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Justin's Top 15 All-Time Book List & More
The "best" and most influential books that I've ever read, as of now, not already included on Shane's list.
Hello everyone! Happy Tuesday. Happy Holidays. Happy food, festivities, family, and fasts (great job to those of you who joined us this year). No matter where you are and who you’re with, I hope this finds you well.
Last week Shane shared his top 15 all-time book list. This week, I’ll do the same. Any book from either list makes a great read for yourself or a last-minute holiday gift. As my turn to share my list comes second, I’ll share my top 15 all-time books not already included on Shane’s list. This gives the opportunity to drift into some diverse areas and books that might not have otherwise made my list (as you might imagine, Shane’s taste overlaps quite a bit with mine). I’ve also created a list of the books on Shane’s list that would have made mine as well, just to add a second vote to some very special works. But first, let’s get into this week’s Stuff!
ONE FROM THE AGES
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.”
ONE FROM TODAY
Anna Lamott, from her incredible book on writing, Bird by Bird (on my all-time list for writers, though not included below).
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: They feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
ONE FROM US
I try, with the occasional exception, to give gifts from one of two categories — experiences and consumables. While some material items are very meaningful and/or fill a deep need, I hold the general belief that most people don’t need more stuff in their life. Food, wine, chocolate, tickets to a concert or hockey game, reservations to a special bed and breakfast, or a skydiving trip are far more memorable and do not add to the mountain of crap that fills most of our closets, garages, and attics.
Books are the notable exception to this rule. Despite adding to the storage demands on our shelves, they are both an experience and a consumable.
Books, both fiction and non-fiction, can give us an other-worldly experience. We can travel to any country on Earth during any time in recorded history. We can experience some of the most important events in world history through the eyes of the people who participated. We can even find ourselves in previously unimaginable worlds born of the most vivid imaginations.
Books are also food. They can be as nourishing as the most wholesome meal and as enriching as the most lavish delicacy. Fantasy and fiction novels do more than simply transport us to another world, they give us the raw ingredients to create an imagined world of our own. We have to fill in the small but essential details missing from even the most vivid descriptions. Nonfiction gives us new information and provides a laboratory where we might create new a perspective. We can try on ideas and identities to see how they feel, rejecting those that don’t fit while adopting the ways of thinking that make us better.
The right book is a life-changing experience. This is, admittedly, a grandiose statement, though nonetheless true. Below is my personal list of deeply transformative books. They fall into one (or all) of the following categories: extremely enjoyable, life-changing information about some aspects of health, or paradigm-shifting perspective. As I mentioned above, since Shane already listed many of my favorite books, I dug a little deeper into other categories. These are informative non-fiction, science fiction, memoir, and downright odd.
The 15 Most Earth-Shattering Books, according to Justin in his first 33 years of life, not previously mentioned by Shane (listed alphabetically):
12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
Jordan Peterson has likely come across your radar in the last several years. His work and his mischaracterization have been covered by nearly every news outlet. This book, perhaps more than any other I’ve read, feels like a handbook to life. His teaching and writing style can take the form of an epic legend, yet the take-home lessons are succinct, practical, and concrete.
Americana: Dispatches from the Frontier by Hampton Sides
Hampton Sides is an amazing writer and journalist that put together this collection of stories from the last 30 years of cultural reporting. This is a window into a wide-ranging set of odd American sub-cultures from 911 survivors, to Grand Canyon restoration, to Tony Hawk, to mysterious teenage murders in the rural South. This book is a fascinating and hilarious way to better understand your fellow American in all his/her eclectic beauty.
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
Josh Waitzkin was a child chess prodigy and the inspiration for the film Searching for Bobby Fischer. He then became a world champion martial artist. His true skill, though, is learning. This is an autobiographical look at the process of learning and mastery. I’ve re-read this book numerous times and consider it a must-read for anyone who takes their growth, development, and humility seriously.
