Everything is Bullshit

Priceonomics

I wanted a break from all the books on consciousness I had been reading and the title of this book appealed to my sensibilities. Mostly does exactly what it advertises: diamonds are bullshit, expensive wine is bullshit, the art world is bullshit, etc. One of the chapters that didn’t really fit this format (and ended up being the one that stuck with me the most) was the one written by David Raether, a former comedy writer who describes his slow decent into homelessness.

Making up the Mind

Chris Frith

This book covers similar ground to Metzinger’s, highlighting the many ways that our sense of reality is a highly developed illusion of the brain. I particularly liked the chapter where Frith uses a Bayesian perspective to discuss how our brains constantly filter new information in light of our prior experiences and beliefs. In addition, Frith emphasizes the importance of comparing our (highly fallible) mental models against those of other people in order to not be fooled by ourselves.

The Ego Tunnel

Thomas Metzinger

‘Ego tunnel’ is Metzinger’s term for the narrow, highly filtered subjective experience that individuals mistake for the stable and true ultimate reality. The book is an interesting discussion of how modern neuroscience is finding the ‘neural correlates’ for any number of subjective states of experience. Much like modern discussions of free will, the explanation of highly personal experiences (such as dreams) as involuntary physical process further calls into question the traditional Western idea of the self.

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan

Highly recommended

Pollan has written a deep and important book. He does an excellent job telling the history of psychedelics, giving an overview of the science of consciousness they are being used to study, and most importantly, giving an inside look at the experience of using them.

Deep Work

Cal Newport

This came highly recommended by many people, which could be why I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more to it. The core of the book can be captured in one sentence: organize your life so that you spend as much time as possible working on important, difficult things.

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

Highly recommended

Still fresh from the experience of reading it, I feel like this could be my favorite work of fiction I’ve ever read.

Paradise Rot

Jenny Hval

Jenny Hval is a Norwegian musician that I quite like. This is a short novel, recently translated into English, about rotting apples, urine, and sexual discovery.

The Soul of the Marionette

John Gray

After having previously read a handful of Gray’s books, there’s very little in them that still surprises me. I read this mainly as part of my on-going research for a project I call ‘Life Under Hard Determinism’, an exploration of what it means to take the hard determinist stance seriously.

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Thomas Ligotti

Reading Ligotti’s book will let you know how far down the rabbit hole of nihilism you have the courage to go. The main thrust of his argument is that the form of consciousness inhabiting the heads of humankind is a tragic mistake of evolution, one we should end by voluntarily abstaining from further procreation.

Outline / Transit / Kudos

Rachel Cusk

Highly recommended

Reading these three novels right after reading Galen Strawson’s book, I found myself seeing connections to themes he had written about, regarding the self-deception of believing there is a story that can make sense of one’s life.

Things That Bother Me

Galen Strawson

I discovered Strawson’s work through his writing on free will. This collection of essays covers that topic as well as others, all with a dry wit that I enjoyed. The essay that some readers seem to have had the hardest time with was the one I most enjoyed, where he argues that it’s philosophically simpler to assume all matter has some form of consciousness, since we know for certain that we are a form of matter with consciousness.

What is Real?

Adam Becker

A detailed look at how Niels Bohr ‘brainwashed’ a generation of physicists into accepting the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. The spoiler here is that no alternative explanation is currently widely agreed upon. As Becker acknowledges in the last chapter, it’s disappointing to learn the degree to which political maneuvers and unquestioning ideology shaped the history of the field.

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

David Bohm

Highly recommended

Bohm blends physics and philosophy to describe his revolutionary idea of implicate and explicate order. Parts of this book are accessible only to those with an advanced understanding of physics (not me), but I found it to be one of the most daring and creative books I’ve ever read.

Kant’s Philosophical Revolution

Yirmiyahu Yovel

Highly recommended

I did not have a chance to read Kant during my university education, so coming to his thinking now has been a huge revelation. This book does exactly what I’d hoped, which is offer a serious but accessible overview of Kant’s most important work.

The Open Society and Its Enemies

Karl Popper

Highly recommended

This is not an easy or quick read, but it’s worth the struggle. Popper carefully works through a thorough takedown of the totalitarian elements in Plato’s philosophy, the prophetic elements of Marx’s system, and, well, everything about Hegel, while defending the ideals of open-ended debate and democracy.

