Part II of "5 books I have gifted the most"
8) "5 years later" - Story III in my archives is the my original 5 books piece <44th OP>
The whole idea of books being gifted was a question I got from Tim Ferriss and his very popular podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. At the end of each episode Tim Ferriss would ask his guest which book or books they gifted the most. The logic behind his question is if you ask about a book you frequently give away as a gift, you are less likely to bring up the books you have most recently read, and actually think of the books that influenced you and your life over the course of many years.
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When I originally wrote the The 5 books I have gifted the most (back in 2017), my list was appropriate for that time period. There was some recency bias in it, but not a ton. Among the authors of the books I listed then, Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell are still two of my all-time favorite writers. And MoneyBall and Blink are two books I have read at least 3x each.
This new list has books that fall into one of two categories. There are the books I have read that were first published in the last 3-10 years. Then there are the books I have read that were initially published in the last 23-41 years. The older books I read for the first time in my twenties, the other more recent books I have read were in my mid-late thirties. Eventually, I will make an all-time book list, but for now I hope you enjoy reading about the five most recent books I have gifted over the last five years.
For those of you that want the cliff notes version of this posting, here are the *6 books. (*There is a 3a & 3b on this list)
1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
2. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
3a. The Breaks of the Game and 3b. Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam
4. Deadliest Enemy by Dr. Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker
5. Hate, Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi
If there is one book that stands out to you that you want to learn more about, I invite you to skip to that section first, although I still encourage you to read each review.
1- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (originally published in Hebrew in 2011. First published in English in 2014)
A 443 page book, which is an amazing summation of people’s history on earth. It is a rather brief book for its scope and depth. I have read it 2x, first in 2016 and then again in 2021. I have also gifted it numerous times.
For any student that is about to enter high school (particularly in New York) this book is an outstanding overview on Global History 9th grade. For example, did you know the first person on record to have transcribed anything in writing was believed to be an accountant? It does make a lot of sense. After-all, literary nerds like you and me might like words more than numbers. However, it is numbers that keep track of money flow, from bills, debts and budgets, which all are cornerstones of civilization from just after prehistoric times to today.
What Harari was able to accomplish with his book is remarkable. If it were any shorter, he’d miss some things. If it were any longer, it might have dragged. It has been raved about by people like President Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Harari has also been a guest on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, discussing how this book came to be.
Having said that, I do know of one author I respect a great deal, Ryan Holiday who felt as if this book was not as original as people made it out to be. Holiday points out how Sapiens reiterates major points from other well-known books and authors, who also give a grand well-researched sweeping history of humanity. Here is an excerpt from Holiday’s review:
“Let me preface this review by saying this is a good book, is very well written and has some wonderful passages in it. It deserves all kinds of success. My question for all the people who have been raving about how mind-blowing it is: Are you sure you're as well-read as you think?” - Ryan Holiday April 2017 (From the email list of the books he read each month).
I love Ryan Holiday’s work, his podcast, his YouTube channel, what he stands for, and his unrelenting commitment to the philosophy of stoicism. He is the biggest bibliophile under the age of 35 that I have ever come across in my life! Holiday is operating on a totally different stratosphere compared to mere mortals (such as you and I) when it comes to book-reading. The number of books your average person reads in a year (12) is the number of books Ryan Holiday usually recommends in his newsletter each month. He’s not even revealing his whole list of books he read month to month.
Ryan Holiday’s book-review on Sapiens, is so illuminating to me, since he provides such a sharp contrast with so many others when discussing this book. It actually really drives home to me why Harari’s book is so popular and so relevant. As a history teacher, I talk to people every day about my subject, whether it is my students (aged 12-14), colleagues or just everyday people. And whether I’m consciously doing it or not, I am gauging their level of interest in history. And no big surprise here, but not everyone likes history!
If someone were to ask me to recommend one sweeping history book about the evolution of man from his early place on earth to modern day civilizations, it would be this one! One big takeaway anyone can get from this book is how “everything is already made up”. Or as Harari has famously said that humans are wonderful at myth-making.
“Any large-scale human cooperation — whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city, or an archaic tribe — is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.” - Yuval Harari https://fs.blog/why-humans-dominate-earth/
Sapiens captures the hearts and minds of so many people, because it is such an accessible book that is simple to read that also allows people to feel smarter and actually be smarter after having read this. For Yuval Harari to have that level of clarity in writing, and depth of research, without running into inevitable creativity fatigue, or not sounding belaboring or redundant, is just simply breath-taking. All the accolades Harari has received for writing this book are very well-deserved.
PS - “Sapiens” has even been adapted into a graphic novel series.
2- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz (originally published in 1997)
I find myself buying a new copy of this book to always be giving away my original copy to someone who wants something more out of their own life. This book really speaks to not taking life personally, and in also realizing the power of our own words and how our very words can make or break someone’s day.
