Doge loves snow. At Bethesda Fountain.

December 12, 2019

Holiday Reading List 2019

Such a joy, the holidays. Long car rides, waiting around airports, packed flights, family squabbles. Cold, short, dark days with nothing to do. And yet, people still get excited about the holidays.

This year I'll be filling the void with long walks, Netflix binging, and gluttoney.

And if for some reason you decide to take a break from your Netflix binging and hedonism, perhaps you might occupy yourself with a book or two. Thus, I am here to avail you in your search for books to read.

The books, in no particular order

I have put together a short list of books, each of which meets the following requirements:

  • Each book is available in audio form, should you decide to listen to a book while driving or on a walk, as I often do.
  • Every book is intended to stimulate the mind, and provoke thought.
  • These are all books I have read recently, thus they are fresh in my mind, with some exceptions.

On to the list:

How to Change Your Mind, non-fiction

How to Change Your Mind

A book about psychedelic drugs and their theraputic value. It contains an interesting collection of history, anecdotes, and trip reports. There's some science behind these types of drugs, which the book touches on, but it does seem a little bit hyped. The book mostly discusses psilocybin and LSD, but it also touches on some of the other related and trending drugs, such as ayahuasca. If you're curious and want to learn more, it's worth a read.

My main takeaway from the book is that these drugs affect the brain in a way that's more akin to a super-placebo, rather than being therapeutic on their own. In other words, the book posits would need to use the drugs in combination with therapy to obtain good results, rather than just using the drugs for the sake of getting high.

Dune, fiction

Dune

Frank Herbert's Dune is a classic science fiction book, and one of the best selling of all times. Published in 1965, the books feels just as relevant today as it did when I read it growing up. This book inspired other science fiction, notably the Star Wars franchise. Dune never really received much mainstream attention, so if you haven't heard of it, now might be a good time to read it.

There's a new film adaptation of the book scheduled for release later in 2020, so it might be a good time to read it again.

If you can't get enough of the first book, there are 5 additional books in the series so you can keep reading until your brain goes numb. I've never read the others, but perhaps some day I'll get around to it.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, non-fiction

Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie's 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People is the sort of book everyone should read at least once, preferably twice. A lot of the advice in the book seems obvious after you've read it, but it's still worth reading.

If I had a time machine, I'd love to go back and meet the author myself, and perhaps take his famous course. Apparently Warren Buffett took the course when he was 20 years old, and keeps the diploma in his office to this day.

If you have read it previously, it might be worth reading again to brush up on your skills. It's always good to improve (some call this “growth mindset”).

Sapiens, non-fiction

Sapiens

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is a worthwhile and fascinating read. This one has been on everyone's list for the last few years, and for good reason. I couldn't pass up on an opportunity to add it to my list as well.

The book explores the history of humanity without being pretentious, overly pedantic, or forcing ideology. It's always tough to find books about human history that aren't full of opinions rather than facts. This one, in my opinion, mostly sticks to the facts and sets the BS aside.

Sapiens helps put things in perspective, and it left me with the overwhelming feeling of how small, insignificant, and pointless we are as individuals.

This book pairs well with the next one on my list, so you might want to read both of these if you choose one.

The Selfish Gene, non-fiction

The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene is a fascinating exploration of natural selection. I re-read this one recently and really enjoyed it. It's a bit long-winded at times, but it's a fascinating look into how nature actually works. If you want to understand human behaviour, this is a great place to start.

Some of the subject matter in the book offends people, but Dawkins does a good job of sticking to the facts and not bowing to social pressures. I respect and admire anyone who can write this way, and also strongly defend their arguments.

Dawkins is a somewhat devisive figure, but I think he's one of the best controversial idea communicators of modern times.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, non-fiction

The Righteous Mind

The last book on my list has the very long title of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, written by Jonathan Haidt. It's very relevant today, especially as we head into the 2020 US election, and it might be worth reading if you haven't already.

The one thing I hope people take away from this book is that politics is not as simple as left vs. right, and that people embroiled in political debates are unlikely to change their mind no matter how good you think their arguments are because tribal forces are too strong. So if that boomer relative of yours shares their views on how great Trump is, just walk away silently.

Additionally, if you want to maintain your sanity during the 2020 US election, the best thing you can do is avoid reading the news, watching mainstream TV, or engaging in any discussions in the matter.


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