> Book Appetizers
These books are readable: they don't require study. Just read them,
and taste them. While I don't always agree completely with them, the
ideas and information they present are worth knowing. They have been
thought provoking to me, and deserve wider reception. Their ideas
These books are of general interest, not written for specialized
All of these books are available in dead tree form, some in
electronic form. You can find a few on the web free, but I'm not
sure if those are all legal copies. The dates of publication given
in this list may be the dates of reprints or of new editions, and
aren't necessarily the dates first published.
The Authoritarians, by Robert Altemeyer.
261 pgs. 2006.
Discusses situations where people subscribe to the opinions
and beliefs of others, often without even being aware that
they are not acting independently. These sitations are more
common than most people know. Describes factors which make
it more likely that someone will be a follower or a
Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber.
534 pgs. 2012.
An anthropologist discusses the history and evolution of
debt, and along the way explains a lot about law, politics,
economics, history, money, religion, and other things. A few
surprises here, if you didn't know about the connections
between anthropology and economics.
Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, by
Eduardo Galeano. 391 pgs. 2009.
This book is a series of very short stories, most only
a few paragraphs in length. It begins with the lines:
Mirrors are filled with people.
The invisible see us.
The forgotten recall us.
When we see ourselves, we see them.
When we turn away, do they?
If this collection were a piece of music, it might be
described as having many different notes and chords. As you
read, invisible, forgotten, and ignored parts of your soul
Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the
Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano.
317 pgs. 1997 (first published 1971). This is a history of
the effects of colonialism in Latin American, especially of the
human side of the consequences of the mis-treatment by Spain,
Portugal, and the U.S. Although specific to Latin America, the
same strategies have been used against large parts of Africa,
Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe, so it is a good
introduction to colonialism in general. (Forty years after he
wrote it, Galeano declared he was unhappy with the style and
prosody of the book, but it has nevertheless become a canonical
text on the subject.) It is very readable: informal and not
academic in tone, written for a popular audience. Banned by
at least four right wing military dictatorships.
Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your
Spiritual Heart, by Ram Dass. 161 pgs. 2013. I don't
know how to do this one justice, so you'll just have to
read it yourself.
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life,
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. 304 pgs. 2018.
The hidden assymmetries that Taleb illustrates are especially
focused on mismatches of risk against reward. This special
asymmetry has broad and important implications, in political,
economic, religious, and other areas.
The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout. 256
A thorough introduction without hyperbole to a common mental
condition. It explains why most sociopaths — those
without a conscience — don't even know they are
affected, and how few psychologists can recognize or
treat the condition. One of the most intriguing parts
explains that, often, what passes for empathy, isn't really
empathy, and even the sociopaths themselves are often fooled.
It might make you reconsider assumptions about morality
and social structures.
The Underground History of American Education: A School
Teacher's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern
Schooling, by John Taylo Gatto. 412 pgs. 2000.
Why universal, compulsory schooling doesn't work, and why
almost all attempts to fix it are doomed to fail. Quite a
general history lesson, too. Probably disturbing to a lot
Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton.
258 pgs. 2011. Marxism is not what most people think. There
are a great number of misconceptions about the work of Karl
Marx, about Marxism, and about Marxists. Each of the ten
chapters of this book begins with a set of such false beliefs,
then describes the reality, adding notes and references.
Nevertheless, this book doesn't preach: it's not a polemic.
Some readers might discover that they are already more
nearly Marxist than they had previously imagined. Note that,
although he is associated with communism, Marx's
magnum opus was about capitalism, and he made
various predictions about capitalism's future course. Time has
shown that Marx could see the future pretty damn
I expect to add a few to the above list, but I'm still engaged in a
process of triage. If the list is too long, and there are too many
books to consider, a reader might miss some of the most
significant. Secondary lists, by topic, are planned.