Recommended Reading (Ongoing)
This is a continuously updated list of recommended reading material. I’ll keep updated and reorganizing this, so check back often.
Remember that clicking on one of the links on this page to purchase from Amazon will give me a commission. If you click on one of the links below and buy anything from Amazon, even something not on this reading list, I will get a commission, so keep that in mind.
Whenever I update this list, new additions will appear in red text. With each round of new additions, the previous new additions to the list will be changed to black text so that only the newest round of additions will be in red text.
Single Best Starting Point:
This is an Audible or CD audio book called True Self/False Self. I think it is by far one of the most powerful speeches I have ever encountered and puts much of this in perspective. Even if you plan to try everything on this list, I’d highly recommend you start with that speech.
Essentials and Fundamentals:
These are books that I think form the foundation to understanding the philosophy of this blog.
The Art Of Mackin’ by Tariq Nasheed and Mode One by Alan Roger Currie. If you are a man interested in dating and relationship advice, just read these two books, no questions asked. Just read them. Both of them. Honestly, I’d recommend every Tariq Nasheed book and every Alan Roger Currie book, but for now if you want dating advice recommendations, at least get those two. Not one or the other. Both.
Black Players: The Secret World Of Black Pimps by Richard and Christina Milner
This book is one I read a while back, when it was still out of print. I had to buy it used via the Internet, and a small, ratty, chewed-up, faded, yellow, torn copy of it ran me $50. And you know what? I still consider it one of the best bargains I ever got, even though I finished it in a single night (mostly because it was so good I couldn’t help reading it in one sitting). The premise of this book is truly insane.
Richard and Christina Milner were husband and wife, and both were students in the graduate program for Anthropology at UC Berkeley. For their doctoral dissertation, they wanted to do something different than the usual. At the time it was all about going to “exotic” locales like New Guinea, East Africa, Southeast Asia, etc. They decided that there was no need to travel so far when the ghetto areas of America’s cities had such a rich, fascinating culture that was just as foreign to a White academic as any of the other, distant, cultures anthropologists typically gravitated to.
So his wife worked as a stripper under the name “Tiger Red” for two years in a seedy, ghetto strip club frequented by pimps, hustlers, and whores, and they did a serious, rigorous, academic paper examining and dissecting the subculture. The result is mindblowing, and it really transcends just the topic of pimps and the streets. The commentary gets deeper and more profound than you’d initially suspect, and the Milners show a real respect for the people they’re interviewing and avoid the need to either excuse, glorify, or morally condemn any lifestyles. This project eventually ends up getting Richard Milner kicked out of the Berkeley’s Anthropology program.
The whole book is great, but the last three chapters especially were mind-blowing to me, and the incredibly brutal and cynical relationship and dating insights from the pimps is really something else to behold, whether you end up agreeing with it or not. The last three chapters are called “Sex, Race, Manhood, and Womanhood,” which is still perhaps the most insightful, most provocative, discussion of race and sex in America that I’ve ever read, “The Pimp Game as a Model of the World,” and “The Secret America.”
Tariq Nasheed a few years back bought the rights to the book and rereleased it, so now you can get it at Amazon for only $27 (in recent years since I bought it and before the rerelease, the price had reached over $300, it was that much in demand). The one downside: I love the original cover so much better and find the new one a little cheesy in comparison.
You can hear Tariq Nasheed interview Richard Milner about the book here.
You can hear Alan Roger Currie interview Richard Milner about the book here.
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt
This book is really a short essay that appeared in an academic journal some years ago that was repackaged by a book publisher as a short book. Creative margin setting and font sizes were used to create a 67 page hardcover book out of the short essay, which can be read in a single setting. Normally I’d call such a thing a ripoff, but this essay is so good and thought-provoking, it can be overlooked and still be considered a bargain. Bullshitting versus lying is a theme that this blog will revisit time and time again, and has already been the basis for several posts.
These books are life-changing. You literally won’t look at the world the same ever again. Denial of Death won the Pulitzer Prize and is Bill Clinton’s favorite book. This is my Amazon review of the book:
I am a very fast reader, even when the material is of a high reading level, so when I picked up this small book I expected to be done with it within a few days. Instead it took me about a month. It was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read.
It’s not just the complexity and sheer breadth of the ideas, although that does play a major part. It’s more about the profundity of the ideas. Nearly every page casually tosses out at least one idea that will shake your very foundations and make you question of your major life premises. I had to constantly take breaks to let ideas sink in, reflect on real life examples, reread passages, and take a lot of notes.
It’s a dangerous book in some ways because it’s brutally honest and illusion-piercing, and once you get exposed to these ideas you can’t become unexposed, so if you find its message to be depressing to your core (I didn’t, but I know a few people who did), you may want to proceed with care.
A major premise of this book is that just about everything we do and all our personality quirks and neuroses are a compilation of our ways of dealing with and repressing our fear of death. And a major reason why neuroses have increased in society is because science has deconstructed all our major spiritual belief systems and left us with nothing bigger than ourselves to believe in. It becomes harder to sincerely believe in God and an afterlife, so we increasingly feel even if only subconsciously that this one lifetime on earth is all we have, which makes the stakes of our lives higher than any other era of man has felt. Death is no longer just a stage we pass through to get to eternal life, it’s just the end.
And it just gets more brutal and deeper from there. However, he takes this insight and spins it off into a bunch of different paths and implications that you wouldn’t predict. The best part to me was when he described how this change in man’s view of death has totally changed his expectations of romantic relationships, and explains why narcissism and codependency is on the rise.
Highly recommended book, but be patient with it. Again, it’s not an easy read.
Escape from Evil takes the implications of Denial of Death even further. I really recommend reading both, but at the very least read Denial of Death.
Your understanding of human nature will be astounding after reading this book. This woman’s insight into the human condition is incredibly penetrating and precise, yet compassionate and easily accessible. She doesn’t cloud her book with lots of impenetrable jargon and she writes in an incredibly breezy, layperson-friendly style that is so readable it almost belies how profoundly insightful her books are. If you enjoyed my post on Alfred Adler called The Theaters of Operation, and you wanted to understand Adler’s theories better, I would actually recommend reading her books first, as she encompasses much of Adler’s theories in a far more readable style, but in addition her scope is even wider and deeper than Adler’s, so you get Adler in an easier-to-grasp form, and then get to go even beyond Adler.
Superiority And Social Interest: A Collection Of Later Writings by Alfred Adler.
Alfred Adler was one of Freud’s early acolytes, along with Carl Jung. They were basically the “big 3″ of early psychoanalysis. Adler was even Freud’s personal psychoanalyst for a time. Adler and Jung both had famous, nasty breaks with both Freud as a person and psychoanalysis as a discipline. The branch of psychology Adler formed was called Individual Psychology. He coined the terms “life style,” “inferiority complex,” “superiority complex,” and “overcompensation.” These writings are great examples of his thought processes in action as you can see him analyze real cases. I feel Horney’s books are better for seeing the overall framework of Adler’s ideas and then some, but his actual books are better for seeing their application.
Games People Play is the bible of the discipline of psychology known as transactional analysis. If you want to understand a bit about the types of analysis involved in the book, you can read up on these examples of games people play: Let’s You and Him Fight, Rapo, and “Why Don’t You?…Yes, But.” The links provided are decent illustrations, but won’t provide you the full benefit that the in-depth analysis from reading the book will.
I’m OK–You’re OK builds on the concepts in Games People Play, but it can be read on its own (I think you’d get more value if you read if after reading Berne however). The idea behind it is that there are four different dynamics that are subcommunicated in various interactions. The three faulty, dysfunctional ones are “I’m Not OK, You’re OK,” “I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK,” and the most common subcommunication people use, “I’m OK, You’re Not OK.” Harris tries to get people to recognize when their interactions and relationships are operating on one of these dysfunctional premises and teach them to find and create the type of rewarding relationships he describes in his title: “I’m OK, You’re OK.”
