
- The Motive is a short business parable by Patrick Lencioni. he writes these little fictionalized business stories (his most famous being The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) that highlight some key lessons about business. This one was particularly interesting because it’s about people who think they want to be CEO but don’t really want to be. Though that’s the most prestigious job in the company, it’s not for everyone.
- What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz offers some great lessons into business culture. My favorite part of the book is that he didn’t define great culture a prior by great companies. When you do that, you just come up with lessons on the world’s most successful companies. My review of The Halo Effect talks about that. Horowitz’s book talks more about how cultures are built from nothing, like in slave cultures or prisons. I have a lot of my favorite pieces here which I’ll quote from in the future.
- Datacylsm by Christian Rudder. This is a book that I needed to read both as an audiobook and a regular book at the same time. While I love audiobooks and wouldn’t have read through this just in a print version, it’s chock full of charts. Christian wrote a good summary of what you can learn from the book, like how men think a woman is old at 25, women think a man is old at 40, and even on a job search website, women are judged mainly on attractiveness. Here were some other interesting lessons.
- Aliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh, is a nice little one-woman monologue about growing up in a half-German, half-Chinese family. It was fun because I love monologues.
- Yearbook by Seth Rogan is a surprisingly good comic memoir. Rogan isn’t just the pothead stoner from his movies. He’s a thoughtful and hardworking guy. The audiobook has 83 voices reading it. We learn some interesting tidbits about his life (like that he has 2 half brothers because his father donated sperm to lesbian friends of his) and his thoughts (like that if you want to show unnecessary nudity in a movie, it’s best to cast a porn star because they’re cool with the nudity and relish the chance to act). In terms of big picture stuff, Rogan also takes us through the journey of creating and releasing his movie The Interview.
- Nine Nasty Words by John McWhorter is a wonderful little volume of profanity (the nasty words you’re not supposed to say in public.) McWhorter takes us through the history of profanity, starting with words about G-d, moving to bathroom/sexual words, and ending with today’s racial/sexual slurs (like the n-word). McWhorter does a wonderful job of showing us how today’s nasty words were part of the everday lexicon like Gropecunt Lane. Also, as one of the country’s top linguists who happens to be Black, McWhorter gives a very thoughtful treatise about the n-word.
- The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell was created an audiobook and then later transformed into a physical book. As a lover of audio and of Malcolm I’m a bit of a sucker for this book. It’s the story of the fight between the Air Force strategiests (led by the Bomber Mafia’s Haywood Hansell) and the Air Force classic warfighters (led by Curtis LeMay). Gladwell tackels the limits of technology in its early years and even highlights one of the most expensive analog computers, the Norden Bombsight.
- I’m really enjoying the audiobook of B. J. Novak’s One More Thing. It’s a great humor book in the style of Woody Allen and Steve Martin. To give you a flavor, the first story is a sequel to the fable The Tortoise and the Hare where the Hare kicks the crap out of the Tortoise. I picked up this book because B. J. is Mindy Kaling’s best friend. I love most of Mindy’s books but this last one, Nothing Like I Imagined, is a little thin (but free with Amazon Reading!) The first piece, Kind of Hindu, where Mindy wrestles with religion is the best.
- The Disspointed Soldier and Other Stories from War by Adrian Bonenberger is a fantastic if unusual book. I’ve been friends with Adrian for over 20 years but this book reveals a much deeper Adrian to me. The book reminds me of Camus’s line that “ficton is the lie that tells the truth.” There’s so much truth in the book that Adrian has hidden it from the world (note that’s there’s no online link). Adrian knows war (fortunately for us so that he can write these great works, unfortunately for him because it appears to really suck being in a war.) He’s been featured many times in the New York Times (like in this Daily podcast where he and the journalist almost died). Last year I wrote about The Joy of the Hunt and how things are too easy these days on the internet. Adrian’s book is somewhat different. In order to buy the book, you need to order it from Breakwater Books in Guilford CT, phone number (203) 453-4141. They have a website but you have to call them anyway. That’s about right for this book. It’s a hidden gem that’s clearly written from the heart. Adrian doesn’t want the whole world to read this book (there’s others that he surely does), because it’s such a personal narrative. Thank you Adrian for this wonderful gift! During the war with Ukraine, Adrian went over to train Ukrainian soldiers to protect their city.
