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Kevin Anderson

2023 in Reading

Books13 min read

I had two goals with my reading this year: more fiction and less business.

I read too many business books in 2022. I say “too many” because even many of the good ones could have been a long blog post. The time investment is generally not a favorable one for me, and as a result you’ll see few of them recommended here. I wish I had read more fiction, but overall I think this is a better split than last year. I was more selective in what I finished, with only 8.7% being stinkers vs 17% in 2022.

pie chart of categories. Fiction is the highest with 17.5%

I was really happy a friend inspired me to read more philosophy. Time spent thinking about deep questions brings me a kind of peaceful happiness. If you’re curious but not sure what to start with, there are some great YouTube channels on philosophy such as Overthink Podcast or you can’t go wrong with the Simon Blackburn book below.

Another friend joked after last year’s list that I should read 100 books. I didn’t think this was possible until I realized that I spend an incredible amount of time on trains, usually about 15 hours per week. Due to that unusual circumstance (which is temporary) I was able to read 138. I’ll deliberately be reading less in 2024 to focus on other goals, but it was a fun experiment to see what my “max” is. Hopefully you don’t spend as much time commuting, so here’s what I’d recommend:

Must Reads, Non-Fiction

West With the Night, Beryl Markham

To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told—that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.

Beryl Markham standing beside her airplane Tekniska museet, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I could ask, 'Why risk it?' as I have been asked since, and I could answer, 'Each to his element.' By his nature a sailor must sail, by his nature a flyer must fly. I could compute that I had flown a quarter of a million miles; and I could foresee that, so long as I had a plane and the sky was there, I should go on flying more miles.

There was nothing extraordinary in this. I had learned a craft and had worked hard learning it. My hands had been taught to seek the controls of a plane. Usage had taught them. They were at ease clinging to a stick, as a cobbler's fingers are in repose grasping an awl. No human pursuit achieves dignity until it can be called work, and when you can experience a physical loneliness for the tools of your trade, you see that the other things—the experiments, the irrelevant vocations, the vanities you used to hold—were false to you.

Beryl Markham was the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from Britain to the United States. Before this she spent time as a bush pilot and racehorse trainer in Kenya where she grew up. On top of all of this she was an excellent writer, which is fortunate for all of us because she was able to describe her adventurous life in such a captivating way.

Deserts on the March, Paul Bigelow Sears

It is crazy to me that this book was written in 1935, and also tragic that we knew about the increasing danger of deforestation and desertification so long ago and have done surprisingly little to slow it. One of the most surprising things about becoming a pilot is that you develop an entirely different view of the world from up there. Most of the earth is actually kind of a wasteland, and humanity inhabits the coasts and tiny cracks of water which cut through the continents. Irrigation has expanded this (see: the American West) but as Sears ominously notes: no irrigated society has ever avoided collapse.

Think: A compelling Introduction to Philosophy, Simon Blackburn

Probably the best intro to philosophy I’ve found. A Quick summary of most of the major themes and questions. I read this because I had a goal of reading more philosophy this year and I had no idea where to begin. If you’re trying to study more philosophy yourself, I’d say pick this up and select 2-3 themes you’re most curious about and just google the canonical works. This is how we ended up with…

The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, Albert Camus

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

…two essays by Camus on the must read list. Absurdism is fascinating to me. If the universe is irrational and meaningless, what should we do? how should we live? Camus argues that we should revolt by embracing all our unpredictable and unexplainable world has to offer.

What counts is not the best living but the most living.

Picture This: How Pictures Work, Molly Bang

The only book about composition that I’ve ever enjoyed, and I think it’s worth reading even if you are not a visual artist. The author teaches you composition as a storytelling tool by…telling a story. Along the way you also learn why the human brain responds like it does to different visual cues and colors.

Must Reads, Fiction

The Brothers Karamazov

Does God exist? Is this the greatest novel ever written? It’s a top 3 for me. It has everything: mystery, murder, money, matrimony and monks. Dad and son fall in love with the same woman— murder, hilarity and a debate over the meaning of an increasingly secular society in a world where God exists…or doesn’t depending on the brother, ensue. I’d recommend the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation (McDuff is brutal).

The Metamorphosis

Follow along with Gregor Samsa as he is transformed into a “monstrous vermin” and struggles to keep the increasingly absurd world around him from falling apart. This will probably be the craziest book you read this year. Debate continues over what the allegoric meaning of the story is, Vladimir Nabokov believed it had none. Given Kafka’s personal life, you could certainly draw parallels between himself and Samsa’s struggles with their respective societies.

Klara and the Sun

This is a story set in the future where children have sentient robot friends which explores what it means to love and be human. Is love a strictly human experience? This is put to the test when Klara concludes that what makes someone human is the love they inspire in other people. If this is all humanity is, then can the object of that love be replaced by something else if others don’t notice the change?

The Power and the Glory

I also read The Lawless Roads, which is the account of the real journey to Mexico which inspired Graham Greene to write this novel. I would also recommend that, if you like Mexican history and have the time.

