Ancient Wisdom Worth Reading.
Everyone needs a little pithy self-help advice.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #27/100
I’ve dabbled in Stoicism for the past few years. Sitting around feeling whipped by the waves of fate for most of my life, I welcomed this practical philosophy with open arms. Instead of growing dour due to feeling insignificant on a cosmic scale, I started putting more responsibility on my plate. Stoicism is a fine way to start regaining a sense of control.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is one of the cornerstone texts of Stoicism. Not only that, this book is fascinating just on a compositional basis: it’s the private diary of a Roman Emperor. Never meant to be published, it’s a one of a kind inlet to the personal thoughts from Ancient history. What a rare type of book.
Within it, you’ll find the universal concerns every human has expressed about their life. Aurelius struggles with meaning, justice, morals, and death. His writing style is concise and clear making his gentle reminders to lead a better life easy to apply to our own lives.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: #27 – Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (180 AD)”
Damn this book is boring.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #4/100
A book written in the 1800s on civics might be fundamental to the profession but it only worked as NyQuil for me. After a long day of work, comparing the responsibilities of the county judges in America to Britain and France wasn’t enough to overcome my quickly rising melatonin levels.
Now its supporters will say there are timeless nuggets found within that are crucial to our understanding of the present. I’d say please give me those in a bulleted list format. Reading through chapters such as “Life in the Township” and “Other Powers Given to American Judges” is a reminder that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword as this book quickly disemboweled me spiritually.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835-1840)”
Weird Weighting of Topics.
A book ostensibly about monastery spends very little time on it, but still a relatable and good book.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #70/100
I struggle with the idea of faith about every week or so. I yearn for a more mystical aspect of my life, but my rational mind can’t open up to stories that are literally false even if they may contain metaphorical truth. Every few months, I open a bible and read some of the lines imbibing the feelings of meaning and purpose only an ancient text can satisfy. It starts to crumble soon, however, when I start realizing I’m trying to find solace in a 2000 year old book fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies authored by illiterate people who could not pass elementary science class.
Seven Story Mountain is a retelling of Thomas Merton’s spiritual journey which starts much like my own: yearning for that mystical meaning and direction, he tries to figure out himself. He tries a few different sources (politics, hedonism, intellectualism) but still finds an empty hole in his heart. He eventually fills it with Catholicism. My favorite quotes of the book echo my own sentiments about meaning in the modern world even if our solutions diverge quite drastically. There is much more to bring us together than separate us, though I’m not sure he would agree.
What I don’t understand is why this book is pegged as a look into Monastery life. This is a misleading focal point of the book cover, preface, and online commentary. Merton’s book is really one puff of air on being a monk and a full exhale on his life before hand. This did disappoint: his quotidian life as a youth overstayed its welcome while the exotic life of the monastery was never fully explored.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: #70 – Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton (1948)”
The Hippie Ethos.
An intimate exploration of the 60s counter-culture with some of my favorite Authors to boot.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #51/100
I haven’t been shy about expressing my distaste for the hippie artistic cannon. Thanksgiving is where I expect a little substance is needed to enjoy it, not entire movies. Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider are prototypical examples: the storyline’s a mess; the themes are simply for the sake of preaching to the choir; there is no evolution of purpose. It’s as if everyone was sky high during the production.
Well, most likely they were.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test explores the beginning of the psychedelic counter culture, and it centers on an unlikely person: Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I say unlikely because I had no idea. Unbeknownst to me, Kesey used his LSD trips as inspiration to write the perspective of the book from the Chief instead of the main protagonist. Larry McMurtry, who writes westerns for God’s sake, is even present as a tertiary character. Who knew!
Reading about Hippies is way more interesting than their artistic expression. While the book sometimes goes too far in trying to imitate the subject matter (“let’s make the narration FEEL like an acid trip” gets tedious), it was a riveting, in-the-trenches insight into a world I understand so much better now. Well, as much as I can understand it.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #89 – The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe (1968)”
A Superb Non-Fiction Novel.
