How to Change Your Mind

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan

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.

Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

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

Outline / Transit / Kudos

Outline / Transit / Kudos

Rachel Cusk

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.

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

David Bohm

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

Kant’s Philosophical Revolution

Yirmiyahu Yovel

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

The Open Society and Its Enemies

Karl Popper

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.

The Character of Physical Law

The Character of Physical Law

Richard Feynman

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.”

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante

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.

Middlemarch

Middlemarch

George Eliot

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

The Ascent of Man

Jacob Bronowski

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

Bullshit Jobs

David Graeber

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 Beginning of Infinity [2nd reading]

The Beginning of Infinity [2nd reading]

David Deutsch

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.

Confessions of a Philosopher

Confessions of a Philosopher

Bryan Magee

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 Lives of a Cell

The Lives of a Cell

Lewis Thomas

On the Shortness of Life

On the Shortness of Life

Seneca

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.

The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Gene

The Gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

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

Man's Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl

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

The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Life

Christopher Alexander

Straw Dogs [2nd reading]

Straw Dogs [2nd reading]

John Gray

Sapiens

Sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari

The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins

Managing Oneself

Managing Oneself

Peter F. Drucker

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 Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Thomas S. Kuhn

American Pastoral

American Pastoral

Philip Roth

The Information

The Information

James Gleick

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer

A Mathematician’s Lament

A Mathematician’s Lament

Paul Lockhart

Designing Interactions

Designing Interactions

Bill Moggridge

Metaphors We Live By

Metaphors We Live By

George Lakoff

Notes on the Synthesis of Form

Notes on the Synthesis of Form

Christopher Alexander