zenpundit.com » 2009 » October » 10

Archive for October 10th, 2009

The Grand Failure of my Summer Reading List

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Ancient library

Ah, I am over a month late on a promised follow up post!

Back in early June, I composed a hyper-ambitious Summer Reading list that I wanted to plough through on those hazy, lazy, dog day afternoons. Here was my list:


Military History and Strategy

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century – PW Singer (Finish, currently reading)
The Anabasis of Cyrus (Agora) – Xenophon
The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One – David Kilcullen
The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity
 – Antoine Bousquet
The Culture of WarMartin van Creveld
Certain to WinChet Richards

Science, Futurism, Networks, Economics and Technology

How the Mind Works – Steven Pinker
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
 – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
 – Steven Johnson
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
 – Ray Kurzweil
The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age (The New Media World)
Lokman Tsui


Ho Chi Minh: A Life William J. Duiker

Philosophy and Intellectual History

The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2: Hegel and Marx – Karl Popper
The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of ReasonCharles Freeman


Pattern Recognition – William Gibson
On the Road (Penguin Classics)Jack Kerouac

Pretty impressive, eh? It would be more so if I had actually done it. While I have all of these books on my shelf, I did not get to most of them and was frequently sidetracked by books that were never on the list in the first place. Here’s what I actually read this summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day:

The Books I Really Read Last Summer:

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software – Steven Johnson

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century – PW Singer

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer

This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang by Samuel Logan

 Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

The Anabasis of Cyrus (Agora) by Xenophon. Translator,  Wayne Ambler

How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy

The Books I Partially Read Last Summer but Have Yet to Finish:

The Culture of War – Martin van Creveld

 Certain to WinChet Richards

The Conquest of Gaul  by Julius Caesar on Kindle

Why didn’t I stick to my reading list ? Looking back, there’s a number of reasons.

Foremost would be a lack of discipline on my part to put in several hours plugging away, each day, without fail. While I can legitimately say that professional and family commitments were not inconsequential last summer, I’m sure if I counted up the time I frittered away online reading blogs, social media sites, PDFs, etc. it most likely exceeded the clock hours spent reading books.

A second reason was review copies. When a publisher or PR firm sends me a review copy, I feel an obligation to read the book in a timely fashion. The authors count on that during the roll-out phase and most recipients of review copies never bother to write two words. I tend to write reviews only for the books I feel confident recommending to ZP readers; I’m not a professional critic nor do I get paid to blog, so I’m not going to waste my limited blogging time slamming an author or nitpicking unless his views come across as nutty or dangerous. Review copies that are not at a level to merit a positive review ( I probably get sent 3 books for every review that you see posted here, and I refuse to accept books outside my core areas of interest. I also get embargoed drafts still in the writing process but cannot, for legal reasons, blog about them) are read and then are shelved or given away.

The final reason probably comes down to age. It’s much harder now to read four or five hours at a stretch; whether that is because the internet is re-wiring my brain, as Nick Carr argues, or that the hectic pace and noisy environment of my life lacks any such extended blocs of quiet time that I enjoyed at age 20, I’m not sure.  Regardless, for me, books are now read in brief snatches of time these days, with an uninterrupted hour of book reading being uncommon, unless it is done after everyone else in the house is asleep. Over time, that means reading fewer books.

A shame.

Switch to our mobile site