Anatomy of Female Power by Chinweizu (free pdf copy)
This book I have available on the site as a free pdf. The Nigerian thinker Chinweizu presents a powerful case for the argument that what we consider to be patriarchies are all actually matriarchies, and that women are the ones who actually rule the world, and always have been, even back in the days when they were supposedly oppressed. Much of the language is deliberately provocative and inflammatory, and some passages are downright troll-like in the way they’re designed to bait people into a rage, but despite that it’s an amazingly well-argued and supported book, and will change the whole way you look at the world and its history.
Women’s Infidelity and Women’s Infidelity II by Michelle Langley (E-books, author’s site)
If you click above, you will be able to read in more details what both books about, but here are some excerpts from the link:
Women’s Infidelity: Living In Limbo Explains:
- Why females push males for commitment
- Why females “think” they’re naturally monogamous and why males think so too
- Why women can’t tell men what they really want
- Why women like getting married but not being married
- Why women lose sexual desire for their husbands and what women really do want sexually
- Why women are more likely than men to become addicted to affair sex
- Why marriage and fidelity can actually be MORE difficult for women than it is for men
- Why women overwhelmingly initiate the majority of all divorces – even when they’re married to men who love and treat them well
- Why and how men unknowingly make the problem worse by doing exactly the opposite of what they need to do in order to fix the problem
- How to get clear about what you’re really doing
- How to understand your feelings for your husband – what it really means when you say, “I love him, but I’m not “in” love with him
- How to know if your feelings for the “other man” are real
- How to know if there’s a possibility for a future with the other man
- How to stop your circular thinking
- How to end your confusion and move forward in 7 clearly defined steps
This is one of those books that changes how you view everything and really does a lot to help you understand modern American women and the modern American relationship. A real must-read for all heterosexual men and women in the West, and maybe even the whole world since more and more of the world is westernizing. Unlike most of the other books, you have to buy this from the author’s site.
The Great Female Con by Andey Randead (E-book, author’s site)
According to the author’s site, this book teaches:
- How to control your life and relationship.
- What do women really think about men and how do they strategize with each other to get what they want from them?
- Why are women cheating as much as men?
- Why have women become so selfish and feel so entitled?
- How have marriage laws become so grossly unfair to men?
- How has this led to many of the problems we now face in society?
- Why do women push for a commitment then become unhappy once they get one?
- Why do they lose interest in sex with you?
- Why can they be so hard to get along with?
- Why do they become attracted to someone else and start cheating?
- Why is it that the better you treat them the worse they treat you?
- Why do they blame everything on you, become resentful and angry?
- Why do they desperately seek marriage, but become unhappy in marriage?
- How have women shot themselves in the foot?
- Why are men not willing to commit?
- Why can women seem to justify anything in their own minds?
- How to understand all of the above and protect yourself from it.
The problem with how women behave, including the widespread problem of female infidelity, has been discussed in many books. None have succeeded in explaining the true cause of many of the questions you may have about women. One phrase can explain it all. “The Great Female Con.” To say it is one thing, to understand it is another. This book will explain all of the female cons, which are the root of the problems you may have with women. It will explain their true selfishness, self-righteousness, and hypocrisies.
Statistically, if you’re reading this, you have a 50-50 chance that your woman is, or is thinking about, cheating on you. Why is this? How can you find out? What do you need to do to make sure it stops happening or doesn’t happen to you at all? Women are great at concealing the truth about themselves and reality to men. Men usually don’t have a clue because they have been conned into believing what women want men to believe, which is that women won’t cheat, they love you unconditionally, that they want to only have sex with you, etc. Find out what she doesn’t want you to know. If this sounds at all intriguing or familiar to you, you must get a copy of “The Great Female Con.” No other book exposes women, relationships, commitment, marriage, and the problems the laws of the land have created, like this book does. It will also explain why women have become this way and how to prevent it.
All I will add is that it really does accomplish all that it sets out to accomplish. This book, along with Anatomy of Female Power, Women’s Infidelity, and Women’s Infidelity II, are must-reads for single men, especially in the West.
I can’t sing the praises of these two books highly enough. They produced a quantum change in my thoughts. I reread them regularly and consider them largely responsible for spiritually transforming me.
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations by Christopher Lasch
I think this book is best read in conjunction with Ernest Becker’s books listed above. This book was written decades ago, but in many ways was prescient. It’s very bleak but unflinchingly, brutally honest, and it’s very thought-provoking. What I like about it is that it’s equally disdainful of both the modern left and the modern right in politics, and when it was released it displeased both. It’s really one of the best analyses of the self-absorption of modern culture I’ve ever read, and even most of the good critiques of modern culture I’ve read that were published after this book cite this book as an influence and heavily rely on it.
Two wonderful and essential books about the mechanics of manipulation and how to deal with the people who constantly engage in it without turning into a manipulator yourself. I consider the first book one of my bibles on the topic. You can read me providing some examples of some of its insights here and here. The second book at 85 pages is short enough to finish in one read, but is chock full of vital information. These books had some overlap, but both are complementary and unique enough in their own right to warrant reading both.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
You can read more about Dweck’s work and this book in this NY Magazine article. The book however, goes beyond the scope of the article and also discusses how her mindset theories impact not only people’s educations but their romances, family life, and careers. I also relied on this book and other Dweck-related works when writing a guest post about scientific racism over at Nexxt Level Up. You can check that post if you want more background and Dweck and more links to her stuff.
Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell
This book will change how you view everything. I mean that literally. Every time I look at something now, I can’t help seeing the class implications or the attempted prehensions behind it, thanks to this book. What I like about this book is that by creating an exhaustive taxonomy of class and describing the myriad of meticulous, unspoken rules that people use to convey class, you begin to see how ridiculous and self-defeating it all is. At least that was the effect of the book on me. My impression is that this book is similar to my blog, in that it describes the game (in my case the game is behavior and manipulation, in Fussell’s case the game is class and status) in meticulous detail in order to show you how to avoid playing it. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen online, some people use this book to become more class-obsessed and learn how to play the class game better. They just use this book to give them an edge up on reaching the top status they can reach by superficially aping the descriptions Fussell describes.
It’s kind of like how movies like Fight Club or Roger Dodger or shows like Mad Men and Sopranos were critiquing certain lifestyles and mindsets, but depicted them in such an appealing way that many people took those lifestyles and mindsets at face value, found them seductive, and viewed the works as endorsements of those lifestyles and mindsets.
To get a better idea of what the book is about, read this article from the Atlantic by Sandra Tsing Loh. It’s pretty good and worth reading in its own right.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D
This book is pretty much the bible of persuasion psychology. Just about everyone who is interested in the psychology of persuasion reads this book at some point, and even if they don’t, they will still come across Cialdini’s name and the concepts in this book in other persuasion-related books they read. It’s highly read and highly cited, and for good reason. He discusses maladaptive behavior, a concept which describes the evolutionary roots of our vulnerability to persuasion, and then describes the six powerful psychological phenomena that impel us to comply with persuasion: reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.
The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzanne Elgin.
Winning by Intimidation by Robert Ringer
The title of this book sounds a lot more malicious than it actually is. It’s actually a pretty positive book with life advice about how to maintain your integrity and self-respect in the face of life’s bullies and jerks. A pretty good summary can be found here, but as usual, it’s no substitute for reading the book.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
From the book’s website:
What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece?
The War of Art identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success.
The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself.
