Maciamo's book selection

I am interested in nearly all the domain of human knowledge. That makes a generalist rather than a specialist, which is also the nature of the philosopher always craving to understand better the world around us.

There is too much information out there to waste time reading uninteresting or badly written books. I have selected here the works which I think are the best at summarising the knowledge in their field while being well written enough to be comprehensible and enjoyable for lay people. I have intentionally left out books that were too heavy or too technical.

I have created separate threads for some categories of books:
You'll find books about other topics (economics, ecology, popular science, psychology, philosophy, travel) below.

Economics & Society

Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There, by Rutger Bregman


Good Economics for Hard Times: Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems, by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo


Ecology

Ecological Intelligence: Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy , by Daniel Goleman



Popular Science

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in A Bacterial World, by Jessica Snyder Sachs deals with the human microbiome and the dangers of antibiotics. It's the best place to start reading for anyone interested in the symbiosis between humans and bacteria.



Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain is one of the most uplifting psychology books I have read. Any quiet-loving introvert like me should read this book. Modern society often feels like a place designed for extroverts, but it doesn't have to be so.



Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World, by Mark Miodownik, takes a look at some of the most useful materials in the recent history of mankind. Chapters cover metals, paper, concrete, chocolate, foam (e.g. aerogel), plastic, glass, graphite, and porcelain.



Another noteworthy science writer is Sam Kean. I have read his three books, which were all very well written and highly entertaining.

The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table



The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery



The Violinist's Thumb: And other extraordinary true stories as written by our DNA




Psychology

The Human Mind: And How to Make the Most of It, by Robert Winston. A good introduction to how the brain works.


Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps, by Allan & Barbara Pease. An essential guide to the differences between how men and women think feel and behave. I would find it challenging to be in a relationship without knowing these things.


A New Earth: Create a Better Life, by Eckhart Tolle explains how the ego causes most of our suffering and how we can be happier by learning to recognise the ego and distancing ourselves from it. The author only has a very average grasp of history, linguistics and science, so there are factual mistakes, but that does not affect much the purpose of the book.



Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, by Robert M. Sapolsky



I have also read most of Malcolm Gladwell's books. Not as compelling as Matt Ridley's books, but still well worth reading if you have time.

Outliers: The Story of Success



Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking



David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants



History of Philosophy

Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder. An easy-to-read summary of how the great philosophers answer existential questions such as "Who am I?" or "Where does the world come from?". The book has sold over 20 million copies.



Travel

Here are something travelogues, which I enjoy for their writing style and the writer's personal insight into the hidden facets of the countries visited.

I am a big fan of Bill Bryson. I have read almost all his books now. Here are my three favourite ones (besides A Short History of Everything), respectively about the USA, England and Australia :

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, by Bill Bryson


Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson


Down Under, by Bill Bryson


Jan Morris is also a favourite travel writer :

A Writer's World: Travels 1950-2000, by Jan Morris


The Roads to Sata: A 2000-mile Walk Through Japan, by Alan Booth


Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan, by Alan Booth


Lost Japan, by Alex Kerr
 
Last edited:
Anyone interested in the Indo-Europeans and the migrations that took place in Europe during the Neolithic and Bronze Age should read these books :

The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World , by David W. Anthony


(Let me say that I disagree a bit with chapter 14 though. Anthony doesn't think that a massive invasion of IE steppe people took place toward the Corded-Ware culture. I do because nothing else would explain the strong presence of R1a exactly within the boundaries of the Corded-Ware culture. The problem is that Anthony never mentions once Y-DNA studies, even though his book is from 2007.)

----

The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC, by David W. Anthony


This is a big-format, hard-cover book printed on glossy paper and contain a lot of colour pictures (archaeological remains) and maps. It deals with the Neolithic period in south-east Europe.

----

Encyclopedia of Prehistory: Europe (volume 4)


This is the most complete and detailed work on European prehistory with which I am familiar. It is among the very best, but is quite expensive.
 
Last edited:
Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West, by Jim Penman argues that epigenetic changes caused by the way children are brought up are one of the main driving forces behind the rise and fall of civilisations. The author makes a convincing case that all civilisations suffer from historical cycles correlated with changes in temperament regarding basic values such as work and education. As civilisations get more prosperous, people become lazier, more hedonistic, less strict with children, which gradually leads to looser morals, less discipline, more leniency toward crime, and eventually the decline of the values on which that civilisation was built. The cycles of civilisations, be it in Europe, Japan, China, India or the Middle East, always last for about 300 to 400 years. According the Penman, Western countries, which each have slightly different cycles, peaking around the 19th century (early 19th for France, late 19th for Britain or Germany) and are already in the declining phase, which typically takes 150 to 200 years to reach the bottom.

