A List of Lists of Books Recommended by Famous (and Somewhat Famous) People

Introduction

A Photo of a Stack of Books
This image was generously licensed under the Creative Commons by Alexandre Dulaunoy.

In 2011 I wrote a list of lists of books and it has remained a perennial favorite till the present. I figured it was time to revisit the list. The revamped list has expanded far beyond the original and as such needs to be broken down into sections. This section consists of lists of books recommended by famous (or semi-famous) individuals.

If you know of other recommended reading lists written by the famous, let me know and I just may add them to this article and give you a little hat tip (HT).
Thanks to Margaret Mackey for assisting with the research for this post.
This is the first in a series of lists of lists. Follow the blog to receive updates as each new post is released. You can follow the blog by entering your email on the left or by liking the Facebook page or by following the Twitter account. Or by my favorite method, subscribing to the RSS feed.

Osama Bin Laden

36 Books: Brian Ries. Here Are the Books Osama Bin Laden Was Reading. Mashable, May 20, 2015.

Bin Laden was a serious reader – of serious literature. Check out this fascinating list that includes titles such as Checking Iran’s Nuclear AmbitionsChristianity and Islam in Spain 756-1031 A.D., Handbook of International Law, and Obama’s Wars. It seems Bin Laden took seriously the adage to know one’s enemy.

David Bowie

75 Books: Maria Popova. David Bowie’s Formative Reading List of 75 Favorite Books. Brain Pickings, Nov. 3, 2013.

All but two of Bowie’s recommended books were published during his lifetime, and the two that weren’t were published within 2 years of his birth.  They span a wide variety of topics, from poetry to fiction to history.

Stewart Brand

76 Books: Maria Popova. Stewart Brand’s Reading List: 76 Books to Sustain and Rebuild Humanity. Brain Pickings, March 7, 2014.

American author, co-founder of Long Now and editor of The Whole Earth catalog, gives us his list of must-read books.

Carl Sagan

 10 Books: Maria Popova. Carl Sagan’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, July 11, 2012.

A small sample of Carl Sagan’s reading list.

Brian Eno

20 Books: Maria Popova. Brian Eno’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, March 3, 2014.

Wikipedia says he is a musician, composer, record producer, singer, visual artist, and one of the principal innovators of ambient music.

Clifton Fadiman (and John S. Major)

133 Books: Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major. The New Lifetime Reading Plan, 4th ed, Interleaves, 1997.

American intellectual, author, editor and radio and television personality Clifton Fadiman gives us his “lifetime reading plan.” The original was authored solely by Clifton, but this later edition was co-written with John S. Major.

Joel Gascoigne

50 Books: Joel Gascoigne. 50 Books That Transformed My Business and Life. Entrepreneur, March 13, 2015.

Co-founder and CEO at Buffer.

Bill Gates

6 Books: Viktor Reklaitis. 6 Books Bill Gates Says You Should Read. MarketWatch, October 30, 2014.

Includes a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, surprising, not Teams of Rivals.

190+ Books: Bill Gates. Book Reviews. Gates Notes, ongoing.

These aren’t necessarily Bill Gates favorite books, but they are books he has reviewed on his blog. This is an ongoing blog series by him, so the number will grow.

Sam Harris

12 Books: Maria Popova. Neuroscientist Sam Harris Selects 12 Books Everyone Should Read. Brain Pickings, July 21, 2015.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist also known for his vocal atheism.

Will Hatton

45 Books: Will Hatton. The Forty-Five Best Books To Read On The Road. Matador Network, June 19, 2015.

Will Hatton has compiled an excellent list of captivating stories of travelers far and wide – stories guaranteed to captivate and inspire you.

Mark Manson

7 Books: Mark Manson. Mark Manson’s 7 Books That Will Change How You See the World. April 2, 2015.

Manson is an author and blogger. Really great list that includes a summary of each work but Manson is heavy on the profane language.

Barack Obama

6 Books: Brittany Levine Beckman. Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List. Mashable, Aug. 14, 2015.

Leo Tolstoy

45+ Books: Maria Popova. Leo Tolstoy’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, Sept. 30, 2014.

Tolstoy himself penned this list of recommended reading.  He divided his recommendations into age groups, from childhood to age 63,  and then further subdivided the list into books recommended as “great”, “very great”, and “enormous.”