Easily one of the most incredible yet pithiest self-help books I ever read. I reread it regularly. It also overlaps a lot with my research on narcissism, and this book along with A New Earth made me realize how much narcissism is related to most forms of self-sabotage, including writer’s block.
I think understanding shame versus guilt and the role shame plays in our addictions is a very vital part of understanding yourself and others. While there are some works that probe the topic more substantively and intensely, with studies and scientific research, I find these books are the best at making the subject matter more accessible and they make good starting points. I would have had a much tougher time understanding the deeper books if I didn’t have these book to prepare me beforehand. They are both also great for understanding narcissism, because shame is the underside of narcissism and the main motivator behind it. And narcissism can be viewed as an addiction, except to narcissistic supply.
When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith
This book is probably the bible on assertiveness techniques and boundaries, so although I recommend others below I made sure to put this one in the “essentials” section. It’s still probably the best book on the topic I’ve read, and if you have trouble saying “no” to people, or often find yourself saying “yes” to things and then realizing later on you really didn’t want to, it’s a must-read.
Manipulative Personality Disorders, Shame, and Addiction
I’ve discussed in the past that I don’t think it’s so important to obsess over whether or not a personality-disordered is specifically suffering from borderline personality disorder, narcissism, or another Cluster B personality disorder. No matter what a person’s primary Cluster B personality-disorder is, at various times they will act like any of the other categories, so educating yourself on any category will help yourself understand a Cluster B. For that reason I’ve lumped all different personality disorder books together rather than subdividing between borderline, narcissistic, sociopathic, and histrionic personality disorders.
Also, I believe that narcissism and addiction are the same thing. You can either view narcissism as an addiction to narcissistic supply and the feelings of grandiosity it provides, or you can view drug, alcohol, or sex addiction add as forms of narcissism where the preferred forms of narcissistic supply are drugs, alcohol, or sex, and the feelings of grandiosity they provide. The emotional foundation of narcissism/addiction is shame. For these reasons, I lump narcissism, shame, and addiction books together under the same category.
Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger
This is a great book about borderline disorders, written for laypeople but without any dumbing down. Three things I particularly like about the book: (1) It shows a lot of the overlap between borderline personality disorder and other Cluster B disorders, especially narcissism. (2) It goes into the differences between high-functioning borderlines and low-functioning borderlines. I believe in author Richard Skerrit‘s premise that narcissism is simply high-functioning borderline personality disorder, so this is another way in which this book is relevant for understanding other disorders. (3) It isn’t just descriptive but prescriptive as well. Rather than just describing borderlines, it also talks about how to deal with them and the changes you need to make to yourself in order to stop attracting them.
Venus: The Dark Side by Roy Sheppard and Mary T. Cleary
How the authors describe the book:
This book chronicles how specific types of women with no conscience target and abuse innocent, gentle men and women who have too much conscience. These women see their victims as having a character flaw that is there to be exploited.
The book explores the lying, cheating, conniving and manipulation of women with malicious intent. What are the everyday tricks of their tyrannical trade? How she claims to be the victim when she is the aggressor. And how this makes it far more difficult for genuine female victims to receive the help they need and deserve.
The case studies in this book of how men are abused physically, financially, psychologically and even sexually, are truly shocking. Large numbers of men are stigmatised, ridiculed and disbelieved when they don’t conform to society’s male stereotype.
Click here to see videos by the author answering questions about the book.
Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin
Sam Vaknin is a very controversial among narcissism experts. He is a self-proclaimed narcissist himself, a claim he uses to bolster his credibility as a narcissis expert, and has a very over-the-top, flamboyant way of writing and speaking, and I think much of his material sometimes resorts to a bit of scare-mongering and overheated prose. However, I think his information hits home and is largely in line with my personal observations about narcissists. You can see his Youtube channel here to get an idea of what his material is like. I personally love his Youtube channel, and if you find his videos informative, you’d like his book too. It’s especially good at letting you into the inner world of a narcissist’s mindset, but it can make you a little paranoid too, so be forewarned. I still recommend it overall though.
Narcissism: Denial of the True Self by Alexander Lowen, MD.
This book, while valuable, is not one I would recommend if you were just starting to learn about narcissism. As a supplement to other reading about narcissism, however, it’s great. It feels more like a collection of essays about certain subtopics of narcissism rather than an attempt to be exhaustive or provide an overall framework. Its attempts to provide an overall framework come off as a little simplistic in my opinion. It’s still a very good book, just not one I’d recommend as your introduction to the subject, especially if you only wanted to read one book on the subject.
Narcissistic Lovers: How to Cope, Recover and Move On by Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble, M.S.
This is a great little book about narcissism, and is a substantive starting point on the subject, and can be read pretty quickly. I used the book to analyze an episode of Mad Man, as you can read here. What I really enjoy about the book is that it really goes into topics like why the narcissist idealizes new people so dramatically, then eventually devalues them just as dramatically a short time later, and inevitably discards them.
Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition by Albert J. Bernstein
This book is a great overview on different types of emotional vampires, what they have in common, what differentiates them from each other, and how to deal with them. Very easy, breezy read but thorough, and the tone is a bit humorous which helps the reading experience even more. It covers sociopaths, histrionics, narcissists, obsessive-compulsives, and paranoids. Each part ends with a section on how to deal with that particular type.
Shame: The Underside of Narcissism by Andrew P. Morrison
This book discusses shame and its connection to narcissism. It starts off with a discussion of the history of shame research, which was a neglected area for quite some time in psychology. Morrison gives some theory as to why it took so long for shame to become an area of focus in the field, and elaborates on some of the major breakthroughs and theories in shame research. Then he describes how shame manifests itself into narcissistic disturbances. This book is very informative, but it’s from the psychoanalytical branch of psychology, and as a result has a lot of psychoanalytic jargon that many may find challenging to understand. I would recommend for people who are new to these topics to start with the books I list that are more targeted toward laypeople and give practical advice, and if still curious after reading those types of books, then they should consider this one. I think this book is more for people who want to go deeper than the more mainstream books and for mental health professionals. Furthermore, even if one does want to go deeper than the more mainstream books and try psychoanalytic material about shame and narcissism, I would still recommend the books of Leon Wurmser, The Mask of Shame and The Hidden Dimension: Psychodynamics of Compulsive Drug Use, before this one. (Both are out of print, but you can follow those links and find used versions on Amazon.) Not that Morrison’s book is bad, it’s actually very good. That’s just the order I would personally recommend.
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck.
This book is one of my favorites. It may turn many people off, because it does have some discussion of Christianity, but if you were to let your feelings about religion keep you from trying the book at all, it would be a shame, akin to throwing out the baby with the water. Much of the literature on personality-disordered people tries to avoid making judgment calls on sufferers, such as not calling them “evil” or “bad.” Peck, on the other hand, while not leading a witch hunt against them, has no problem calling them “evil.” Not only does he not mind calling them “evil,” he argues that calling them evil is necessary because not doing so causes you to underestimate the extent of the damage they cause and the threat they pose. To Peck, people who are evil are those who would rather attack others than face their own failures. He uses many, chilling examples from his own psychiatric practice. He also encourages people to not only study evil, because that can in turn cause you to become evil as well. Rather, whenever studying what makes evil people evil, Peck says you should also focus on what makes good people good. I also agree with his view of how psychologists can do clients a disservice by trying too hard not to make morality judgments and by clinging too hard to their ideal of neutrality. He points out that judging has its place, but only if you have thoroughly judged YOURSELF first and handled your own demons. He points out that the saying by Jesus of “Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself” does not mean that people should never judge under any circumstances. It means one shouldn’t judge unless they have held their own selves up to the same scrutiny and soul-searching.