For instance, I could be wearing a blue shirt, and someone has an issue with it. If I’m around someone that is in a pissy mood who doesn’t like the color blue, they might say something negative to me about my blue shirt, and make me feel super self-conscious. Meanwhile my blue shirt is perfectly fine and actually looks pretty good on me. I just came across a person in a bad mood who happens to really dislike the color blue. Meanwhile, someone else could be in a great mood, and give me the best compliment ever, and totally make my day.
Don Miguel Ruiz makes direct reference in the book on how every single person is living their own life as if they are the main star in their own movie. Obviously in your own movie, you might have some very strong co-stars, but everyone else is just playing a bit role in it. To me the main takeaway from this is; what people say to you, or the things people say about you, isn’t even about you. Those people, and really all people are the stars in their own movie, and honestly might not have the slightest clue as to what your movie (meaning your life) is all about.
Everyone can benefit from a book like this, but if I could give one copy of this book to a famous person right now, I would give my latest copy to NBA Superstar Kevin Durant (commonly known as KD). If you are curious to know why, check out my piece on KD.
3A & 3B - PRELUDE:
If you have zero interest in sports, I guess now is the time you can skip ahead to #4. But I would still strongly encourage you to read what I had to share in 3a & 3b, as I think there is such a fascinating human-element to sports. The author mentioned also has a very deep background in history as well.
3A - The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam (originally published in 1981)
It is just such a well-written book. Any fan of the NBA that even enjoys reading a little bit, this book is so worth your investment in time. Anybody that appreciates sports writing or team sports, might find real value in this book, too. Even if you don’t like sports much, but are interested in group dynamics/organizational structures - you might actually find some real value in this book too.
The story is about the 1979-80 NBA Season through the eyes of the Portland Trail Blazers organization, three seasons removed from their first and only championship in 1977.
It’s also the same year Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the NBA and took the league by storm. So in essence it’s a great tell-all book of the old NBA before it became the modern NBA.
As the talented yet retired sports writer, commonly known as Bill Simmons of the Ringer Podcast network has written and said about the late great David Halberstam, it would move any sports fan to want to give this book a chance. This is especially true if you have a real interest in writing!
“Through college and grad school, as I was slowly deciding on a career, I read it every year to remind myself how to write — how to save words, how to construct a sentence, how to tell someone’s life story without relying on quotes, how to make anecdotes come alive. It was my own personal writing seminar” - Bill Simmons https://grantland.com/features/a-tribute-to-the-ultimate-teacher/ .
I read Bill Simmons’ review of David Halberstam’s “Breaks of the Game” in 2007, when it was first published on ESPN, and was like “I have to buy this book!” I ended up buying a used hard-copy for $50, without the cover page on it. The price was inflated, as Halberstam had just tragically died in a fiery car crash, and the book was no longer in print. Let’s just say, I was definitely engrossed in the book the moment I got it. I did end up giving my original copy away to a friend after I finished reading it. I also did eventually get a new copy of the book, and it appears to have been re-printed and published at least a couple of times since 2007, with different covers depending on which publishing house you buy it from.
Truth be told, I never heard of “Breaks of the Game” until Bill Simmons tribute article to commemorate Halberstam’s tragic death. I had read two of Halberstam’s books prior to this one. One on the Head Coach of the early era New England Patriots football dynasty. The other one is the next book review/the bonus book on this list.
3B - Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made by David Halberstam (originally published in 1999)
I can’t necessarily separate BOTG from PFK in my praise, as they both are written by one of the greatest non-fiction authors I have ever discovered. When I bring up “Breaks of the Game” I naturally will follow-up with “Playing for Keeps”. I remember very vividly when I came across this book. It was the fall of 2002 in a bookstore in Keene, New Hampshire, when my parents came up to visit me for parents weekend my junior year in college. I turned to a page I knew I would be captivated by, where Michael Jordan led his team to an early season victory, after just grinding out a game early in the 1997-98 season that they were on the road and without Scottie Pippen. I purchased this book, and read it within a few weeks. I can’t necessarily say my life was never the same, but I remember I used this book as a reference point on a term paper on “American Exceptionalism” my senior year in college.
One other great and underrated thing about this book were the stories that were told, many of which were actually captured in The Last Dance - Michael Jordan, Bulls Documentary, (still airing on Netflix and ESPN+). I realized from the pages I uncovered in this book, it allowed me to make more connections to the Michael Jordan documentary. Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules was the other book that stood out to me as a seminal Chicago Bulls book that really unpacks the Michael Jordan Era, too. “The Jordan Rules” and PFK are excellent additional sources of information for those of us who wanted even more from the already awesome Bulls documentary.
David Halberstam is simply brilliant and an original literary hero of mine. In my view, he set the standard for modern-day, non-fiction writers. The range of subjects he has covered in book-writing is simply breath-taking. Honestly, as a history teacher, I feel slightly embarrassed that I haven't read more of Halberstam’s books. His first original best-selling book The Best and the Brightest on The Vietnam War, and his final masterpiece The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War are both “must-reads” for me.
