The 52 Books I Read in 52 Weeks

I decided to read a lot more. Made a goal of it. 52 books in 52 weeks seemed like a stupid idea (I’d make it through 10 books and quit, I thought). Julien did it, and so could I. Somehow it stuck as a goal and, even more astonishingly, I accomplished it.

I’ve rated them from — (poor) and +++ (highly recommended) for your reading pleasure.

 

Highlights

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel – Rolf Potts The book that started it all for me. Thanks to Chris Hutchins for giving it to me and starting the seed of this whole journey. +++

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error – Kathryn Schulz My personal favorite TED speaker this year (watch it here). This book is the pseudo-history of incorrectness. Fascinating. Examples include religion, reformed KKK members and eyewitness-accounts of faux murders. Read it, and power through (took me quite a while to finish it). ++

To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story. Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor, spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world? True, you might get lost along the way, get stranded in a swamp, have a scare at the edge of a cliff; thieves might steal your gold, brigands might imprison you in a cave, sorcerers might turn you into a toad—but what of that? To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in that spirit that this book is written.

 

Everett Ruess – A Vagabond for Beauty – Vicky Burgess A reread for me, perhaps my favorite book of all time. It’s about the possibility of travel. I first read it in a cabin we stayed at in the bush in Alaska. +++

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi A blood pressure-raising look at “grifters” and the con of Wall Street. Hard not to throw it across the room in a fit of rage. ++

A loose definition of the Tea Party might be fifteen million pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the small handful of banks and investment companies who advertise on Fox and CNBC.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts Recommended to me by Nate and Natty of Everlater. If you are looking for a travel book that keeps on going and is full of unbelievable (but true) tales, this is it. +++

The Monkey Wrench Gang – Edward Abbey A reread. A must read. Read it. Now. An American Southwest adventure with some of the best character development in any book I’ve ever read.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon – David Grann Read it in a hammock on an island in Panama. The perfect beach book.  ++

Classics

The Grand Cañon of the Colorado – John Muir The more Muir in my life, the better. +++

Deep cañons attract like high mountains; the deeper they are, the more surely are we drawn into them.

Desert Solitaire – Edward Abbey A reread of the best book about the American Southwest. ++

Breakfast of Champions: A Novel – Kurt Vonnegut Time has muffled the provocativeness of this great Novel. More random that of social impact that it once was but still a fun read. +

The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.

No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy A screenplay more than a novel (still fantastic) but will go down as the only movie that’s better than the book. –

Political

Umair Haque – The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better BusinessLoaned to me on Kindle, this is a wake-up call to modern business. Got more out of the first chapter than the rest of the book. ++

I’d like to pose a question: what if the future of capitalism will be as different from its present as Adam Smith’s vision was from its present? What if twenty-first-century prosperity differs from industrial era prosperity as radically as it did from its now seemingly prehistoric predecessor? Consider, for a moment, the striking parallels between Smith’s maelstrom and ours. Globally, the Internet has given rise to hyper-connection. The nations formerly known as the third world have become a rising, roaring middle. Nascent technologies like cleantech and nanotech hint at hitherto unimagined possibilities. The “corporation” is mitotically dividing into many different kinds of commercial entities, whether social businesses, hedge funds, or “for benefit” corporations. Today, as then, the world is shedding yesterday’s skin.

Startups

Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty – David Kadavy A great guide to design by Kadavy. The original post on this book was a plea for a SXSW panel (which he did not get). He did get a book contract, however, and knocked it out of the park. ++

Startups – Chris Dixon A collection of blog posts by Chris that raised money for HackNY. I learned a good deal and am surprised at how some of the advice (just a year after being published) feels like it is already out of style. A great experiment by Dixon. +

The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when pitching VCs is to argue that their startup is likely to succeed. Instead, they should argue that there is a small probability their startup could be a billion dollar or greater exit. There is a big difference between these arguments – the mean of the return distributions might be the same but what VCs care about is right side tail of the distribution.