Free Will

Sam Harris

Harris’ presentation is concise, enjoyable and pursuasive. I can’t entirely recommend it, though, because it feels like Harris doesn’t flesh out his arguments fully, nor does he spend much time on prior literature in the field. However, it does serve as a useful introduction to the idea of free will.

The Character of Physical Law

Richard Feynman

Highly recommended

I picked this up on the recommendation of Susan Fowler. Of the Feynman literature I’ve read, this one was my favorite. The lectures that make up the book were aimed at a non-specialist audience, so the material is accessible while still being fairly deep. I particularly enjoyed chapter 5, “The Distinction of Past and Future.”

Moby Dick

Herman Melville

An enjoyable beginning and end with a very long and tedious middle.

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante

Highly recommended

Fresh off reading Middlemarch, I couldn’t help but see parallels between the struggles of the young in both novels to rise above the place they were born into. The violence and passion of this story gives it an uncommon edge.

The Utopia of Rules

David Graeber

This volume is comprised of previously published essays, many of them centered on Graeber's analysis of bureaucracy. In his view, not only does bureaucracy create stupid behavior, but more importantly, it works to prop up social situations founded on structural violence. Graeber speaks of the complexity of actual human relationships, the value of political imagination, and the tangled connection between rules, freedom and play.

Middlemarch

George Eliot

Highly recommended

Reading this rekindled my love of massive old novels. What struck me most acutely is the depiction of how the narrowness of others’ expectations can crush almost anyone. Nearly every character finds their life shaped by the disappointment of discovering that their relationships are based on each partners’ false ideals of the other.

The Ascent of Man

Jacob Bronowski

Highly recommended

I read this mainly on the recommendation of David Deutsch. It’s in the same vein as other sweeping histories of humanity, society and science (think Sapiens or A Brief History of Nearly Everything), but has a more poetic and moral tone at crucial points. Bronowski shares with Deutsch the belief that scientific knowledge will inexorably grow, but also stresses that it is always threatened by a pendulum swing back to tyranny and dogmatism.

Bullshit Jobs

David Graeber

Highly recommended

This book gave substance to my own gut feelings about the bullshit-nature of so much that goes on in the modern workplace. I read this at the right time in my life and it’s felt a bit life changing. Graeber is an excellent writer and theorist and manages to be radical without being dogmatic.

The Dream of Reason

Anthony Gottlieb

Makes clear just how wrong most philosophy (for that matter, all human understanding) has been over the course of history. It has largely been gropings in the dark, some better intentioned than others. But this book deserves the praise it has received, as it’s an excellent overview of early philosophy.

The Beginning of Infinity [2nd reading]

David Deutsch

Highly recommended

When I initially read this in early 2017 I found myself balking at many of Deutsch’s stances. Coming back to it after reading Magee and Gottlieb's books, I discovered that I was now much more philosophically aligned with it. Many of the more speculative claims that Deutsch makes are difficult to judge one way or the other, but the main message was incredibly inspiring: we must pursue knowledge with the understanding that no matter how much we know, it’s only the beginning of all possible knowledge.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood

I read this in fits and starts over the course of months. I kept hoping that the narrator would rebel and destroy the claustrophobic world Atwood created, but it turned out it’s not that kind of book.

Strangers to Ourselves

Timothy D. Wilson

This book came highly recommended by Nassim Taleb. The main thrust is this: our unconscious mind plays a larger role in our lives than we suspect and is often at odds with our conscious thoughts. Wilson recommends ways of bringing the conscious and unconscious into greater alignment.

Confessions of a Philosopher

Bryan Magee

Highly recommended

Magee has written a grand tour of philosophy from an autobiographical perspective. He is an excellent expositor of both the philosophy he loves (Popper, Schopenhauer) and detests (logical positivism). This book (along with Gottlieb’s two books) was very useful in helping me to clarify my own philosophical beliefs.

The Idea Factory

Jon Gertner

Tao Te Ching

Stephen Mitchell

How Not to be Wrong

Jordan Ellenberg

What is Life?

Erwin Schrödinger

The Lives of a Cell

Lewis Thomas

Highly recommended

On the Shortness of Life

Seneca

Highly recommended

This collection of three essays is one of the best places to start with the writing of Seneca as well as the Stoic tradition. The classic themes are all here: avoid wasting your time on superficial endeavors, seek after wisdom and moral clarity, protect your happiness from the unpredictable turns of chance.