This book is out of print, so when you click the link you have to look for the option of third-party sellers or used book options on the page. It’s a layperson’s bible for understanding, dealing with, and healing from difficult narcissistic relationships. It’s a pretty good overview of narcissism, but it’s primarily focused on the person with firsthand experience with narcissism and is looking for closure, healing, understanding what happened to them, and preventing it from ever happening again. It’s more about self-help than hardcore, in-depth psychology, but it’s still very good. For someone with a lot of unhealed wounds from a narcissistic relationship, I’d go with this one.
The Object of My Affection Is in My Reflection: Coping with Narcissists by Rokelle Lerner
Another good introductory book into narcissism for the layperson. One good aspect of this book is how it delves into subtypes of narcissists, like The Extraordinary Lover, The Dictator, The Raging Bull, The Con Artist, The Illusion Seeker, The Sufferer, and The Rescuer. The book also described how narcissists choose mates, a section I found especially illuminating.
Help! I’m in Love with a Narcissist by Steven Carter & Julia Sokol
Another good introductory book into narcissism for laypeople, but what I like about this one is that it touches on some areas that many don’t, particularly the connection between narcissism and commitmentphobia as well as between narcissism and addictive behaviors such as alcoholism.
Sexual Politics, Gender Psychology, Relationship Advice
Pimp is an amazing autobiographical account of how Iceberg Slim, born in Chicago in 1918, came of age as a pimp, and pimped from the 30s through the 50s. Slim is very bright, and clearly has a firm, intuitive grasp of human nature. The book can be pretty bleak at times, but it’s always riveting, and the prose crackles. Naked Soul is autobiographical as well, but rather than having a single narrative, it is a series of autobiographical essays covering different periods of Iceberg Slim’s later post-pimp life.
Two more gems about manhood and relationships by Tariq Nasheed. As usual with Tariq Nasheed, highly recommended. Just buy them. Seriously. Just do it.
The Passion Trap: Where Is Your Relationship Going? by Dean C. Delis, Ph.D., with Cassandra Phillips
This book was originall called The Passion Paradox and it discusses relationship dynamics and how they change when one partner is more in love and more invested than the other partner. The partner who is more in love is considered to be in the “one down” position, while the partner who cares less is considered to be in the “one up” position. These roles can switch throughout the relationship over time. The trap, or paradox, comes about when the person in the “one down” position, out of insecurity, behaves in increasingly desperate and needy ways in order to regain soem control in the relationship and feel more secure, and such behavior has the opposite effect of driving away the partner in the “one up” position. This leads to the vicious cycle where the “one down” person feels and acts even more insecure, desperate, and needy, which drives the other partner away even more, which leads to more desperation, etc., etc. The book discusses how common this dynamic is, all the various tactics both one ups and one downs engage in, and how to fix these imbalances.
The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence by Colette Dowling
This is an out-of-print book from 1981 discussing how despite all the talk women do about independence or trying to be equal or dominant in relationships, there is a cognitive dissonance that arises in women because they deep down often still want to be protected and rescued by a Prince Charming. I think this book has a lot of value for men, because many men are raised believing in what feminism says and thinking that women really want to be equal in relationships, and then when they try to prove that they are a New Age enlightened man and give the woman equal say, treat her as if a full partner who doesn’t need protecting or support and can be expected to financially kick in, and treat her as fully accountable, the woman then turns on the man for not being old-fashioned and protecting and supporting her, and he has no idea why she’s turning on him because in his mind he thought he was giving her what she wanted by not being old-fashioned and “chauvinist.” This book talks about how women try to have it both ways: they want to be acknowledged as being as fully capable and any man and want to be given credit for not needing a man for anything, yet they’re often at the same time afraid of independence and want a man who will take care of them. Although this book is written as self-help for women, I think men should read it because it can be very enlightening to men who still take advice from feminist women without realizing yet that much of what feminists say has nothing to do with what women actually want. Although the book is out of print, if you go to the Amazon link you can find links to used copies sold for cheap.
The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.
This book discusses how different hormones affect a woman’s brain, personality and overall development throughout her life. At different stages, different hormone spikes affect the architecture and neural connections of the brain. These “neuro-hormones” include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, cortisol, vasopressin, DHEA, androstenedione, and allopregnenolone. Brizendine discusses how these hormones change at different stages of the female life cycle, and how these changes affect her sex drive, emotional states, and interactions at each level. Pretty quick read, with an extensive bibliography.
This book discusses the social world of teenage girls, and is amazing in how thorough the taxonomy is. For example, the different roles teenage girls play are Queen Bee, Sidekick, Banker, Floater, Torn Bystander, Pleaser/Wannabe/Messenger, and Target. For each role, Wiseman describes what the role is, how to tell if your daughter falls in that category, what she gains from the role, and what she loses by filling that role. What is really fascinating about this book, however, is when you realize that it perfectly describes adult women as well, especially in America where growing old is considered almost a sin and chasing youth is the norm and mothers are more concerned with being pals with their teen daughters than being mothers. I was reading this book on the train once and the woman sitting next to me was reading over my shoulder and even chimed in about how accurate the book was even for adult women, especially the parts about the cattiness, cliques, heirarchies, etc. This book was supposedly the basis for Mean Girls the movie, but honestly I don’t see it. The movie was a shallow, by-the-numbers, uninspired, unfunny (to me at least), cliche-ridden teen movie, whereas this book has incredible depth and nuance and true insight. I would also recommend trying to watch a marathon of an all-female reality show like Real Housewives after reading the book and try to figure out the Queen Bees, Sidekicks, etc. Those shows are proof that the roles never change even after high school.
From my Amazon review of the book:
When I started this book, I struggled to push through it. The prose is very, very dry. I don’t mean that the book was overly technical or scientific, because I read many books that are technical and scientific, yet the prose is not so dry. What made the prose dry is that it was just a simple recitation of facts, especially in the beginning. The flat, recitation of facts was broken up by anecdotal case studies that illustrated the concepts just described.
What made the beginning of the book extra tortuous for me was also that I read a lot of evolutionary psychology books, so the information I was finding was all stuff I already knew. After reading the first quarter of the book, I was ready to just throw in the towel on the book but I persevered.
Lo and behold, after getting through the first quarter of the book, it got much better. The anecdotal case studies appeared more frequently, which made the prose seem less dry, and the scientific findings started going beyond the realm of very basic evolutionary psychology, and actually taught me a lot of things I didn’t know already and provided new ways of interpreting the things I did know.
By the end of the book I was enjoying the reading experience very much and it ended on a very strong note, even providing relationship advice and ways of applying everything that had been discussed so far.
I highly recommend, and I would suggest making it a third of the way through the book before deciding whether or not it’s for you.
Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man by Norah Vincent
This book covers the journey of a lesbian who disguises herself as a man for a year, then infiltrates different groups of men to see what the world of men is like. I admit, I walked into this book with a lot of preconceptions, expecting it to be more politically correct or judgmental of men. I was very pleasantly surprised. She herself even describes how she walked into the experiment expecting to find her worst views of men confirmed and instead found herself much more sympathetic to them than she predicted. One part I especially found fascinating was when she described how different it was to approach women as straight man than as a gay woman, and how women were so much more hostile to her approaches when she approached as a straight guy than when she was a gay woman, and how the narcissistic, entitled attitudes of a lot of these straight women actually started making her very misogynistic and angry toward them. Hearing her describe her struggle with her growing misogyny that arose from dealing with women as a straight man was an incredibly accurate depiction of what it’s like for guys, and I recognized what she was describing immediately. I could really admire that level of insight and intellectual honesty. She joins a bowling team, takes a high-octane sales job, goes on dates with women and men, goes to strip clubs, infiltrates a monastery, and then joins a men’s therapy group. She eventually reveals herself to every group except the men’s therapy group, so you get to see the reaction and fallout each time. I’m shocked this hasn’t been made into a movie yet. Highly recommended.
