The Most Important Books I’ve Read – Non Fiction

The Most Important Books I’ve Read – Non Fiction post image

I’ve got a small feeling of despair today. I just finished a great book. A book that will sit with me for years. I’m sorry that I can’t continue along its journey. I’m sad its over.

I’m a book reader. I got started early and often. Books have always defined my learning and my life. They have dominated my conversations and thoughts.

I’m going to share with you some of the books that changed my life and shaped the way I think.

Some books I read while I was a full time philosophy student and can be difficult to read outside of a group setting with quality mentors and peers. For some books it’s worth the effort to seek out others who are reading or writing about these works.

These books are not on the list because I think they are influential or entertaining. They are listed because I think they have something valuable to say about truth. I’d like to do some other lists in the future, and with any luck you’ll help me add to this one.

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: Evolution, technology, intelligence. Kevin Kelly ties together beautifully many of the themes brought up in the books listed below. It’s an incredible “meta” effort. The topic of this book can best be described as “life.” It’s truly a masterwork. If you don’t read it, you are behind the curve.

Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michael Foucault

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: History, ethics, and psychology. I wish Foucault was more readable. I’m not sure it would have been such a profound experience for me if I didn’t read this book with an incredible group of people and my philosophical mentor. I’m not, however, conflating that experience with the raw quality of this book. Foucault is one of the most important thinkers ever.

Once you get through Discipline and Punish you’ll absolutely need to move on to the indispensable The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure. Reading Foucault can truly be a life changing experience. His broad project is to take parts of the human soul, or the parts of our psychology and world that we consider “natural” and show you their historical contingencies. In other words, Foucault demonstrates to the reader that many of their most sacred truths could have been otherwise. Thrilling stuff.

On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: Moral psychology, religion, history. Much of the best social “science” is done under the banner of Philosophy. Nietzsche’s body of work is still highly relevant and contains some of the most compelling psychological insights ever put to paper. Nietzsche’s historical “geneologies” and inversions are masterful. As a thinker Nietzsche is almost peerless and you’ll likely be wanting to get right in to the world class Beyond Good and Evil.

The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other Essays by Albert Camus

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: Ethics. Camus is one of the few contemporary thinkers to offer up answers or attitudes to the question of “How Should one Live?”

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: Technology, evolution, the very near future. This book is highly readable and virtually guaranteed to blow your gourd! Ray has consistently made predictions about the future that have come true. This isn’t science fiction crap. His biggest prediction is the Singularity– a turning point in history where all the rules change. In this case, when self-conscious and self- replicating technological beings come in to being. He predicts this will happen in our lifetime. One of the consequences he predicts is eternal life. He’s been right about a lot of stuff, and some of the biggest players in technology are throwing bets down on this guy, you should read this book and get an opinion on it asap :)

The Story of B by Daniel Quinn

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: History, ecology, human culture, agricultural revolution, religion. As a young high schooler Quinn’s highly readable work opened me up to an entirely new way of thinking about human history and culture. This is probably the first book to totally blow my mind. For a long time this was the first book I suggested people read if they were interested in Philosophy. I don’t totally agree with all the conclusions he draws but it’s still baller.

The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays by Martin Heidegger

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: History, technology. I would have a hard time reading this on my own, but if you can process this work as well as Being and Time it is highly rewarding stuff. Heidegger deals with concepts so profound its like being taken to a new planet. The best things in life aren’t easy, and understanding what Heidegger is on about is no exception. I don’t accept Heidegger’s ultimate conclusion about technology (he thinks there is opportunity to resist it) but his understanding of it’s impact on our history and soul is unparalleled.

Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex by Robin Baker

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: Sex, relationships, psychology. I’m not in a great position to evaluate the science behind this book, and my guess is that many of the conclusions drawn are contentious. I’ve read less about this topic than the others above so my hope is that by bringing this up I might get pointed in the right direction from a reader of the blog. This is a provocative, titilating, and incredibly graphic book. It’s in the vein of Neil Strauss’s The Game, Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction, and this extraordinarily incendiary blog. These books point to a larger truth about the core nature of our relationships. It’s in our nature to tell ourselves romantic stories as to why we interact a certain way, these books pull back a lot of that narrative and make a stab at the nuts and bolts behind our sexual relationships. Baker’s work focuses on biological motivations which I don’t understand well, whereas Foucault’s insanely incredible The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2 focuses on our history. 