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist – Brad Feld, Jason Mendelson I’m a bootstrapper, so VC funding is pretty low on the “I must know the best practices” list, just behind “Learn to curl my hair.” Feld and Mendelson shared quite a bit that will only make startups better. They also did a music video to promote the book. +

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses – Eric Ries Perhaps this will be the biggest book about startups of the decade. Hard to see what else would be. Ries is a superb writer making this read more enjoyable than it should be. ++

Decoded – Jay-Z I wish this was in the startups category (a discussion by one of the best entrepreneurs in our age), but was a puffery of “greatest” comments with no real deep conversation. –

A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level. For instance, a poet makes words work sonically—as sounds, as music. Hip-hop tracks have traditionally been heavy on the beats, light on melody, but some MCs—Bone Thugs ’N Harmony, for example—find ways to work melodies into the rapping. Other MCs—think about Run from Run-DMC—turn words into percussion: cool chief rocka, I don’t drink vodka, but keep a bag of cheeba inside my locka. The words themselves don’t mean much, but he snaps those clipped syllables out like drumbeats, bap bap bapbap. It’s as exciting as watching a middleweight throw a perfect combination. If you listened to that joint and came away thinking it was a simple rhyme about holding weed in a gym locker, you’d be reading it wrong: The point of those bars is to bang out a rhythmic idea, not to impress you with the literal meaning of the words.

Random

The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me – Bruce Feiler A sad reality and uplifting tale. Part of the TED book club. +

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey Quite a few friends have gotten out of debt from Dave, decided to read it. Nothing out of the ordinary but if you are in dept and have not read it, get it NOW. ++

Self-Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson A book I wanted to like it more than I did. Worth a gander. +

The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle – Steven Pressfield I’ve got friends that rave about this book. I absolutely hated it. Repetitive unfocused self-help fluff. —

Do the Work – Steven Pressfield A quick read on a flight, thought I would give Pressfield another shot. It was much better but still not my cup of tea. —

The Help – Kathryn Stockett Wanted to read it after all of the buzz. I lost interest but others seem to rave about it. +

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins Saw it as the most-shared Kindle book, gave it a shot. Very light bubble gum-pop read. Enjoyable with comparisons to it being the next big trilogy. +

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) – Suzanne Collins and then and then and then… +

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) – Suzanne Collins and then and then and then the end. +

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson Read on a bus in Nepal. Quite the backstory, and the movie looks fantastic. ++

A Man Without a Country – Kurt Vonnegut I love the surliness and legacy of Vonnegut. His last book captures him perfectly. So it goes. +

Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine – George Dohrmann The most depressing and amazing story of an AAU basketball team from 8-years-old to college. Dohrmann put together an amazing story. There isn’t a likable character in the book, which is exhausting. +

Marching Bands Are Just Homeless Orchestras, Half-Empty Thoughts Vol. 1 – Tim Siedell A collection of tweets. Seriously. Fun to be able to support Tim. +

But we’re different, too. I, for example, know the medical term for black lung disease. So there’s that. Other dissimilarities probably include my home state (Nebraska), my choice for corrective vision (glasses), and my love of cute photos sent via email (low, borderline robot-level). I also own a cat. And if you own a cat, as well, I doubt it’s named Olive. And if it is named Olive, I still doubt that we’re talking about the same cat.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman – Tim Ferriss I was a collaborator on this book (page 80 or so). Lots of sound advice, lots of “He really should expand on that” statements and stories. +

Tinkers – Paul Harding An old man surrounded by his family as he passes away in a cabin. My sister hated it, I loved it. Poetic. The best writer in the bunch.  ++

Romance

A Small Fortune – Audrey Braun Yeah, I read a romance novel. It was on the bestseller list for Kindle and wasn’t labeled that way. From sweat soaked page to steamy plot twist, this was, in fact, a romance novel. –

Travel

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism – Thomas Kohnstamm A must read for anyone that has touched a guidebook. Equally humorous and eye opening, a very enjoyable read. +++

You go to another country and rather than trying to understand the nuances and textures of that culture, you end up spending your time with a roving band of people like yourself. Fuck the whole backpacker scene. Even the people who consider themselves master travelers, who have been to hostels all over the world, are often just neocolonial naïfs.

High Road To Tibet – Travels in China, Tibet, Nepal and India – John Dwyer A random read from some category searching ended up being the perfect airport read. Wonderful and simple story, artfully told. ++

“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion…I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment…my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.”

Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains – Jon Krakauer The final book of Krakauer’s that I had not read. On my classics list. Highly recommended. +++

Travels In Alaska – John Muir I really treasured my time in Alaska and reading about it from the best adventurer’s original observations. Free on Kindle too. ++

And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation; that mountains long conceived are now being born, channels traced for coming rivers, basins hollowed for lakes; that moraine soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants,–coarse boulders and gravel for forests, finer soil for grasses and flowers,–while the finest part of the grist, seen hastening out to sea in the draining streams, is being stored away in darkness and builded particle on particle, cementing and crystallizing, to make the mountains and valleys and plains of other predestined landscapes, to be followed by still others in endless rhythm and beauty.

