Home from another contract at sea and the resulting collection of titles to ensure that I will never earn the nickname “Mr. Goodtimes”:
The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, David Lewis-Williams.
A masterpiece. If you loved the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, this is a must-read. He’s a bit hard on Neanderthals; If you didn’t love Cave of Forgotten Dreams, you might be one.
Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields
I don’t include titles I didn’t finish, and I gave up on this one halfway through the last chapter, but it’s important and well-written enough to mention. It’s just very thorough and academic, so tough to read for me. The biggest concept to digest: Acknowledging the existence of race is racist. See the following two titles and Blink if you don’t think you buy that.
DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America, Bryan Sykes
Didn’t love it nearly as much as The Seven Daughters of Eve, but still a fan. He’s just not a travel writer but tries and fails for a good chunk of the thing. The science is immaculate. Did you know horses evolved in North America, traveled across the Bering Straits, and went extinct in North America only to be brought back millions of years later by people? I didn’t before I read this. That’s NUTS. I love it. And that’s just a side note!
Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth, Chris Stringer.
When I find myself getting upset in traffic, and even more so when I travel cross country, I just find it incredible we’ve made it this far (because people are retarded, in the first case, and because they made it across the country in covered wagons in the latter). I don’t think a person alive would last a week if we were shot back in time 10,000 years. Yet we have what it took. We’re literally MADE of that stuff! He’s easier on the Neanderthals than Lewis-Williams, but still doesn’t show them as much respect as Paul Pettitt (see below).
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road, Willie Nelson.
You’re dead inside if you don’t love Willie.
The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes, Willie Nelson.
…but he clearly forgot he wrote this one when he wrote it again and called it Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell.
I can’t speak highly enough of this author. A master researcher with a gift for writing. He’s able to say things I’ve impotently spouted off about for years, with clarity and eloquence, all backed up with ironclad references and evidence. Stuff like, “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success – the fortune birth dates and the happy accidents of history – with a society that provides opportunities for all.” For years, American Idol had me expressing that thought more along the lines of “It’s the industry SPITTING in the FACE of AMERICAN CULTURE!!”
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell.
“A reasonable assessment of the research to date – with a particular focus on studies conducted in the past decade – is that sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.” That’s a quote he shares from “a massive analysis of every major punishment study” by criminologists Anthony Doob and Cheryl Marie Webster. I don’t see me ever reading that, never mind even hearing about it, so thanks, Malcolm. Now I can just refer people to this book instead of ranting incoherently about MADD and incarcerations for minor weed possession.
The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial, Paul Pettitt.
MONKEYS mourn their dead. They also eat parts of them sometimes. And that’s just chapter 2. Not an easy read, very technical, but well worth the painstakingly detailed evidence on every stunning page.
Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan.
Awesome look inside the mind of The American Bard. Did you know he started singing like that to intentionally get bad reviews? He never, ever wanted to be “the voice of a generation”. Hated it. Also, my opinion that Oh Mercy is his best album is undeniably vindicated. And I feel a lot better about not being more prolific – even the masters struggle.
Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan.
I liked Carl Sagan before I read this book. Now I like him very slightly more than Neil DorkAss Tyson. Not only because Carl is dead, though. I actually started writing comments on some lines, I never do that. Like:
CARL: […]the prevailing scientific view is that the mind is how we perceive what the brain does; i.e., it’s a property of the hundred trillion neural connections in the brain.
KYLE: Who is the perceiver?
These pop scientists need to quit trying to be so damn cute. Hey, I don’t come over to where you work and slap the dick outta your mouth. Just do science, man. I may be a little pompous about my musical opinion, as a professional, but I don’t then turn around and try to convince people that it’s “just my opinion”.
Carl likes to say, “But I could be wrong.”
He’s just being a dick when he says that.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, T.E. Lawrence.
A triumph! …to FINISH. No, seriously, it’s a fucking triumph. As literature as well as personal history. But I did like the movie better. Actually, the author describes the book best himself in Book IX, Chapter XCIX:
“I had one craving all my life – for the power of self-expression in some imaginative form – but had been too diffuse ever to acquire a technique. At last accident, with perverted humor, in casting me as a man of action had given me place in the Arab Revolt, a theme ready and epic to a direct eye and hand, thus offering me an outlet in literature, the technique-less art.”
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell.
Remember Racecraft? Don’t think you’re racist? Check out the Implicit Association Test on race and see if you feel any differently about yourself. That’s just one of the revelations you’ll find in Blink.
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field, Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon.
Never knew a thing about Faraday, thought he was just a minor hero of science nerds. I am more of a science nerd now, and a big Faraday fan. Maxwell…eh. Always been a big fan of the electromagnetic field. The authors do one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of taking you through the whole history, not just of the scientists, but the science. If you think you “suck at math” or regret not going on to college or whatever, just remember the fact that “Faraday’s SELF-EDUCATION was deficient in one significant respect: he had learned NO MATHEMATICS. For him, Ampère’s equations might as well have been written in Egyptian hieroglyphics.” (Ridiculously exaggerated emphasis mine)
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck.
Wow. Just wow. As relevant as ever. Beautiful. Brilliant. Riveting. If that weren’t enough, also one or two colorful anecdotes for practical use in everyday life, like “Swedes up in Dakota – know what they do sometimes? Put pepper on the floor. Gits up the ladies’ skirts and’ makes ’em purty lively – lively as a filly in season. Swedes do that sometimes.”
The Three Voyages of William Berents to the Arctic Regions: (1594, 1595, and 1596) Gerrit de Veer.
You may have see the porn parody, The Three Voyages of Peter North to the Nether Regions. Awesome woodcuts of Dutch sailors trying to fight off a polar bear the size of an F250. Also, colorful anecdotes for practical use in everyday life, like don’t eat polar bear liver. Because your SKIN WILL FALL OFF.
The Depths of the Sea, Sir Charles Wyville Thomson.
Incredible discoveries predating the HMS Challenger in sounding the uncharted deep and discovering that it was not the wasteland we all thought it was, but teeming with life we still hardly know a damn thing about 150 years later. And they didn’t have billion-dollar submersibles. They basically had a bucket on a longass rope and some serious talent at drawing scientific illustrations.