- Please Scream Inside Your Heart(3)The title Please Scream Inside Your Heart takes its name from the video of Japanese amusement park executives who rode a coasteer silently to encourage riders to quietly appreciate amusement park rides. by Dave Pell is a personal history of 2020, Trump, and the Pandemic. I love Dave’s daily Newsletter NextDraft and he brings the same funny and quirky prespective to the book. It’s also an important and book about real dangers of American’s slip into many of the authoritarian behaviors that his father experienced in 1930s Germany.
- Design of Everyday Things (2nd Edition) by Don Norman. I can’t believe I just found the second edition of this book. This is the book that got me thinking about design in the late 90s. It taught me that when someone doesn’t undertand a piece of technology, it’s the designers fault, not the user. I learned that “obvious” technology like doors are often difficult to operate when poorly designed. The only problem was that Norman wrote this book as the very beginning of this field(4)The first printing of the Design of Everyday Things was called The Psychology of Everyday Things. This was before the word design came into common use and the acronym POET was too good to pass up. and much has changed since the original volume. The new volume fixes most of those errors, bringing it up to date, even though it’s now a decade old.
- Everybody Fights by the Holderness Family. Why should you take marriage advice from Youtubers? Because all couples have the same fights. The beauty of this book isn’t any sort of crazy new theories or advice, it’s the fact that these two people are so exhibitionist about their personal lives that you can understand the problems we all have.
- Roman Mars, the host of the 99% Invisible Podcast, produced the book The 99% Invisible City. The book is all about the hidden pieces of a city that you never knew about. The first piece is about how to read spraypainted symbols that highlight underground wires and pipes. Ingrid Burrington has a fun little book they reference called Networks of New York, An Illustrated Field Guide to Internet Infrastructure.
- The View from the Cheap Seats written and read by Neil Gaiman is a collection of Gaiman’s non-fiction work. Gaiman is a surprisingly gifted and thoughtful non-fiction writer and storyteller. For a person that loves essays, this is one of my favorite collections of essays.
- The Ghost Map by Stephen Johnson is a fascinating history of the birth of epidemiology and antiseptics.
- I’ve enjoyed the autobiographies of celebrities. They are all read by the author. Some of my favorites are: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (which includes an extremely funny obituary), Bossypants by Tina Fey, and Yes Please by Amy Pohler.
From 2016 (Added 2022)
- Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals is a fun graphic novelization of Dan Ariely’s work on Behavioral Economics.
- Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently–and Succeeding is a graphic novel covering the history of Honest Tea. It’s a great story and involves Barry Nalebuff, one of my favorite business thinkers.
- Jim Ottaviani has done a series of graphic novels as science biographies. The kids and I have enjoyed Primates (about the path-creating female primatologists) and Feynman.
- The Great Courses at Audible.com. The Great Courses are a fantastic way of listening to college lectures at home. Some of my favorites are Robert Greenberg’s lectures especially How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, John McWhorter’s Linguistics Talks and the first Half of Mark Mussey’s Mindfulness lectures. While this lectures are normally quite expensive, as an Audible Listener, you can get one book (or lecture) for $15 or 2 books for $22. And you can find many offer codes (especially from podcasts) to get your first book free.
- You can get dramatic readings of plays via Audible. Some of my favorites are Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and Arcadia. I really enjoy The Importance of Being Earnest. I listened to the Neil Simon Collection last year, which was extremely good.
- Don’t Panic. One of my favorite books is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s such a great satire of modern life. My favorite version of the guide is the original Radio Drama before it became a book.
- The Edge Question Center probably has the most hardcore nerd stuff I’ve seen and I love it. Each year some really smart person poses a question like What Should You Be Worried About? or What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement? Then a lot of other really smart people answer it. I learned about this from Maria Popover. Maria runs a blog called Brain Pickings which is amazing but a little intense for me. Here’s a great video of her. Evan Doll, creator of Flipboard, said of Maria, “More than anyone else, she’s the kind of curator for whom Flipboard is a perfect fit. Her prolific Twitter feed becomes an every-changing one-woman magazine.”