I found this book thanks to the videos posted by Tomenable, which I encourage you to visualise first. The ideas in this book are certainly thought-provoking and I agree with most of it. The author makes one important mistake though in linking religion with increased C (Civilisation-building traits, such as hard work, small number of children, lots of time and energy devoted to children's education, etc.). It's really all the opposite. Very religious throughout history tended to have lots of children and not to value education as much as less religious people, hence the fall of the Roman Empire coinciding with the rise of Christianity, leading to a millennium of Dark Ages in Europe, which only abated with the rise of sciences and the Enlightenment.

 
Last edited:
The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, by Erin Meyer is very interesting book on cultural differences between countries, which I warmly recommend.



The author is an American married to a Frenchman and a professor at INSEAD international business school in Paris. She builds on the work on famous cross-cultural psychologist Geert Hofstede, who I have mentioned several times on this forum. I used Hoftsede's cultural dimensions to make the map of individualism vs collectivism. Erin Meyer proposes 8 cultural dimensions of her own.

1) Communicating: Low context (e.g. English-speaking countries) vs high context cultures (France, Russia, Asian countries)
Low context means that people of that culture assume that others think very differently from them and everything should be explained clearly and accurately to be understood. High context cultures use a lot of innuendos, second degrees, hidden messages and cultural references that won't easily be understood by outsiders.

2) Evaluating: direct negative feedback (e.g. France, Germany, Russia, Israel) vs indirect negative feedback (Asian, African and Latin American countries)

3) Persuading: principles-first (Italy, Spain, France, Russia) vs application-first (English-speaking countries) vs holistic approach (Asian countries)
Principles-first countries have a more theoretical approach, while application-first are more pragmatic and empirical. The holistic approach looks at the whole picture rather than the details.

4) Leading: egalitarian (Nordic countries, Netherlands, Israel, Australia) vs hierarchical (Asian, African and Latin countries)

5) Deciding: top-down (India, China, Russia, France, Italy, USA) vs consensual (Nordic countries, Netherlands, Japan)

6) Trusting: task-based (English-speaking and Germanic/Nordic countries) vs relationship-based (African, Asian and Latin countries)
Relationship-based countries need to build personal relationships before they can trust someone to do business. These cultures don't distinguish the private and professional spheres. Allegiances are first to people rather than companies or organisations.

7) Disagreeing: confrontational (Israel, Russia, and most European countries except Sweden and UK) vs avoids confrontation (East Asian countries and to a lower extent other Asian countries)

8) Scheduling: linear time (Japan, Germanic & English-speaking countries) vs flexible time (African and South Asian countries, China, and to a lower extent Russia, Turkey and Latin countries)

Linear time means that people have strictly organised schedules and punctuality is expected.
My "default mode" is closest to the British for almost every dimension. Regarding the persuading dimension, I grew up with the French/Belgian theoretical approach (education/nurture), but became much more pragmatic from my late teens as it fitted better my character (nature). However, I have always valued more the big picture than details, so in that dimension only I think I would fit better in the East Asian holistic approach. This is why I favour multidisciplinary approach to science too.

When I entered university, it was extremely hard for me to choose my major, as I wanted to study everything. We can only understand the world if we see every aspect of it, from different angles and at different levels. To understand history one mustn't just know about historical facts, but should also understand human psychology, how people relate with one another (sociology and anthropology), differences between cultures, which in turn are influences by languages. Understanding psychology requires a good grasp of how the brain works (neuroscience), but also of genetic variations that determine how individual brain (and other biological functions) can differ. One cannot attempt to understand the global economy without first learning about cultural differences, which are rooted in historical and genetic divergences. Everything is linked.
 
Last edited:
Last edited:
I have created a Libib library with all the books I have read (minus those I disliked). I did not include textbooks, travel guides or most fictions or works of literature.
 
I have reorganised my book selection and updated all the links to the Kindle version when available and on Amazon USA as it's available worldwide.
 

This thread has been viewed 50601 times.

Back
Top