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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. There’s a lot of good data-based thoughts that I should use and include when I write my book.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.|