- If you like Disney, you should take a look at the books by David Koenig. Koenig has written a great deal about Disneyland in his Mouse Tales books (did you know that Disneyland has a members only private club) If you’re more into Disney World, Realityland is a great story of how Disney World was built (did you know that Disney acquired the right to be a municipal entity over the Disney World Property). The heart of the original plan was EPCOT. You can watch Disney’s original EPCOT presentation online. Spoiler Alert: It’s not a theme park. There’s also an amazing movie on the building of Disney Theme Parks in The Imagineering Story.
- Overall Pick: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Amazon, Audible). This is a bit of a fanboy review but this book is awesome. In the article Ernest Cline is the Luckiest Geek Alive, Cline describes the book as, “What if Willy Wonka was a video game designer and held a contest inside his greatest video game?” Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future where nearly everyone lives in a virtual world called “The Oasis” and the only way to save the world is through an encyclopedia knowledge of 80’s trivia. The book presents such a compelling version of the VR future that all employees of the VR firm Oculus are asked to read the book before they start. The Audiobook is read fantastically by Wil Wheaton (who is mentioned very briefly in the book). Oh, and Steven Spielberg is making it into a movie.
- Guilty Pleasure: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (Amazon, Audible). A pruriently intellectual book on gossip, twitter and social media shaming. What happens when Lindsey Stone posts a picture mocking a sign at Arlington National Cemetery and it follows her for the rest of her life or when Justine Sacco tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” and it ruined her life. Ronson does a great job of going deep into the specific stories but also making some general points about what social media shaming is doing to society.
- Business: Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull (CEO of Pixar) (Amazon, Audible). Creativity Inc is a great book that combines the history of Pixar with the lessons that they’ve learned as a business. The lessons in the book are pretty run of the mill but the real spark is how Pixar implements them. When Catmull says “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others,” it sounds like any other book on iterative development. But he shows how Pixar implements this, how movies like Toy Story 2 and Up were completely remade from the initial draft. As a bonus, Catmull talks a lot about his decades long relationship with Steve Jobs and how Jobs impacted Pixar.
- Economics: Misbehaving – The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler (Amazon, Audible). Thaler is the founder of Behavioral Economics, inspired by Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky. In the book Thaler talks about how he got started in economics and started noticing how humans don’t act in the ways that economists expect them to. For example, in his first experience as a professor he got enormous pushback from students when he presented them with a hard test, with an average score of 72. Though the class was graded on a curve, this shouldn’t make a difference to anyone — but it did to the students. How did he learn to placate them? By changing the total available points to 137. Poof! The human students became much happier.
- Memoir: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Amazon, Audible). I was expecting a teenage story similar to all the other comedy celebrity stories out there — like Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” But this book is so much more — chronicling Noah’s life through the collapse of Apartheid and seeing the culture through the eyes of a half black / half white man who doesn’t really belong to either culture.
- Technology: The Elon Musk Blog Series: Wait but Why by Tim Urban (Amazon e-book, Original web series). Tim Urban writes a great blog called Wait But Why? Elon Musk liked it so much he asked Tim to write about his companies. After months of work, many interviews with Elon and staff and 90,000 words Tim put together a very complete picture of the problems that Tesla (global warming) and SpaceX (global annihilation) are looking to solve and how they are looking to solve them.
|↑1||Chuck Yaeger is the pilot who had more of The Right Stuff than anyone else. Micheal Lewis tells a great version of the Yaeger story in How Tom Wolfe Became … Tom Wolfe. Wolfe writes in the book that the low key Appelechean accent that most commercial pilots use when talking to passengers is all an imitation of Yaeger. If you want to hear what Yaeger sounds like, you can listen to this interview of Yaeger that starts with a Wolfe anecdote about the accent.|
|↑2||If you’re looking for similar books, Leo Janos co-wrote two autobiographies. Yaeger dives deeper into the life of Chuck Yaeger. Skunkworks is the memoir of Ben Rich, the second leader of Lockheed’s super-secret military aircraft division.|
|↑3||The title Please Scream Inside Your Heart takes its name from the video of Japanese amusement park executives who rode a coasteer silently to encourage riders to quietly appreciate amusement park rides.|
|↑4||The first printing of the Design of Everyday Things was called The Psychology of Everyday Things. This was before the word design came into common use and the acronym POET was too good to pass up.|