Books (Including Snippets)

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.

Jewish Books

  • 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.”

From 2022

  • 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.
  • 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 quote about how revolutionaries of the past turn into today’s cliches.
  • 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.

From 2021

  • 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.

From 2020

From 2016 (Added 2022)

From 2016

Footnotes

Footnotes
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.