Welcome to Hell- One Man’s Fight For Life Inside The Bangkok Hilton – Colin Martin I found an obviously photocopied version of this in a bookshop in Phuket, Thailand. Don’t do drugs in Thailand. Profoundly sad story. Made me question my stay in Thailand, but in the end it taught me to bribe in a corrupt system.  +

Walden – Henry David Thoreau A reread. I hate this book with a passion, but reading on the Kindle with the highlights made it bearable. +

In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time – Greg Mortenson Besides being a complete fraud, the book is a great read. —

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way – Jon Krakauer Krakauer’s brilliant response to the fraud in Three Cups of Tea. ++

Steep Trails California, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, the Grand Canyon – John Muir  I kept this one for bad days. Muir is legend, and the world he explored is much different than the one we know. ++

When I reached Yosemite, all the rocks seemed talkative, and more telling and lovable than ever. They are dear friends, and seemed to have warm blood gushing through their granite flesh; and I love them with a love intensified by long and close companionship. After I had bathed in the bright river, sauntered over the meadows, conversed with the domes, and played with the pines, I still felt blurred and weary, as if tainted in some way with the sky of your streets. I determined, therefore, to run out for a while to say my prayers in the higher mountain temples. “The days are sunful,” I said, “and, though now winter, no great danger need be encountered, and no sudden storm will block my return, if I am watchful.”

Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan – William T. Vollmann With the news of the earthquake and tsunami, it was hard to know what was actually going on. What was the story beyond the headlines? Byliner is just a fantastic platform. This was released almost immediately after Vollmann’s return. A shift in the industry for sure. +

“What is your opinion of the reactor accident?” “Everyone has always said that nuclear power is safe. . .” “Mrs. Hotsuki, here is a question that baffles me. As a citizen of the country that dropped atomic bombs on Japan, I wonder how this could have happened in your country twice. First you were our victims, and then, it seems, you did it again to yourselves.” “We don’t know much about the nuclear bomb,” explained the older woman. “They’re pretty far from here, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we just heard from our parents that some plane came over and so forth. They didn’t talk about it.”

Annapurna – Maurice Herzog Read while on the Annapurna circuit in Nepal. Amazing story of the first summit. +

Surfing the Himalayas: a Spiritual Adventure – Frederick Lenz A Buddhism 101 in novel form. +

Cycling Home from Siberia: 30,000 miles, 3 years, 1 bicycle – Rob Lilwall Amazing trip but has the feeling of a religious infomercial. —

Reading with espresso and greek yogurt

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail – Bill Bryson I’ve been planning a long hike for years. Bryson is plain hilarious. I’m about to read the rest of his books. ++

No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, A Perilous Climb – Felice Benuzzi Story of Italians escaping a prison camp in Kenya to climb a mountain, then sneak back into prison. If you read it with an Italian accent, it is 20x better. Great vacation read. ++

Nothing Happened and Then It Did: A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction – Jake Silverstein A review on the back cover said, “This is the weirdest book I’ve ever read.” It was. Half fiction, half non-fiction. Really an interesting (and honest) concept. +

New book. Enjoying it. Night all.

Science

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food – Jeff Potter If you need a kick in the butt to make some great food or learn how to actually use your kitchen, Jeff has a great guide. +

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson Going beyond the humor Bryson brings it on the science front dropping some serious knowledge about everything. +

In essence what relativity says is that space and time are not absolute, but relative to both the observer and to the thing being observed, and the faster one moves the more pronounced these effects become. We can never accelerate ourselves to the speed of light, and the harder we try (and faster we go) the more distorted we will become, relative to an outside observer.

Kindle Vs. Book

Of the 52 books I read, 22 were on Kindle. The rest were paper. Why? Because my Kindle broke halfway through my trip and books never run out of batteries. Saying that, try to take my Kindle from me.

My Kindles All Brokes :/

What is Next? 

Can you do a book a week for a year?  Think about it.

Also, I need something to read!  What books are not on my list that should be?

 

 

  • Kath1213

    Love anything by Bill Bryson. Shantaram was a a favorite.

    You should read “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”. Epic!! http://www.ted.com/speakers/dave_eggers.html

    Also add “Under the Banner of Heaven” – Jon Krakauer

    “Something Wicked This Way Comes” – Ray Bradbury is a personal fave.

    Liked “The Help’, haven’t seen the movie.

    I’m down for the challenge – totally!  When do we start?

  • Seven Severn

    Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country” is hysterical.

  • Funny about Tinkers…. I hated it too! Maybe that’s a little strong. I just didn’t like it and kept forgetting if I’d finished it or not.

    I second In a Sunburned Country. Things I’ve read recently and like: Super Sad True Love Story; 30/30: Thirty American Short Stories From the Past 30 Years; and Room.