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
I might be biased toward this book because of my lifelong love of surfing and my personal experience in many of the places that he visits, but this is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. A classic page-turner. William Finnegan is a writer for the Newyorker and author of several nonfiction books about Apartheid and other international human rights issues. This is a memoir of his surfing and travel life. He is deeply interested in himself and the world and deserves the Pulitzer Prize that this book earned.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Liz Gilbert is best known for Eat, Pray, Love. Big Magic is her look at creativity, creative pursuits, and creative people. Whether you consider yourself artistic, classically “creative,” or not, she makes the case for why you need to flex this aspect of yourself. I am often overly analytical and mechanistic, but this book helps me learn that these aren’t contrary to creativity but my personal way to artistic expression.
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
This is about the scientific benefits that come from being in, on, under, or simply near water. “Blue mind” is the mental state induced by exposure to water, in nearly any form. This book is fascinating and, if you’re like me, will make you rush to the nearest body of water.
Breath by James Nestor
As of this writing, I have only read half of Breath. I feel compelled to include it here because it is the most profound and beneficial book that I have ever come across in terms of physical, mental, and emotional health. While many other books on this list are more funny, entertaining, or profound in other ways, Breath, in my opinion, will make the greatest impact on your personal wellbeing.
Folk, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin
This is both an exposé of the global food system and an outline for a better way. Joel Salatin is a farmer first, and an extremely intelligent and thoughtful writer as a close second. His Polyface Farms in West Virginia is a beacon of sustainable food production and his books give away every aspect of his practices. This book is both disgusting and oddly hopeful, told in witty and hilarious farmer colloquialisms.
The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit by AJ Leon
AJ Leon left a 7-figure salary and a corner office on Wall Street on nothing more than his principles. He and his wife then traveled the world for humanitarian work and eventually founded a creative agency that takes on projects aimed at changing this world. This is a collection of his personal journal entries along this journey. They are short affirmations written only to himself, never intended for publication. I re-read it constantly and consider it a bit of a spiritual guide for living outside the Standard Model.
Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman
Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and the most profound thinker that I’ve come across on all things regarding human movement. She examines human movement from the cellular level all the way to the cultural level. This is a must for anyone interested in health, fitness, movement, or longevity. Movement Matters is a great follow-up to the societal lens of human movement.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
A bit dense and more than most ever care to know about the commodity corn industry in the US, but nonetheless a seminal work for anyone who cares about food and nutrition.
The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant
Many of you are probably aware of the “paleo” diet and positive insight that we can gain from studying our pre-agricultural human ancestors. However, studying the lives of our tribal humans can teach us more about ourselves than just how to eat. John Durant examines everything from our relationship with bacteria to sleep, to cycles of light and dark, and hot and cold. Shane and I often claim that the modern world offers a far different environment than the one that our bodies evolved to expect and thrive in. This book examines the science behind how deep this trend runs.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I don’t read enough fiction, but feel compelled to include a science fiction novel that I truly enjoy. Shane already included Ender’s Game (my personal favorite fiction) so I offer Ready Player One. I recently re-read it in preparation for the recent release of the sequel, Ready Player Two (just as good, but requires reading the original first). I enjoyed it even more the second time around. PS, skip the movie.
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
Most of us live in a state of constant consumption, action, and (if we’re lucky) creation. Many positive things can come from this constant churning, yet we benefit, both creatively and emotionally, from creating space in our lives. Space to think. Space to breathe. Space to let our emotions settle before acting. Space to allow the next steps to reveal themselves. This space can come in many forms.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This is an almost sacred text to me and essential to anyone battling the deeply uncomfortable process of creation. It is a gut-punch that reveals all the ways that you get in your own way and a practical and hopeful guide to overcome Resistance.
Shane’s aforementioned books that I give a resounding second (in alphabetical order):
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt
Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
The Righteous Mind by Jonathon Haidt
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Why We Drive by Matthew B. Crawford
Have an amazing holiday week!
Life is too short to be normal,
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