The Mexican Constitution of 1917 included a provision known as the Calles Law which strictly mandated separation of church and state, and to that end were enacted severe restrictions on the Catholic church. Priests were required to register with the government and could not wear their robes in public; many churches, monasteries, convents and religious schools were closed. The restrictions eventually caused an uprising by Catholic peasants known as the Cristero War.

The Power and the Glory follows a “whiskey priest” who is on the run from the government, namely the Lieutenant whose life is solely devoted to capturing and executing said priest. Along the way, the priest is forced to wrestle with a past filled with adultery and drinking while traversing a barren landscape where time, memory and home have all ceased to exist. You will be tossed from disgust to sympathy for the priest as he explores his own soul’s fate.

Five Stars, but not must-read

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway1

Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters, Ryan Singer

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried

The Killing Zone, Paul Craig2

Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying, Wolfgang Langewiesche3

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas Foster

Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis

The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Principles: Life and Work, Ray Dalio

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, Patrick Radden Keefe

The Nix: A novel, Nathan Hill

Helgoland: The World of Quantum Theory, Carlo Rovelli

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition, Marc Reisner

The Lawless Roads, Graham Greene

Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face--and What to Do About It, Richard S. Tedlow

The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets, Thomas Philippon

Four Stars

How Civil Wars Start, and How to Stop Them, Barbara Walter

The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr

Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins

All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Stephen Kinzer

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, Douglas Hofstadter

Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy

Leviathan Wakes, James Corey

Either/Or, Soren Kierkegaard

The Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard

Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Siddartha, Herman Hesse

The Fall (La chute), Albert Camus

Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard

Dust (Silo #3), Hugh Howey

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick

Shift (Silo #2), Hugh Howey

The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russel

Letters on Ethics, Seneca

The Wright Brothers, David McCollugh

Wool Omnibus (Silo #1), Hugh Howey

Poverty, by America, Matthew Desmond

Dune, Frank Herbert

The Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire

Tastes Like War: A Memoir, Margaret Cho

Know My Name, Chanel Miller

To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq, Robert Draper

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, Brian Greene

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, Judy Batalion

She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, Carl Zimmer

The Lessons of History, Will Durant, Ariel Durant

Madhouse at the End of the Earth, Julian Sancton

This is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Startup Bubble, Dan Lyons

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, Amanda Montell

The Origins Of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt, Anne Applebaum

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Bad Guys Won: A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball, Jeff Pearlman

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, Norman Ohler

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, Sean Carroll

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, Paul Hoffman

Rabbit, Run, John Updike

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, Michael Pollan

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, Robert Kagan

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Shoshana Zubof

The Storm Is Here: An American Crucible, Luke Mogelson

When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World's Most Powerful Consulting Firm, Walt Bogdanic

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Cal Newport

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, Timothy Snyder

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, Clayton Christensen

You’re Not Listening, Kate Murphy

Three Stars

The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret, Jacques Derrida

More Ketchup Than Salsa: Confessions of a Tenerife Barman, Joe Cawley

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, Blaine Harden

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, Michael Singer

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die, Garrett Graff

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kai Bird, Martin Sherwin

Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zumbardo

Introducing Python: Modern Computing in Simple Packages, Bill Lubanovic

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body, Neil Shubin

River of the Gods: Genius, Courage and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, Candice Millard

Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other, Same Heughan, Graham McTavish

Life’s Edge: The Search For What it Means to Be Alive, Carl Zimmer

What We Owe The Future, William MacAskill

The Blind Side, Michal Lewis

The Bomber Mafia, Malcom Gladwell

How To Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need , Bill Gates

Walden Two, B. F. Skinner

Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney

Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track, Will Larson, Tanya Reilly

The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli

We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe, J. Cham

How to Astronaut: An Insider's Guide to Leaving Planet Earth, Terry Virts

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, Candice Millard

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance

Bangkok Babylon: The Real-Life Exploits of Bangkok's Legendary Expatriates are often Stranger than Fiction, Jerry Hopkins

Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, Thomas Wolfe

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, William Deresiewicz

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, Ben Horowitz

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Masters of Scale: Surprising Truths from the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs, Reid Hoffman

The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World, Oliver Milman

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Robert Kagan

Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger

An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination, Sheera Frenkel

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson

Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, Gary Noesner

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, Neil Fiore

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Cath O’Neil

A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), Barbara Oakley


Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, Edward Frenkel

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty, Anderson Cooper

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, Robert I. Sutton, Hayagreeva Rao

The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler

Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter, Scott Adams

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, Donald Miller

Microserfs, Douglas Coupland

The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker

Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick

What the hell?

Ca$hvertising: How to Use More Than 100 Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make BIG MONEY Selling Anything to Anyone, Drew Whitman


  1. technically a must-read but I can’t recommend it every year I read it

  2. must read, if you’re into aviation

  3. must read, if you're a pilot

© 2023 by Kevin Anderson. All rights reserved.