Hello! Whether you found your way to this blog post because you are a fan of the podcast or if you have stumbled upon this page by way of the internet wormhole I welcome you to the best of my 2019/2020 world of reading. Putting this list together was a lot of fun; two years ago I got in the habit of recording the books that I am reading and learned that there is value in keeping these records. Looking back at my 2019 and 2020 lists serves as a cool insight into my headspace and my interests during particular periods of my life. Below, I have listed my Top 10 books from 2019 and 2020. 2019 ended up securing 6 of the Top 10 spots, including #1- #4. Enjoy and happy reading!
10. The Outsider– Stephen King published 2018….. ‘20
I read The Outsider in August 2020, my first month in Boston. I would relax on my cousin Daniel’s back porch, soaking in the gentle rays of morning sunshine and my first Stephen King novel, borrowed to me by a friend Riley. Being my first experience with King, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but boy was it hard to get out once I was in. I flew through the pages in The Outsider, just dying to know what was going to happen next. The thrill of mystery and suspense throughout the book had me totally engaged. A murder mystery turned tragedy; I just could not wait to reach the end of the story. I also appreciated King’s modern references throughout the book, which I though really though helped bring the story to life for me. It’s a change of pace for me to read any book set in the present day. The Outsider cracks the Top 10 because I was pleased with my first taste of Stephen King’s writing. A legend…and now I understand, at least somewhat, why.
9. Blitzed– Norman Ohler published 2015….. ‘19
Blitzed “Drugs in the Third Reich” is a book recommended to me by a stranger at my yoga studio in Las Vegas. We would take the same 5:45 am class once a week and talk in the locker room after. Lots of times about books and Blitzed was one he recommended to me. Ohler tells the story of drugs in the Nazi Germany, the origins of the blitzkrieg, of methamphetamine, and of Hitler’s reliance on many substances. The book tells the story of the methamphetamine synthesization in Berlin in 1937 under the name Pervitin. The collapse of France in 1940 by the advancing Nazi Army, which is where the blitzkrieg was born, was in large part due to Nazi soldiers taking Pervitin aka methamphetamine in order to stay awake, stay on the attack, and destroy everything in their path. Side note- constant methamphetamine use is extremely detrimental to physical and mental well being…the Nazis would learn this. Just an absolutely fascinating page turner of a nonfiction book. I can’t recommend this book enough- especially if you are even remotely interested in WW2, Nazi’s, or drugs. The great triangle of intrigue.
8. Tale of Two Cities– Charles Dickens published 1859….. ‘19
Ahhh Tale of Two Cities, a classic example of a book that is potentially forced on us during our school years but which I had to discover on my own in my mid-20’s. Set in both London and Paris during the years of the French Revolution. This story has so many levels to it and Dickens is a masterful storyteller here. Love, tragedy, uprising, sacrifice, this book has it all. The love triangle, the brutality, the paranoia, the sacrifice and the resurrection. Not much else to say, this is a classic piece of literature. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Reading this book inspired me to seek out more of the classics. Recently, I just finished reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding. But you couldn’t care less about that could you? Well the last 40 pages or so are must read…wait which book are we even discussing at this point?
7. 1984– George Orwell published 1949….. ‘20
What a fantastic dystopian novel for me to have picked up for the first time during the middle of the pandemic! Dystopian society + pandemic + edible marijuana will have a guy putting on his tin foil hat that’s for sure! I’m just glad I didn’t end up watching “Plandemic” like some of you goofballs. 100% if you haven’t read 1984 before, you have most definitely heard acquaintances speak about it. We all know about Big Brother- he’s watching us. He knows when we are sleeping, he knows when we’re awake, he knows when we’ve been bad or good, and shared secrets of the state! Hey! I think 1984 would have potential to climb into the Top 5 on this list but I guess I will have to explain why it didn’t later on. People are always quick to say oh my god how could Orwell have predicted the future like this? Don’t you see the parallels? This, that, and the other, the government is controlling us blah blah blah…and it is an eerie feeling and it is a scary thought. But I think on the contrary he was writing about ongoing situations of his time. As far as I’m concerned Big Brother is Joseph Stalin and his disgusting Communist/Marxist government and ideologies…or really any other police state which by the way existed back then and continues to exist today. Newspeak and Thought Crimes are terrifying ideas to consider. RISE UP POLES! FIGHT THE POWER!!
6. Autumn– Karl ove Knausgaard published 2019…..‘20
I could easily make the case to move this book down a spot to #7 but giving it the nod here probably because I just read it at the very end of 2020 and can still feel the emotional attachment that gripped me as I worked my way through Knausgaard’s prose. In Autumn, Knausgaard brings everything in the world around us to life with his rawness, honesty, and attention to detail of some of life’s more commonplace “things”. It is a collection of about 60 small 2-3 page essays on teeth, fever, bees, rubber boots, piss, coffee thermoses, piss, and the list goes on. His extraordinary detail allows him to extract special meaning from each topic he writes about. The really cool thing about the book for me is interwoven through these 60 essays is a letter written to his unborn daughter (which will be his 4th child) introducing her to the world. The essays serve to stand as a teacher for his daughter- to teach her about the world she is coming into. The book appeals to me because his essays seem so meditative, so mindful that I found myself getting lost in his words- appreciating the little details of life and things in our world around us. Knausgaard’s words bring so much meaning to otherwise ordinary and mundane. Just a nice easy read- which by the way is one book of a 4 part series- that is hard to put down but in my opinion necessary to after a few essays. I really enjoyed taking my time working through this book. This is why Autumn gets the nod here.