Strategy, Persuasion, Productivity
The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian, translated by Christopher Maurer
Gracian was a Spanish Jesuit priest who lived in the early 17th century. This book is a collection of 300 maxims of timeless advice. This work was highly praised by Arthur Schopenhauer, and Neitzsche said of the book “Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety,” and Schopenhauer, who translated it into German, considered the book “Absolutely unique… a book made for constant use…a companion for life” for “those who wish to prosper in the great world.” Robert Greene refers to the book often in The 48 Laws of Power.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
I’m a little torn about this book. I used to be a big booster of this book, but as time goes on I’m a little more wary about recommending it. I will describe some of the problems I am starting to have with it as I get older and wiser. I think it’s very accurate about which tactics work for accumulating power and gaining dominance. However, it gives you the tactics without teaching you any responsibility in how to use them. It’s like teaching a kid how to shoot or how to be a great fighter, but not teaching that kid any social responsibility, safety lessons, or moral guidance in how to use his weapons to benefit everyone rather than just to benefit himself at the expense of others.
This video below about martial arts captures a lot of my concerns about this book, if you substitute tactics for martial arts.
The book just gives you weapons then just lets you loose on the world with no guiding principles or life philosophy to use those weapons in pursuit of outside of just naked self-interest. Now I know Greene, along with many fans of the book, say that the book is just describing rather than prescribing, or that the tone is tongue in cheek, but I feel like he’s trying to have it both ways. He writes the book in this grandiose, badass mastermind voice that is very seductive and sounds like an evil supervillain. There are also lines passages like
When you play with the emotions of a crowd, you have to know how to adapt, attuning yourself instantaneously to all of the moods and desires that a group will produce. Use spies, be on top of everything, and keep your bags packed. For this reason you may often prefer to deal with people one by one. Isolating them from their normal milieu can have the same effect as putting them in a group – it makes them more prone to suggestion and intimidation. Choose the right sucker and if he eventually sees through you he may prove easier to escape than a crowd.
It’s hard to say you are just being descriptive with advice like that. Other disturbing prescriptions involve being formless, having little to no core values, focus on your appearances rather than your substance, recreate yourself at will and have no core self, play to people’s fantasies, discover every man’s corkscrew, disdain things you can’t have…a lot of this advice revolves around having no guiding principles except the accumulation of power and attention at all costs, for its own sake. Yes, these tactics work, but what do they work for? Toward what goal? The book doesn’t concern itself with that question really. To an impressionable person, I think this book with its grandiose tone and lack of guiding principles and overall goals outside of power for its own sake can really be a disastrous recipe for destructive narcissism. The more you learn about the narcissist’s psychology, the more you realize that many of Greene’s laws are straight out of the narcissist’s playbook.
So why do I recommend this book? I think if you provide yourself with your own guiding principles involving integrity, social interest and personal accountability to your fellow man, and you are knowledgeable about the psychodynamics of narcissism, this book can be excellent to use as a defense against manipulators and power hungry people. If you have empathetic guiding principles that aim at making everyone around you better, I believe you can use some of these tactics in a constructive way, and you can also learn these tactics in order that you can recognize when someone is a competitor rather than a cooperator, and trying to take advantage of you.
This is another book I recommend with reservations. Some of Ferriss’s mindsets I find kind of disturbing or not totally intellectually honest. For example, while he mentions a 4 hour workweek, the lifestyle he’s describing is still a significant amount of work, just not in a typical office setting. It’s definitely about working smarter rather than working harder, but at the end of the day, it’s still about working hard. So I think he can be a little big on hyperbole and exaggeration at times. Also, some of the loopholes he’s proud of having exploited in his day disturb me. Take the following passage for example:
In 1999, sometime after quitting my second unfulfilling job and eat- ing peanut-butter sandwiches for comfort, I won the gold medal at the Chinese Kickboxing (Sanshou) National Championships.
It wasn’t because I was good at punching and kicking. God for- bid. That seemed a bit dangerous, considering I did it on a dare and had four weeks of preparation. Besides, I have a watermelon head— it’s a big target.
I won by reading the rules and looking for unexploited oppor- tunities, of which there were two:
- Weigh-ins were the day prior to competition: Using dehydra- tion techniques commonly practiced by elite powerlifters and Olympic wrestlers, I lost 28 pounds in 18 hours, weighed in at 165 pounds, and then hyperhydrated back to 193 pounds.2 It’s hard to fight someone from three weight classes above you. Poor little guys.
- There was a technicality in the fine print: If one combatant fell off the elevated platform three times in a single round, his opponent won by default. I decided to use this technicality as my principal technique and push people off. As you might imag- ine, this did not make the judges the happiest Chinese I’ve ever seen.
The result? I won all of my matches by technical knock-out (TKO) and went home national champion, something 99% of those with 5–10 years of experience had been unable to do.
If you’ve read my posts about bullshit versus lying and the ramifications of each, you can probably guess how I feel about stuff like this. Yes, it’s plausible, yes, it’s technically not lying or breaking rules, but it’s dishonest. He wasn’t dishonest as far as breaking the rules, because he did actually follow them. He was dishonest about the spirit in which he came to the competition. He didn’t come to be the best or show an appreciation for the discipline. He just came to win at any costs. It’s a bullshit win.
Penelope Trunk touches on this more in her anti-Tim Ferris post. Even though I’m not crazy about Trunk overall, and I do think Ferriss has a lot of redeeming qualities, I do agree with some of her points, especially this one:
The week that Tim actually works a four-hour work week will be a cold week in hell. Tim got to where he is by being an insanely hard worker. I don’t know anyone who worked harder at promoting a book than he did. But the thing is, he didn’t call it work. Somehow, sliming me into having coffee with him to talk about his book is not work.
Fine. But then his four-hour work week is merely semantic. Because everything Tim does he turns into what the rest of us would call work, and he calls it not-work. For example, tango. If you want to be world-record holder, it’s work. It’s your job to be special at dancing the tango. That’s your big goal that you’re working toward. How you earn money is probably just a day job. So most weeks Tim probably has a 100-hour workweek. It’s just that he’s doing things he likes, so he lies to you and says he only works four hours. He defines work only as doing what you don’t like.
It’s childish. It’s a childish, semantic game. And it reminds me of him winning the Chinese National Kickboxing Championships by leveraging a little-known rule that people are disqualified if they stop outside the box. So he pushed each of his opponents outside the box to win.
He is winning the I-work-less-than-you game with a similarly questionable method: semantics.
Again, it’s more bullshit, as described by author Harry Frankfurt in his book On Bullshit.
Yet I still recommend the book because it does show a lot of creative problem-solving as well as a lot of brilliant advice about why we should always examine our beliefs and check our premises before taking action, rather than blindly folowing unexamined, inherited beliefs and staying in our comfort zone. However, like Robert Greene’s books, I think it’s important to walk into his books with a strong sense of who you are, what you want, what your personal integrity revolves around, and what your guiding principles are. Like Greene’s books, sometimes Ferriss’s books imply that any win is a good win so long as it’s plausible and doesn’t technically break any rules or laws, integrity be damned. This is a form of living by externals, rather than internals. Your sense of right and wrong becomes based on externals, in this case rules and laws written by other people, rather than by any internal guiding principles. So when you read the book, be sure to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People by Ken Watanabe
This is a great little book with simple rules one can apply to analyze problems more clearly and come up with more effective solutions. It has quirky little drawings and charts, is only 110 pages, and can be read in a single sitting. But its value is tremendous and impossible to put an estimate on. It was actually written for children, so you can imagine how simple and straightforward the prose is, but it became a bestseller among adults because it was just that good. It’s also very much the opposite of Tim Ferriss because it’s more about overall principles and big-picture strategies rather than an obsessive accumulation of tactics and hacks.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
I know there has been a lot of backlash against Gladwell lately. His stuff can sometimes be glib and oversimplified, I admit. But overall, he is a very sharp thinker and writes with incredible clarity. I think he’s good to read even if you don’t ultimately agree with his principles because he’s a very good example of being able to think outside the box (I hate that term, but still).
