It's been a long time since I've shared book recommendations, but I've been reading a lot and have stumbled upon some great books recently. I normally read non-fiction, but I've been integrating some fiction as well. I used to think of it as a less worthy use of time, but I've since read that reading fiction increases empathy (something I'm bad at), and I think/hope that it will improve my own writing. These are all books that I rated five stars.
After reading a few short fun books in a row, I thought that I'd switch to something more difficult and less enjoyable. Sebastian had recommended Musashi to me, and given the book's 900 page length, I figured it would be a tough one to get through. I was wrong-- Musashi was actually one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. Meal times are the only times during which I'm allowed to visit sites like Reddit, but Musashi was so good that I read it during every solo meal time until I finished it.
Musashi is a historical fiction based around the life of Miyamoto Musashi. Many details, like the names of his opponents and his tactics during duels are historically accurate. Others are period accurate, but didn't necessarily happen. The result is that you get a really fascinating story, learn quite a bit about Japan in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and you also learn a lot about Musashi's philosophy.
The entire book is about Musashi walking the path to excellence, making it extremely motivating and practical. You probably won't be getting into any sword battles soon, but the underlying principles that Musashi follows are very applicable to real life. In that way, the book reminded me a lot of Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. You probably won't become an architect, but you can still learn from the path that Roark follows.
This is probably the best fiction book I've ever read-- highly recommended.
A Single Shard (amazon)
I went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco a few months ago. I was so underwhelmed that I told myself, "Remember how bad this was so that you never come back here again". After reading a Single Shard, I'm tempted to go back just to see their display of Goryeo Dynasty celadon pottery. I also spent some time on ebay trying to find an ancient celadon tea bowl, but talked myself out of that one.
A Single Shard is about a kid who learns how to become a potter. That sounds like the most boring book ever, but it was actually fascinating. The story is fun, moves along quickly, and really makes you interested in celadon pottery, a feat that I may have considered impossible before. Like Musashi, the book is period accurate, so you get a nice little snapshot of Korea during it's peak in quality ceramic production.
I'm having a tough time making this book sound awesome, because pottery just doesn't sound exciting, but it was a great fast read. This book was recommended to me by Nick Grey.
City of Thieves (amazon)
I didn't realize until this sentence that every single book I'm recommending today is historical fiction. This one, recommended to my by Leo, takes place in Russia during World War 2, and is the story of two very different people being forced to go on an adventure together. The story is great, and the writing is some of the best I've come across. The author's ability to concisely paint a scene with just the right words is really amazing-- this isn't something I'd normally even notice in a book, but David Benioff is so good that I couldn't help but notice.
The story is so good that I don't want to give anything else away. This book goes really fast and is a great example of humble mastery of the English language.
Crime and Punishment (amazon - free)
Like Musashi, I started reading Crime and Punishment because I felt like I was tackling books that were too easy. And, like Musashi, I expected it to be difficult and tough to get through. It was a bit more difficult to read than Musashi, but it was almost as enjoyable.
Besides being an entertaining story, Dostoevsky does an amazing job of capturing internal monologue, decision making, and moral ambiguity. The characters are complex, but feel so realistic that you relate even to the ones you'd rather not relate to.
As a side benefit, you can feel like a scholar when you finish the book, because Dostoevsky is one of the great Russian writers.
Photo is one of the few things I did like at the Asian Art Museum.
Added all recommendations to my Amazon wishlist (damn, there are 785 books on that list already, maybe it's time to start reading..).
You can check out The Egyptian by Mika by Mika Waltari. It's an interesting storyline and gives you insight to life in ancient Egypt.
It also made me think a lot about the impermanence and suffering in life, but as an ex Buddhist, I probably tend to think about these things more than an average person, so I'm not sure if the book has the same effect on other people.
If you would like to complete your readings about Musashi, I recommend Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings by Kenji Tokitsu
Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue is like the manga version of the acclaimed novel, great graphics and storytelling.
Musashi is by far one of my favorite books out there. It took me a long time to pick up the scantily bound beast (it really should be illegal to make paperback versions of 500+ page books), but once I did get started I couldn't stop. One of the characters' stories (Akemi) was the inspiration for what is probably the best song I've ever written.
It's been a couple years since I read it, and I'm tempted to go back and read it again now. I'll have to check out your other recommendations first, though. Thanks for the list!
If you're into "road-to-excellence" kind of book, I think you'll love "Martin Eden" by Jack London. Don't want to spoil too much, so I'll just say it's about a man, who wanted to become a writer, through self-education and hard work. I strongly recommend that book, as it's not only a great insight into life but also a really enjoyable read.
I also started reading Musashi on Sebastian's recommendation and I'm loving it. Such a great book, very recommended.
City of Thieves is one of my top recommendations to just about everyone. Benioff has a collection of short stories that's badass too, called When The Nines Roll Over.
I will second all of these recommendations - but particularly Musashi. For me, it's a longer (and dare I say, better) version of the Alchemist. After reading Musashi, I routinely reassess obstacles and difficult points in my life and my business in light of that book and the Way that Musashi approached life.
If you're in the right time of your life to absorb it, there are few books that will more thoroughly help you to appreciate the journey.
This picture remembers me of a scene in the manda Vagabonding (which is loosely based on Musashi's life) that he is climbing up a mountain.
When he do it (whit a LOT of effort) some clouds clear the sky and he sees that he is in the little mountain (of three) in this moment he recognized that he needs to train a lot more since he is still in a beginner level of mastery.
A friend had Mushashi book for quite some time but I never touched it but the size (I was young and naive) these days I see it everywhere and I really don't have a good reason to have not picked it up yet.
Thanks to my Sony ebook reader I've been reading a lot lately. I've been fortunate to have been recommended great books, so now I'll pass along the favor and recommend them to you.
Gang Leader for a Day
I first heard of Sudhir Venkatesh's work when I read Freakonomics. The gist of it is that he decided to study gangs, so he headed to Chicago's most dangerous projects and wandered through them. The gang members caught him, held him overnight, and rather than killing him, allowed him to tag along for SIX YEARS while he studied them.
I've spend stupid amounts of money on books in my life. When I wanted to learn about a topic, I'd go to Amazon and order the top 5 to 10 books in its category. If I saw a book referenced in a few papers on science I read, I'd add it to the cart, and buy it the next time I ordered a stack of 10-20 books.
I figured it was better to have books lying around unread than to miss the opportunity to read on a topic when I was inspired. Books piled up on history, governance, economics, investing, finance, marketing, business, psychology, biographies, time management, habits, willpower, discipline, creativity, writing, selling, publishing, technology, innovation, philosophy, and, umm, lots more. Fiction too, though I didn't read fiction for a while because I thought it was a waste of time. (I was mistaken on that point.)
At least half of those books never got opened up. But it didn't matter. Books were so ridiculously underpriced compared to what they're potentially worth, that I thought it was worth it to have a copies on hand that I could break open to look something up, or check a controversial study's results. I had books on health and nutrition and biochemistry, and man, those were a nightmare contradicting each other.
I was never good at predicting what I'd want to read, so I'd keep a mix of things onhand in case I got inspired, or hit a roadblock and needed to learn more.
There were auxilliary benefits too. I must have bought Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" at least a dozen times, because I kept giving a copy away to people who hadn't read it. Everyone who runs a small business should read that book.