Alan Turing

5 Books: Maria Popova. Alan Turing’s Reading List. Brain Pickings, March 12, 2012.

16 Books: John Graham Cumming. Alan Turing’s Reading List (with readable links). Feb. 2012.

Alan Turing was a British pioneering computer scientist, mathematician, logician, crypt-analyst and theoretical biologist.  This is a list of the books he borrowed from his school library.

Both of these posts reference the same list. Unfortunately I have been unable to find the original list by Alex Bellos. I suppose I could take a jaunt over to The Wayback Machine.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

8 Books: Maria Popova. Neil deGrasse Tyson Selects the Eight Books Every Intelligent Person on the Planet Should Read.  Brain Pickings, Dec. 29, 2014.

A fairly standard list of books – The Bible, Newton’s The System of the World, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and so on.

Fluidstance’s The Level: Crucial or Overrated?

Prelude

I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized The Level had been shipped to me but then stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!

I’ve been using it for the past few months. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet / garage / attic. Well, it is a New Year and I am ready to report.

It Is All About Me

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.
Fluidstance’s The Level (Natural Maple), available for $289.

Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.

I have a quantity and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.

Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The Presentation

Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.

Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc. I suppose). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).

Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they don’t just say this. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.

 

I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.

The Quality

The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.

You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a  few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it.

Does It Work?

We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.

I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experienced significant flares in my chronic pain if I remained in any one position too long.[1] It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time either without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.

Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.[2]

These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.[3]

The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.

Found Out the Hard Way

When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t a tricky experience meant to throw you on your back, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet[4]. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on a carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.[5]

Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion  – use carpet!

Price

The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices.

As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:

  1. Why would I buy this product? Is it because its new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
  2. How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is grand advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
  3. Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
  4. Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?

If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:

  1. What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
  2. What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
  3. What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?

Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying repeatedly. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will need replacement or repairs.

For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hr. each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!

Conclusion

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much[6] but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.

The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?

 

  1. [1] Sometimes the pain can get bad after ten or fifteen minutes, definitely if I try to do seated desk work for more than one day in a row I’ll end up somewhat incapacitated by the end of the second day.
  2. [2] I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.
  3. [3] Not usually and this includes perhaps attending a meeting which is sit-down and walking around the office, to the bathroom, etc…You know, normal stuff.
  4. [4] Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.
  5. [5] Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.
  6. [6] Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor.

Logos Offering 24 Free Books for Theological Studies

I just want to throw this out there, Logos is doing an advent giveaway in which they are giving away twenty-four different biblical resources that can be utilized in their Logos software.A drawing of books standing next to each other

You don’t have Logos? Good news, you can get the base install for free.

You don’t have to worry about having missed any of the free volumes either, each volume is unveiled on a separate day but the past volumes are also available (till the end of advent).

Note: Logos focuses on academic resources, I wouldn’t recommend these books to those beginning biblical studies (whether as a lay person or academically) with the exception of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary.

Thus far the selection has included:

  • Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews – Based on the New Living Translation. This is a good commentary to have.
  • N.T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God. – Wright is one of the most controversial and well-known contemporary theologians.
  • Calvin’s Calvinism (2 Volumes) – John Calvin was one of the most famous theologians of the Protestant Reformation and his thought has been integral to much of present-day theology.
  • Tabletalk Magazine Bundle: Christian History (11 Issues) – Covers the second to twelfth centuries of Christian history.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s offers will be!

P.S. There are also a few other books Logos offers for free. Of these I’d most highly recommend :

  • Faithlife Study Bible – A constantly growing digital study bible. A great resource, fairly friendly for any reader.
  • Lexham Bible Dictionary – An awesome, constantly growing dictionary of the Bible. You don’t need to throw away those old, old print dictionaries you may have, but refer to the Lexham Bible Dictionary first to ensure you are learning about the latest studies. I find developments in understanding the Greek language and archaeological studies especially fascinating!
  • Crucial Questions Series (20 Volumes) by R.C. Sproul – I haven’t read these volumes myself, but Sproul has a solid reputation. His thought is from the Reformed school, which means an emphasis on predestination over free-will.
  • The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition – The Society for Biblical Languages (SBL) is well-known for its quality resources. If you want to read the New Testament in Greek, this can be a great Greek version to read.