I love reading. Reading expands our world view, our knowledge, our wisdom and our interestingness. It helps us to escape the bubble of thoughts and opinions that we are born into due to our social status, location and/or upbringing. Simply put, reading expands us; and that’s a good thing. Although I’m not the kind of guy to read a book in a day, or read ten books in a month, I have read many great books so I thought I’d share some of the best ones that have shaped who I am and effected my views on life and the world around me. I’ll focus on quality over quantity here; only recommending the best of the best that I’ve read. And I’ll do my best to update it often 🙂 If you have read any of these and can attest to their greatness, back me up in the comments below; and feel free to leave me suggestions there as well as I’m always looking for new books to change my life!

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
– Confucius

“Give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a dangerous enemy indeed.”
– Anne Rice, The Witching Hour

“We read to know we are not alone.”
– C.S. Lewis

“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
– Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx (thanks to Irv Rollman for sending me this quote, hehe ;-))

Current Favorites / What I’m Reading Now

Before we get into my current favorites, I want to give everyone reading this a fair warning and a bit of background.

First, the warning: Some of the books I’ve been reading lately are dark. And by dark I mean really, really dark. If you’re going to read them, you need to prepare yourself mentally and know exactly why you’re doing it. 

Background: Some of you may be wondering why on Earth I would want to read a 500+ page book detailing the ways Stalin purged his country of anyone he thought was a threat to communism. Or a book about a German police battalion, made up of ordinary men, that ended up helping the Nazi’s execute tens of thousands of Jews during Hitler’s “final solution” in Poland. Good question. 

I’ve realized in the last year or so that my understanding of world history up to that point was vague at best and utterly embarrassing at worst. This is mostly my fault, but I also hold our education system responsible to some extent. We just weren’t taught this stuff in school. 

What started out as a simple newfound fascination with history after exploring World War I battlefields in France with my wife and two boys, has blossomed into an all out mission to discover everything I can about the atrocities committed by the Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s, and Pol Pot’s of the 20th century. The reason for this mission is that with the exception of Hitler (who was a fascist that supposedly hated communism) every other tyrannical dictator of the 20th century was a communist. Stalin and Mao killed killed far more of their own citizens than Hitler did during his tirade across Europe. 

Why is that relevant? Because over the past few years, I have seen a fascination with socialism and big government growing in America and abroad. Everything from people wearing Che Guevara shirts, to students protesting behind hammer & sickle flags, to laws being passed that force speech from the mouths of those that disagree, to people rallying behind a presidential candidate who called himself a “democratic socialist.” Most of this fascination comes from a good place theoretically; a desire to level the playing field and promote equality. But the fact of the matter is that socialism is simply a stepping stone to communism. And neither of those can be ushered in peacefully, as evidenced by the hundreds of millions of people killed in the last century. And this is not according to me, but Karl Marx himself. It’s literally the step between capitalism and communism and his 6 stages of history. Democratic socialism differs from regular socialism only in the sense that the people usher it in by vote, voluntarily. Venezuela is the latest example of what happens under “democratic socialism.” 

So to answer the question of why on earth I’d want to read this stuff: It’s because I’ve realized it’s my responsibility to read it. I believe it’s everyones responsibility to read and understand it before being qualified to have an opinion on our current political situation. 

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Dr. Jordan Peterson

This is the least dark of my current favorites. It’s actually quite uplifting and helpful overall, but it does have its moments. It is, hands down, one of the top 3 books I’ve ever read. I’m about to read it again, at which point I’ll decide if it’s the best. It’s hard to describe just what exactly this book is about. It’s part psychology, part self-help, part history, and partly a critique on that history and current events. Many people on the left have written Peterson off already, because of the negative media attention he received in the wake of his battle against compelled speech in Canada, but I would bet the farm that the overwhelming majority of those people haven’t taken the time to really dig in to what he has to say. Here’s the description of the book from Amazon:

What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Renowned clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson’s answer to this most difficult of questions uniquely combines the hard-won truths of ancient tradition with the stunning revelations of cutting-edge scientific research.

Humorous, surprising and informative, Dr. Peterson tells us why skateboarding boys and girls must be left alone, what terrible fate awaits those who criticize too easily, and why you should always pet a cat when you meet one on the street.

What does the nervous system of the lowly lobster have to tell us about standing up straight (with our shoulders back) and about success in life? Why did ancient Egyptians worship the capacity to pay careful attention as the highest of gods? What dreadful paths do people tread when they become resentful, arrogant and vengeful? Dr. Peterson journeys broadly, discussing discipline, freedom, adventure and responsibility, distilling the world’s wisdom into 12 practical and profound rules for life. 12 Rules for Life shatters the modern commonplaces of science, faith and human nature, while transforming and ennobling the mind and spirit of its readers.

