Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2007: Catching Up!

Since I haven't entered in a while, and to put something up that at least I enjoyed reading (a taste of re-reading the originals!), I offer the following "Best of 2007" reading list for your delectation:

Best Books 2007

The following are favorites from 2007, some read, some listened to on CDs or tapes. I cite them pretty much in the order that I completed them:

1. John Robbins, Healthy @ 100. A good way to start a year. This Baskin-Robbins heir saw all that ice cream killing off his kin young. He writes of those cultures that have extraordinarily long-lived and healthy old folks. Fun & enlightening reading.
2. Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern & Postmodern World. This isn’t the book to start Ken Wilber with, but if you want the most comprehensive perspectives on religion, science, and “everything”, this is your guy. Most amazingly, he’s accessible, having graduated from high school in Lincoln, NE, and done his ABD in biochemistry at Nebraska. If you’re interested, his A Theory of Everything is the place to start.
3. Thomas Cahill, The Mysterious Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. I listened to this one and found it fascinating. The Middle Ages were a wild and wooly time, but he makes excellent sense of it. You might like his other books in this series, including How the Irish Saved Civilization (and they did!).
4. William Irwin Thompson. Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. This former MIT prof left the academy to found the Lindisfarne Association of scholars and thinkers who delve into an understanding of the world that is a true counter-culture to the dominant paradigm. Okay, this guy is far out and fun. He looks at everything from prokaryotes to Finnegan’s Wake to understand the world past and future. His insights come by lightening flashes. So good (and rich) that I’m currently re-reading it.
5. Georg Feuerstein, The Lost Teachings of Yoga. I listened to this one. Having gotten into Hatha Yoga over the last year, I decided to consult this guy, who is certainly one of the foremost experts in the West on the topic. Very solid and informative.
6. Jacob Needleman, Why Can’t We Be Good? Needleman is a favorite of mine, a philosopher who writes for the general public and who values the esoteric and other traditions. The title tells a lot. Needleman doesn’t give pat answers, but he explores and invites the reader to explore with him. And, most importantly, he asks important questions.
7. Stephen Cope, Yoga and Quest for the True Self. I picked this up off the library shelf in my “learn more about yoga” quest. It turned out to be a gem. Cope tells the story of his going to a U.S. yoga center on a retreat from his psychotherapy practice. Thus, he tells a personal story, his own and those of others that he knows, as well as providing insight into yoga, including the fallibilities of yogis. Very entertaining and enlightening.
8. Stephen Cope, The Wisdom of Yoga. More of the same. Insights into yoga and the yoga tradition as told through the lives of Cope and his friends. Recommended.
9. T. Colin Campbell, The China Study. This fits with Robbins (no. 1), who cited it often. In short, China did a study on cancer rates and diet back in the seventies. Guess what? The peasants on a primarily vegetarian diet had the lowest cancer rates! Campbell is a Cornell prof who got involved and had many preconceptions turned around. Very informative.
10. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemna. Pollan writes excellent prose and tells informative stories. His account of Iowa and corn (and beef) are really eye opening. As food becomes more and more of an issue, his writings will serve as an important and informative guide. I hope to hear him speak here in Iowa City tomorrow discussing his new book, An Eater’s Manifesto.
11. Robert Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of Modernism. James is a great subject, Richardson a great biographer. I can’t say enough good about this study.
12. Jacques Barzun, A Stroll with William James. This is a re-read prompted by Richardson’s book. If it’s possible, it’s even better than Richardson’s book because it’s Barzun, a master stylist and historian and critic and essayist, and—as of last October—centenarian! A delightful read. A person ought to get a semester of college credit just for reading such informative, delightful, and insightful book. (Professionally, Barzun was for decades a history prof at Columbia.)
13. John Patrick Diggins, The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism & the Crisis of Knowledge & Authority. Heavy, but Diggins is a great American historian, especially of ideas, and pragmatism and its limitations are crucial to understanding twentieth century American thought. Diggins always proves a worthwhile and provocative read.
14. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness. A very fine writer is born! A native of Lebanon with a French education and American business experience, this guy looks at reality through the eyes of a skeptic who understands probability. Very good, but see the next entry.
15. Nassim Nicholas Tabeb, The Black Swan. Even better than Fooled! I think that his editors and publishers gave him more free rein with this book, so that his wit, learning, and insight shine through even more brightly. Outstanding!
16. John LeCarre. Absolute Friends. A listening project. Not the best of LeCarre, but still, a master.
17. James Surowiski, The Wisdom of Crowds. Not father, but crowds (can) know best. A fascinating consideration of how large and diverse groups can prove very effective in gauging knowledge, and how some groups stink at it. Very good popular social science, a field that provides a growing number of very good books (see Taleb, Gladwell, Goleman, et al.)
18. John Lukacs, George Kennan: A Study in Character. Like Barzun on James, having Lukacs write on his friend Kennan (who died not long ago after having reached the century mark) provides a special treat. Kennan was a great American: diplomat, historian, sage. Lukacs is an extraordinary historian. Like Barzun and Tocqueville, those foreign-born observers and historians of American culture and history often have the keenest insight. Super.
19. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles. A listening treat. Need more be said?
20. Alan Furst, The Polish Officer. I’m a Furst fan, who writes novels of intrigue set in pre-WWII Europe and the early stages of war (an especially intriguing time for me). Furst’s prose is sparse and unsparing.
21. Ian McEwan, Saturday. McEwan enjoys current notoriety for the film version of his novel Atonement (the best film I’ve seen in a while, I must say). I tried Saturday on its reputation, and I must say that I found it excellent and intriguing. At least based on this book, I’d say that this author enjoys his reputation. (Anne, however, tried something else and really didn’t like it, so take this author with a grain of salt. Still, this book, I heartily recommend.)
22. Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Smith is another author whom I tried on reputation, and again I was not disappointed. Listening to this reading (especially good by a South African native) was a delight. Smith’s main character is a delightful character, charming and fallible. I’ll listen to more of them, for sure.
23. Hadot, Pierre, Philosophy as a Way of Life. A re-read, perhaps it’s on a prior list, but it’s worth it. In sum, those Greeks and Romans didn’t do philosophy as mind games, but as serious thinking about life. This tradition withered as the Church took over morals and philosophy became more speculative. However, Hadot brings it all back to light, and it’s beautiful.

24. Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. This book proved fun and interesting, full of tales of persons leveraging significant change. It’s a book Abba will have to read because it deals with public health issues (how to increase condom use in Thailand) and how to keep convict out of the joint (an amazingly effective program in San Francisco). A thought-provoking and challenging book.

25. Waitzkin, Josh, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence. Okay, first, if you haven’t seen the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher, go rent it and watch it. It’s delightful. But what does it have to do with this book? It’s about the author of this book, who was a chess prodigy. He tells his story, how the movie affected him, and how he got into “push hands” Tai Chi. Along the way, this Columbia graduate (okay, I’m very partial to them) reflects on learning and overcoming obstacles, such as beating Russians at chess and Taiwanese at push-hands competitions in Taiwan! Entertaining and enlightening.

26. Ken Wilber, Integral Vision. Another gateway into Wilber, it’s his most recent, brief, but effective in outlining how you can take his intellectual edifice and use it to make yourself and the world better. Lots of pics and diagrams.

27. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink. The author of The Tipping Point does it again! Fascinating stuff—academic research mixed with everyday examples on how our brains works faster than our thoughts. We have, in essence, two brains, one fast and one more considered. Both have great value, and both have weaknesses. Gladwell looks at it all in a very intriguing listening experience.

28. Goleman, Daniel, Social Intelligence. The guy who “invented” emotional intelligence moves into looking at social relationships, effectively moving beyond the mere personal effective of emotions to the wider context of social relationships. Again, academic research morphed into very enjoyable listening (or reading). Fascinating.

29. Robert C. Solomon, Spirituality for the Skeptic: The Thoughtful Love of Life. I re-read this book after I learned that Solomon had died unexpectedly in early 2007, a great loss. Solomon is a best known for his work on emotions, Nietzsche, existentialism, and business ethics, but he this book represents some of his most personal insights. A great loss. I can especially recommend his Teaching Company lectures, and you can find his brief appearance in Waking Life (thank you, Anne) on-line in memorials, and this gives a sense of him.

Okay, I cut down my list! Sorry! Many books started and not finished, so I didn’t count any of them, so look for more in 2008! I’m always interested in your recommendations and comments.
Happy reading and listening!