RECOMMENDED READING & books by guests
I get a lot of emails from people asking me for reading recommendations, so here's a place to buy books by friends of mine and books I highly recommend. The cool thing is that if you click through to Amazon via any of these , a portion of whatever you spend (on anything—not just the books below) will kick back to support my endeavors, but won't cost you anything extra. It's just a way to redirect some Amazon money to my dubious creations.
Here are a few recommendations that I think provide great information without falling into the trap of thinking that serious material has to be presented in nothing but a serious tone.
Desert Fucking Solitaire
I love this book. No idea how many times I've read it, or just dipped into it for a few pages. The chapters are really stand-alone essays that add up to an integrated philosophy, a perspective, a man. Edward Abbey wrote with balls (which makes it hard to hold a pen—and isn't limited to men, see Annie Dillard below). He just doesn't give a shit about some things and is incredibly passionate about others. If your values don't align with his very well, you'll no doubt find him overbearing and absurd. If they do, his voice can sound a bit like the voice of your own conscience.
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
When Annie Dillard was writing this book, the two she wanted to emulate were Thoreau's Walden and Abbey's Desert Solitaire (see above). When you read it, you'll understand why. Dillard's book doesn't just capture the same feeling of being alone in nature that those other books explore; she writes with the same wildness and straight-from-the-heart courage those books are famous for. Many passages in this book made me feel like I'd just eaten a handful of mushrooms. It's amazing what you'll find if you just pay attention.
Wade Davis has written a bunch of great books (and tells an amazing story about an old man making a knife of frozen shit in one of his TED talks), but this is my favorite. One River tells the story of an incredible man, Richard Evans Schultes, who spent much of his adult life exploring the Amazon, identifying hundreds of plants with medicinal and/or psychoactive properties. Davis studied with Schultes at Harvard, as did Andrew Weil. It's a lovely book.
A Short History of Progress
Ronald Wright hits it out of the park with this one. Beautifully written and researched, succinct and devastating. It's a book I recommend a lot as an antidote to the bullshit being sold by the likes of Steven Pinker.
Humans of New York
I've been following this account on Instagram for a while, and it's amazing. He finds people on the streets and asks them about their lives. Somehow, he gets such amazing stories from the people he encounters, the sorts of stories everyone has, but few have a chance to tell. This is a truly important, heartfelt project. I'm a big fan.
Let me tell you how I met Frans de Waal. When we were almost finished with Sex at Dawn, Cacilda and I decided to reach out to some of the scientists we'd disagreed with in our book, but upon whose research we'd built our argument—to give them a chance to tell us if we were mistaken or unfair in some way. I sent Frans an email explaining what we were arguing and sent him the sections that were critical of some of his conclusions. He responded by asking if I'd seen this or that paper, considered this or that factor. After a few very friendly exchanges, he wrote, "Well, you might be right. You've got an exciting book on your hands. These issues need debating over and over..." I asked if I could quote him publicly saying this, and he wrote, "Sure, you can use it as a blurb, if you want."
To say I admire Frans de Waal as a scientist and as a man would be putting it very mildly. He's done more to bring the bonobo to the world's attention than anyone.
When Our Inner Ape came out, I was working (slowly) on Sex at Dawn. I ordered a copy immediately, thinking that Frans had beaten me to the punch. As it turned out, his book is quite different from what I was writing—much to my relief.
The Cockroach Papers
Richard is an old friend of mine from Barcelona. He's written a bunch of books. Click through to Amazon and do a search on his name and you'll find books on chili peppers, eels, Cuban cars, cross-cultural perspectives on death, and a few other subjects I can't recall right now. Richard doesn't write for money or fame. He writes because he's interested in something and that's how he scratches his intellectual itch. Somewhere between Bob Dylan and Mark Twain, Richard's voice is distinctive and evident on every page. You can hear my conversation with Richard here.
If David Sedaris had a Ph.D. in psychology and spent his time investigating the far reaches of the sexual universe, he'd probably write books like Jesse Bering does. Dude is very smart, very cutting-edge informed, and funny as hell.
The Sinner's Grand Tour
Tony Perrottet is either an historian who is also very interested in sexuality or a sexologist who is very interested in history. Either way, his books and articles (New York Times, Smithsonian) are always amusing, informative romps through our erotic past. You can hear my conversation with Tony here.
Mothers and Others
Sarah Hrdy has written many important books on primates, anthropology, and how human social groups evolved to care for children. She's brilliant and under-appreciated, because her work is very careful and academically grounded.
The Marriage of the Sun and the moon
I've been a fan of Andrew Weil's for 20 years or more. His first few books about consciousness are classics, particularly The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon, which has now been re-issued. In the 90s, Andrew hit big-time fame with his very reasonable, extremely well-informed guides to maintaining mental and physical health in ways that seemed radical at first, but which are now accepted as simply smart health-care. His is an important voice. Check out my conversation with Andrew here.
A Primate's Memoir
Sapolsky does it all in this book. He is both incredibly smart about the baboons he's been studying every summer in Kenya for 20-some years and amazingly good at telling the stories of what happened to him when he wandered away from his study sites. I haven't read this book in years, but I'll never forget Sapolsky's stories about hitch-hiking to Uganda. If you like science, adventure, laughter, and meaningful, thoughtful writing ... get this book.