  • NULL

    Good collection; picking up a few from this list on to my kindle. 

    Just finished Daniel Suarez’ Daemon – good one in case you haven’t read it yet. 

  •  All of Bryson’s stuff is great. Barbara Kingsolver writes some of the best essays about the modern Southwest out there – High Tide in Tucson. Also, Eric Blehm’s The Last Season.

    As far as slightly random recommendations might go, I recommend anything in the Voice of Witness series published by McSweeney’s (start with Underground America), Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (guilty pleasure of mine), and everything by Somerset Maugham.

  • Jeff Bailey

    Atlas shrugged

  • a short history of nearly everything is so fantastic. let’s face it i agree with everyone else on mr. bryson.  
    check out:the magnificent mountain women-about women and their adventures in colorado starting in the 1850’s.  the mengele experiement-about josef mengele and his terrible experiments on those in auschwitz-birkenauthe immortal life of henrietta lacks-the story of HELA cells and the woman they came fromeast of eden-i love steinbeck like you love muiralso, let’s have a chat about how much i love my kindle and hate thoreau 

  • I’d add the other 2 Stieg Larsson book to your future list. I’m on The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest now and I’ve been rather pleased with all of them (although, Larsson seems to rant about Sweden’s historical politics a bit). 

  • congrats on making your goal and sharing such interesting books. some good recs here, thanks…

  • When I saw that you read 52 books in 52 weeks, I thought “he must have read short books”. Then I saw Shantaram on the list. I read quite a bit & quickly, and I think I’d still have trouble with this challenge.

    Recommendations:
    The Things They Carried – O’Brien (perhaps the most moving book I’ve ever read)
    Stranger in a Strange Land – Heinlein
    Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul 
    The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the WorldWicked SeriesIn Defense of Self: How the Immune System Really Works

  • NULL

    A lot of them were shorter but yes, a few long ones. Perhaps a few more prickly ones this year 🙂

  • Amymorfas

    I use the Goodreads site, which I love!  Some others to consider:
    More Bryson – The Walk in the Woods was my least favorite book of his I’ve read, but he’s done some great stuff.  I loved Notes from a Small Island, but not sure it’s in print here.
    Life – if you are at all a Keef or Stones fan
    Born to Run
    Cutting for Stone – good novel
    Life of Pi – came out many years ago, but a great read
    Devil in the White City – unbelievable that this is a true story.  am reading his new book about Berlin next.
    The Memory of Running – another great little story

  • This is an awesome list and a great idea.  Have you read any Paulo Coelho?  If not, “The Alchemist” is his most famous.  Also, he has a new one out called “Aleph”.

    Thanks for writing!

  • Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything might be the favorite of the books I’ve read on your list.

    AT, PCT, CDT, Colorado Trail, outside the US?  Can’t wait to hear if you decide to take an epic walk.

  • * Ishmael, The Story of B, basically anything else by Daniel Quinn
    * The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TIme by Mark Haddon
    * anything by Edward Abbey
    * anything by Tom Robbins, especially Still Life With Woodpecker

  • Congrats on an amazing accomplishment Andrew! I’m currently reading another of Bill Bryson’s books, At Home: A short history of private life. I’ll second Bing’s sentiments above about hiking a long trail. Do it. You’ll love it.

    A few reading recommendations:
    Unbroken: A WWII story of survival, resilience & redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
    2030: The real story of what happens to America by Albert Brooks
    Just Kids by Patti Smith
    Room: a novel by Emma Donoghue

  • I’m curious – why do you hate Walden? I’ve just started reading it, and even as an aspirant minimalist, I must admit, it’s a bit… preachy. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I hate it…

  • NULL

    there are some amazingly beautiful lines, but the pond was a mile away from his Mother’s house… the deep reflections of solitude just didn’t connect with me.

  • Seth Kursel

    Try the St. John’s College reading list on for size, a Classics-only all required curriculum.  Probably a good way to find… the best and most influential books in human history.  But one week might be a little tight.

    http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/academic/readlist.shtml

  • My goal this year is 365 books. But, that said, a lot of them are picture books (it’s my job…). I liked your comment about kindle vs. paper – “books never run out of batteries.” I adore paper books (hell, I’m a librarian, of course I do!), but I still want a kindle/nook/ereader of some kind just for the portability. 

    Nice job, and thanks for the reviews/recommendations! 

  • andrewhyde

    It is not my job to tell you what to read, but what I enjoyed… that is now your job 🙂

  • Adam Greenberg

    nice job; i think i’ll try doing that myself… how about painting a watercolor a day and giving it away for free? http://www.TonightsWatercolor.com

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