The Invisible Touch: The Four Keys to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith
This is a simple, straightforward book that can be read in a single sitting, and is easy to reread or return to for reference in the future. I used much of its advice when creating my blog, including the naming of the blog. Unfortunately it’s out of print, but if you follow the Amazon link above, you should find it offered as a used book.
Mean Genes: From Sex To Money To Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan
Evolutionary psychology meets self-help. A book that uses evolutionary psychology to explain many of our self-sabotaging instincts, then gives practical advice on how to work around these counterproductive tendencies. You can read the NY Times review of the book here and an excerpt of the first chapter here. Also, check out the book’s website.
Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language by Robin Dunbar
This is one of the best evolutionary psychology books I’ve ever read. This book discusses why humans evolved to have language, what the evolutionary advantage of gossip is, and what it all has to do with apes grooming each other. Fascinating book.
The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature by Geoffrey Miller
When discussing Darwin, most people mention natural selection, or survival of the fittest, but not as many people are aware that Darwin also had a companion theory called sexual selection, which could be seen as survival of the sexiest. There are often traits that a species has evolved to have that don’t seem to provide any survival value for that species. In fact, some of these traits can even be counterproductive to survival. However these traits often survive and replicate because for some reason the opposite sex considers these traits sexy, despite the fact that these traits are useless in terms of survival value. This 2000 article by Miller will give you an idea of what to expect from the book. If you find the article interesting, you’ll likely enjoy the books as well.
This field is one I enjoy reading about, because I think it’s important to understand how our brain is wired, and how under certain circumstances, a feature of the brain that is normally an advantage can actually become a disadvantage. This covers cognitive maps as well as heuristics and cognitive biases, such as anchoring, availability heuristic, escalation of commitment, sunk-cost trap, familiarity heuristic, fluency heuristic, social proof, gambler’s fallacy, confirmation bias, post-purchase rationalization, bandwagon effect, and numerous others.
Sleights of Mind by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, with Sandra Blakeslee
Two neuroscientics along with a science journalist who specializes in the brain sciences work with magicians and show how many of the latest findings of neuroscience concerning the brain and cognition have long been known about and exploited by age-old magic tricks, even if the magicians themselves didn’t have an in-depth scientific understanding of why these cognitive biases exist. A very, very good book, and I highly recommend it.
The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
A book on cognition traps written by two Harvard psychologists. From the authors’ description of the book:
Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself-and that’s a good thing. In The Invisible Gorilla, we use a wide assortment of stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to reveal an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.
We combine the work of other researchers with our own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. In the process, we explain:
- Why a company would spend billions to launch a product that its own analysts know will fail
- How a police officer could run right past a brutal assault without seeing it
- Why award-winning movies are full of editing mistakes
- What criminals have in common with chess masters
- Why measles and other childhood diseases are making a comeback
- Why money managers could learn a lot from weather forecasters
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. We’re sure we know where we were on 9/11, falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our mind with perfect fidelity. And as a society, we spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement.
The Invisible Gorilla reveals the numerous ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it’s more than a catalog of human failings. In the book, we also explain why people succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. In short, we try to give you a sort of “x-ray vision” into your own minds, with the ultimate goal of helping you notice the invisible gorillas in your own life.
A book by a Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University. From the dust jacket of the book:
- Why do our headaches persist after taking a one-cent aspirin but disappear when we take a 50-cent aspirin?
- Why does recalling the Ten Commandments reduce our tendency to lie, even when we couldn’t possibly be caught?
- Why do we splurge on a lavish meal but cut coupons to save twenty-five cents on a can of soup?
- Why do we go back for second helpings at the unlimited buffet, even when our stomachs are already full?
- And how did we ever start spending $4.15 on a cup of coffee when, just a few years ago, we used to pay less than a dollar?
- When it comes to making decisions in our lives, we think we’re in control. We think we’re making smart, rational choices. But are we?
In a series of illuminating, often surprising experiments, MIT behavioral economist Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. Blending everyday experience with groundbreaking research, Ariely explains how expectations, emotions, social norms, and other invisible, seemingly illogical forces skew our reasoning abilities.
Not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day, but we make the same types of mistakes, Ariely discovers. We consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. We fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.
From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, Ariely explains how to break through these systematic patterns of thought to make better decisions. Predictably Irrational will change the way we interact with the world—one small decision at a time.
Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions by Zachary Shore
From the cover flap of the book:
From colonialism to globalization, from gender wars to civil wars, or any circumstance for which our best solutions backfire, Shore demonstrates how rigid thinking can subtly lead us to undermine ourselves. In the process, he identifies seven “cognition traps” to avoid. These insidious yet avoidable mind-sets include:
- Exposure Anxiety: fear of being seen as weak
- Causefusion: confusing the causes of complex events
- Flat View: seeing the world in one dimension
- Cure-allism: thinking that one-size solutions can solve all problems
- Infomania: an obsessive relationship to information
- Mirror Imaging: thinking the other side thinks like you do.
- Static Cling: the refusal to accept that circumstances have changed
One of the things I like about this book is that it focuses a lot on the concept of rigidity of thinking patterns. Rigidity is a consistent culprit in personality issues, and is at the root of narcissism and many other personality disturbances. In Dweck’s Mindset book, mentioned above, she discusses people suffering from what she calls a “fixed” mindset, and one can view fixed as a synonym for rigid. Many of the thinking traps she describes for people with the fixed mindset are similar to the thinking traps described in this book. Shame is also a cause of fixed, or rigid, thinking, and when you read literature on shame you see that shame-filled people also fall into many of these same thinking traps. Shame=fixed mindset=rigid thinking=personality disorders. Much of this is either related, or describing the same things with different names, and it’s important to start training your mind to realize the overlaps.
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Branfman and Rom Branfman
From the publisher’s description:
Why is it so difficult to sell a plummeting stock or end a doomed relationship? Why do we listen to advice just because it came from someone “important”? Why are we more likely to fall in love when there’s danger involved? In Sway, renowned organizational thinker Ori Brafman and his brother, psychologist Rom Brafman, answer all these questions and more.
Drawing on cutting-edge research from the fields of social psychology, behavioral economics, and organizational behavior, Sway reveals dynamic forces that influence every aspect of our personal and business lives, including loss aversion (our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid perceived losses), the diagnosis bias (our inability to reevaluate our initial diagnosis of a person or situation), and the “chameleon effect” (our tendency to take on characteristics that have been arbitrarily assigned to us).
Sway introduces us to the Harvard Business School professor who got his students to pay $204 for a $20 bill, the head of airline safety whose disregard for his years of training led to the transformation of an entire industry, and the football coach who turned conventional strategy on its head to lead his team to victory. We also learn the curse of the NBA draft, discover why interviews are a terrible way to gauge future job performance, and go inside a session with the Supreme Court to see how the world’s most powerful justices avoid the dangers of group dynamics.
This book is not as in-depth as some of the others, but it’s very readable and clear. You can read it in a single day even.
