The quickest way to understand a person is to become familiar with the things that they love or that have influenced them. There are a variety of books, podcasts, and other forms of media that have challenged the way I see the world and helped shape me into who I am today. What follows is a collection of my favorite works in a variety of subjects. Some of them I mostly agree with, some of them I don't, but they all planted seeds in my mind and have helped me grow.
These are all fairly introductory books to each subject and I would gladly provide further recommendations if anyone wants them. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook.
Fiction: We have all been shaped by the creativity of other people. The worlds that have been created in fiction help us imagine what life could be like in our own world (for better or worse). In general, I enjoy dystopian/utopian science-fiction and fantasy, but there are exceptions to every rule.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
While King is best known for his horror works, I love him for his magnum opus. This seven-book series is a dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy, western that takes place in every universe. It unites most of the worlds he created, as well as our own. It also looks like we will finally be getting a Dark Tower film... hopefully, they don't mess it up. I'm cautiously optimistic.
As far as I know, they don't exist in the same universe but I view them as complimentary novels. They both touch on utopian/dystopian possibilities for the future, but TMIAHM focuses more on government while SIASL discusses personal social arrangements in detail.
Life Improvement: When you read a lot you inevitably run across books that inspire you and speak to your soul. These are the books that motivate me to become a better person and provide a framework for forward action.
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Yes, the title sounds like something you'd hear advertised on tv at 4am, but the content is high quality. Ferriss's book is part life philosophy and part business advice that is aimed at people who want to break free of the Monday-Friday grind. People like me are terrified of getting stuck in a rut and waking up one day to realize we are surrounded by possessions but haven't had any experiences.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This book is a true kick in the ass for anyone who wants to create art, start a business, or pursue their passion. The writing is straightforward, funny, and incredibly insightful. This book sits next to my desk and when I am facing "Resistance" I flip to a random page and gain strength and encouragement. This is a must-read.
Forward Tilt by Isaac Morehouse with Hannah Frankman.
This collection of short essays finds the perfect balance between life philosophy and actionable steps. Each week provides a new point of focus in order to spur creativity and help us each realize our own potential. This is the perfect starting point for someone who wants to create and get their life moving in a new direction.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
McDougall's research into the world of running isn't traditionally considered a "self-help" book, but I found a lot of value in it. It is hard to read this book and not feel inspired to go for a run, but it is about more than just physical activity. This book is about the incredible things we are capable of if we just go out there and try. Humans can accomplish more than we realize and often we set up limits on our own prosperity that are considerably more conservative than our capabilities.
A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine
This book was my introduction to the Stoic philosophy and has had a profound impact on how I view the world. Not only is this a historical and philosophical text, it provides concrete actions to help change how you view the world. The Stoic view of the world is to focus on that which we can control (which is very little) and minimize the stress in our life. It is about helping others and living in peace.
Political Economy: Two of my first intellectual passions were politics and economics. In fact, I wanted to run for elected office for a long time and I have a BS in economics. While my passion for pursuing a career in these fields have faded, the economic way of thinking is very much a part of my life. Here are a couple of the books that shaped my views on the subject.
The Law by Frederic Bastiat
This was one of the first books on the political economy that I ever read, and it was probably the first time I heard politicians treated like normal people. The book is short and filled with accurate, but snarky, descriptions of the state. If I could require people to read any book on this subject it would be The Law.
The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman
Friedman tackles a lot of the issues that make people doubt the practicality of anarchy, specifically how the market would provide specific services. The chapters are fairly short and stand alone, which makes this book perfect for people with a passive interest in the subject or as a book to flip through at random. Sometimes you just want to know how a system would provide a service like protection or courts without reading 500 pages of dense prose.
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
This book, above all others, started me on the path to a degree in Economics. It fundamentally shifted how I view the world and helped me internalize the economic way of thinking. Once you recognize how sunk costs, tradeoffs, and incentives influence human action it changes how you view the world. Bizarre behavior starts to make sense.
Sexuality and Relationships: For as long as I can remember the subject of sex has fascinated me. This interest goes beyond my own interest in getting laid, I am fascinated by the different preferences people have and how they explore their sexuality. I've had enough group experiences and been in enough sexual environments to know that sex is varied and interesting. Here are a few of the books that have shaped my view on the subject.
The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
This is generally considered the foundational book for practicing polyamory or ethical non-monogamy. Not only does it address common issues that people in non-monogamous relationships deal with, it goes into the many reasons that some partners might open up their marriage. The recommendations within this book to help poly partnerships thrive are beneficial to monogamous people as well.
Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering
Bering dives into both anecdotes and advanced studies to look into the "perv" in each of us. It turns out, everyone is a little kinky and by treating sexuality as a taboo we only hurt ourselves. Nearly every subject is tackled, from BDSM to zoophilia. Bering does a great job of recognizing that sexuality is not always black and white and, despite best intentions, our society often causes more harm than good in our approach to it.
Is there anything more taboo than anal play? Particularly for men? This book breaks down the stigma against appreciating all the areas that our body can create pleasure and provides a guide for those interested in exploring anal play safely. Everyone has an anus, and for individuals with a prostate that can be a source of great pleasure.
Other: Some books have had an important impact on my life but don't fit neatly into any of the above categories.
Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan
Sagan's love of space and optimism about humanity's place in the universe is infectious. He is able to brilliantly show how far we've come and our potential to create a peaceful coexistence with each other, as well as with Earth and other planets. This book is about love of science and how the desire to explore is what has made our species special.
The Blue Zone Solution by Dan Buettner
Buettner and his colleagues take a scientific approach to health and try to figure out why certain cultures tend to live longer, healthier lives than others. I don't follow The Blue Zone solution exactly, but this book did encourage me to take a scientific approach to my own health and nutrition.
Waking Up by Sam Harris
Religion evolved to serve a purpose, but we can fulfill that purpose without conflict with science and without believing in a supernatural existence. Waking Up looks at the science behind spirituality and seeks to remove the religion from spiritual growth.
Mostly on the Edge: An Autobiography by Karl Hess
Hess's life is an inspiration to me. He lived a diverse life filled with many careers and experiences. This was a man who lived life to the fullest, pursued his own passions, and lived without regrets.
Podcasts: Inspiration and influence can come from a variety of sources. Books are great, but sometimes listening to a podcast is a better way to absorb new ideas. These are some of my favorites:
The Savage Lovecast: Dan Savage is a sex and relationship columnist who addresses a variety of subjects on his weekly radio show. He currently has over 500 episodes, which means there are plenty to dive into if you are new to this show.
The Adventure Zone: Three brother's and their dad play Dungeons and Dragons... it is actually less lame than that sounds. The hosts are hilarious and I often find myself laughing my ass off.
Oh No, Ross and Carrie: Ross and Carrie investigate cults, pseudo-science, and claims of the paranormal. They are scientists at heart and use their curiosity to dive into some of the world's craziness.