Ways of Seeing

John Berger

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Julian Jaynes

A very strange book, but one that has become a cult classic since its publication in 1976. Jaynes’ theory is that up until several thousand years ago, humans did not possess a form of self-consciousness that we would recognize as our own. Instead, they heard the ‘voice of the gods’ in their heads and felt compelled to obey their commandments.

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Highly recommended

The Gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Highly recommended

Tenth of December

George Saunders

Six Easy Pieces

Richard Feynman

Time Travel

James Gleick

How to Fly a Horse

Kevin Ashton

The Ascent of Money

Niall Ferguson

Homo Deus

Yuval Noah Harai

Mortality

Christopher Hitchens

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

Highly recommended

An incredibly moving story about Paul’s diagnosis of cancer and his struggle to confront the meaning of his life and the prospect of his death.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl

Highly recommended

Frankl tells the harrowing story of his time in a concentration camp and his discovery of how one can still retain a sense of the beauty and meaning of life even in the face of this experience.

The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Life

Christopher Alexander

Highly recommended

Straw Dogs [2nd reading]

John Gray

Highly recommended

Sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari

Highly recommended

Superforcasting

Philip E. Tetlock & Dan Gardner

The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins

Highly recommended

Competing Against Luck

Clayton M. Christensen

The Humbling

Philip Roth

Managing Oneself

Peter F. Drucker

Highly recommended

I’ve often recommended this short book as a useful tool to diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. It asks you to answer a handful of questions (for instance, ‘Am I a reader or a listener?’) and recommends that you focus more on improving your strengths rather than trying to improve your weaknesses. The conclusions likely won’t come as a surprise, but it will be a helpful reminder that life is far better when you work with your instincts rather than against them.

The Lessons of History

Will & Ariel Durant

Thinking and Deciding

Jonathan Baron

How to Read a Book

Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren

Descartes’ Error

Antonio Damasio

Against Method

Paul Feyerabend

Antifragile

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Drunkard’s Walk

Leonard Mlodinow

Red Doc>

Anne Carson

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Thomas S. Kuhn

Highly recommended

American Pastoral

Philip Roth

Highly recommended

Drawing A Hypothesis

Nikolaus Gansterer

The Information

James Gleick

Highly recommended

Herakleitos and Diogenes

Herakleitos and Diogenes

Superintelligence

Nick Bostrom

Meditations

Marcus Aurelius

Sex at Dawn

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

Monogamy

Adam Phillips

Against Love

Laura Kipnis

Sonic Alchemy

David N. Howard

Tinkers

Paul Harding

The Martian

Andy Weir

Zero to One

Peter Thiel

The Dwarf

Par Lagerkvist

The Age of Cryptocurrency

Paul Vigna & Michael J. Casey

The Box

Marc Levinson

Indignation

Philip Roth

Death by Meeting

Patrick Lencioni

Seeking Wisdom

Peter Bevelin

The Golden Mean

Nick Bantock

Griffin & Sabine

Nick Bantock

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer

Highly recommended

The Mezzanine

Nicholson Baker

Doctor Glas

Hjalmar Söderberg

Anarchists in the Boardroom

Liam Barrington-Bush

Dancing in the Streets

Barbara Ehrenreich

The Innovator’s Solution

Clayton Christensen

The Personal MBA

Josh Kaufman

Levels of Life

Julian Barnes

Future Perfect

Steven Johnson

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Robert T. Kiyosaki

Let My People Go Surfing

Yvon Chouinard

This book tells the story of Yvon’s life leading up to the creation of Patagonia, and then goes into depth on the philosophy he uses to run the company. ‘If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.”’

