In 2017 I managed to read about 50 books. I started and dropped a bunch of others. The result? Conversational and intellectual alienation from normies. The smarter you become, the greater the divide.
You want to discuss the relation between losing fear of death and happiness? The state of quantum physics in relation to biology? The race of lost giants mentioned in most religions? Good luck. Most people want to talk about what they saw on Netflix last night, or their Bitcoin portfolio predictions.
Reading 50 books a year can make you weird. Anyway.
I don’t regret it at all. Owning a Kindle Paperwhite has easily doubled my reading input. It’s just fun to have a device dedicated solely to books. It makes you want to use it.
I believe that if people read more books (besides just comics and vampire smut) the world would be a better and more interesting place.
On that note, here are 5 of my favourite reads from 2017.
War and Peace
Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece follows the intertwined lives of various Russian oligarchy, and noble families during the Napoleonic invasions.
There’s no way I could sum up this book in a paragraph. It took me three months to finish. But I’ll never forget the imagery, how Tolstoy describes legions of French soldiers marching, rising over and under hills of mist, of cannon fire ripping soldiers, families and nations apart. His ability to seamlessly write from a God’s eye, to the perspective of common peasant, is unparalleled by any author I’ve ever read.
Not only is War and Peace a genius piece of fiction, it’s also a historical document, and a work of philosophy. Is war necessary? Can love conquer hate? Does family matter more than tribe, or nation, or the individual?
What fiction can offer that non-fiction cannot is the ability to transcend time and space, to experience an idea with all it’s attached emotional value, rather than just intellectually reason it.
If you only read one book in 2018, make it War and Peace.
Plus, you can impress girls at cafes when you pull it out and drop it with a “thud” on the table.
Civilization and its Discontents
In his most widely studied book, Freud makes the case that civilization, in order maintain peace, law, order and social harmony, stifles the basic drives of humanity, namely the Eros (life instinct) and the Death Drive (destruction instinct).
He asks the grand question: if modern civilization has provided its citizens with wealth, equality and safety … why are we so miserable?
And ask any modern clinical psychologist … we are indeed miserable.
He seeks the answer by exploring many questions: Why are we addicted to pleasure, and pain. Does religion provide life purpose? Is acted out aggression necessary for mental health (sports, gambling, competition), what is the role of the sex drive, the ego, in relation to personal happiness?
Freud changed the world, and he’s not at all boring to read. Even over a hundred years later, this book reads like it was written by a modern self-help guru.
The Denial of Death
What gives life meaning? Should we fear death? How should we live?
Ernest Becker makes the claim that humans live in two worlds: one, a physical world of objects, and two, a symbolic world of meaning. And that in order to sort out a purpose for life, we give ourselves immortality projects.
Our immortality projects are our religions, social causes, artworks, heroic deeds, religions, institutions, nations, and families.
He argues that without an immortality project to give life meaning, we fall into states of nihilism, depression, and even suicide.
He also argues that collisions between contradictory immortality projects lead to wars, bigotry, genocide, racism and nationalism. (Imo nationalism is better than nihilism.)
There’s a lot to negative sounding ideas to unpack there, but despite the dour theme, it’s an uplifting and intellectually titillating read.
Heroes of History
If you skipped history in college, this is your book.
Will Durant had previously published an 11 volume set, “The Story of Civilization.” The Heroes of History is essentially a summary of these 11 books, in one 350 page read.
It covers three main ages: The Ancients, The Classical Period, and The Renaissance, and their, “heroes” within. Some of the heroes include Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, Gandhi, Socrates, Julius Caesar, Alexander The Great, Jesus Christ, William Shakespeare, and a lot more.
What opens my eyes when I read about ancient history, is that the common problems and questions we have today, have already been thought out by those long-gone geniuses of the past.
For history buffs it’s not too deep, but if you haven’t read a history book since highschool, this is a good refresher. And he’s an entertaining writer. I flew through it.
Fingerprints of The Gods
Graham Hancock makes the case that a highly advanced, technological civilization existed pre-ice age, and was wiped out during the great deluge, the biblical flood (I believe there was a flood, so does he).
He claims through compelling evidence found in earth’s ancient monoliths, the pyramids, histories, legends and myths, that much of their knowledge of architecture, mathematics, astronomy, farming, philosophy, and religion, was passed on by cults of knowledge—of these fallen civilizations—to help rebuild the human world.
I couldn’t put it down.
The book is a bit terrifying, fascinating, and wonder inducing. Read at your own risk.
What about you? What was your favourite read of 2017?