Ask Matt Karamazov: What is Your Favorite Book That You Have Read This Year?

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Quora is a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users. I’m one of them, and my answers have been viewed nearly 300,000 times, as of this writing. On December 27th, 2017, I answered the question, “What is Your Favorite Book That You Have Read This Year?”, and here is my answer:

Last night I just finished my 100th book of the year. So let me go through my list of finished books this year (I keep a list) and pick out some of my favorites. I’ll see if I can nail down THE favorite. Might be tough!

Here goes:

1. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are starved for experience and decide they need to, have to, MUST hit the open road and see what everyone else is up to all over the country. This is a book that can shake you into wakefulness, and it certainly did that for me.

4. The Perennial Philosophy, by Aldous Huxley

Huxley is one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century, and here he examines what all major religions are REALLY getting at, underneath everything they claim to teach and demand that people believe. He describes the layer of language that prevents us from ever really knowing what the universe is, fundamentally. Because it can never be described in words, people often have the wrong ideas about it. It’s far simpler and more beautiful than most of us have ever considered before.

6. At the Existentialist Cafe, by Sarah Bakewell

This one follows the lives and careers of the most famous existentialist philosophers of the 20th century against the backdrop of World War II and the rise of Hitler. It’s one of the most exciting books I’ve read all year, and I learned things about Camus and Sartre and Beauvoir that I’ve never read anywhere else.

8. The Revolution From Within, by Jiddu Krishnamurti

This is a collection of talks by Krishnamurti given in the 50s and 60s all over the world. He discusses freedom, self-discipline, self-awareness, suffering, change etc and shows how change is really instantaneous. You can never BECOME happier, because the whole time you’re trying to become happier, you are by definition UNHAPPY. You either change now or you never will.

20. The Good Book: A Humanist Bible, by A.C. Grayling

Amazing, amazing, AMAZING. The layout is the same as the regular bible, but Grayling draws from over 1,000 source texts to compile a secular alternative that deals with friendship, suffering, old age, happiness, ethics, morality, being-in-the-world and much more. It’s beautifully written, the author is intimidatingly smart, and I repeatedly put the book down just to think about what he just wrote and say “WOW” to myself over and over.

23. Escape From Evil, by Ernest Becker

Becker won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier book, The Denial of Death, where he showed how the subconscious fear of death drives a lot of our decisions and shapes the way we view the world and our place within it. This is his follow-up book, published by his wife after his death, and it deals with human violence and the prospects that we can overcome our death anxiety and treat each other more humanely. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.

24. The Life You Can Save, by Peter Singer

Peter Singer is one of the most influential ethical thinkers of our time, and in this book he shows how we as a human collective have an incredible amount of power (and responsibility) to improve the lives of the least fortunate among us. I am a personal convert to his system of giving whereby we give according to our means on a sliding scale. It’s not much, but I give away 3.7% of my income, and my goal is to gradually increase that every year.

28. Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche

This is another book that can wake you up rather forcefully. Think of it as one of the smartest people you’ve ever met, yelling at you for hundreds of pages. Yelling at you to tell the truth, take action, and radically affirm your choices in life. His thought experiment of the “Eternal Recurrence” is one I think about often. I literally set a reminder on my phone that flashes “Zarathustra” every hour, and the sole purpose is to remind me of this powerful book and Nietzsche’s ideas.

34. But What If We’re Wrong?, by Chuck Klosterman

Strong candidate for favorite of the year. The main idea is that he’s looking at the present day, from the future, as if it were the past. Seeing what we will still value years from now, and whether we can actually know anything about what’s going on today until it BECOMES the past. Fascinating shit.

43. Every Cradle is a Grave, by Sarah Perry

This is heavy subject matter, but it shifted my thinking in a variety of ways. It deals with the suicide prohibition, as well as whether we ever have the right to decide to bring life into this world. Argument: Many people’s lives don’t go all that well, and we may not have the ethical right to decide whether someone else should be born into a world of terrible suffering. Not for the faint of philosophical heart.

50. Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

You’ve seen the movie, right? The book is just as good! Existential as ever, it has some of the coolest quotes I’ve ever read or heard. “This is your life, and it’s ending, minute by minute.” I can’t say enough about how this book shook me to wakefulness and helped me get down to the business of truly living.

54. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

The creator of Dilbert wrote a self-help book. Skip it? Hell no!!! It’s SO good, and hilarious at times too. The best parts were where he talked about systems versus goals, and how you don’t have to be in the top 10% of your field to have a great career. Being in the top 25% of two different things and then creating your own unique value proposition out of that combination is the way to go.

59. Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts

One of Tim Ferriss’ favorite books, and mine, this one is about the art of long-term world travel. The most powerful idea here is that the more we equate money with real wealth, the more we believe that we are too poor to buy our freedom. Amazing.

61. Doing Good Better, by Will MacAskill

This shifted so many gears inside my mind, it’s crazy. Effective Altruism is all about critically evaluating charity initiatives in order to figure out what is really working as opposed to what just makes us FEEL good, without making any real impact.

68. Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

Oh my god, this book is incredible. It’s science fiction, which I don’t normally read too much of, but this one is…wow. The story is about a boy born on Mars to parents who are from Earth. His parents die and he’s raised on Mars by Martians. He comes back to Earth to start a religion and save humanity. This book strikes at what humanity is really trying to do, what we really want (and don’t want), and it’s just…wow.

74. Against Happiness, by Eric G. Wilson

Wilson talks about Americans’ compulsive search for happiness in a world where suffering is unavoidable and necessary. We’re really only living half of our lives if we try to shut out sadness completely, which we can never really do anyway. It’s short, but spectacular.

79. We Learn Nothing, by Tim Kreider

This is a laugh-out-loud funny collections of essays with a depth of human feeling that was really incredible to behold. Kreider is brilliant, absolutely hilarious, and he’s one of the few people out there it seems who is truly and honestly alive. Highly recommend.

95. Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life, by Alan Watts

Alan Watts is one of my heroes, and I’m on my way to reading everything he’s ever written. He’s the foremost interpreter of Eastern philosophy in the West, and this book is all about the fundamental nature of reality and the self. He describes how we are all (as people) something that the universe is “doing”, in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing. We are basically manifestations of the entire universe achieving consciousness and experiencing ITSELF….Yeah.

97. Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferriss

I hope you’ve heard of this one already. It’s basically collected life advice from some of the most talented and accomplished people in the entire world. Tim asks them all the same 11 questions and their answers are compiled in this one book. Please, please, PLEASE check it out. I got this one for my mother for Christmas!


“The Good Book” by A.C. Grayling!!!

This was a difficult, DIFFICULT choice to make, and I’m probably going to second-guess myself about this one, because every book on this list is phenomenal (in my opinion).

But yea, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

I also take notes on every single book that I read, and I have something like 17 pages of notes on this book alone. You can grab my notes here.

Happy reading!

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

And be sure to check out one of the most epic book lists on the internet:

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