World War Z

Max Brooks

Ten Billion

Stephen Emmott

The Guardians

Sarah Manguso

Blind

Sophie Calle

Inspired

Marty Cagan

Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky

Creative Collaborations

Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar, and Paul Kaiser

Old Masters

Thomas Bernhard

Beautiful Evidence

Edward Tufte

Why We Buy

Paco Underhill

Web Form Design

Luke Wroblewski

Designing for People

Henry Dreyfuss

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Stephen Batchelor

Recipes for Systemic Change

Bryan Boyer, Justin W. Cook & Marco Steinberg

The Unexpected Universe

Loren Eiseley

Highly recommended

The Sorrows of Young Werther

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Next Nature

Koert Van Mensvoort & Hendrik-Jan Grievink

A Mathematician’s Lament

Paul Lockhart

Highly recommended

Universal Methods of Design

Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington

Small Houses

Claudia Hildner

Shaping Things

Bruce Sterling

Thinking in Systems

Donella H. Meadows

About Face 3

Alan Cooper

The Address Book

Sophie Calle

The Daily You

Joseph Turow

The Men in My Life

Vivian Gornick

Antigonick

Anne Carson

Scientific Advertising

Claude C. Hopkins

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Clayton M. Christensen

I once had a conversation with a stranger at a bookstore next to Harvard Univerity where I was told that Clayton Christensen is a genuinely good human being. This is a sincere and straightforward book that discusses a few simple principles that Christensen sees as fundamental to living a good life: find meaningful work, pay attention to those you love, and don’t go against your moral beliefs.

Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy

Designing Interactions

Bill Moggridge

Highly recommended

Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson

The Human Stain

Philip Roth

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Clayton M. Christensen

To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Alain De Botton

‘Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.’ A look at the inner experience of work and employment, those human feelings that persist despite the effort to maintain a zone of ‘professional’ decorum.

Dying Inside

Robert Silverberg

The Timeless Way of Building

Christopher Alexander

Venus in Furs

Leopold von Sacher Masoch

End of the Affair

Graham Greene

The Invention of Morel

Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Art of Travel

Alain De Botton

Ariel

Sylvia Plath

Wetlands

Charlotte Roche

Eating the Dinosaur

Chuck Klosterman

Metaphors We Live By

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Highly recommended

The Voice Imitator

Thomas Bernhard

Notes on the Synthesis of Form

Christopher Alexander

Highly recommended

Unknown Halsman

Oliver Halsman Rosenberg

Grid Systems in Graphic Design

Josef Muller-Brockmann

I Wonder

Marian Bantjes

The Vignelli Canon

Massimo Vignelli

C

Tom McCarthy

Exquisite Pain

Sophie Calle

Looker

Richard Kern

A General Theory of Love

Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon

White

Kenya Hara

The Design of Design

Frederick P. Brooks

Rework

Jason Fried

Geometry of Design

Kimberly Elam

Visual Grammar

Christian Leborg

Everyman

Philip Roth

The Eye

Vladimir Nabokov

Getting Real

Jason Fried

Take Care of Yourself

Sophie Calle

Highly recommended

The Unquiet Grave

Cyril Connolly

Short Talks

Anne Carson

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

Anne Carson

Highly recommended

The Black Swan

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Matthew B. Crawford

Highly recommended

Crawford meditates on the value of getting deep inside one’s work, engaging with it whole-heartedly, and discovering the pleasure and meaning that comes with doing and making. He describes office life as a tangle of contradictory or meaningless obligations and rituals and offers tangible, personal work as a way out.

Decreation

Anne Carson

Nox

Anne Carson

Double Game

Sophie Calle

Maxims

La Rochefoucauld

Highly recommended

Graphic Design Theory

Helen Armstrong

Thinking with Type

Ellen Lupton

Angels

Denis Johnson

Laughable Loves

Milan Kundera

Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

David Foster Wallace

Highly recommended

Oblivion

David Foster Wallace

The Game

Neil Strauss

The Coming Insurrection

The Invisible Committee

Stoner

John Williams

Highly recommended

Hatred of Democracy

Jacques Rancière

Self-Made Man

Norah Vincent

On Love

Alain de Botton

Status Anxiety

Alain de Botton

Highly recommended

First, a description of the unhappiness that comes from the misalignment between our present lives and the expectations we believe society has for us. Second, strategies to escape these anxieties and enjoy a richer inner world, with success coming on terms we decide for ourselves.

Biology as Ideology

Richard C. Lewontin

Plainwater

Anne Carson

White Teeth

Zadie Smith

The Dying Animal

Philip Roth

Highly recommended

On Beauty

Zadie Smith

The Moviegoer

Walker Percy

Mating

Norman Rush

God Is Dead

Ron Currie Jr.

Violence

Slavoj Zizek