Time for some book recommendations!

First, here are some posts from previous years, if you want access to some of my previous reads. You can also follow me on Goodreads or my Instagram page devoted to book reviews.

Source: Unsplash

It was not that good of a year compared to my last few ones due to a number of factors.

  1. I worked quite a bit in the Summer to save up for my semester (so I wouldn’t have to work a lot during the school year which I am so thankful for because I’ve had more time devoted to studying).
  2. I burnt out a little bit because of my strenuous summer, however. I worked a few (4, actually) 60 weeks and had a couple of 50 hour weeks in there with a few days off (3 in the last two months) which I do not like to celebrate. I point that out only to document that I need to keep my life simple sometimes. It’s healthy to rest, preventing burnout (I am astonished with how reluctant I am to admit even this). I do not like how much culture nowadays celebrates busyness. It is actually much more beneficial to study in increments and to reflect frequently. Let us praise idleness and tranquility more and make sure we’re highlighting how we rest rather than how much we work. That IS my goal for 2020.

With that said, here’s how little I’ve read. I set out to read 70 books this year and failed miserably. And I am actually quite happy about that.

And I want to, as I did in my previous list of books I’ve read, preclude this with my favorite quote about writing from one of my favorite writers, C. S. Lewis:

“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom realize the enormous extension of our being that we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense, but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. My own eyes are not enough for me. …in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

— An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis

My List for 2019

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Source: Unsplash

Favorite Books of 2019

In no particular order.

As was mentioned in the introduction — I have a lot of reviews on my Instagram page and Goodreads.

1. The End of Animal Farming, by Jacy Reese

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This book goes into my ‘favorite’ shelf on Goodreads. Jacy Reese writes so clearly it almost hurts. I am jealous of his skill. I don’t think I’ll be able to write this way for a long time. Much respect in that regard. The arguments that are particularly interesting & — more importantly — new are his discussion on animal rights advocacy that appeals to short-term attention (such as PETA’s media focus on animal cruelty & silly animal costumes that get exposure for being scandalous) vs. much needed long-term credibility. Reese also distinguishes between institutionalized messaging (economic advances) vs. individual messaging (i.e., justifying eating meat because of personal choice).

Methods such as moral outrage have been proven to be inefficient, it is better to show direct ways that vegetarian/ vegan diets affect the planet. That is done by implementing short & concise messages, such as “End animal farming” or “America needs to eat less meat” & by seeking “collective solutions” like petitions against large companies (via Change.org for example) or op-eds that change the consensus among citizens. Animal rights should’ve been discussed as a collective issue with tangible solutions rather than that of personal choice in the 70s and in Singer’s book that sparked the movement. Reese mentions that making these issues too abstract will lead to what social psychologists call “collapse of compassion” which is low compassion to big problems. An exemplary argument is: a vegetarian diet can save anywhere from 371–582 animals annually, but that is only an infinitesimal percentage of the billions of animals in factory farms (over 99% alive). One should expect to feel overwhelmed & discouraged because of the numbers.

Angry advocates are similarly ineffective. Focus not on the negative aspects when defending vegetarianism/ veganism but rather on the positive (health, happiness, goodness, empathy, etc.). Alternatives to angry protests should be “temporarily blocking slaughterhouse trucks” in order to give water to the animals, & participating in peaceful, professional, & respectable protests.

Vegans are often misrepresented for being aggressive anarchists, that can & should change in the coming decades. I believe Reese does an exceptional job of outlining how.

He concludes his book by pointing out something that advocates should remind themselves of: “If you recognize the moral catastrophe of animal farming, you are a moral pioneer. As you walk with other advocates, you stand on the footsteps of people from every generation, around the world, who have fought for other Copernican leaps in the expansion of humanity’s moral circle such as the inclusion of women, people of color, and people who live in distant locations” (163).

Great book, Jacy Reese.

2. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells

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Currently, pollution globally kills as many as nine million people annually (183). In the United States, in 2017, the cost of climate change was $306 billion (166). Globally, however, if we continue under “business-as-usual” conditions, we will experience a loss of $551 trillion in damages at 3.7 degrees warming by 2100 (166). More than 140 million people will be climate migrants by 2050 — estimates exclusive to sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, & Latin America (119). That is not to mention the other 20 major cities that will be evacuated: Miami, New Jersey, Hong Kong, Baghdad, Paris, New York, Montreal, Seattle, and others. In fact, 2.4 million American homes & businesses — $1 trillion in value — will experience chronic flooding (119). 97 percent of Florida will be off the map by 2100, calculated by leading ocean chemist David Archer (68). The science on this is irrefutable, experts claim. The predictions may vary in severity. Business-as-usual will, however, not prevent apocalyptic calamities from regularly occurring.

I have read about climate change before and have started revisiting the topic because of personal projects related and I could not be more fortunate to have stumbled upon this book by David Wallace-Wells. His opening statement beautifully sums up the book: “It is worse, much worse, than you think.”

The book is divided into three parts: (1) “Elements of Chaos,” where he discusses the potential threats of human-caused Climate Change, (2) “The Climate Kaleidoscope,” how climate change will change the way we view everything, & (3) “The Anthropic Principle” where he elaborates on human exceptionalism & why this view is problematic, although, this section was mostly a summary of issues that were discussed in previous chapters.

The most enlightening parts of the book were in the first section. Chapters address: Heat Waves, Hunger, Drowning, Wildfire, Oceans, Freshwater, Plagues, Economic Collapse, etc. As mentioned in my opening paragraph, these are pressing issues that need global unity. This book could not have come at a more important.

3. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari

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I truly adored this book. Yuval Noah Harari has been among my favorite thinkers for some time now. I have always been impressed with how original he is. In that sense, he’s among Robert Sapolsky, Daniel Kahneman, Peter Singer, Steven Pinker, and others.

Homo Deus is one thousand times more impressive than Homo Sapiens if you ask me. The only fault in this book is that it’s not a series. I enjoyed every page and started listening to the audiobook as I was reading the book just because I wanted to be saturated in the material.

Harari discusses endorphin & serotonin injections, artificial intelligence, eternal life, anthropocentrism & climate change, animal consciousness, the nature of the ‘Self’, the negative effects of Religion, the rise of Humanism and how Humanism replaced Religion, among many other intriguing topics.

There was something new I learned on every page of this book whether that being about Peter Thiel’s investments, research on implanting chips into rats, discussions on consciousness, sentience, neuroscience, or why Humanism arose. I could not recommend this book enough. 5/5. It belongs on my favorites shelf. It’s one of those books I’ll give to everyone I know.

4. The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker

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Steven Pinker is a scholar that never fails to impress. He’s one of a kind. I honestly cannot imagine how much work books like this monstrous volume take to publish, yet here he is publishing works like this every two years, or so. With over 30 books published, I can picture that he has very little free time.

The Blank Slate is a great literary, scientific, & philosophical achievement. This is as good as it gets when it comes to sitting down & writing non-fiction. The topic may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it has long been discussed from Locke, Rosseau, Hobbes, to Richard Dawkins (in the “Selfish Gene”) and Yuval Noah Harari more recently in “Homo Deus”, among many others.

Pinker explains how modern intellectual movements have wrongly embraced Locke’s conception of the tabula rasa or “blank slate.” He says that intellectuals have linked three dogmas with human nature: (1) the mind does not have innate traits (the Blank Slate), (2) the Noble Savage (people are corrupted by society and born good), & (3) everyone makes choices separate from their biological inclinations (the Ghost in the Machine).

Some of his conclusions are that we are neither blank slates, nor completely modified by our early environments. He discusses the literature extensively, tying in evolutionary psychology with neuroscience, linguistics, and biology. His understanding is, needless to say, astonishing.

Crisp, clear, & comprehensive. A fantastic volume.