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

TRUTHINESS CONCERNING: Science, history, knowledge. Along with Heidegger, Kuhn is commonly considered the most influential philosopher of the 20th century. The reason is his very readable treatise on how scientific knowledge works. This is a good book if you care about truth.

I could add a few more, but for now I’ll stop there. I’m curious hear what books you think talk about truth in an important way.



Published on 10.30.10
  • Always wanted to get into Kurzweil, but didn’t have a good place to start. Will pick up a copy The Singularity is Near–thanks for the recommendation!

  • Dan

    Sure man… that is def on of the most fun books to read on this list. I can’t shut up about the singularity :)

  • Whoa dude . . . sick list . . .

    Going to do a fiction list?

    Good Vibes~

  • This is a deep list for serious readers – well beyond what I would normally try to undertake.

    I would add “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. The “truth” it attempts is to answer the question of karmic cost of our food choices. As a bonus, it has a great story of a Virginia farm entrepreneur who seriously knows his craft.

  • Dan

    Hey Bill, agreed I don’t normall read these types of books either. Great point on Omnivore’s Dilemma, in fact I’d toss that on the list as well. That’s an excellent book that tells a story we rarely hear about our food supply.

  • Dan

    Yes :)

  • I’d have to agree with Alan….I’ve been hearing a lot about Kurtzweil lately and wouldn’t mind getting this book just to hear his predictions on the upcoming singularity. And I agree with you Dan, that is some exciting stuff. There’s a lot of controversy regarding his ideas which, I think, make it even more interesting.

  • Dan

    Yeah its one of those books thats easy and fun to read but will color your thoughts for years to come… very cool read!

  • Nice List!
    On my Blog I created a list of Revolutionary Reading:

    The Art of Non-Conformity – by Chris Guillebeau
    The Four Hour Work Week – By Timothy Ferriss
    How to Be Free – by Tom Hodgkinson
    How to Be Idle – by Tom Hodgkinson
    Voluntary Simplicity – by Duane Elgin
    Deep Economy – by Bill McKibben

    James St. James

  • Dan

    Agreed RE: 4HWW… gets a lot of flack but straight up changed my life :)

  • RichieP

    The Primal Blueprint (Mark Sisson)
    The Paleo Solution (Robb Wolf)
    Truthiness concerning: How to actually eat in a way that is good for our bodies, supported by actual real biochemistry

    Thinking in Systems (Donella Medows)
    Truthiness Concerning: Many things can be modelled as systems with stocks, flows and feedback loops: An economy, a business, an oil reserve, an ecology, a cup of hot water in a room. Systems thinking = very powerful way of getting your head around how systems behave, how counterintuitive their behaviour can be, and how to model them and find the leverage points. And not one differential equation in sight.

  • Dan

    thank you! !!

  • Great list, just requested a few from the library….I’d definitely add The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to this, though it’s somewhat mainstream, it had a profound effect on me personally, and has some interesting points for the lifestyle design community. My favorite quote:

    “Seize any opportunity, or anything that looks like opportunity. They are rare, much rarer than you think. Remember the positive Black Swans have a necessary first step: you need to be exposed to them. Many people do not realize that they are getting a lucky break in life when they get it. If a big publisher (or a big art dealer or a movie executive or a hotshot banker or a big thinker) suggests an appointment, cancel anything you have planned: you may never see such a window open up again. I am sometimes shocked at how little people realize that these opportunities do not grow on trees. Collect as many free nonlottery tickets (those with open-ended payoffs) as you can, and, once they start paying off, do not discard them. Work hard, not in grunt work, but in chasing such opportunities and maximizing your exposure to them. This makes living in big cities invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters—you gain exposure to the envelope of serendipity. The idea of settling in a rural area on grounds that one has good communications “in the age of the Internet” tunnels out of such sources of positive uncertainty. Diplomats understand that very well: casual chance discussions at cocktail parties usually lead to big breakthroughs—not dry correspondence or telephone conversations. Go to parties! If you’re a scientist, you will chance upon a remark that might spark new research. And if you are autistic, send your associates to these events.”

  • Dan

    GREAT book and and great quote!!! :D

  • Maire

    You should read Das Kapital by Marx Dan – there’s no better angle to understand capitalism. Also a lot of the philosophical stuff about consumer culture… I read a lot of the books above at uni in my philosophy major and it’s so lovely to see someone reading them for enjoyment! I just read Work the System and was actually looking for more books like that that you recommend – is there a list like that somewhere?

  • Dan

    Thanks for the tip!!!

    You could check out the comments on this post for reading tips:

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