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh
A great introductory text into Buddhism, although keep in mind this is specifically about Zen Buddhism, and is not meant to describe all branches of Buddhism. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s important for the reader to understand where the book is coming from. Highly recommended.
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
The premise of this classic book is to separate what the Buddha himself actually taught from what other people added to his teachings afterward. It’s a noble effort, but not an easy read. For a book so small, it took me surprisingly long to read, and was quite challenging. This was one of my earliest introductions into Buddhism, and compared to my other experiences with religion, especially Catholicism, I found Buddha’s teaching to be far more intellectually challenging than I expected, more along the lines of a very nuanced, advanced philosophy book. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend the book, because it’s very good. I just wouldn’t recommend this book as an introduction to Buddhism. I still recommend it though, just not as an introductory text.
I agree with the Library Journal’s description of this book:
This book offers a comprehensive worldwide cultural and historical view of Buddhism. The initial chapters detail its spread from India into China, Asia, Tibet, Japan, and adjacent areas. Later chapters deal with Buddhism in Europe since World War II, the history of North American Buddhism, and the influence of Buddhism on psychotherapy. The book is indexed and the appendixes contain a who’s who in Buddhism; World Buddhist Festival dates; the addresses of the major North American, European, and world Buddhist societies; and bibliographies for each chapter. The only deficiency is that it’s not a good guide to the practical details of meditation–the author believes meditation needs to be practiced under the direction of a teacher.
It’s a good book, so long as you realize that it’s about the history and influence of Buddhism, rather than an in-depth discussion of the substance of the teachings or of how to practice.
I Need Your Love – Is That True? by Byron Katie
The subtitle of this book is “How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead,” which pretty much sums up the point of the book. The book also promises to reveal “why the ways we have learned to seek love and approval only lead to disappointment,” “how love is different from need,” and “how to achieve greater self-love and acceptance through The Work [Katie's name for her spiritual program]“. If you’ve read my posts on a concept called world-creation, this is very related.
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
An inspiring classic. A brief, but powerful, treatise on the power of positive thinking. Unlike many other books on positive thinking, this book is reality-based and not about magical thinking. Highly recommended. Can be read in one sitting, and is meant to be reread often.
The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford
Carl Jung had a concept called The Shadow that I think is very powerful and accurate. In the broadesr sense, the Shadow is all the parts of ourselves that lie outside the light of our conscious awareness. Because most of us work on suppressing aspects of ourselves we don’t like, the Shadow is usually comprised of negative qualities. However, it can also have positive qualities, for example in the case of a person with low self-esteem who can’t believe anything good about himself and ends up downplaying any of his positive aspects. The Shadow is at the heart of projection. The things we can’t face in ourselves, we project onto other people. Hence the saying “When you point a finger at someone, there’s three fingers pointing back at you.” You can read more about the concept over here.
This book by Debbie Ford is all about the Shadow and how it leads to many of our acts of emotional self-sabotage.
I And Thou by Martin Buber
This is a great work, but an incredibly hard read. I picked it up years ago and gave up. Then I found a new translation by Walter Kaufmann, the one I link to here, and it helped immensely. Great translation. It’s a very difficult philosophical line of reasoning to follow at first, and you can’t just breeze through the book despite the fact that it’s small. It takes work to get through. It’s all about people who relate to other people as mere objects as opposed to people who relate to other people as living, breathing individuals in their own right. Ego-driven people fill their lives treating others as objects rather than as equally valid people, which leads to their relationships being exploitative and problematic, and Buber discusses why this is so.
The former book is a step-by-step guide in how to engage in the Buddhist discipline of Vipassana, or Insight, meditation. The second book is a description of why one should engage in Insight meditation, and discusses the goals and benefits related to the practice. Both are a good start for anyone interested in learning how to meditate and become more mindful, but if you only had to get one, I’d go with Mindfulness in Plain English.
Infinite Crab Meats by Byron Crawford (New Addition!)
While I think I’m a good writer, one thing I always envy is people who can write funny and make it appear effortless. I think in real life I’m actually a pretty funny guy, but I always find writing funny to be way harder than just being funny. So when I see people who write funny, and appear to do it effortlessly, I get very impressed and envious. Byron Crawford is one of those bloggers who is great at writing funny effortlessly. His gift is the ability casually, seamlessly insert a joke within a serious sentence, all with the same straightforward, deadpan delivery, such that you don’t see the joke coming and it totally catches you by surprise. Sometimes you don’t even catch it until 10 seconds later, when you pause and think “Wait, what?”
Byron’s blog is a hip-hop humor blog, with a flair for being controversial. Infinite Crab Meats takes the tone, as well as some of the more popular topics from his blog, and expands on them in a way he can’t on his blog, in the form of a book of collected essays.
Topics include Rick Ross, Kreayshawn, Odd Future, the joys of Tumblr, porn, and Tumblr porn, self-shooters, drinking with El-P, smoking weed and hitting strip clubs with Killer Mike, Wyclef and Haitian foreign ad, white hipster rap reviewers, the Rap Genius website, Das Racist, and cultural tourism in general. I have to warn you, though, if you know little to nothing about hip-hop, this book may not be for you. It assumes you have at least a basic knowledge of who’s who in hip-hop.
Healing Emotional Wounds
These are self-help books that have to do with dealing with self-esteem issues, dysfunctional families, and emotional traumas, especially from childhood.
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward, Ph.D.
From the back of the book:
Are you the child of toxic parents?
When you were a child…
- Did your parents tell you you were bad or worthless?
- Did your parents use physical pain to discipline you?
- Did you have to take care of your parents because of their problems?
- Were you often frightened of your parents?
- Did your parents do anything to you that had to be kept secret?
Now that you’re an adult…
- Do your parents still treat you as if you were a child?
- Do you have intense emotional or physical reactions after spending time with your parents?
- Do your parents control you with threats or guilt? Do they manipulate you with money?
- Do you feel that no matter what you do, it’s never good enough for your parents?
In this remarkable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
From the back of the book:
Why are many of the most successful people plagued by feelings of emptiness and alienation? This wise and profound book has provided thousands of readers with an answer—and has helped them to apply it to their own lives.
Far too many of us had to learn as children to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories skillfully in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their ”love.” Alice Miller writes, ”When I used the word ’gifted’ in the title, I had in mind neither children who receive high grades in school nor children talented in a special way. I simply meant all of us who have survived an abusive childhood thanks to an ability to adapt even to unspeakable cruelty by becoming numb… Without this ’gift’ offered us by nature, we would not have survived.” But merely surviving is not enough. The Drama of the Gifted Child helps us to reclaim our life by discovering our own crucial needs and our own truth.
Beat Low Self-Esteem With CBT: Teach Yourself by Christine Wilding and Stephen Palmer
CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a form of therapy that focuses on changing your life by changing the way you think about things. In this book, the authors discuss various faulty thinking traps that lead us to have lower self-esteem, and how to correct our thinking so that we can improve the way we view ourselves and our lives.
Assertiveness and Boundaries
Creative Aggression: The Art of Assertive Living by Dr. George R. Bach and Dr. Herb Goldberg
This is a book that describes all the ways in which repressing your anger damages you and your relationships. It makes quite a convincing care for how learning to constructively express your anger is key to genuine relationships, and how repressing it not only makes relationships inauthentic, but it causes many of them to fall apart because of all the resentments that build up over time due to unexpressed rage that just simmers and festers. Not just that, but when the anger does eventually get released, because of how long it was pent up and allowed to build pressure, it often explodes at murderous levels. The authors argue that this is why so many snipers, shooters who go postal, serial killers, and other people who commit violent crimes out of the blue are often described by shocked friends and neighbors as being so nice, and no one can figure out why he acted so out of character. The authors claim that this inauthentic, phony, forced niceness 24/7 is unnatural and an example of repressed rage, and our society holds being nice all the time as a virtue, when really it should be considered a warning sign. They discuss various types of “crazymakers” who will take advantage of you if you make a habit of repressing your anger around them just to avoid making waves. They teach you how to identify such crazymakers and constructively express your anger at them. The key to this book is that it doesn’t encourage pettiness and is big on expressing anger constructively rather than pettily. Very thought-provoking and highly recommended.
