I read all the time and I’m always at the library or browsing the thrift store for something new. These are the books I’ve read and enjoyed. This page contains affiliate links to Amazon. If you click on the book cover, it will take you to Amazon, and if you order, I make a fraction of a cent!
Every now and then you come across a book that blows your mind. This is that book. Ever wonder why society as a whole seems to be getting more polarized, less empathetic, more ideologically entrenched and generally more horrible? This book explains how social media contributes to that trend. It also goes into detail about how algorithms are used to manipulate social media users, to influence not only their buying choices but also their world view. If you are interested in cultural trends or you feel dismayed by the nastiness of people on social media, do yourself a favor and read this book. Facebook, Instagram and their ilk are far more sinister in their aims than I ever imagined. This isn’t some weirdo conspiracy theorist, either. The author is firmly entrenched in the tech industry and is dismayed at what he and his peers have built. He says the only way to force the creation of better networking is to refuse to participate in what presently exists. I got off Instagram long ago, but after reading this I deleted my Facebook account as well. It was that good.
H is for Hawk, December 2018
This was a good one. I knew nothing about falconry going into this book, but now I’m totally enthralled by birds of prey and would love to go watch a falconer work. I’m interested in horse training and there were a lot of parallels between the two, mostly in the way that the trainer uses the animal to fill emotional voids in his or her own life. The book also delves into grief. The author decided to train a goshawk shortly after her father died. A goshawk is known to be more difficult to train than a falcon, a bit like a mule compared to a horse. If you’re interested in animal training, birds of prey, or the way humans use animals to sort out problems in their lives, you’ll enjoy this.
Spying on Whales November 2018
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. It’s about a scientist who runs some program at the Smithsonian and he gets to travel the world studying whale fossils. Cool, right? If you’re into evolutionary biology, this one’s for you. I do not have a science background, but even someone like me who usually reads history could get into the science in this book. I learned a lot about whales of course, but also about the evolution of very large animals- their caloric needs, migration patterns, and energy efficiency- and how scientists study animal evolution. I highly recommend this one!
The Last Apocalypse October 2018
My mom mailed me a bunch of my books from college and this was among them. It’s about Europe in the year 999 A.D. and thereabouts, the turn of the last century. The Vikings were ravishing newly Christianized Europe, Spain was being plundered by the Moors, and the Magyars were invading from the East. To Christians reading Revelation at the time, these events would surely have seemed apocalyptic. If you’re interested in European history, or the history of Christianity, this is worth your time. My favorite part is the first section on the Vikings. If you’re into Vikings, you’ll definitely want to check this out.
The American West October 2018
You’ve probably heard of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” the story of the conquest of Native Americans by the U.S. government in the Old West. This book is by the same author. While “Bury My Heart” tells a sweeping story of massacre and heartbreak, “The American West” is more about the nuts and bolts of everyday life in the West and how economic pursuits and geographic realities shaped the conquest of the land. It’s a story of how thing unfolded, how the west came to be won, if you will. I’ve read a lot about the West, mostly about Native Americans, and this book gave me a much fuller view of the time. If you’re into the West, check this one out.
West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express
This one gets a B from me, but only because I was hoping it would be more about the ponies and less about the owners of the Pony Express. If you’re a student of the American West, you’ll want to read it. The Pony Express sprang, like most things, from necessity. I hadn’t realized just how brief the famous letter carrying service was in existence. You learn something new every day, and I learned a few things from this book.
All the Pretty Horses July 2018
Everyone keeps telling me that if I’m interested in the American West, then I need to read Cormac McCarthy or I’m missing out. I rarely read fiction so I avoided reading him for a while. Since I was heading out to Colorado for vacation, I figured I would take a stab at it since it might be more meaningful to read it while gazing at a western landscape. I chose this one over “Blood Meridian” because “Blood Meridian” is supposed to be horrifically violent. It takes a lot for me to finish a novel. Usually they just don’t hold my attention. This one did. I’m not a convert to fiction by any means, but McCarthy does have a certain style that is refreshingly vivid and unexpected. He takes some liberties with punctuation, but I found that it added to the stark nature of the book rather than feeling like a distraction. “All the Pretty Horses” could be described as a coming of age story, but it is also a journey into a time and place that most of us romanticize- a sprawling ranch in Mexico complete with wild horses and pretty senoritas. It avoids coming off as a caricature of cowboys and outlaws, which is a real accomplishment. The best part of the book is hands down the monologue by the grandmother. I measure a book by how much it sticks with me after I’m done reading, and this was one I continued to think about after I finished it. Heck, I may even give “Blood Meridian” a try.
The Nature Fix July 2018
Florence Williams is the author of this book that is in the same vein as “Last Child in the Woods,” basically a call for people to go outside. Williams’ approach draws on brain science and discusses what exactly happens in our brains when we go outside. Despite being heavy on scientific research, the book is written in an easy, conversational style that makes it a good read. The most interesting part for me was a discussion of why we are drawn to Jackson Pollack’s paintings. I’ll give you a hint- fractals!