The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I’ve been on a heart-wrenching journey into the darkness of the 20th century lately. Partly because of Jordan Peterson and partly because I simply realized how ignorant I was to it all. You can come along if you’d like, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. You’ve been warned.

I always knew Stalin and Mao were harsh dictators, but I didn’t know even 1% the extent of it all. 

From Amazon: Drawing on his own experiences before, during and after his eleven years of incarceration and exile, on evidence provided by more than 200 fellow prisoners, and on Soviet archives, Solzhenitsyn reveals with torrential narrative and dramatic power the entire apparatus of Soviet repression, the state within the state that once ruled all-powerfully with its creation by Lenin in 1918. Through truly Shakespearean portraits of its victims-this man, that woman, that child-we encounter the secret police operations, the labor camps and prisons, the uprooting or extermination of whole populations, the “welcome” that awaited Russian soldiers who had been German prisoners of war. Yet we also witness astounding moral courage, the incorruptibility with which the occasional individual or a few scattered groups, all defenseless, endured brutality and degradation. And Solzhenitsyn’s genius has transmuted this grisly indictment into a literary miracle.

Ordinary Men – Christopher Browning

Further into the darkness of the 20th century comes this horrifying tale of German Reserve Police Battalion 101 in World War II. This book is of utmost importance and the reason is right in the title itself. Most people tend to write off the Nazi’s as monsters. After all, it’s an easy way to explain how these people did what the did. Certainly ordinary people like you and I aren’t capable of such atrocities? 

The fact is, groups of people who find themselves in situations such as this are capable of horrendous acts of oppression and violence against fellow humans. We must learn this incredibly uncomfortable truth about the human condition, so that we can avoid it from ever happening again in the future. 

From Amazon: 

Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever.

While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition.

Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.

Finance

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey saved my financial life and future. Nobody taught me about money and how to avoid debt growing up. I sure as heck didn’t learn it in school (which is ridiculous). I financed Kristin’s engagement ring. We financed our honeymoon, our big screen TV, our furniture, our meals, our cars, our lives. Before I knew it we had around 50k in credit card debt, car payments, and medical bills with no savings and we were spending every penny we made.

After reading this book and going through Financial Peace University at our local church we turned our financial path around. In late 2012 we officially became debt free (except for our mortgage) and the peace that comes with that is incredible. It’s hard work and requires a lot of sacrifices for a little while but it couldn’t be more worth it.

The Millionaire Next Door – Thomas Stanley

This book is an excellent companion to The Total Money Makeover. The basic premise is that the authors interviewed hundreds and thousands of “average” millionaires from around America to see how they live. These are not celebrities, athletes or trust fund babies. These are your next door neighbors, the ones you’d never expect. The book is full of fascinating statistics that show again and again that the best way to ensure you’ll never become a millionaire is to spend all your money trying to keep up with the Jones’s. The average millionaire drives a used 3-4 year old Jeep Grand Cherokee, wears a $50 watch, lives in a $250,000 house and has never spent more than a few hundred bucks on a suite.

I know people in their 20’s who live much more extravagantly than that, and they’re in debt up to their eyeballs.

Work/Business

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Whether you’re in business for yourself or looking to be the best you can be in your current field, this book will completely change how you approach life and work. I discovered Jocko through Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss. He was the most highly decorated SEAL in Iraq’s battle for Ramadi and now heads up a consulting firm with Leif called Echelon Front, where they help struggling businesses by teaching them how to be leaders and win.

The lessons in this book are incredible. Jocko and Leif take turns telling stories from their time as SEALs and how the lessons learned from those stories apply to situations they encountered with businesses. This book will teach you how to stand out if your at the bottom, how to lead effectively from the top and how to take control of every aspect of your life with the mindset of a Navy SEAL. “Discipline equals freedom.”

Fiction

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

I don’t read a lot of fiction books. I don’t have anything against them, I just tend to read more non-fiction. This is the best fiction book I’ve ever read. If you want to follow your passions and get inspired to find your purpose in life, this book is a great kick in the pants to get you started or rekindle that flame. Life’s too short people…

Personal/Misc

The Case For Christ – Lee Strobel

This book was written by Lee Strobel, who was an incredibly devoted and intelligent atheist and a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. His wife became a Christian and he set out to prove her wrong by interviewing scholars just like he would for an article in the newspaper or in a court room. He set out to find the holes in Christianity, the scriptures and in the process….became a Christian. And he wasn’t some weak minded atheist. He’s Yale educated and spent his early life debating with Christians and making them question their faith.

Whether or not Jesus is who he said he was, whether or not God exists, whether or not Jesus is the only way to heaven….these are some of the most important questions of our entire lives and it deserves a close look and dedicated investigation. Some people spend more time researching what camera to buy than they do on their faith or lack thereof.

