Summer Reading Roundup — Business, Novels, Tech, Politics, and Happiness

I’m a bookslut. I undress my bookshelf with my eyes and imagine myself buried in their black, smooth lines of text.

I haven’t done as much reading this summer as usual, due to extensive travel and writing, but here are some titles I’ve downed over the past couple months:


  • The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness by Jeffrey Gitomar. Some pretty good tips. What I like about Gitomer’s approach is that he doesn’t try to break down sales into 25 different "types" of sale, each requiring a different tactic. He returns to the basics: have enthusiasm, kick your own ass, be funny, be different, and so forth. I’m not sure it’s worth buying the book — his web site and others can probably deliver the same point.
  • The Definite Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease. I’m a big believer in non-verbal communication. I wish I were better at it. This book really helped me understand all the physical cues we send and analyzed such details as the handshake in tremendous detail.
    • In a photo be on the left hand side — it’s the power position. Nixon, Clinton, most politicians have mastered this.
    • Smile — nothing is more universal.
    • Hands loosely held behind back is a good, open position. Stand with hands behind back when waiting to meet someone in a lobby.
    • Imitate — I do this unconsciously a lot. I cross my legs if other person crosses legs, etc.
    • Sitting directly across a square table is a charged environment. Try to sit next to a person.


Politics / Current Affairs:

  • America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama. This is an excellent overview of the intellectual roots of neoconservatism. I highly recommend people with an interest in foreign affairs and American politics read this book. Here are eight pages of notes I typed up from the book.
  • Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress edited by Lawrence Harrison. This collection of essays, while repetitive, makes a strong point: the customs of certain cultures can contribute to its progress or failures, and we shouldn’t say all habits are equally good if some hold its citizens back.
  • Public Opinion by Walter Lippman. This is a classic. Lippman discusses the often inadequate means by which public opinion is formed and its effect on a democracy.
  • See No Evil by Robert Baer. This is the book that inspired the movie Syriana. It’s a first-hand account of a CIA agent who worked in the Middle East. You will finish the book being pissed off at the Clinton administration for how they handled the war on terror, but any inside look at the CIA can be gripping and fun.
  • Holidays in Hell by P.J. O’Rourke. PJ travels around the world to the worst places and asks, "What’s funny about this?" It’s a hilarious read if you don’t take him too seriously and don’t get offended. Here are some excerpts.

Web / Technology:

  • Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World by Jack Goldsmith. Oxford Press sent me a review copy. I found it a good, short book that makes one fundamental point: Contrary to popular belief, national governments are relevant in the 21st century and instead of borders vanishing in global business, multinationals like Yahoo are having to adapt to meet local laws. This is a somewhat disturbing, but convincing, work.


  • Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert. This is chock full of nuggets and required reading for people pursuing happiness. I listened to this as audiobook — Gilbert is a great voice. His thesis is that we can’t accurately predict our emotional states in the future. He covers many themes I’ve talked about on this blog such as self-delusion, cooking the facts to fit our preferred life narrative, and so forth.
10 comments on “Summer Reading Roundup — Business, Novels, Tech, Politics, and Happiness
  • I just got a copy of one of the books Barbara Pease has written with her husband – something about why women don’t read maps and men don’t ask for directions – yesterday in a charity shop. So far, I’ve learned some interesting things about differences in male and female physiology, though the efforts to be ‘hilarious’ are a bit cringey.

  • Ben,

    While that reading list is very nice… I gotta ask:

    Don’t you ever read the guilty pleasure novel? Trashy crime fiction, blood horror, etc?

    No matter how many English Lit classes I take I always end up going back to blood sex & money in the end.

  • Ben,

    God of Small Things is a gritty look at Indian culture without a doubt and I liked the book. If I could plan it out however, I would read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri first (if you haven’t) and then maybe go to God of Small Things.

    The Namesake zips along and has some super messages inside (although it focuses quite a bit on the Indian experience coming to America, it should still open your eyes).


  • True crime books were my guilty pleasures when I was a pre-teen and teenager. Now books on CBT and self-help books are my guilty pleasures. Hmm, I’ll try not to read anything into that…

  • Jackie,

    Do you happen to remember an author by the name of V.C. Andrews?

    Don’t laugh, but I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed one of her books. It was so twisted, corrupt, even sexually offensive in certain parts, but I finished it in five days.

    Will I read more? Well… if I do I may not be as inclined to publically state it.

    (That basically means Flowers In The Attic is next…)

  • Oh yeah, I read the Chris and Cathy series (which starts with Flowers in the Attic – very good, twisted stuff) when I was ten, which seems inappropriate now, but made perfect sense then. I then read the Casteel series (starts with the book Heaven), which I enjoyed even more than the previous, more universally popular one. I gave up on VC Andrews when I found out that she had died long ago and her family was now paying various writers to come up with books they could market under her name.

    Your local library may have a copy of the film version of Flowers in the Attic, which is atrocious. Worth renting if you’re into incredibly bad film versions of books you’ve enjoyed.

  • Glad to see I’m not the only one who found V.C. Andrews’ work to be shamefully compelling. The novel I just finished was “My Sweet Audrina” and it was nearly flawless.

    And yes, the film adaption of “Flowers In The Attic” was TERRIBLE. Hopefully, the rumors of a remake in the works are true!

    Alas, when you mentioned your disappointment regarding the death of V.C. Andrew’s, I immediately got this link out:

    Give this article a read– it features some really bizarre facts and theories regarding just who V.C. Andrews was, in addition to posing the question as to whether or not her novels really were fiction.

    Secondly, here is the ALLEGED query letter from V.C. Andrews herself to a New York Litery Agent, which does indeed state that “Flowers In The Attic” was not indeed completley fictitious:

    Sorry to rant, but I’m on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what the hell was behind this crazy woman’s work.


    P.S. Ben, if you are feeling left out, check out Flowers on Amazon:

    Great literature? No. Entertaining as hell? Absolutely!

  • Jason, thanks for those – it’s funny how I still remember the ‘cerulean blue eyes’ (and the ‘gossamer hair’). Spooky stuff. I may just have to re-order all the books and re-read them, but it’s funny to think that back when I was 10 (1986/87), I thought I’d discovered a little-known author when I found these books. The Wikipedia entry for VC Andrews lists all the books – looks like I was right to give up on keeping up in the early ’90s…

  • Chinese Lessons (John Pomfret) great book, written by a family friend and formerly the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief. This book captures Pomfret’s experience in China as one of the first American students admitted after the Communist Revolution.

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