To me, books are sacred and libraries are temples. There’s great serendipity in the library. When you go hunting with one book in mind, you often discover hidden gems in the stacks. This page catalogs some of the greatest books I’ve ever read, regardless of discipline or genre. You can look at some of the organized reading lists below.
Nonfiction Reading List:
An Incomplete Education – This is a disciplined reference book that spans most worthwhile topics, including poetry, international relations, and more. You won’t manage to read all of Wikipedia or finish that course on Coursera, but you can get through this. Wilson and Jones’ prose is friendly and inviting. Reading it doesn’t make you feel smart, it actually makes you smart.
Liar’s Poker OR The Big Short OR Flash Boys – Michael Lewis’ finance books are colloquial but in-depth. They will teach you not only about the fundamentals of finance, but also the diverse personalities that work in the field. If you want to succeed on Wall Street, you need to know the basics of finance. Knowing the real rules of the game is the only way you can make oversized returns. I’d recommend all of them but if you have to pick one, The Big Short is the most relevant one to most people; however, if you’re technologically inclined, definitely go for Flash Boys.
How to Steal Like an Artist – This is the quintessential book on creativity. It tells you how to use what you know as well as what’s already out there in the world in order to make something completely new. You can’t make something out of nothing, so read this book and learn how to make something out of other people’s somethings.
Rework – If you want to start a business, complete a project, or even be independent, this is a critical read. It turns over lots of assumptions and conventional wisdom about business and productivity. For example, most people think meetings are worthwhile; in fact, a one hour meeting wastes not one hour of potential labor but that hour times the number of people at the meeting (i.e. an 8-person, 1 hour meeting wastes 8 labor-hours). Rework literally rethinks work.
Elements of Style – This text is paradoxical. It’s seemingly short, but incredibly dense. Regardless, it’s perhaps the best guide to flawless communication in the English language. Strunk and White are matter-of-fact and systematic. They lay out many of the possible pitfalls of writing in English, and provide prescriptions to fix mistakes. If you want to communicate more effectively in writing, you need this book.
Fiction Reading List:
Candide – Voltaire’s magnum opus insists that the world is not a nice place; however it does so in a backwards manner. Its characters rely on optimism to get through life, when faced with disaster at every turn. Voltaire’s satire ridicules most institutions (religion, government, etc.) in this “best of all possible worlds.”
Dracula – Sexuality is a big theme throughout this book, especially women’s sexual expression. The book uses the titular vampire to point out that when women are sexually liberal, catastrophe follows. It’s interesting to think about how this patriarchal sentiment has led to victim-blaming and rape culture today.
Tender Is The Night – All of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books show us that even prose can be stunning and that human life is complicated and beautiful and sad simultaneously. Tender Is The Night urges readers to become introspective as the protagonist, Dick Diver, sees himself change. The book is a whirlwind of desire and despair that ultimately gets at the heart of the human condition.
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee’s seminal work not only shows us what racism was like in a previous era, it also reminds us that racism still exists in a pervasive, harmful form. While this book is an incredible read in its own right, it has gained increased relevance as police brutality against minorities has become more prevalent.
1984 – This George Orwell classic depicts a world where government surveillance and authoritarianism have stripped away people’s free will and control over their lives. The book shows us that great power can be derived not only from force and coercion, but from influencing people’s thoughts as well. It can be interesting to pair this book with Huxley’s Brave New World and consider the two together.