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis

Since I can’t list every book C.S. Lewis wrote, I’ll simply include Mere Christianity in hopes that you will read it, and then use it as a jumping off point for the rest of his books. Mere Christianity was adapted from a series of radio talks Lewis did on BBC during World War II. In these talks, Lewis defends Christianity by building a logical foundation for belief and constructing an entire theology upon that foundation.

He begins with the premise that a Natural Law must exist, as humans did not invent it, but humans respond to it and cannot escape its influences. From this he proposes that God must exist, and that this God must be made up of three parts: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Love springs from the relationship between the Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is a conduit for that love, and the Son has the responsibility to bring as many human souls to the Father as possible. C.S. Lewis has a way of explaining things and bringing them into perspective that few others have or ever will.

Blink – Malcom Gladwell

An incredible look into the decisions and snap judgements we make in the blink of an eye. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing”-filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

No Easy Day – Mark Owen

I’ve always been fascinated with Navy SEALs. I wanted to join the Navy and try out after high school more than anything but because of my asthma, I never would have had a chance. No Easy Day is an autobiography of Navy SEAL Mark Owen (a pseudonym), a member of SEAL Team 6 (aka DEVGRU) and one of the SEALs that participated in the mission to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. What makes this book such an interesting read though is that Mark walks you through his life and several missions leading up to the OBL raid, highlighting his struggles and weaknesses along the way.

Letters from a Stoic – Seneca

Stoicism is one of the more misunderstood philosophies you’ll find. It is often mislabeled as a way to dumb down your emotions to get through tough times. This couldn’t be further from the truth of course. Lary Wallace has a more accurate definition: “Stoicism is, as much as anything, a philosophy of gratitude – and a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.” He went on to say that “Stoicism is a way of looking at misfortune and hardship as an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it.” Seneca was not the founder of Stoicism, but his letters are perhaps the most helpful and easy to digest.

Comments

  1. I love Jesus but haven’t read this book. Dave Ramsey uses sound Biblical principles and is just darn practical. I did read The Millionaire Next Door and its everyday application got through to me. Reading it changed the way I look at where I spend and why. I am as Paul says in Phillipians 4:11, content in all things – and when I’m not, I know where to go!

  2. I have just signed up to subscribe to your newsletter. I have done so because obviously I am an amateur photographer wanting to continue to improve, and you seem to be a very interesting person. I started photographing in a serious way when out on patrol as a Marine Platoon Commander in Viet Nam (1966) and ran across a couple of combat photographers. Things were quiet at the moment, so we began to talk. Even though quite large and bulky, they recommended that I get my hands on the newly released Nikon Photomic T (I know that is not spelled right; however, there is nothing I am able to do about it now.). Canon had not really made much of an entrance in the market at the time and these guys liked three things about the Nikon: the glass was excellent, the body was made of metal and could take a few bangs and bumps, and finally that Nikon guaranteed that any Nikon lens would always be able to be used on any future Nikon camera produced. The lens may not have automatic focusing, etc., etc,, but it would be able to be fitted and used on the camera body. I now have a Nikon D700, along with a bunch of film bodies in the attic (also, new but not brand new lenses) and am still having fun. I am looking forward to being part of your group.

    David

  3. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I have just signed up to subscribe to your newsletter. I have done so because obviously I am an amateur photographer wanting to continue to improve, and you seem to be a very interesting person. I started photographing in a serious way when out on patrol as a Marine Platoon Commander in Viet Nam (1966) and ran across a couple of combat photographers. Things were quiet at the moment, so we began to talk. Even though quite large and bulky, they recommended that I get my hands on the newly released Nikon Photomic T (I know that is not spelled right; however, there is nothing I am able to do about it now.). Canon had not really made much of an entrance in the market at the time and these guys liked three things about the Nikon: the glass was excellent, the body was made of metal and could take a few bangs and bumps, and finally that Nikon guaranteed that any Nikon lens would always be able to be used on any future Nikon camera produced. The lens may not have automatic focusing, etc., etc,, but it would be able to be fitted and used on the camera body. I now have a Nikon D700, along with a bunch of film bodies in the attic (also, new but not brand new lenses) and am still having fun. I am looking forward to being part of your group.

    David

  4. Have been to Death Valley 35 years ago and want to return. It is a place, for me, that is best experienced alone and not with a schedule and a group of others. Making photographs distorts
    what one sees. The scenes remembered in the brain alone are the best.

    The first experience in Death Valley should not involve a camera throughout. Photos on subsequent
    visits perhaps only when used to encourage others to see. Photography should be used to tell a story, not become the story.

    Dick
    Manannah, Minnesota

    1. Author

      I fundamentally disagree with pretty much everything you just said Dick, but that is ok :-). Seeing a place like Death Valley (or any beautiful place for that matter) is enhanced by viewing it through a lens and with the mindset of a photographer. I don’t think taking pictures distracts me from the beauty in front of me in the slightest. Different strokes for different folks though, I suppose.

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