5. C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, by Alister E. McGrath

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Lewis, “a short, thickset man with a ruddy face and a big voice” (as described by Time magazine in 1947) was an unexpected international Christian superstar. Lewis was among the few Irish aspiring poets at Oxford. By his students, he was known for being poorly dressed, filling his quarters at Magdalen College with incessant cigarette smoke, and for having a robust laugh & loud voice that would echo through the Halls of the College, resembling Treebeard from Tolkien’s L of the R, a character that was based on Lewis. Tolkien even went so far to say that without Lewis’ encouragement, he would have never finished his internationally acclaimed trilogy.

Lewis is best known for writing Narnia and being a Christian apologist, despite his most known work of Apologetics being a weak philosophical work that was simply not intended to be read by philosophers or academics. The book, Mere Christianity, was a collection of BBC radio talks that Lewis gave over the course of the 2nd world war when England needed a non-denominational voice of hope for the Religious that were the backbone of British society. Lewis was not a fan of Apologetics himself. He wrote: “nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that faith seems to me so spectral [as] one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate” (Lecture, “Christian Apologetics”, 1945).

Lewis’ infamous defense, for example, of the divinity of Christ, Grayling considers “a weak argument” (227). He says that “the inner logic of this argument clearly presupposes a Christian framework of reasoning” (227). Jesus very easily could have neither been mad, evil, nor divine but simply badly misinformed, misinterpreted, or made divine by later followers, perhaps primarily by Paul. Some have recently even popularized such notions (think: Bart Ehrman). McGrath charitably concludes that this section of Mere Christianity “cries out for expansion, and more careful qualification” (227).

It was G. E. M. Anscombe, the analytic philosopher, that put Lewis’ apologetic career into question when in a debate at the Socratic Club of which Lewis was once president. Lewis, commenting on Abscombe’s work “Why I believe in God”, writes: “Having obliterated me as an apologist, ought she not to succeed me?” Lewis thus turned to “fiction & symbol” as his primary means of defending the faith in his later life (260).

McGrath also raises attention to an essay published in 1947 by Lewis titled, “Vivisection” in defense of animals in which Lewis writes: “[We] ought to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us” (237). Lewis’ attitude towards animals can similarly be seen in his classic, The Chronicles of Narnia.

There are parts of Lewis’ life that, if correctly presented by McGrath, leave me concerned. About Lewis’ ultimate conversion to Christianity, McGrath writes: “Lewis came to believe in Christianity partly because of the quality of its literary vision — its ability to give a faithful and realistic account of life. Lewis was thus drawn to Christianity not so much by arguments in its favor, but by its compelling vision of reality, which he could not ignore — and, as events proved, could not resist”(281). This, however, also relies on a priori convictions that are not convincing to those that do not hold these convictions.

McGrath’s biography, it must be mentioned, would not have been finished without the scholarly commitment of Lewis’ personal secretary of the summer of 1963, Walter Hooper. Hooper single-handedly collected & edited some 3,500 pages of Lewis’ correspondence (2000–2006), not to mention previously publishing collections of his essays, such as “God in the Dock”. These letters formed the “narrative backbone” of CS Lewis: A Life, writes McGrath (368).

I have met Walter Hooper on separate occasions in Oxford, attending an interview with New York Times best-selling author, Eric Metaxas, and had an unforgettable conversation with him about my residence in Oxford, at the Trout Inn, after which he introduced me to Eric Metaxas.

I moved to Oxford because of Lewis. His imagination, background in philosophy, commitment to intellectual curiosity, & troubling past place him close to my heart.

That is all!

Much less books read than in previous years.

Which I am very happy about.

It was, to borrow from a title of a book that I’ve benefited from this year, a highly turbulent year with a fair share of hiccups and personal revelations.

I am glad I took some long breaks from reading to work and to spend time with the ones close to me.

I hope you’ve benefited from this list in some way! Please, do let me know.

Before you go…

🗣 I love connecting with fellow thinkers. Find me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.

I’d love it if you’d share the article on Facebook/TWITTER if you want your friends to benefit from it in some way at all.

I write to keep you thinking and to keep me thankful and reflective. Cheers and until next time,

keep reflecting.

Author of “Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century” on AMAZON | Exploring Ethical Living | IG: jakub.ferencik.official

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