Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #51 – In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1966)

A Superb Non-Fiction Novel.

The mostly true account with occasional machination is high-level storytelling. 

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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #51/100
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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.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book – #99 – Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington (1901)

Absolutely Fascinating.

The perspective of a slave turned influential spokesman is ripe with thoughts on identity, labor, and education. 
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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #99/100
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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.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #36 – The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (431BCE)

Too Much To Sift Through.

Even for a philhellene, the copious list of places long gone became too much. 
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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #36/100
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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.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #98 – The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1776)

Capitalism 101.

Adam Smith is to economics as Isaac Newton is to physics, but there are problems.

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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #98/100
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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.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #4 – The Prince, Nicollo Machiavelli (1532)

Bone Crushingly Rational.

Machiavelli does not care about the virtue of actions but the rewards from outcomes. 
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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #4/100
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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.”

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Top 100 Novel: A Passage to India, E.M. Forester (1924)

The Logical vs. the Abstract.

The cultures and characters are stereotypical, but the false dichotomy does allow for things to be explored. 

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Click here for TIME Magazine’s list. 
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Funny how time affects views. Originally, people didn’t like this book because it showcased inappropriate relationships between conquerer and colonized. Forester made India too knowable and too relatable. Now, those “relatable” details are viewed with scorn as every -ism gets piled on this book: sexism, racism, imperialism. Somehow the firebrand that was disliked for showing the humanity of India is now denigrated because he didn’t show the humanity of India. You just can’t win.

Yes, the book has the air of a western, ego-centric flair from a writer in imperialistic 1920s. There is a silly division of labor: the British are always logical to a fault while the Indians are willy-nilly mystical. However, there is some insight to how this view still lives with us today, and how as a westerner myself I yearn for the mystical viewpoint Forster puts in the mouth of his Indian characters.

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Top 100 Novel Review: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

High School Summer Reading Complete

Millions are coerced to read Fitzgerald’s novel to graduate. Thankfully, it’s a decent and precise book. Gatsby.jpg

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I might have set myself up for failure.

I read and watched a total of six things over Fall Break: The Deer Hunter, Pulp Fiction, Network, To Kill a Mockingbird, I Cladius, and The Great Gatsby. The problem is Fall Break was 5 months ago (!), and this is the only outstanding item. Normally, I leave little notes to myself so if there is a gap in time I can pick up what I was thinking. Not so here. If the measure of a book is its lasting impact, I guess I will soon find out the power of “The Great Gatsby.”

So what do I remember most? That Fitzgerald was struggling to figure out how to live a good life in a world of changing social norms.

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