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What I Learned Reading 263+ Books In 5 Years | Part 1 | 2007

Last week I read a post by Julien Smith called “Lessons I Learned Reading Over 200 Books.” It was really fascinating and well done. I was quite jealous.

But then I realized, “wait, I’ve done that.”

Since January of 2007, I’ve read about 263 books. I say “about” because I was only half keeping track until September 2008 – when I converted to a spreadsheet and really started tracking.

I’ve decided to start reviewing (nearly) every book I read here. And that means getting caught up.

Unlike Julien (who put everything in 1 ridiculously long post), I’m going to split mine up into 6 ridiculously long blog posts (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012). I’ll also keep going after this initial push to 2013 and beyond.

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

I’m just going to write a couple sentences for each – and only what I remember about the book, and a short bit of review.

Here we go…

Dark Star Safari

Dark Star Safari

Paul Theroux is one of my top 2 travel writers – and I think this was his best work. I love that he went where it is super-difficult to go (ie, Somalia, The Sudan, etc). Learned a lot about the diversity of East Africa, and the day to day life there.

Merchant of Death

Merchant of Death

Douglas Farah’s Merchant of Death was all about the infamous Viktor Bout, and the arms trade in general. I picked it up after watching Lord of War – the dramatized version of the book starring Nick Cage. It was fascinating. A world that I knew existed, but barely knew anything about. It still goes on.

I Am Legend

I Am Legend

First off – this has nothing to do with the movie (that’s on the cover no less). It’s actually a really interesting take on identity and conformity, rather than survivalist tactics.

Ideas That Changed The World

Ideas That Changed The World

I was a huge fan of DK books as a kid – and this was in that tradition. Not so much a book of literature, but a well-done coffee table book on basic, but world-changing ideas that we take for granted.

Island of The Day Before

Island of The Day Before

I had heard that Umberto Eco was into semiotics – but I had no idea. I felt like I was in a room with a bunch of Romance language speakers where I could pick up a word here and there, but never get the full picture. Yeah. Interesting novel, but the type that takes 2 readings.

Vietnam: A History

Vietnam: A History

One of my favorite historians (if only because he wrote the best history of The Philippines!) wrote an equally fascinating history of the Vietnam War. Vietnam is one of those topics I felt like I should know about because it happened when, like, my Dad was a kid. But also I didn’t know about it because high school history never quite made it to 1954. Good read – forgot 95% of it. But at least I feel like I understand Vietnam.

The Stranger

The Stranger

I’d heard it was the defining work of Existentialism. I don’t know if it’s that – but it is an interesting character study on a guy who just can’t get it together (to put it quite mildly). Makes for a good basic philosophical discussion piece.

The Plague

The Plague

Ditto to The Stranger. Except it studies a more diverse set of characters and their response to a horrific situation.

Blink

Blink

Our subconscious is really powerful, really fast, and we don’t really understand how it affects us. Lives up to the hype and reputation of Gladwell. Great anecdotes.

Influence

Influence

We are wired culturally and genetically to respond a certain way to different gestures and behaviors. The key is to be aware of your dispositions – this book excellent lays out the various ways and means we persuade and are persuaded.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged

Thank you Audible for making audiobooks – otherwise I would have never learned who John Galt was. It was an interesting read – a bit long, but sort of absurd plot end. I know it’s a libertarian shibboleth – and I have a libertarian bent, but the ending was a bit absurd. Anyway, glad I read it though.

Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction

Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction

Wow I love these books. 120 pages, good editing, expert authors. Ever wondered how Anthropologists come up with those dioramas at National Parks? This book will tell you…without boring you to death with a 500 page classroom edition (the only other source of Prehistory).

Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction

Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction

Again – great format, great editing. I did not know that Postmodernism is primarily a literary phenomenon that sort of meandered over into philosophy, then into all sorts of other stuff where its meaning got totally mangled (major irony). This book explained it in a way to sort of understand it.

Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction

Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction

This is the book equivalent of eating Brussel Sprouts. It’s good for the brain – but quite unpleasant – and you can get the same nourishment from an assortment of much better vegetables. This is also one of those books where you feel like you got it after reading it…when you really don’t. I really don’t get it.

Free Will: A Very Short Introduction

Free Will: A Very Short Introduction

Really good primer on a very misunderstood subject. Free will exists – but not in the way you think. Definitions matter.

Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction

Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction

I remember laughing out loud – mainly because this book feels like it knows what you’re thinking about thinking. Consciousness is really, really bizarre – and totally taken for granted. Science has only just begun studying it effectively. This book gives a good framework about how to think about thinking.

Blowback

Blowback

US Foreign Policy messes with people and stuff it doesn’t fully understand…and it comes back to bite the US. It’s especially critical of the CIA. I remember that it had a bit too much polemic. A better read would be Legacy of Ashes.

Think

Think

Sort of an intro to Philosophy book. I like the author, but the content on this one was solid, but boring. Reasoning and argument is harder than you think.

Commanding Heights

Commanding Heights

Really fascinating economic history of the West since World War II. Provided a big picture of International Political Economy in excellent style. I’ll probably re-read this one again.

Great Railway Bazaar

Great Railway Bazaar

Not many travel book stay interesting outside of the time of their writing – Great Railway Bazaar does. Paul Theroux follows the Hippie Trail in 1975 by rail. Beautiful descriptions and real insight into the world at that time. It makes the contemporary followup (Ghost Train To The Eastern Star) even better.

Stumbling On Happiness

Stumbling On Happiness

A book in the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell. Well-written, lots of fun anecdotes, applicable science. Day to day happiness comes from not trying to be happy – instead it’s based on relationships, being part of something bigger, and several other things I can’t remember. Worth a second read.

Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon

Classic colonial fiction of the search for Shangri-La. The book is not nearly as epic as the legend, though.

Fate of Africa

Fate of Africa

Want to learn about the complexity and diversity of Africa? Read this book. Big picture is that Africa has a bright future…if it can get governance right. I feel like I understand the big picture post-colonial problems now.

Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction

Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction

As always – an excellent treatment of a very complicated topic. The Golden Rule meets International Law. Essential to understanding International Affairs, and modern foreign policy.

Art For Dummies

Art For Dummies

Typical Dummies book. Well put together, solid info. Main lesson – look at more art. Lots. Think about it more – even if you don’t know what to think about.

What's It All About

What’s It All About

Reminded me of Jesus pointing out that the Pharisees treat their children well. An engaging, clearly written, and friendly explanation of the meaning and purpose of life from a purely naturalistic perspective.

Holy War

Holy War

The Crusades were a super-complicated and gruesome series of events. Not Armstrong’s best book  – well a good intro to the Crusades and their meaning now.

Rape of Nanking

Rape of Nanking

I had no idea. The Holocaust overshadows everything – even events that would overshadow everything else in history.

Tea History

Tea: The Drink That Changed The World

Tea is really quite amazing – so amazing that it drove colonialism to absurd extremes.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Defend your right to read any book in the world. As Voltaire said “I may disagree or detest what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The World That Trade Created

The World That Trade Created

Our geography, our cities, and our lives are defined by us trading stuff with other people. A bit dense, but wonderful if you are an International Affairs nerd.

Unbearable Lightness of Being

Unbearable Lightness of Being

One of those books that makes you think – about nothing in particular – just in general. I’m curious about Prague now.

Our Dumb World

Our Dumb World

Nothing tells the truth as much as lies and satire. And few do it as well as the Onion.

Tipping Point

Tipping Point

There is a cycle that every idea and product must go through – the difference between fame and forgot is the Tipping Point. Must read as always from Malcolm Gladwell (the maven in me for those who have read it).

Asian Godfathers

Asian Godfathers

Southeast Asian economies are controlled and managed by a very few plutocrats. Amazing stories of very powerful, questionable men – and the countries where they rule. Must read for anyone interested in Southeast Asia or International Affairs.

Booty Capitalism

Booty Capitalism

Those that control the money control the politics – and this is no more true than in The Philippines.

Mao: The Untold Story

Mao: The Untold Story

Wow. Textbook study on power, manipulation, brilliance, and pure unadulterated evil. Innumerable lessons (good and bad) from a man who ruled over more people than anyone else – ever.

Age of American Unreason

Age of American Unreason

America – for various reasons – has become more exceptional in our bad traits in the past 20 years. She make excellent arguments as to why.

Boomsday

Boomsday

Satire tells truth – and this may be applicable sooner than later. A demographic bulge forces the US to come up with unsettling (and comical) ways to deal with unaffordable old people. Like I said – uncomfortably contemporary.

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016Most Recent Full Reviews

By Nate

I'm Nate Shivar - I live in Atlanta and love exploring the city, outdoors, books & Internet. Read about me, my Now page, or my work.

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