5. Empire of the Summer Moon– S.C. Gwynne published 2010…. ‘20
Alright, so I know what you are wondering by now- what is it about THIS book that helps it to stand above 1984 and Autumn? What’s the X-factor here that pushed Summer Moon into your Top 5 favorite books of 2019 and 2020? The edge comes from my own personal journey with the story, not necessarily the book itself. Not that the book doesn’t grab my historical intrigue by the balls because obviously, by default of making my Top 10 list, it most certainly grabbed my…err…attention. Gotta have something special to crack the Top 5 though!
Empire of the Summer Moon tells the story of the Comanche Indians; really the fall of the Comanches to white settlers and the US Army as they moved West across the plains. The Comanche tribes were without a doubt some of the most skillful horsemen in all the world. Their warfare tactics and strategies were precise, ruthless, and lightning fast which struck fear into frontier settlers and Union soldiers alike. Their skill was simply supreme. Eventually white settlers and soldiers realized they would find much greater success in combating the plains horse tribes if they adopted fighting tactics more in line with those used by Native Americans. Lining up regiments to fight like they had during the Civil War was getting the Union soldiers crushed by the more versatile and skilled Plains Indians warriors. The Texas Rangers were the result of this adaptation; meanwhile Samuel Colt was working away in Baltimore, Maryland, on his revolutionary revolving pistol. The Texas Rangers and the Colt revolver ultimately signaled the end for the Comanche Indians and any remaining bands of Native Americans still defending their homeland. Gwynne leads us through the Comanche Indians history of ruthlessness and power which they used to control massive swaths of territory in the south/ southwest of what is now the United States. This area was known as Comancheria; it stretched from south Texas to Colorado to Utah. Empire of the Summer Moon is the Hollywood story of the Parker family, a white girl kidnapped by Comanches from her family’s settlement on the plains of the Texas frontier as a child. Cynthia grew up in a Comanche tribe, was eventually saved and taken back to her family, then escaped and fled to live on with her Comanche family. Quanah Parker is her son and was the last great Comanche chief. The story of Quanah Parker led me on an impromptu field trip last summer (July 2020) to learn more about his unbelievable life.
Quanah’s Star House in Cache, Ok.
Unfortunately, it is falling into ruin as the current owner will not sell the property nor does he put money into repairing the structure.
When you pull off the highway into Cache, Oklahoma, the first building you see is an old worn down cafe/outpost where the locals meet for morning coffee. I can only assume it’s Folgers..pass…I’m here on business anyway. (Oh, you think I’m a coffee snob? Yeah, well the shoes fit and it’s size large. Black. Thanks.) Behind the cafe you will see a lake surrounded by overgrown foliage with a gravel road running along side it. The road is blocked by a padlocked gate. By the looks of my Apple Maps (at the time I was using my basic Apple map app, say that 5 times fast, but now I use the far superior Google map app) there is another road that could potentially take me back where this house supposedly sits. So I head back out to the frontage road alongside Highway 62 and follow my map in the direction toward the house’s location. Still no luck. Finally decided I’ll just duck the first gate and hit the trail on foot. The place was absolutely buzzing with life; insects vibrating in their tiny little space, cicadas singing, birds singing, and all the sudden there’s a flush of movement. As I turn my head in the direction of the disturbance I see a massive loon taking off from the edge of the pond. Scared me for a moment and captivated me the next. Behind the gate, the gravel road crawls into the overgrowth for about another quarter to half mile before it arrives at a wide opening clearing in which lie the remnants of what must be an abandoned tourist town. Cracked, weedy pavement, busted street lights, a rusty auditorium, and…a ferris wheel? At this point, I am plenty creeped out by the spookish nature of this forgotten dilapidated amusement park. The warm summer breeze irritates a loose piece of tin sheet metal off in the distance. Reeeek eeeeek …reeeeek eek. I look up to my right and just beyond a row of trees I can’t believe what I am seeing; there’s a full size roller coaster back here! Just beyond the roller coaster, I see a bunch of old 1880’s style buildings. Another locked gate. As I climb through this second locked gate and stand up, I am almost face to face with one long skinny horse. At first he gave me a scare because I had not seen him before climbing through. “I am very very sneaky, sir,” the horse whispered to me. Ok the horse didn’t whisper to me, but the place had some real serious ghost town vibes.
