• Cody McCauley

2020 Reading List

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

I will be actively updating this list with new books as I finish them throughout the year. I'll leave short reviews for them as well.

  • Seeing Like a State - James C. Scott: I decided to dive into Seeing Like a State after reading Venkatesh Rao’s excellent article summarizing the main concepts of the book. I went into reading the book with expectations that it would be a bit dry and academic, but that I’d discover a plethora of useful insights. After finishing it, I’d say my expectations were pretty spot on. Seeing Like a State isn’t a page turner, and it won’t be the most exciting thing you read, but it’s densely packed with unique and novel insights into the concept of authoritarian high-modernism. Reading this will certainly leave you with a new perspective on state-level programs and top-down thinking. (4/5)

  • The Storm Before the Storm - Mike Duncan: I first learned about Mike Duncan when I came across his podcast, The History of Rome. After listening to the first episode, I was awed by his unique storytelling ability. Through a combination of wit and dry humor, Duncan makes history straight-up fun. When I learned that he followed up his podcast series with this book, I knew I had to read it. My love of Roman history might make me a bit biased, but I thought this book was a blast. It’s also incredibly timely. Despite focusing on the events of two millennia ago, The Storm Before the Storm unveils a host of parallels with our contemporary world. Any fans of history will have trouble putting this book down. (4/5)

  • Grant - Ron Chernow: I finally finished up Grant after chugging through it over the past couple of months. At 1,097 pages in length, it certainly doesn’t skirt any details on the whirlwind life of Ulysses S. Grant. In Grant, Ron Chernow does an epic job of chronicling the—often misunderstood—life and legacy of America’s 18th President and Civil War hero. While I wouldn’t quite put Chernow on the pedal stool of Robert Caro, he’s right up there with other great modern biographers like Walter Isaacson. Despite its length, I remained engaged throughout the book and would highly recommend Grant to any American history buffs as well as fans of politics and military history more generally. (4.5/5)

  • Zen Mind Beginner's Mind - Shunryu Suzuki: This was my second time reading Zen Mind Befinner’s Mind, and I’m glad I went back to it. I have no doubt I’ll return for a third read at some point as well. Prior to reading this book the first time two years ago, I had dabbled with zen meditation but never found consistency. I gave it another go this year and now finally have a consistent daily practice. Shunryu Suzuki’s words have been incredibly helpful for me in getting there. Even if you’re not interested in meditation, I still think this is worth a read. There are countless quips throughout you’ll find yourself reading over and over again. (4.5/5)

  • Borne - Jeff Wandermeer: Borne was the first sci-fi book I’ve picked up in a few months, and it was an awesome return to the genre. Reading a book as far out as this stretches your mind and makes you realize the value of reading fiction. I sometimes put off reading fiction by convincing myself that I’ll learn more from non-fiction books, but the reality is that fiction has just as much to offer. Jeff Vandermeer crafted an amazingly bizarre world in Borne, and I certainly plan to make a trip back for the sequel.(4/5)

  • The Book of Five Rings - Myamoto Musashi: The Book of Five Rings was mentioned frequently throughout Certain to Win (which I recently read) as one of John Boyd’s favorite books. Miyamoto Musashi’s writing had a large influence on how John Boyd approached his own strategic thinking. While the book is singularly focused on the way of the sword, it’s lessons expand to cover all aspects of life. If you give Musashi's words the attention they deserve, this is the type of book that can have a profound impact on your thinking. (5/5)

  • The Psychology of Money - Morgan Housel: When Morgan Housel released his new book, The Psychology of Money, I couldn’t wait to get started. Despite generally avoiding the hype of new releases to focus on books that have stood some test of time, I figured diving into Housel’s new work would be worth it. And it certainly was. Housel has the unique ability to take dry and complex topics and turn them into thoughtful and digestible stories. The Psychology of Money is filled with practical takeaways and is worth a read for anyone interested in being better with their money. My guess is that’s most of us. (4/5)

  • The Lessons of History - Will Durant: The Lessons of History is nothing short of a masterpiece. Will & Ariel Durant’s achievement of distilling the most important lessons of over 5,000 years of history into 128 pages is truly remarkable. There are very few books I’ve read that offer as many interesting takeaways on a per-page basis. This is a book that I’ll repeatedly be coming back to my notes on for a long time. (5/5)

