Thirty Years And The Five Books That Defined Them

They See Me Reading’, They Hatin…

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For all 30 years of my life I’ve been a pretty avid reader, a calling card in my social circles. I get asked for book recommendations fairly regularly, especially this time of year as the weather gets cooler and folks start taking a little time for R and R. 

Are these THE books that changed my life? As in, the only ones? Not really. Charting every single work that had an impact on my life seems like a pretty futile exercise, plus the time it would take to read an article that long is time better spent reading…well…a book. Anyway… in no particular order, here are the books that made the biggest impact on the first 30 years of my life… 

1) Why We Get Fat (And What To Do About It), Gary Taubes 

The majority of Americans, especially those my age, are prepared to accept the idea that government influence warps what we believe to be the “truth.” In this abbreviated version of “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” Taubes shines light on 50+ years of Federal influence in dietary theory and policy. This influence, he argues, has lead to a focus on fat and calories as the harbinger of obesity and heart disease…despite the evidence that these may not be the culprit at all. There’s lots of great detail in here and the book reads like a piece of long form, investigative journalism. If I had to pick a single book that changed my life, I couldn’t. I could pick two though, this one is the first. 

2) 1984, George Orwell

The second book to change my life is this Orwellian classic. I read it first in 2007…the themes were true then and truer now: government surveillance, federal attempts to modify “the narrative,” endless wars of flip-flopping alliances. The book has received renewed interest during the Trump administration but its staying power is proof that all administrations are guilty of similar sins against the truth, in some form or another. 

3) The Obesity Code, Dr. Jason Fung

While the yarn that Fung weaves is similar to that of Taubes in “Why We Get Fat,” this is still must-see reading for those interested in weight loss. This book lead me to intermittent fasting, a life changing shift that, though I was less than optimistic, was surprisingly easy to adopt. Fung argues that we’ve spent decades asking “what” we should eat forgoing the question of “when” we should eat. Fung, a doctor specializing in diabetes, packs this tome full of detail, but it’s a fairly easy read…for the better.

4) A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

I stumbled upon this title in a Rolling Stone Magazine review and it’s just so…unique. Clocking in just south of 700 pages that flip and flop between characters, (some that speak traditional Jamaican Patois, some that are ghosts) locations, and years, “Seven Killings” is a marathon in the truest sense of the word. The book, which has a backdrop of a failed assassination attempt on Bob Marley, could very easily mean different things to different people. A challenging, long read, the narrative speaks to anyone familiar with trying to make something of themselves.

5) The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright

I came of age in the shadow of 9/11 and the, now, nearly two decade war on terror. “Tower” was an education, for me, in a myriad of history and issues I was too young to be well read on when the towers fell as a 6th grader. This book serves as an education, for everyone, on the straight line relationships between the origins of “muslim extremism” in the 1940’s all the way through to 9/11. Wright outlines, painfully, the steps…intentional and accidental alike…taken by the CIA and FBI that blundered attempts to prevent the attack. This isn’t conspiracy laden, “Loose Change” type stuff, “Tower” is the result of years of fact driven research. A Hulu Original miniseries by the same name covers about the last third of the book…it’s a good adaptation…but an adaptation all the same. This book is a must read.

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