Since I am not convinced that my work here in college will translate directly to what I end up doing with my life, I look at my time here as an opportunity to read as much as possible. Here are the books I’ve read and been reading in the last few months.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Translated by Gregory Hays)
Written almost 2000 years ago by an emperor of Rome. It is a book of his personal reflections on spirituality and leadership and ethics. I mark the hell out of my books, and I’ve probably highlighted over half of the text. Honestly, I think this is the kind of book that you have to read over and over through your life. It’s pretty taxing to read. It’s not some thin advice book you can just flip through. Each paragraph demands consideration. I have to share a few quotes. These are the ones that struck me the most, though every page is like this.
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
“The best revenge is not to be like that”
And this one, which I think about constantly:
“Awaken; return to yourself. Now, no longer asleep, knowing they were only dreams, clear-headed again, treat everything around you as a dream.
The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work by Arlie Russell Hochschild
This book’s basic premise is that work has become the place we go to for social interaction and relaxation and meaning and home has started to feel like work. The author makes some good points but her pace is extraordinarily slow and she likes to repeat the same thing over and over again with endless examples. Kind of like Malcolm Gladwell except nowhere near as good; all the important content could fit into a magazine article or two. Chapters 4 and 14 are good, but they cover all of the information in the rest of the book. If you are interested in this topic, read The 4-Hour Workweek instead.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
This is probably the best book I have ever read. All young people need to read it. It WILL profoundly impact the way you think about life. At heart, it is about finding meaning in the modern world, leadership, and masculinity. It’s also just a damn good read, some of the most surprising, lyrical writing I’ve ever seen. Amazing characters. Amazing, amazing, amazing. I’ve read it two or three times.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
So good. Every time that I sense I’ve pushed someone away, every time I feel pushed away myself, I look back through this book and find the law that has been violated. It is comprehensive and packed full of fantastic examples of every law followed and broken. I read this at the same time as I took a history class and used it directly to better understand the mechanisms at work in each conflict. Absolutely fantastic read, I go back to it every day. Law 13 is worth the money alone. All of his books are really well laid out, it’s worth getting the paperback instead of just downloading it to your Kindle.
The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene
I told one of the stories from the first 50 pages of this book to someone a few months ago, and it inspired them so much that they are now writing a book based on our conversation. It is the perfect complement to The 48 Laws of Power. I haven’t spent as much time with this one yet, but it has still impacted the way I behave day-to-day.
These books both just came out and they complement each other perfectly. The 4-Hour Chef is all about learning, which is taught through the medium of cooking, and Mastery is about learning but obviously more in the long term. Both of them are astounding. I’m clearly going through a Robert Greene phase right now, and my whole life is a Tim Ferriss phase, so it’s really exciting to be able to sit back and watch their book release processes. The only thing that could be better would be actually helping with the releases! :)
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Tucker Max and many other authors have recommended this as the must-read book for writers. I’ve always admired the work ethic of writers, that you need to just sit down every day and do the work, without being too sentimental about it. You can’t just wait for inspiration to come because it usually won’t and when it does you won’t have the writing chops to do it justice. This book proposes that argument and gives actionable advice for how to work through resistance—that force that drives you to procrastinate, and it does a damn good job. The last third was a little spiritual for me, but you can easily skip that part. Highly recommended for creators, especially writers.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
I’m always suspicious of how-to books, so I wanted to make sure the author of The War of Art knew what he was talking about. And boy does he. This is the best work of fiction I have read since Fight Club. It’s about the Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae, which is what the movie 300 is based on, but it goes back through the lives of the soldiers to explain what enabled a few thousand men to hold off an army of two million for days. Probably the best book about leadership and strategy and courage that I have read, it’s like The 48 Strategies of War as fiction. I will read this again. In the meantime, I have two more books of his coming in the mail.
Moral, Believing Animals by Christian Smith
Genius little book about how everything is subjective. This is something I’ve been thinking about for years, but Smith says it far better and takes it much further than I ever could have. We go through our days thinking that what we believe is correct, but really what we deem correct is arbitrarily decided, and varies person-to-person and culture-to-culture. This book talks extensively about the narratives that we follow in everyday life and how the conflict with one another. Fascinating and clearly written. It’s humbling and freeing all at once. Everyone should read this book.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway
Stunning simplicity of language. What more is there to say? I read this before bed because it pulls me in. I’ve read the first half three times but for some reason I can never get to the end. I’m going to try some of his other works and see if I can get more into those plots.
Premarital Sex in America by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker
Disclosure: This book was written by one of my professors. Nonetheless, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this well-written, comprehensive analysis of the sex lives of people between the ages of 19 and 23. There is a lot of interesting information in here, most notably the Theory of Sexual Economics, which proposes that sex is an exchange between men and women in which men trade resources and emotional commitment for sex. A humorous study says that when an attractive women walked up to male strangers and asked if they would sleep with her that night, three-quarters of the respondents said yes, and many more said “I’m busy tonight, but how about tomorrow?” When the same study was tested with an attractive male asking female strangers, exactly zero said yes. There is a lot more to this theory and book but much of it is beyond the scope of this blog. If you want to know about how sex works in the age of technology, hook up culture, sex across political lines, how porn changes everything, the role of religion in extramarital sex, and why for some people talking about sex is more intimate than the act itself, then pick this book up.
Cal Newport proposes the argument that passion doesn’t matter as much as we normally think when it comes to what you should do with your life. He cites a study that suggests the happiest people in an office are not the ones who feel they were destined for the job, but the ones who have the most skill, autonomy, and feeling of connection to their coworkers. Instead of following some abstract passion that may not make us happy, Newport believes we should just focus on getting good at a skill. Any skill. This one was interesting to me because I have read almost all of the books that it references and studied many of the people he uses as case studies, but he connects the material in a way I never would have been able to. It was highly recommended by Derek Sivers, but that also might just be because Sivers is a case study in it. Regardless, I really enjoyed it and I support any author who tries to strip art and life of mysticism and wishy-washy bullshit. Ultimately this is just one more book inspired by Outliers that says natural talent is a myth and talent is cultivated over time, but it expands the growth mindset vs. fixed mindset idea to say that not only is talent cultivated, but passion as well. I wonder if this issue is a little more complicated. I have seen many guitarists start practicing and improve quickly, only to give up when they hit a plateau. Though anyone can become world-class at anything they want to, most lack the drive to spend the thousands of hours it takes to become a master. I wonder what it is that separates the people with the tenacity to stick it out from the ones who stop as soon as the going gets rough. But that is a discussion for another book, I suppose. Clearly, this is a book that inspired me to think about things I otherwise wouldn’t have, from a whole new angle, and isn’t that the purpose of writing?