  • Certain To Win - Chet Richards: In Certain To Win, Chet Richards does a great job of translating John Boyd’s legendary military strategy to business. Along with creating the OODA Loop, Boyd developed a number of additional theories and methodologies that have shaped our modern approach to warfare. While Boyd’s writing focused on military tactics and he never explicitly laid out business strategy, he studied it deeply. He voraciously read about the Toyota Production System and considered it an implementation of ideas similar to his own. Having been a close associate of Boyd, Richards is able to offer a unique lens into Boyd’s thinking applied to business. This quick read packs a powerful punch and belongs on the book-shelf of any so-called strategist. (4/5)

  • Zero to One - Peter Thiel: Zero to One sat on my reading list for quite some time before I finally picked it up. Despite having rave reviews and being considered one of the quintessential books on startups, I never felt compelled to prioritize it ahead of other books on my list. After finishing it, I’ll admit that was a mistake—I should have read it sooner. Peter Thiel is one of the great contrarian thinkers of our time, and his work speaks for itself. Setting his somewhat controversial political views aside, Thiel is an expert founder, operator, and investor. Zero to One offers a fantastic outline of Thiel’s business philosophy and his filled to the brim with valuable advice. This is worth a read regardless of your interest in the startup economy. (4.5/5)

  • Essentialism - Greg McKeown: Essentialism is a book that I wish I knew about much sooner. Greg McKeown’s philosophy of essentialism is a powerful antidote to the craziness of our non-stop world. McKeown lays out the argument that we can actually accomplish more by doing less through the relentless pursuit of focusing on what’s essential. By setting out on the path to essentialism, we can all make the highest possible contribution to the things that really matter to us. Essentialism was an impactful read that will now be high up on my list of recommendations. (4.5/5)

  • Master of the Senate - Robert Caro: With finishing Master of the Senate, I’ve now made it through ~2,750 pages of Robert Caro’s masterful The Years of Lyndon Johnson series. Clocking in at 1,200 pages, Master of the Senate is one of the most detailed and impressive chronicles of the U.S. senate ever published. While I encourage, and highly recommend, reading the entire series, Master of the Senate can easily be read on a standalone basis. It’s a phenomenal read that will leave you with a working knowledge of how our legislative system truly works. As I have said before, and I’ll say again, Robert Caro is the best biographer to ever put pen to paper. (5/5)

  • The Decadent Society - Ross Douthat: In The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat drills deep into a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and commenting on over the past year. He pulls back the curtain on the current state of our society, which in many regards has hit a plateau. Due to a combination of wealth and technological proficiency, tied with political stalemates and economic stagnation, our pace of advancement has slowed to a trickle. Douthat offers an excellent diagnosis of how we got here and why we’re stuck at a standstill. While he doesn’t offer a perfect solution for leaving our age of decadence behind, he does offer a range of explanations for how it might end. This is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the driving forces behind societal change. (4/5)

  • Wool - Hugh Howey: Wool has received fantastic reviews and I was excited to dive into this as my next sci-fi series. My excitement quickly faded after I made the mistake of listening to it as an audiobook. This was the worst narrated audiobook that I’ve ever listened to. The voices used by the narrator for the male characters are beyond painful to listen to. Nonetheless, I persevered through as the story itself is fantastic. Wool is an excellent tale of survival set in a dystopian future that one can easily draw parallels to with our current world. I’ll definitely continue the series and recommend this to all sci-fi fans—just make sure you avoid the audiobook version. (4/5)

  • Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground was my first foray into Dostoevsky’s work. His novels are often considered to be complicated and difficult to follow for someone who hasn’t previously read him, so I settled on Notes from Undergroundafter finding many recommendations pointing to it as the best place to start. Despite having aged more than 150 years, Dostoevsky’s social commentary in Notes from Underground is just as relevant today as it was when he penned the novella in 1684. This is a great starting point for anyone interested in exploring Dostoevsky. (5/5)

  • René Girard's Mimetic Theory - Wolfgang Palaver: René Girard stated in an interview that Wolfgang Palaver's book, René Girard's Memetic Theory, was the most thorough overview of his mimetic theory available. That led me to pick this up as my next read on Girard. It certainly didn't disappoint. While at times a bit dense and technical, Palaver does an incredible job of breaking down and analyzing the mimetic theory. I highly recommend this for anyone with level 1 knowledge of Girard's work that would like to go deeper on his ideas. (4/5)

  • Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with Rene Redzepi, the Greatest Chef in the World - Jeff Gordinier: René Redzepi is one of the world's best chefs as well as one of its most interesting people. His restaurant Noma has been rated #1 in the world four times on the 50 Best Restaurants in the World list. I've long been fascinated with Redzepi and his uncompromising attention to detail. In Hungry, Jeff Gordinier gives us his fascinating account of traveling with Redzepi and getting to know him over the past decade. This one is well worth a read for anyone interested in the food world as well as those more generally interested in understanding the inner workings of someone at the top of their craft. (4/5)

  • Reading the Bible with René Girard - Michael Hardin: After committing to going deeper into the work of Rene Girard, I spent some time researching the best place to start. Many of the comments I came across recommended starting with his interviews rather than his original works. Girard is a complex thinker and diving straight into his work can be quite a challenge. This is especially true for those not familiar with his theories. Having already spent a bit of time acquiring a baseline knowledge of his work, I settled on this book as my jumping-off point. This ended up being a great decision. Reading the Bible with Rene Girard is an annotated transcript of conversations Girard had with the author, Steven Berry. These conversations peel back the curtain on both the formation and application of Girard's Theory of Mimetic Desire. I highly recommend this as a starting point for anyone else looking to learn more about Girard. (4/5)

  • The Mask of Command - John Keegan: This was a masterclass on the topics of command and leadership. Through analysis of Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler, John Keegan does an incredible job of distilling 2,000+ years of military command into 350 pages. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in history or leadership in general. (5/5)

  • Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology - Johnjoe McFadden/Jim Al-Khalili: This book was a real struggle for me to get through. While there are many interesting takeaways from it, I should have cut my losses and stopped reading it after the first hundred pages. It’s incredibly science-heavy and many of the topics went a bit over my head. Skip this one in favor of a YouTube or TedX video on the subject unless you have a deep interest in quantum mechanics and biology. (2.5/5)

  • The Old Drift - Namwali Serpell: I can’t quite remember how this novel landed on my to-read list, but I’m very happy it did. With her debut novel, Namwali Serpell hit nothing short of a home run.The Old Drift is a coming of age epic chronicling life in pre-colonial to modern-day Zambia that hits the full spectrum of emotions. Part history, part sci-fi, part social and political commentary—this novel has it all. (4.5/5)

  • The Obstacle Is The Way - Ryan Holiday: This was an inspiring quick read filled with tangible examples of overcoming obstacles—big and small. The writing is blunt and gets straight to the point, which I always appreciate. Perfect for an extra bit of motivation to stay the course as we continue along in this truly weird world of COVID-19. (5/5)

  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York - Robert A. Caro: As I’ll tell anyone who asks me, Robert Caro is the best biographer ever. Period. Words can’t do justice in describing the unique ability he has to chronicle the lives of the subjects he’s written about. I learned more about New York and how it became the city it is today through this book than by living here for the past six years and spending my entire life around it combined. Robert Moses had an unfathomable impact on shaping modern-day New York, and this book succeeds beyond any expectation that can be set in telling his story. (5/5)

  • Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age - Stephen Platt: As China continues to develop into a world-leading power, I found this to be an incredibly timely and worthwhile read. The Opium War was a potent turning point in China’s modern history and stands as the divide between their last Golden Age and restructuring following a period of turmoil after the war. Platt gives an enlightening yet entertaining account of the events that lead up to the war and how it ultimately unfolded. Recommended for anyone who finds historical parallels useful in navigating the present and future. (4/5)

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values - Robert Pirsig: This book is a gold mine of philosophical quips and metaphors, but it’s not always easy to get through. You need to really be focusing to extract the full value of the ideas that Pirsig presents, and if you’re even the slightest bit distracted you’ll find yourself constantly having to go back and reread what you just read. Even when you are fully focused, it’s still helpful to reread much of his writing to ensure you’re capturing the full breadth of his thoughts. That being said, this one is a modern-day classic for a reason and it’s well deserving of that status. (4.5/5)

  • Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5) - Pierce Brown: After recently finishing the fourth book in this series, I couldn’t wait to get started on the next book. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Pierce Brown’s writing continues to blow my mind and I can’t wait for the release of the sixth—and likely final—book to (hopefully) arrive later this year. (5/5)

If you want to keep up with what I'm reading in real-time, please subscribe to my newsletter. Each week I share the books I'm currently reading as well as my thoughts on those I've recently read.

103 views0 comments