I read sixty-six books this year, one more than last. You can find the full list over at Good Reads. Here are my top picks.
A Manual For Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian
The best book on teaching critical thinking I have read. Includes “intervention dialogues” transcripts, plenty of research, genuine compassion and empathy for other people, plus a wealth of experience in the author, who has been teaching philosophy and talking about faith for decades.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
A nuanced yet hard hitting critique of television culture. Investigates the medium, and the types of messages it can convey, and how it has transformed public discourse. Hard to believe how relevant this is despite being 25 years old. Pair with the excellent David Foster Wallace essay, E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction.
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
A short overview of modern feminist theory, of which I was surprised how unfamiliar I was. Particularly relevant if you are working in a male-dominated industry.
The Demon-haunted World by Carl Sagan
This is such an educational, entertaining, accessible, and inspiring book. It covers so many topics effortlessly: the wonder of science, the importance of skepticism, how science is taught, the dangers of pseudoscience, the intrinsic value of basic research even if it doesn’t lead to a specific application right away. I have been walking around in a state of wonder for days since I read it.
Economics and Politics
Antifragile by Nassim Tabeb
Taleb defines antifragility to be the property of things that respond positively to volatility, such as muscles. He then spends the book applying this concept to many different fields. To quote another review: “Taleb seems constitutionally angry, dismissive, and contrarian—sometimes to the point of being an asshole. However, one cannot deny his talent of conveying crucially important concepts in a clear and entertaining fashion.”
No Logo by Naomi Klein
Still an incredible and relevant read ten years on. Relentlessly critiques the commercialization of public spaces, the exploitation of third world workers, and the loss of jobs from first world ones.
The Unwinding by George Packer
A modern day Grapes of Wrath. Captures the hopes, dreams, and day to day of various Americans, both famous and ordinary, from the start of our generation through the loss of jobs to export, Bush/Obama, the financial crisis, and the Occupy movement.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Required reading if you write any sort of non-fiction. Plenty of advice, opinions, experience and examples, whilst also being hard to put down.
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
A journalist covers the US memory championships, then spends the next year training up and researching memory techniques to compete the following year. Then writes a book about it. Fantastic story, with plenty of things to learn to improve your own memory.
The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
Required reading for anyone in, or wanting to be in, a relationship. Gottman analyzed hundreds (thousands?) of couples and figured out what actually makes relationships work, as opposed to what most relationship therapists preach. This is a classic in the field for good reason. Really wish I’d read it five years ago rather than learning much of it the hard way.
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
David. Foster. Wallace. Maybe not a good recommendation as a first book from him, and possibly frustrating since it is unfinished (he committed suicide before completing it), but I still feel it is an incredible piece of literature.
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
The most surprising book of the year for me. I would not have ordinarily read it, but I have a principle of reading the first book people recommend me. Good thing I did.