This has become a yearly post - a listing of the top books of the year. So here we go!
- Pappyland by Wright Thompson. On the surface, this is the story of a famous bourbon, but reflected underneath is a much deeper rumination about lifetimes and legacies. I proudly own one half gone bottle of Pappy’s and I thought I’d love this book as a matter of pride, but it ended up being a lot more than I bargained for. Thompson explains why legacy matters, why it’s so hard and scary to live up to it, and why bourbon is the patron drink of the indefatigable American spirit. The next time I have a sip of Pappy’s 20, it will have a renewed meaning for me.
- How To Get Rich by Felix Dennis. This one came recommended by Sam Parr from his podcast, and he described it exactly right: it looks a little cheesy and a little ridiculous, but the content is pure gold. Dennis doesn’t pull any punches. He describes the mistakes he’s made, what “rich” really means, the debauchery that came with the high life, and the reasons why you may not really want to get rich. When my teenager naively tells me they want to be rich, this is the book I will give them.
- Write Useful Books is the second book I’ve read by Rob Fitzpatrick. Both were short and useful. This is a very practical and focused guide on exactly how to give your audience their money’s worth and how to make sure that they do the hard work in growing themselves bigger. A must for anyone that aspires to write a useful book.
- Disunited Nations by Peter Zeihan. I read two books by Zeihan this year, both excellent. He’s a geopolitical analyst who, in easy and simple prose, breaks down complex geopolitics and history to explain why the world is how it is and where it is going in the next few decades. I’ve read a few books on geography and geopolitics and it continues to amaze me how much of our modern, connected world is still underpinned by geography and demographics. If you want to know why the U.S. Navy is so important, what will happen when globalization starts reversing, why Argentina, Turkey, and France are all resurgent, and the ways in which China or Saudi Arabia can fail, this is the book for you.
- Galileo’s Middle Finger by Alice Dreger. There’s a line in K-PAX where Kevin Spacey’s character (supposedly an alien) eats a banana whole - with the peel on - and then remarks, “Your produce alone has been worth the trip.” That’s how I feel about this book’s title; the metaphor alone was worth it. Galileo was reburied a few decades after his death and the Catholic Church had time to simmer down a bit. When this happened someone - in a fit of hagiography - cut off Galileo’s middle finger so that it could be venerated. Why his middle finger? Well, this is the finger that 16th century Italians used to point, so it’s what Galileo used to point towards the heavens. In the modern world, his middle finger has a new and delicious dimension of irony and rejection of arguments from authority. The rest of the book holds up to the metaphor. Dreger explores the relationship between science and activism through some of the most hot-button issues of today: the reasons behind trans women’s desire to transition, studies of ethnic peoples in Brazil, and intersex people’s place in the LGBTQ world. It ends up being a study about things that you can’t say out loud.
You can still visit Galileo’s finger in Florence, by the way.
- The Power of the Powerless by Vaclav Havel. Written in 1970s Czeckoslovakia, Havel explores what it means when a greengrocer puts a sign in his window that says “Workers of the world unite!” I had heard the phrase, but never in context and never with the complete backing of Havel’s philosophy of life in a “post-totalitarian” world. A surprisingly useful and relatable read today to understand the nature of signaling, psychology, and the Overton Windows that define what we can - or what we must - say, whether we believe it or not.
- Layered Money by Nik Bhatia. This is probably the least well-written book on the list, but it’s an excellent summary of the history of our current banking and federal reserve system and how cryptocurrency may be changing it going forward. The idea of layers is a useful metaphor for understanding the value of gold (or bitcoin), fiat currency, and fractional reserve banking. This book is a great launching point for anyone looking to understand more about the future of the financial system.
- Afterlives of the Saints by Colin Dickey. What a wild and weird and (at times) disagreeable book. A great one for any Christian to read to remember that the principles of faith and humanity are broader and crazier than we sometimes care to think. From the Stylites spending their lives standing on a tower to the Skoptsky sect in Russia, this one is not for the faint of heart or the narrow-minded.
- Unsettled by Steven Koonin. A huge segment of the elite will not like this book, it goes against the feted narrative. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important. Koonin breaks down some more specific issues around climate change, explains some of the conclusions of the IPCC and denotes the differences between something like a peer-reviewed scientific study and an editorialized summary for policymakers. As someone who’s tried to write out and understand more about not just climate change, but also the complexity of our human reaction to it, this one was right up my alley.
- Billy Summers by Stephen King. What a genius. Anything by King I’ve read seems to be a masterwork. The best novel I read this year by far and an unforgettable story. Plain language and human emotion. I won’t soon forget the House of Everlasting Paint.
- Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. I feel a bit sheepish putting this here. I first read it maybe six or seven years ago and have read it again every year. Not only is it exceptionally good writing and characters, but it’s thought provoking in a way that only good science fiction can be. Scalzi explores some of the future problems of humanity like human/computer symbiosis, consciousness decoupled from body, love and genetics, human bias against aliens, and space travel. What’s really great is that these are just practical problems encountered by the characters in his universe, and some of his answers to these ideas are a part of the story. I love this book and want everyone I know to read it.
- BONUS: Find Your Six by Patrick Kilner. This was one of the most fun books for me to read this year for a great reason: it’s the first published book I’ve read by a friend that I’ve known for a long time. As a bonus, it turned out to be a great read, with easy language and a good theme. An excellent guide for developing authentic business relationships and exercising magnanimity. I hope I get the chance to read more published books by people I know!