Sailing Alone Around the World July 2018
This book by Captain Joshua Slocum is considered a must read in the sailing community, particularly for those interested in circumnavigating or sailing solo. Originally published in 1899, don’t let the book’s age fool you. It’s an adventure tale worthy of modern attention. This book follows my favorite formula for an adventure story- one person alone in the wildnerness, with only his wits and resourcefulness to get him through. It isn’t a dry recap of events, however. You’ll feel like you’re right there with Capt. Slocum on the Spray, and by the end you’ll feel like circumnavigating the globe on a sailboat you rebuilt by hand is totally within the realm of possibility. He just makes the whole thing sound so fun! This one gets 5 stars from me.
Godforsaken Sea June 2018
I have to be honest; I had to force myself to finish this one. Godforsaken Sea is about one of the elite sailing races, the Vendee Globe, in which the participants leave France and sail south toward Antarctica, all the way around Antarctica, and then back north to France. These are the most elite athletes in the sailing world, with super modern sailboats that are designed to be lightweight and fast. They don’t look anything like traditional sailboats. The Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, is one of the most dangerous and volatile seas on Earth, as well as the most remote. If you get into trouble down there, chances are no one will be able to rescue you in time. While the adventure part of the book was appealing to me, I wasn’t as interested in the technical aspects of building these types of boats. I’m more into some guy refurbishing a sailboat and taking it around the world than some elite athlete raising a million dollars to build something that doesn’t even look like a sailboat. That’s just me. If you’re a sailing enthusiast or you’re interested in boat building, you would probably love this one!
Wide Open World June 2018
This book is about a family that spends a year volunteering around the world. They begin in Costa Rica, stop in New Zealand, and finish up in India. It’s written in an easy, conversational style and has tips at the end on planning your own trip, if you’re so inclined. I’m one of those people that thinks volunteering overseas is often better for the volunteer than for the one being “helped,” and this book is no different. I don’t think this family accomplished anything earth-shattering at any of the charities they visited, but they were quite transformed at the end, especially the teenagers. If you’ve ever done mission or NGO work in a foreign country, this story will resonate with you. I found the end a bit disappointing, but I won’t ruin it for you.
Pearl in the Storm June 2018
I absolutely LOVED this book. I typically enjoy adventure books, but this one went beyond the usual descriptions of hardship and challenges in the wild and delved into the emotional aspect of the author’s decision to become a solo adventurer. Tori Murden McClure was the first woman to row alone across the Atlantic. If you know anything about sailing, you know that the North Atlantic can be brutal, and it did not disappoint during Tori’s voyage. Even more captivating than the descriptions of 50 foot waves and hurricane winds was the way she describes her life story. She weaves history and literature seamlessly into the narrative of both her life and her voyage. If you’re into sailing or adventuring, check this one out!
Of Orcas and Men May 2018
Ever since I heard about the woman being killed by the whale at Sea World, I’ve been obsessed with orcas, especially the story of how they came to be in captivity. I love the documentary “Blackfish,” but this book went into even more depth about orcas in captivity and in the wild. The author lives in Seattle and regularly comes across orcas while kayaking in the waters that border the Washington coast, and he includes his own pictures of orcas up close in the wild. It’s an easy, engaging read, but chock full of information about the social and emotional lives of orcas as well as the latest research about their brains and how we measure their intelligence. The parts about their use of echolocation and the differences between human and cetacean brains are fascinating.
No Shortcuts to the Top May 2018
I’m not a climber, but I am fascinated by Himalayan and high altitude climbing. The things that happen to your brain and body when you’re up in the clouds are morbidly fascinating for someone like me who is afraid to climb a ladder. This is one of the best climbing books I’ve ever read. Ed Viesturs writes in a conversational style that makes you feel like you’re sitting down over a cup of coffee and hearing the low down on his latest adventure. I hike, kayak, and ride horses, but I’m not an adventurer in the same realm as Ed Viesturs. Even still, I find his writing inspires me to get out there and have a mini adventure of my own.
This is another book about Himalayan climbing, specifically the story of the Sherpas who are the unsung heroes of the most dangerous mountain expeditions in history. If I ask you who was the first person to climb Everest, you’re probably going to say Edmund Hillary. You are partially correct. He was accompanied by one other man, Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa without whom Hillary never would have made it to the top. This book tells the story of the Sherpas using interviews with the Sherpas themselves, now elderly, who helped Europeans bag the highest peaks and write their names in the history books. Some of the hardships they endured are nearly unbelievable. You wonder how any of them made it off those mountains alive. If you’re interested in climbing or the Himalayan region, this is a great read.
Into Thin Air April 2018
This is yet another book about Himalayan climbing; can you tell I’m on a kick? Jon Krakauer tells the story of one of the most deadly disasters on Everest in the spring on 1996. He was there doing a story for Outside Magazine and ended up being witness to the deaths of several of his teammates. This book was made into a movie, but if you want the whole story, including what it requires logistically to climb the highest mountain in the world, then read the book.
North to the Night (I read this one last summer.)
I’ve been on an arctic kick lately, thanks largely to books like this. If you think of the arctic as an empty wasteland of ice, think again. This book tells the story of a man who intentionally sailed to the arctic and let his boat freeze into the ice for the winter. The sailboat, frozen solid in thick ice, served as his home base while he explored the frozen tundra. It was dark nearly all the time and colder than I can imagine, but he survived. A fascinating read if you’re into wild places and the animals that survive in the most inhospitable places on earth.