Books I read in 2023
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Books I have read:
- The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers: economic change & military conflict from 1500 to 2000. Paul Kennedy. I started this in 2022, continued it into 2023, got about … a third? … of the way through it, and abandoned it. I might return to it later, but it was just too thick and I wasn’t getting enough value of out of it.
- How the world really works: the science behind how we got here and where we’re going. Vaclav Smil. This, I devoured. I loved the chapters that really focused on key drivers in world events (fuel, food, “the four pillars of civilization” and so on), but even more how he used hard numbers to demonstrate simple truths (like how much power gets delivered by liquid fuel is an order of magnitude or two higher than electricity, which is why we won’t have fully electrified international flights very soon without a major technical breakthrough). Well worth getting and reading.
- Scenarios: the art of strategic conversation. Billed as the definitive work by the guy who was involved in doing this for Shell. I grabbed a sample copy and was sufficiently impressed to order an inexpensive hardback version. I got most of the way through it; the early part was more interesting and useful than the latter.
- Psychology for Dummies. I’m about halfway through this, and it’s been an interesting and entertaining read. I got it mainly because one of my kids is a Psych major, and I wanted to understand some of the concepts. What I like best about the book is it spends a lot of time defining concepts, explaining their roots and history, and giving very brief and accessible examples of how they apply. This isn’t a book about how to be a psychologist, but rather a book that explains what the various elements of psychology mean.
- The Lion’s Country. I’m a sucker for anything related to CS Lewis, his writings, and especially Narnia. This book examines Lewis’s ideas about reality, myth, truth, and philosophy, through surveying what he wrote in a variety of books and letters. I devoured it in a couple of days. It blew my mind in certain places, and in others left me thinking “What?” It’s one of those I’ll have to go back and read again, probably, but there’s quite a lot of value. The previously unpublished description of God in Heaven on the last page is worth the price of the book alone. That page left me weeping.
- The Antidote: Happiness for People who can’t stand positive thinking. What I’m reading right now. The introduction explored the madness around positive thinking (‘think it and it will be yours’ sort of magic). The next chapter explores Stoicism. This isn’t a book (so far) that advocates one particular kind of mindset (e.g. Stoicism) but rather explores how various people have gone in the opposite direction from positive thinking (actually, into evaluative negativity, or ‘what’s the worst that can happen’) and found happiness there. Yes, it can be a little Buddhist-y at times, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
- Couple of good murder mysteries. I’m also a sucker for older murder mysteries in fiction. I’m reading the Rex Stout books right now. These were written in the 1940s and are great, and missing some of the stuff you’d find in a more recent book. (A sort of noir-very-lite intersects Sherlock Holmes.) Fer de Lance is the first.
- The Little Book of Gold: Fundraising for Small and Very Small Nonprofits. If your non-profit or team are trying to raise anywhere between $1k and $100k, this is a small, intensely practical book. It explains how to get a board to 100% giving, how to run a mail-merge letter, why breakfasts are the best events you can run, and how to handle major donors.
- A simple, life-changing prayer: discovering the power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen. Another short book, this one introduces the spiritual discipline of the Examen, which spread through the Jesuits. The book is almost more Protestant-evangelical than some evangelicals I know. If you’ve heard of “look back, look up, look forward,” at a guess I’d say the roots are in the Examen. Not really a prayer per se, but rather a wonderfully useful little discipline that takes about 15 minutes a day and pairs well with keeping a journal.
- The collected letters of CS Lewis. These have been absolutely fascinating. I started into volume 3, but then decided to go back and begin with volume 1. Seeing the development of his life through these letters—which started at a very young age—has been eye-opening.
- More than a number. This is a Gospel centered approach to the Enneagram.
- The Fourth Turning is Here: what the seasons of history tell us. Recommend anyone reads either this book, or the original Fourth Turning, but you don’t need both. This was a good “cultural GPS point” for those who know about the theory of cultural cycles in America’s generational history.
- Prisoners of Geography: ten maps that explain everything
- Life without Lack: a meditation on Psalm 23. Based on a Dallas Willard sermon series, but collated after his death.
- The Leveling: what’s next after globalization. A cheap Kindle sale. Didn’t finish this all the way.
- The Evangelical Imagination by Karen Swallow Prior. Didn’t finish this all the way. Maybe next year.
- The One Thing: The surprisingly simple truth about extraordinary results. I got this on a sale. It essentially says don’t multitask, and don’t even put your effort into a handful of things—just put it into one thing.