“Playing for Keeps” is an amazing book down memory lane for what life was like in the NBA when I first started watching and following the game in the 1990s. “Breaks of the Game” is a treasure chest from an era I was not even alive to witness that I’m still learning from every time I read it.
4- Deadliest Enemy: Our War against Killer Germs by Dr. Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker (originally published in 2017)
The most informative book I have ever read regarding pandemic scares, as well as our overuse of antibiotics, and how the world is so inter-connected on a public health level. It was also the first book I read when the pandemic hit and the world officially shut down.
Although I was a community health worker in the Peace Corps in Zambia, this was actually the first book of this type I have ever read. I myself am more of a social scientist/activist by training and work than a physical scientist, but Dr. Osterholm’s marriage of physical science and public policy is simply exquisite! It makes me want to read more books like this.
In fact it might be a good idea for any future and/or current Peace Corps Volunteer to read a book like this. It really made me realize how important health care systems world-wide really are, and how they are one of the most important building blocks of any societal infrastructure, no matter where on earth you might visit or live.
From the first time I learned about Dr. Osterholm on ***Joe Rogan’s podcast*** in March of 2020, I was instantly impressed by him and became a student of his. First I read the book, then I became a regular listener of Dr. Osterholm’s podcast https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/covid-19/podcasts-webinars. Then I started to set up google-news alerts for any updates, with regards to what article Dr. Osterholm recently published, or what show he recently made a guest appearance on.
Much like most other Americans (and people worldwide I suppose) I too have developed pandemic fatigue and have not kept up to speed on Dr. Osterholm’s insights on this matter as much, or anyone’s for that matter. Obviously, big news always penetrates and it seems as if this pandemic has a certain shelf-life that appears longer than our own immune systems can handle.
***Joe Rogan’s podcast which has always had a checkered history, where he has said and done some pretty offensive things. Yet, Rogan also has fascinating people on his show, whose fame and notoriety have inevitably been elevated by his podcast. Dr. Osterholm is a prime example:
Honestly, I think Rogan’s move to Spotify has encouraged more of the “Shock-Jock'' in him to the detriment of his overall reputation as a masterful conversationalist. Since his Spotify move I have only listened to a handful of episodes of his compared to when it was easily accessible on YouTube.
To the credit of the numerous critics of Rogan and his controversial takes on the Covid-19 vaccine, Dr. Osterholm was invited back for a follow-up interview with Rogan roughly two years after he was first on his show. Even though the invitation appeared to be a face-saving move for Joe Rogan, it still was an excellent interview. ***
5- Hate, Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi (originally published in 2019)
This is honestly one of the most powerful books on the indictment of our media and its adjudication of its responsibilities I have ever come across. I have actually given this book the most out of any other book on this list. It was my go-to 2020 holiday present for my family,*friends and work colleagues. I thought it was an excellent overview of what the media has become, and it was a great resource for so many people to make sense of what the heck was happening in the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election.
*In all of my life, out of the numerous books I have given as a present to people, I have only had one experience where a friend was angry at me for buying him/her a present. And it was this very book! My friend’s reasoning was that he didn’t like that Taibbi only had secondary sources in the book, and he didn’t like Taibbi’s editorializing. Typically I get a thank you for a gifted book, and then (at worst) it might just collect dust somewhere. But this! This was truly a bizarre conversation I had about the merits of this book.*
Interestingly, my friend seemed to completely miss the part about how Taibbi considered Russiagate on par with the (poor) journalistic integrity along the lines of the Iraq War and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Matt Taibbi has chronicled this point at length in this book. He even wrote a piece on his Substack about it - It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD: The Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press. Russiagate just destroyed it.
The irony of Taibbi’s book is how he has encouraged readers like me not to be so plugged into the media (in particular the MSM covering news and politics), as it is just so poisonous now.
I have taken Taibbi up on that suggestion, but it has made me want to tune him out at times, as his articles can contribute to the outrage machine as well. But that just goes to show you that nobody is immune from the political ecosystem that has bequeathed us all.
Not that he is missing out on me catching all his breaking news stories. Taibbi’s Substack is the 2nd most popular one out of over thousands of writers on this platform. He’s clearly doing something right, https://medium.com/feedium/top-substack-newsletters-by-traffic-9edd54f4adbd.
Speaking of Substack writers, hopefully you are already subscribed to my newsletter. If not - I invite you to subscribe and share. After-all, a beautiful thing about Substack is that there is no limit to how many writers you can subscribe to, or share about! In fact you might even be inspired to start writing and publishing your own work on Substack, too.
Peace & Love!
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I’ve also gifted 4 Agreements several times. Wonderful book. Nice reflection here. Other than that, I tend to find books that might fit the particular person. Often: Zadie Smith, Thoreau, Murakami, Auster
Breaks of the Game is such a classic!