DON’T LET THEM PSYCH YOU OUT! by George D. Zgourides, M.D., Psy.D
This is a cognitive behavioral technique book that is along the lines of When I Say No, I Feel Guilty that I mentioned in the Essentials section of this list (it’s even in the references section of the book). It goes into the faulty belief systems and thinking patterns that allow people to take advantage of you, then goes into new belief systems and ways of thinking that will make you more resistant to crazymakers and bullies in the future.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
This is a decent book on boundaries. One thing about it though, it is a very religious book. It quotes scripture a lot. I thought it became a little excessive after a while. It wasn’t trying to convert anyone or preach anything crazy, it just kept quoting scripture examples to back up almost every point. The concepts were sound, sure, but I could see how that could annoy people. So I recommend it, but with reservations. If I ever find a better book on boundaries, I may replace this book on the list with that one.
Social Commentary and Cultural Analysis
This book is an analysis of where American culture is today, how it got there, and what the prescriptions are for what ails it. It’s a book that’s refreshing in that it discusses modern politics and movements without making everything about right versus left, or other cliches. He discusses America’s atomization, growing narcissism, self-hatred, loutishness, phoniness, growing social dysfunctions, distrust of everything, obsession with technology, and other topics, and what they mean for the future. I can’t say I 100% agreed with the book, but even when I wasn’t always on board with its conclusions, I always felt that it asked the right questions.
From the back cover: “Fame Junkies reveals how psychology, technology, and even evolution conspire to make the world of red carpets and velvet ropes so enthralling to all of us on the outside looking in.” That’s a pretty accurate desciption of the book, can’t add much to it.
Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter
Also published as Rebel Sell in some countries, this is a great book discussing how the so-called counterculture that pretends to strike an outsider pose is actually as mainstream as it gets. This wiki describes some of the premises of the book. Highly, highly recommended.
The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andrew Potter.
This book, written by half of the writing team of Nation of Rebels/Rebel Sell, traces the origins of the modern cult of authenticity, where being “real” is considered the ultimate virtue, without much reflection on what being “real” or “authentic” really means. As a result, a lot of hypocrisy and inauthenticity ends up getting promoted carelessly , even though the intent is the opposite.
Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall
This is a fascinating book by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, and the main concepts it discusses are high-context versus low-context communication, and monochronic versus polychronic time, and which cultures subscribe to which. A summary of those concepts can be found here.
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
From the author’s website:
This is a book about an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we’re judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. This is a book about status anxiety.
We care about our status for a simple reason: because most people tend to be nice to us according to the amount of status we have (it is no coincidence that the first question we tend to be asked by new acquaintances is ‘ What do you do?’). With the help of philosophers, artists and writers, the book examines the origins of status anxiety (ranging from the consequences of the French Revolution to our secret dismay at the success of our friends), before revealing ingenious ways in which people have learnt to overcome their worries in their search for happiness. It aims not only to be entertaining, but wise and helpful as well.
Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again by Jeffrey E. Young, Ph.D, and Janet S. Klosko, Ph.D.
This is a book about the schema therapy school of personality psychology, written by Jeffrey Young, the creator of the style. From the schema therapy website:
Schema therapy is an innovative psychotherapy developed by Dr. Jeffrey Young for personality disorders, chronic depression, and other difficult individual and couples problems.
Schema therapy integrates elements of cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, object relations, and gestalt therapy into one unified, systematic approach to treatment.
Schema therapy has recently been blended with mindfulness meditation for clients who want to add a spiritual dimension to their lives.
This particular book is schema therapy for laypeople, presented to help them self-analyze and do self-help via exercises. You can read more about the system over at the schema therapy website.
Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide by Jeffey E. Young, Janet S. Klosko, and Marjori E. Weishaar
This book, like the previous book discussed Reinventing Your Life, discusses schema therapy, except it’s probes much deeper and goes much wider in scope, because it’s made for practitioners rather than laypeople. Although it’s made for practitioners, if you can follow much of what is discussed on this blog, it shouldn’t be beyond your level of comprehension.
Resilient Identities: Self, Relationships, And The Construction Of Social Reality by William B. Swann, Jr.
This book discusses two important phenomena about self-esteem that I find fascinating. It discusses more than these two phenomena, but these are the two aspects of the book that fascinate me the most. First, it discusses all the counterproductive thinking traps and biases that make it so hard for people to raise their self-esteem. Second, it discusses the ways in which people with low self-esteem unconsciously behave in ways that cause them to be victimized by others, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Rest (I will eventually categorize and summarize these books like I did the ones above)
In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People
by George K. Simon
A lot of readers compliment the way I lay out arguments, and ask what kind of job or education I had to be able to do that so well. I actually didn’t learn it from my schooling or my profession. I learned it from a very underrated source: philosophy books.
If I had to recommend one thing to people who wanted to learn to think better, it would be to read primary texts by philosophers. Don’t just read up on philosophers’ beliefs, read their actual primary texts. Many people mistakenly think the point when learning about a philosopher is to just find out the summary of what he believed. This is like just discovering the summary of a movie online or through word of mouth or seeing just the trailer and the last 5 minutes of the movie and claiming that you actually experienced it.
Philosophy isn’t just about the final destination or conclusion, the true point is the journey, the thought process itself. Philosophy isn’t so much about teaching you a viewpoint but rather teaching you how to process information to reach said viewpoint; it teaches you how to think in a clear and linear way. Philosophy is thinking about thinking, something not enough of us do. We just think what we think and say what we say on autopilot, without ever examining why we think the way we think or stay the things we say, or questioning if there are different, better ways to think and act.
Good information is just the start, the raw materials. Even if you have the best raw materials at your disposal to input, if you are incompetent at processing the materials you’ll end up with a crappy product.
4 rules to remember:
- Good input (knowledge) + Good process (clear, disciplined thought) = Good output (conclusions)
- Good input + Bad process = Bad output or right, but for the wrong reasons
- Bad input + Good process = Bad output or right, but for the wrong reasons
- Bad input + Bad process = REALLY Bad output, or right but just by dumb luck
A great introduction is the Philosophy in 90 Minutes series written by Paul Strathern. Very straightforward and easy to read without dumbing down the concepts. I’ve listed the works according to the chronology of the philosophers so that you can see the evolution of Western thought. But the real goal is not just to read these volumes but to get a feel for each philosopher’s place in history, then read the suggested readings in each volume so that you can experience each philosopher’s thought process in his own words. Whenever possible, you should always try to read original sources and not just someone else’s interpretations of the original sources.
The Philos0phy in 90 Minutes series (which literally do take 90 minutes or less to read apiece) are a great way to learn which are the most essential works from each philosopher and they do a great job at helping you digest their writings better.
Yes, it sounds like a lot of work, but if you want to learn to think on a higher level of awareness there are no shortcuts.
Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life by Len Fisher (New Addition!)
This book is a great introduction to game theory. I recently discussed game theory concepts like Prisoner’s Dilemma in recent blog posts, and this book is the first game theory text I ever read. It is light on equations and math, and instead mainly focuses on being relatable for laypeople and providing plenty of real-world, everyday examples for illustrative purposes.
I think this book is a great entry point for anyone who wants to learn more about game theory.