Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall: Absolutely wonderful book about the strange people who become ultra runners, the reclusive Tarahumara tribe of Mexico (considered the greatest runners in the world), and why everything you know about running is wrong. As the book title says, we were born to run, and running was the weapon that allowed us to outlast the neanderthals.
Born to Run also goes into some technical detail on why soft, comfortable shoes are the cause of the majority of running injuries. (Vibram FiveFingers for the win!) If you’re at all interested in your health, or you just want a feel-good book, put this one on your list today.
Violence: A Writer’s Guide, by Rory Miller: Does what it says on the tin: A book written by a man intimately familiar with violence, sharing ways to write about violence convincingly and how violent characters think.
Lots of good information and advice for writers in a slim volume.
Got Fight?, by Forrest Griffin: Forrest Griffin is a top MMA fighter, a very funny guy, and quite possibly insane. Got Fight? is partly an autobiography and partly a collection of tips for successful living and fighting. And it’s hysterical. Griffin goes way out of his way to establish himself as a man’s man (how does he know he’s a man’s man? Because he’s been told repeatedly he’s not a ladies’ man.) Be that as it may, the book does a great job of making fun of the kind of overblown machismo so prevalent in MMA circles.
It’s coarse, full-throttled and very funny. For a man who revels in presenting himself a lunk-head hick, Griffin has a lot of good takes on life, like: “My philosophy on getting knocked out is that it renders you unconscious and numb, so why worry about it.”
In the Plex, by Steven Levy: Veteran tech journalist Steven Levy enjoyed unprecedented access inside Google for this book, and it shows. Inside the Plex is meaty, solidly written, and does an excellent job of explaining how Google works from a non-technical perspective, covering the rise of Google from humble beginnings at Stanford to the launch of Google Plus.
Unfortunately, it looks like with his great access Levy got a touch of Stockholm Syndrome, especially when it comes to the sometimes-odd behavior of Page and Brin, who get a free pass as quirky geniuses. Aw-schucks, those Montessori kids, what are you gonna do? As to the adult supervisor Eric Schmidt, he is very loosely sketched—you get almost no sense of the man at all.
To Levy’s credit, he does cover some of Google’s ethical crises, like getting in bed with the Chinese government, but the entire book comes across a bit hagiographic.
Still, it’s a very interesting read and does help you understand better what makes Google tick. My main take-away is that the right lens to view Google through is to think of it as an artificial intelligence company. Pretty much all the company’s decisions make sense from that perspective.
Stalingrad, by Anthony Beevor: Beevor certainly doesn’t lack ambition. Stalingrad is an intense, detailed examination of the Eastern Front during World War II, from the beginning of the war to the end of the siege of Stalingrad. It is erudite, fascinating, and depressing.
The Eastern Front was a complete nightmare for soldiers and civilians both, with both the Nazi and Communist regimes exhibiting breathtaking brutality and disregard for humanity. Stalingrad is page after page of crimes against humanity and authoritarian callousness that boggles the mind.
Even if you have some prior knowledge of the Eastern Front and World War II in general, the book’s sheer depth and breadth really brings home the unthinkable scope of the conflict.
Beevor’s coverage of the Eastern Front continues in his next book, Berlin.
The Fall of Berlin 1945, by Anthony Beevor: The Eastern Front from the end of the siege of Stalingrad to the end of the war, focusing on the fall of Berlin and the suffering of the German people as the Red Army raped and looted its way into the country, their suffering compounded by the Nazi leadership’s decision to fight on to the end largely so as many Germans as possible would die—the German people had betrayed Hitler and the Reich and thus deserved to be annihilated.
It’s a chilling read.
If Stalingrad was depressing, Berlin is soul-crushing. It’s hard to sit in your comfy chair and believe humans committed atrocities on this kind of industrial scale.
But depressing as Stalingrad and Berlin are, they are important books: We mustn’t forget the lessons of World War II. Stalingrad and Berlin should be required reading in any high school or college history class.
And thank your lucky stars every day you weren’t a Russian peasant during World War II.
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield: A writer writes about the things that keep you from writing. The lizard brain and fear are explored. A very brief, fast read with plenty of things to ponder not just for writing but for any creative endeavor.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never do Again, by David Foster Wallace: A collection of essays on topics like a visit to the Kansas state fair and a week on a cruise ship. But the topics themselves don’t really matter—the wit and clarity Wallace brings is what keeps you hooked.
Supposedly Fun is one of the best collections of his writing—cherish it.
David Foster Wallace was the literary giant of our generation. Rest in Peace.
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson: I’m a huge cynic, so it’s impressive how this book managed to break through my defenses. It’s the true story of a mountain climber who after a failed attempt at scaling K2 finds himself in a tribal village where the children have little chance of escaping grinding poverty due to lack of education. The climber devotes his life to building schools in the poorest parts of Pakistan, fighting Western apathy, poverty, and nutjob Mullahs in the process.
Three Cups of Tea rings very true, and illustrates potently how education is the best tool available to fight terrorism in the long run.
Uplifting and well worth your time.
Jon Krakauer wrote an investigative piece challenging some of Mortensons statements and actions, and while it’s also a good read and does sour you a bit on Mortenson as a person, the basic ideas in Three Cups of Tea are still valid and important.
Linchpin, by Seth Godin: Godin’s relentlessly upbeat style can be a bit hard to take, but Linchpin is an important book. Essentially, it’s about how—like anybody who’s been downsized after their job went to India or is now being performed by a computer—we were all lied to when told to get an education and work hard and things would work out. The book talks about how to become the kind of employee who is indispensable, i.e., a “linchpin,” the kind that can’t be outsourced.