The mostly true account with occasional machination is high-level storytelling.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #51/100
I tend to enjoy works that have multiple different angles. It allows you to soak up a little bit of everything with a discursive interest, never being bored. When the whole is made greater by the intertwining, distinct parts is when things become a work of art; In Cold Blood is that kind of book.
Capote is a masterful story teller when describing the abstract human psyche. He finds such concrete and relatable descriptions that the ineffable becomes intelligible. The setting of Kansas, with its isolation and bucolic life, bursts forth from the pages. The horrendous crime captivates even though we know the killers and the outcome. A switching narrative, between victims, perpetrators, and community, creates a complete 360 of immersion.
This is as close as you can get to a lived experience from a book.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #51 – In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1966)”
The perspective of a slave turned influential spokesman is ripe with thoughts on identity, labor, and education.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #99/100
I read this book during a slight downslope of life. I am finishing up my final clinical rotation with my hand in several side projects wondering — what’s the point? This bit of nihilism is due to the amount of sacrifice with the reward being only a cloudy possibility in the future. I want to create a better way to do clinical education for physical therapy, but thoughts of self-doubt have crept in.
Enter Booker Taliaferro Washington, a name he gave himself upon freedom.
Reading his journey begin with absolutely nothing but his inexorable desire to do better, it reignited some old-fashion values in me: the joy of work should not be in the reward, but in knowing that you did it to the best of your ability. The dignity of labor is an intrinsic sense of satisfaction. This, and other lessons, I heeded during this opaque time in my life.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book – #99 – Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington (1901)”
Too Much To Sift Through.
Even for a philhellene, the copious list of places long gone became too much.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #36/100
During the last summer off for the rest of my working life, I consumed about thirty books, more than half of which were about Ancient Greece. Just like previous descendants of western civilization, I became enamored with the mythology, culture, and philosophy from the peninsula that changed everything. These books were mostly interpretations and commentaries, so reading the actual source code was quite the change.
Within the first chapter, it is clear to see why this book is so important. Thucydides leads with several big ideas, the most important one being that history can actually be accounted for and objective. The rest of the book is his personal attempt at doing this. I don’t care about whether he actually succeeded — it’s more his aim and scope that I applaud.
The big ideas stop early, however, and the book is mostly a long list of people and places long gone from existence. Running to Wikipedia every other sentence soon grows tiresome. Past his bold opening proclamations, historical accounts based on his work narrate a much more focused and interesting story.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #36 – The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (431BCE)”
Adam Smith is to economics as Isaac Newton is to physics, but there are problems.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #98/100
I made a deal with myself: when reading a book, it was okay not to finish and acceptable to skip less intriguing parts. I’m a drill master with much of my life as I timely complete things, seeing them through till the end. I was worried if I would feel satisfied taking this nonchalant attitude towards reading and whether it would effect what I could imbibe from it.
Consider me converted! Maybe I should be more shiftless with the other parts of my life (except my social life — I got that down).
The Wealth of Nations is one of those seminal books that as you read it, images of others pop into your head: founding fathers, economic professors, entrepreneurs. This book is endless, edifying prose explaining the basics of capitalism. It lays out the foundations for many principles that, just through observation, Adam Smith was able to uncover. With that said, he was someone writing in 1700s; I think he got a few things “wrong,” and he occasionally speaks out of both sides of his mouth.
And yes, you can skip many of the 700 pages and still be alright.
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #98 – The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1776)”
Bone Crushingly Rational.
Machiavelli does not care about the virtue of actions but the rewards from outcomes.
The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #4/100
This short treatise on bad acts within the royal court reads more like the rules of engagement from a political intrigue novel. Backstabbing is permissible. Cruelties okay if justified. Fear is a better tool than love.
The measuring stick for Machiavelli is whether it works. It promotes egalitarian rights only in so far that it helps The Prince stay in power, not whether it is the “right” thing to do. What it leaves out is more deafening than what’s available: no talk about virtues, ethics, or morals. While it is never so clearly stated, the colloquial summary of this book is correct… “The Ends Justify The Means.”
Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #4 – The Prince, Nicollo Machiavelli (1532)”