Seven Favorite Books of 2015

CK readers know I advocate a healthy diet--of both food and information. Which is why I'm a fanatic of quality books that shape and direct your thinking in helpful ways. And now that we live more or less in an era of intellectual candy, I'm finding long-form book-length reading is all the more important for my cognitive growth and personal development.

Sure, everyone likes candy. Everyone knows it's okay in moderation. But if your entire diet consists of candy and little else, you'll soon find yourself in cognitive and dietary trouble. With that in mind, here are the very best books I read in the past year.

PS: Readers, feel free to share in the comments the best and most useful books you’ve been reading!

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography by Errol Morris

The most striking book I read all year. On one level it's an exploration of photography, of what photos do and don't tell us about reality. On another level, this book is about much more: It's an exploration of us. How we see things, and how the presumptions, values and socio-cultural programming we bring to an image dictate the "truth" we see. Initially, I mistakenly presumed this book was for photography geeks only. It's not. It's a book that teaches us how to better understand reality. Highly, highly recommended.

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

It's difficult to describe what exactly this book is, so I'll start by stealing the words of Washington Post reviewer Phyllis Theroux, who called it "not just a book but a spontaneous act of generosity." A book about personal development, about dedicating ourselves to reality, and about rooting out fear, ego-attachment and other impediments to our psychological growth. I found The Road Less Traveled to be astoundingly useful. It really was a gift.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

A foundational resource on advertising and media manipulation, and a book that entertains while it makes you into a more sophisticated and empowered consumer. Intriguingly, there were surprising parallels between this book and Erroll Morris's Believing Is Seeing: reading both helps expose the silent reality behind both our store shelves and our media. See also a popular Casual Kitchen post inspired by Cialdini's book: That Man Moved the Sanka!

The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek

This is one of those books everyone cites but no one reads--a particular shame in this case, because The Road to Serfdom is entirely accessible to readers, even those not remotely trained in economics. Hayek, one of the 20th Century's greatest economists, saw up close what happens when the state takes over too much control of the economy: it leads first to coercion and later, tyranny. If you want to understand why economic freedom is indispensable to political freedom, this book explains how and why in compelling prose.

The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic by David Shenk

An excellent "biography" of Alzheimers and age-related dementia. Highly useful explanations of how we form short- and long-term memories, how dementia interferes with memory formation, and what to expect over the course of the progression of the disease. On a personal note: My mother is experiencing moderate memory loss, and this is the first of several books I'll be reading to try and better understand her reality. Next on my list is the well-regarded book The 36 Hour Day.

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman

Six brief essays on the essentials of physics taken from Feyman's famous lectures at CalTech, and designed for the non-scientific reader. An interesting book on several levels, not least of which is the intellectual humility of Feynman as he outlines the boundaries of physicists' knowledge about reality. Also worth understanding that even purely scientific domains like physics are subject to the same fashions, whims and peer pressures as heavily politicized domains like climate science or ag science. I sure wish I'd had a professor like Feyman at my university.

Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson and Larry Sloman

First, a friendly warning: If your eyes are too dainty for strong language do not read this book. A hilarious and at times sobering memoir of one the most polarizing figures in sports. Mike Tyson is a savant (some consider him a genius--see this fascinating interview at the New York Public Library for why) with his own idiosyncratic way of looking at the world, and no matter what you might think of him, it's hard not to empathize with a guy trying so hard to figure out his life and purpose. Related: see also Andre Agassi's striking autobiography Open.

Readers, what are YOU reading? What books would you recommend to me and to the other readers here at Casual Kitchen? Share your thoughts below in the comments!

Finally, coming up next week, we'll share 2015's best articles here at Casual Kitchen. Stay tuned!

Read Next: How Do I Find Good Books To Read?

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chacha1 said...

Two outstanding books I have read this year were "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker, and "Cranks, Quarks and the Cosmos" by Jeremy Bernstein (out of print, available used).

Also "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. "The Martian" by Andy Weir. "The Universe and Dr. Einstein" by Lincoln Barnett (1950, and NOT - I am happy to see - out of print). "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle - reading this is almost as good as taking a vacation. "Recollections of a Picture Dealer" by Ambroise Vollard (1867-1939). "Humboldt's Cosmos" by Gerard Helferich. "The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo" by Tom Reiss.

For nontraditional, comic-picaresque fiction, "Axel Hooley's Death Watch List," by Scotty-Miguel Sandoe and "Pianist in a Bordello" by Mike C. Erickson.

Sorry, asking me for book recommendations is dangerous. ;-)

Daniel said...

Haha Chacha, I was HOPING you'd comment on this post! I knew that a comment from you would be the equivalent of three peoples' lists of favorite books. Thank you for the bonus reading ideas!


looloolooweez said...

Oh dear, my to-read list on Goodreads is getting a bit out of hand!

Thinking about some of the best nonfiction I read in 2015 that you & other readers of this blog might also like to read....

Right now I'm reading 100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le, and it is pretty interesting so far. I recently read The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig, and it was fantastic! The Invention of Science by David Wootton was enlightening, if a bit demanding.

Marcia said...

Right now I'm reading Undaunted Courage (a book about Merriweather Lewis). Got it for free from a neighbor.

I read a good book from the library too. The American Way of Eating. The author worked in the food industry in low-wage jobs - the fields of California, Applebees, Walmart. It was pretty fascinating to learn what the jobs were like, how people were treated, and what the chances of escaping were.

I'm also reading the Boxcar Children to my toddler.

I also recently finished "Hit and run - how jon peters and peter guber took sony for a ride in hollywood" (our neighborhood has a "free library" in front of someone's house, where you leave a book and take one. I got this one there.)