Obviously, if there was a manual for becoming indispensable, we wouldn’t be in the trouble we’re in, so Linchpin discusses ways to think and act to become more valuable. It’s too handwavey, but poses a lot of important questions and provides some ideas for getting to a better place.
Well worth reading.
The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan: This fast-paced novel reboots the werewolf myth and ups the violence and sex quotient by a lot. In between the sex and the savagery, Duncan provides a nice almost meditation on what it means to be human and how our urges control and define us.
DEAD MECH, by Jake Bible: Post-apocalyptic zombie survival horror. With mechs. Little else needs to be said, except that it’s a fast-moving page-turner.
For mindless fun, DEAD MECH is hard to beat. No, Faulkner it ain’t, but it’s exactly what you need for your next flight or vacation.
Embassytown, by China Miéville: I’m a big China Miéville fan, but was unable to finish this novel, since it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
The concept is—as Miéville fans expect and enjoy—utterly weird and confusing. In the far future, humanity has colonized large portions of space, travelling through something called the immer, which is essentially hyperspace. On one planet at the edges of known space lives a sentient species with two mouths who can not use symbols. They can only speak of concrete things, and thus have no concept of lies.
The Embassytown of the title is a small colony on this planet, existing in an air bubble, attempting to communicate with and make sense of these aliens who are off-the-charts weird.
So, great setup. But the novel itself seems like it’s four different novels, in none of which very much happens and there are few interesting characters. Could have been great if it had been tightened up.
Nevertheless, it’s shock-full of very interesting ideas and it can be fun to spend some time having no clue what’s going on, but by the time I stopped reading it just seemed there wouldn’t be a pay-off.
Read Miéville’s The City and the City instead.
(DISCLOSURE: All links go to the Amazon Kindle store and are affiliate links. If you buy one of the books through a link here I get a tiny kickback from Amazon.)
Hey kids, you like epic fantasy? ’Cause I've got some epic fantasy for you.
This installment features grimdark fantasy, peppy astronauts and the Roman Empire. Includes SPQR, And On That Bombshell, The Code Book, Schiit Happened, Beyond Redemption, The Severed Streets, The Martian and Veiled.
Includes The Antidote, One Nation, Under Gods, Losing the Signal, The Todd Glass Situation, The Last Policeman, The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Beacon 23, Killing Pretty and Queen of Fire.
Lots of fantasy and sci-fi in this installment plus a book about sports! Includes Boy on Ice, Difficult Men, Restaurant Man, The Red Line, Cunning Plans, Seveneves, Nemesis Games, Bitter Seeds, The Mechanical, Angles of Attack, and City of Stairs.
Nic is sad about Terry Pratchett's passing. Includes No Land’s Man, Idiot America, Something Coming Through, The Burning Room, Foxglove Summer, and The Dark Defiles.
Things go dark and magical in this installment. Includes So, Anyway…, Yes Please, The Mirror Empire, London Falling, Broken Homes, Perfidia, The Peripheral, Burning Chrome, and the Bel Dame Apocrypha Omnibus.
Lots of good reads in this installment. Includes All Hell Let Loose, Metallica: This Monster Lives, 10% Happier, Onward, Echopraxia, Cibola Burn, The Getaway God, Lock In, The Red: First Light, Terms of Enlistment, and Lines of Departure.
Solid reads abound in this installment of the roundup. Includes Console Wars, Your Inner Fish, Flash Boys, Digital Wars, The Perfect Storm, Tower Lord, By Blood We Live, I am Pilgrim and Lexicon.
Some great reads and a huge disappointment in this installment. Includes The Loudest Voice in the Room, Hatching Twitter, Dogfight, Ancillary Justice, KOP Killer, The Circle, Working God’s Mischief and Where Eagles Dare.
Some solid reading awaits you in this installment. Includes The Outpost, Masters of Doom, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, The Everything Store, Bomber Command, Gods of Guilt, and Low Town.
A slimmer-than-usual book roundup is heavy on the non-fiction, including several must-read titles.
Another book roundup, including some stellar athletes and soldiers, what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist ever, and some grimdark fantasy.
The Core Dump is back! Books were read during the hiatus. Includes The Coldest Winter, Oh, Myyy!, Tough Sh*t, The Revolution Was Televised, The Rook, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Gun Machine, Fortress Frontier, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, and The Memory of Light.
From a true patriot to a world-weary detective, a dead god, and a civilization about to sublime from the galaxy, this book roundup spans the gamut. Includes Where Men Win Glory, Wild, Inside the Box, The Black Box, Three Parts Dead, Red Country, and The Hydrogen Sonata.
From the heights of athletic excellence to the depths of depravity, this roundup includes The First 20 Minutes, Double Cross, The Heroin Diaries, Tattoos and Tequila, Dodger, Farthing, and Devil Said Bang.
Includes Wabi-Sabi, Making Things Happen, D-Day, Tallula Rising, Blood Song, The Americans and Amped. All in all, a happy romp through the meadows of literature.
Includes Search Inside Yourself, The Information Diet, Redshirts, The Gone-Away World, Wool, Leviathan Wakes, and Prince of Thorns. One of these may very well change your life.
Includes Shadow Ops: Control Point, The Night Circus, The Hunger Games, Quiet, The Science of Yoga, and Kitchen Confidential. Lots of good stuff in this one.
Includes Angelmaker, The Magicians, Magician King, Iron Council, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Distrust That Particular Flavor, and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. One of these is the most important book of 2011.
Includes The Drop, Ready Player One, Moon Called, Among Others, Excession, Inferno, The Paleo Solution and I am Ozzy.
Includes Sandman Slim, Snuff, The Cold Commands, Reamde, Goodbye Darkness, Steve Jobs and The Psychopath Test.
Some books you might enjoy reading.