A renegade history of the united States
A regular guest on the podcast, Thad is a truth-teller of the highest order. If you enjoy our conversations, definitely check out this book. I learned a lot—all of it surprising and juicy.
The wizard of the upper amazon
This book was recommended to me by Andrew Weil many years ago as a no-bullshit depiction of shamanism (not, in other words, Castaneda). It's an amazing story, told with humility and grace.
Neil and I became friends when he interviewed me for The Truth, his follow-up to the colossal best-seller,The Game. I wasn't a fan of some of the ideas underlying the approach to dating Neil describes in The Game and, as it turns out, neither is he. The Truth is certainly one of the most courageous, vulnerable, self-revelatory books I've read. You'll learn more in this book about Neil and Ingrid than you know about some of your closest friends.
This book was given to me by Len Belzer, Richard Belzer's brother, who was a pal when I lived in New York in the 80s. It's a simple idea that might change the way you think forever, as it did for me.
Joe Rogan has recommended this book many times on his podcast. He's right. It's a great discussion of the many ways we sabotage our own success by creating obstacles to creativity. I can't say I've incorporated all the lessons of this book, but I keep a copy around to help me in the endless battle to get shit done.
Esther Perel is one of the most honest couples therapists I know. She doesn't believe that honesty is always the best policy or that non-monogamy is always a problem. Her approach is based on experience and common sense, not moralistic claptrap. This is a great book with a great title.
Incredible photographs by a guy who really went out there and spent time with these people at the fringes of the world.
If you're intrigued by bonobos, this is the book to get. Frans de Waal knows more about this species than anyone, and Frans Lanting captured fantastic images for this book. Highly recommended.
"To see the universe in a grain of sand..." Crazy what lies under our feet.
Salgado is one of the most interesting photographers ever, in my opinion. If you get a chance, check out the amazing film called "Salt of the Earth," by Wim Wenders, which is about Salgado.
Some Scientific Work I Recommend
Here are a few books and papers that I've found to be particularly enlightening. There are a lot that I'm forgetting, of course, so I'll try to remember to come back and add to this list when new ones come to mind (or I read something that blows my mind). Please don't be intimidated by the word "scientific." None of these are too complex for a general reader.
Sarah Hrdy: Here's a wonderful interview that gives you a sense of who she is and what motivates her research and writing. I've enjoyed everything I've read by her, but this paper stuck me as particularly important when I first read it, and still holds up. She's mainly talking about how Darwin's limited understanding of female sexuality and agency misinformed some of his theories. It's not a criticism of Darwin, but an acknowledgement that we are all subject to the intellectual limitations of our age and culture -- even geniuses. The pdf is here, free.
How can you not want to read a paper called, It's Only a Penis? An Australian anthropologist (a woman) living in Papua New Guinea witnessed what she understood to be an attempted rape, and was confused and ultimately, enlightened, by the surprising reactions of the women involved. This paper raises questions about what words like "rape," "man," and "woman" really mean. Profoundly interesting.
If you're interested in how hunter-gatherers organize themselves politically, Christopher Boehm is an excellent source. Hierarchy in the Forest, is an excellent book that surveys most of his work on the question. If you have trouble finding (or affording) the book, here's a good paper to get you started. (pdf)
I love novels and not having much time to read them anymore is one of my only regrets of late. Here are a few of my favorites.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord
One of my all-time favorite novels. Time-travel (without dumb technological contrivances), altered states of consciousness, first contact.... Great book.
This is one of my favorite books about war. It's unlike anything you've ever read. Guaranteed. Herr writes in the language of the time and the men who lived it. A war with a rock and roll soundtrack, seen through a marijuana haze. Much of it reads like poetry. Not sure whether to put it under fiction or non-fiction, but it doesn't really matter. Some things are truer than fact.
In Pharaoh's Army
Tobias Wolff is such a great writer. Eloquent, surprising, funny, brutally honest. This memoir of his time in Vietnam and his return to the US afterwards is everything you could want in a great read. I haven't read this book in twenty years, probably, but I still remember whole paragraphs from it, just because they are so perfect.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
One of the best novels around for insight into male/female interaction and the essentially, unavoidably enigmatic nature of human existence.
When I hear about a novel set in prehistory, I get both excited at the opportunity to spend some time immersed in that world, but I'm also prepared to be disappointed. There are so many mistaken beliefs about that world that I'm going into it expecting to find lots of inaccuracies that will annoy the shit out of me. I'm very happy to report that Kim Stanley Robinson's research for this book was amazingly thorough. From my perspective, Shaman offers a clear window into prehistoric life.
Historical fiction at its finest. Fowles does a great job of capturing love in a certain place and time--two places and times, actually. I loved this so much that I read nothing but Fowles for a few months. Great film as well.
This book was recommended to me by Andrew Weil when we first met for dinner in San Francisco, back in the early 1990s. I recommended Marvin Harris's Cannibals and Kings, and Andy suggested I read Ishmael. I didn't dig the talking gorilla thing, but the information conveyed in this book changed my life. If you read this, and have read my stuff, you'll see what I mean.