Every year I'm asked to recommend my favorite books from the past year. I love to read and go through a crazy amount of literature in twelve months. I've tried to go back and catalog my reading list from 2014 for you on Pinterest. Here are my favorites from that list.
1. The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle and the struggle for the soul of western civilization by Arthur Herman.
This was -- without a close second -- my favorite book of the year. This intense mashup of philosophy and history was both informative and entertaining, an epic sweep through western culture though the prism of two of its greatest thinkers. From Ancient Rome to DaVinci, Guternberg to the American Revolution, this book was simply amazing. The last chapter brought tear to my eyes. You can't go wrong giving (or receiving) this amazing book.
Check your dogma at the door. John Adams goes through the science of risk compensation and shows how seat belt laws don't actually save lives, how our beliefs on risk are shaped by our view of society and how the greatest thing we can do to actually improve safety is to start acknowledging human psychology. Very powerful.
My only lament with this book is that it seems to have suffered from a flash itself. Where are the policy changes? Where is the outrage? We seem to be socially accepting of the manipulations of the market, the outright frauds and swindles being committed. Maybe we don't accept but are simply powerless.
Either way, Flash Boys should give you a righteous (and justified) amount of outrage at how the new rentier class has positioned itself to siphon wealth from the system with essentially no risk. Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors and this one will not disappoint.
As much as I enjoy reading, I feel like I've not read nearly enough classics. This was one of those glaring omissions that I sought to remedy in 2014. If you've not read Grapes of Wrath, there is a reason why it is a classic. Incredibly powerful and, of course, well-written, it resonates today and gave me additional insights into how the Great Depression shaped America thinking and the policy responses we still live with today.
And really, John Steinbeck does the most artistically beautiful things with the English language. I could read a menu written by him and be enthralled.
With this year being the 100 year anniversary of the Great War, I found myself delving into the complexity of how the war began and progressed. This was the most helpful book of the bunch that I read because it thoroughly explained how our interconnected systems of royalty, alliances and military strategy came together to create a really fragile situation.
One so fragile that it only took a little event like the assassination of a minor royal figure in a backwater country to bring the greatest armies in the world to blows.
If I could recommend one more related book, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce is one I read years ago that I plan to dig out again this season. It touchingly shows how, when we sweep away the vested interests, the politics and the doctrine, we're all just people who want to live in peace and harmony. Very powerful.
You can get a copy of my entire list on Pinterest. If you have a good book that you got through this past year, use the comments section to let others know. There are few things better, in my opinion, than sharing a good book.
Of course, if you are looking for a good book for that person you are trying to introduce to Strong Towns thinking, you can get Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1) in paperback or digital as well as A World Class Transportation System on the Kindle platform. Pre-order for my next book, Moneyhall, will begin sometime early in 2015.