It is almost autumn and here it is beginning to be more rainy and grey. And who knows what a second corona virus wave brings. So why not stock up on some books.
I have never been big on reading books just for entertainment. I always wanted to learn something. Maybe it’s my natural curiosity. These are books that I thought worthwhile. I am not putting up Amazon links you all know how to use Google or maybe you want to support a local bookshop by ordering from them. I tried to group the books but many topics do overlap. I did mark my top pick in every category which is not indicative of the “best” book but simply one that stood out for some reason.
The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything by Robert H. Frank
A nice short intro into how economics shapes our world. Well and entertainingly written.
Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L. Heilbroner
A well written and balanced history of economic thought. It explains different economic ideas and the time in which they were conceived. Still relevant for today.
The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought by Jerry Z. Mueller
Similar to the book above but this one describes how different people (economists, philosophers, artists, scientists and so) on look at the idea of capitalism. It looks at the cultural, economic and political influence, claims and ideas.
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh
A fascinating look into the world of criminal youth gangs with an emphasis on the economics of why young men might join such a gang. Not very objective but interesting.
A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William L. Bernstein
A good overview about how humans have always been traders. Mostly for good but often enough for bad.
Europe: A History by Norman Davies
1300 pages of European history. Well written with lots of illustrations and historical “capsules”. Those are like little concrete pieces of history. The book not only covers the kingdoms and wars but also the culture,society, food and daily life. Get this one as a physical copy.
The Enlightened Economy: Britain and the Industrial Revolution, 1700-1850 by Joel Mokyr
Probably the most important time in economic history. Interesting for people who are interested in how this explosion of wealth happened quite suddenly in human history.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
This book made me cry several times. The depravity of what humans are capable of is almost unbearable. This should be mandatory reading in schools so we can teach to where where hatred and intolerance ultimately leads.
Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark
A fascinating history of Prussia. Quite easy to read.
Bismarck : A Life by Jonathan Steinberg
Related to the above. How this man could lead a nation is beyond me. But he did it anyway. Not only interesting for the history and politics but also how narcissism and depression can shape someone’s influence.
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
There is not much English language literature about life in East Germany. She tells a few stories from people who either worked with the Stasi (secret police) or were their victims.
Gorbachev: His Life and Times by William Taubmann
Not only interesting about the man himself but also about life in Soviet Russia.
The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (also Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder)
Taleb is a pretty cantankerous person but his books always had some interesting ideas. I would recommend his other books as well but this one is a good intro. Not really a philosophy book but something to spark thoughts.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith
We are talking about the “Invisible Hand” Adam Smith. He also wrote a book about how people behave and see themselves in a moral society. Not an easy read but still pretty relevant.
Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy Volume 1 by Anthony Kenny
This is part one of four. I highly suggest you read all volumes. It should tide you over until next spring 😉 A great overview of philosophical thought. Not always easy but worth it.
How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts
If Adam Smith’s book is too difficult to read I can suggest this modern interpretation.
Boredom: A Lively History by Peter Toohey
Have a look at how different societies through the ages saw boredom.
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Ian McGilchrist
This book is very difficult and I read maybe half of it. But it is full of ideas and thoughts and takes on so many aspects.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
Similar to the Fukuyama books about how states come into being and why they sometimes work well for their citizens and sometimes not (aka failed states).
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama (also Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy)
I did study political science for a while and Fukuyama was almost mandatory. This book essentially looks at how states come into being.
The Incurable Romantic: and Other Unsettling Revelations by Frank Tallis
This book contains case studies of therapy clients. It shows the thin line between love and insanity. Very fascinating.
The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller (also pretty much everything else from her)
My interest in Alice Miller is definitely influenced by my own childhood and very much shaped the way I see myself as a parent. Highly recommended.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann
A book about how our brain processes information in two distinct ways. Easy to read, lots of information and really helpful for daily life.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
I am aware that the author seems to polarize people but I did not get this from the book. It is actually written with lots of compassion. I was surprised. I think it’s best to ignore what social media says about Peterson and make up your own mind. You can still disagree (I did with a few chapters) but it made me think about a few things. That’s important.
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright
I have never been a spiritual person but I was always fascinated by Buddhism. This book looks at the astonishing ideas the Buddhists had about our brain and psyche.
The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about danger by Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter
How can you not read this book right now. It is about risk and how to calculate and evaluate it. Highly recommended if you want to really understand the numbers the media throws at us. Also written in a funny way with practical examples.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
This is about how science and studies work and how to interpret the results. In this current corona “panic” a very helpful book.
Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Garry Taube
This one is a bit boring (i.e. too detailed and lengthy) to read but very interesting concerning our decades long obsession with low-fat diets. To make it short: Better skip the sugar than the fat.
Photography Masterclass: Creative Techniques of 100 Great Photographers by Paul Lowe
This book is more oriented towards advanced beginners but I liked to browse trough different photographic styles.
Mencken Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken
A compilation edited by Mencken himself. The great chronicler of American Life. There is much relevance for today’s world in this.
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner
This one is less brainy but nevertheless quite interesting if you are or were into computer games.
Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
I bought it when my wife was pregnant and really liked the data-driven approach to certain risks, behaviors and medical procedures. It really takes away some unnecessary worries.