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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 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.

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 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.

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Highly recommended

The Gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Highly recommended

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

The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins

Highly recommended

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 Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Thomas S. Kuhn

Highly recommended

American Pastoral

Philip Roth

Highly recommended

The Information

James Gleick

Highly recommended

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer

Highly recommended

The Unexpected Universe

Loren Eiseley

Highly recommended

A Mathematician’s Lament

Paul Lockhart

Highly recommended

Designing Interactions

Bill Moggridge

Highly recommended

Metaphors We Live By

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Highly recommended

Notes on the Synthesis of Form

Christopher Alexander

Highly recommended

Take Care of Yourself

Sophie Calle

Highly recommended

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

Anne Carson

Highly recommended

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.

Maxims

La Rochefoucauld

Highly recommended

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

David Foster Wallace

Highly recommended

Stoner

John Williams

Highly recommended

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.

The Dying Animal

Philip Roth

Highly recommended