At last, on the other end of a large clearing, protected by one lonely shade tree and my skinny horse friend, sat Quanah Parker’s famous star house. Back here in the trees, alone with the sounds of nature, sun shining bright, I came face to face with history. My American hero, Teddy Roosevelt was invited to dine with Quanah at this very house. So much powerful history wrapped up in this old busted up structure. If it seems paradoxical to mention Teddy Roosevelt as my American hero in the same sentence that I mention a great Comanche chief and warrior who was forced onto a reservation, yeah it might be. That’s another blog post for another day. Today the field trip focus is on Teddy Roosevelt, the legend of Quanah Parker and the fate of his Comanche heritage, seeking a better understanding of human life. during a different time.
Along the way I was able to hit a few other Comanche sites including Quanah, TX named after the last Comanche chief- also hometown of legendary cowboy and bull rider Lane Frost. In Quanah there is a fantastic (probably) museum that was unfortunately closed on the morning I was passing through. I called the phone number and the woman who answered was just walking into mass; it was Sunday morning in Texas. Did I really need to call and ask why they were closed? Outside of Quanah, about 15 or 20 miles, you can find the remains of the Medicine Mound community as well.
So for this book to send me of a fun learning adventure was just cool for me and was a neat experience. Top 5 Top 5 Top 5 Top 5!
4. Gulag Archipelago– Alexander Solzhenitsyn published 1973….. ‘19
The Gulag Archipelago is easily the most difficult book I have ever read both in terms of level of difficulty of content as well as the actual content itself. Empire of the Summer Moon touched me in a way because I was able to make a journey out of it. But each of these books in the Top 4 impacted my life on a more meaningful level. What Solzhenitsyn describes in the Gulag is traumatic. Absolutely mind blowing to me that the world isn’t more aware of the atrocities committed under Stalin’s reign. Yeah, sometimes people will point out that he killed around 20 million people when in power most of them being his own people this during or around the same time that Hitler was rounding up the Jews. And look- obviously the Holocaust is unforgivable and downright evil, but let’s not pretend one life is worth more than another. If Hitler killed 10 million during the Holocaust and Stalin killed 20 million during the same time why is there not a more widespread condemnation of his regime and the Soviets? What about other 20th century genocides? Humans were at each other’s throats in the 1900’s; aren’t we always though? Machete Season which is about the Rwandan Genocides carried out on the Tutsi population and Rape of Nanking- the story of …well I’ll just read you this summary from History.com because they sum it up nicely “the Japanese butchered an estimated 150,000 male “war prisoners,” massacred an additional 50,000 male civilians, and raped at least 20,000 women and girls of all ages, many of whom were mutilated or killed in the process.” Check out the Algerian wars/slaughters/massacres which took place during the 1990’s- call it what you want, but depending on who you ask a different answer you will find. At the bottom of it all is identity.
But the Gulag hits different…probably because Solzhenitsyn lived his book. This is his story. Makes me wonder if I should read Anne Frank’s diaries. You wanna talk about 1984 and Orwell writing about the future? Well let me suggest you read this non-fiction version of 1984 carried out by Stalin and Soviet Russia. To me, Orwell was simply writing about Soviet Russia in 1984. Solzhenitsyn was an artillery commander in the Soviet Army who was arrested when a letter he had written to a friend criticizing a Soviet military operation, I believe, was intercepted.. He was sentenced to the Gulag forced labor prison camps for 8 years (“a mild sentence at that time,” he recalls) where the strong survived and the weak perished quickly. You want to find out how evil people can be to one another and the power of groupthink? How easily people can turn against one another? Do you know how cold and desolate life is in Siberia? Read this book. Or read Machete Season. The 20th century was a disgusting boil right on the nose of humanity. The Armenian genocide in the early 1900’s, the Holocaust, Soviet Russia, Mao’s China, Rwanda, The Congo, The Middle East, I mean the list goes on and on…*cough* atom bombs *cough* 220,000 gone in seconds *cough*
Without a doubt, this book changed my entire perspective on life, politics, and good vs evil. Highly highly recommend this book if you’re up for a double challenge.
3. Can’t Hurt Me– David Goggins published 2018…‘19
This book cracks the Top 3 for me because it has helped me pull the savage out of me again after being suppressed for a few years after college. Goggins presented himself to me at a time in my life when I could relate to his message; that’s the most important factor to consider. I could relate, so I could also believe.
My first exposure to David Goggins came when he appeared on Joe Rogan’s show. I was drawn to him immediately. I could listen to him on Youtube all day long; I was picking up what he was putting down. He walked the walk…well, in reality, he probably never walks. Goggin’s dog mentality is what makes him a role model to me. He puts his head down, says fuck it, and does the work. He doesn’t make excuses, he doesn’t want to be the victim, and he doesn’t give a damn what you think about any of it. Goggins inspire me to believe that I can do anything that he can do; I don’t believe I can get up today and go out train him for a week, but what I do believe is that he is walking a course for people like me to follow. When we reach the end of his accomplishments we transcend the boundary of human toughness yet again. People like David Goggins blaze the trail for others to grow on.
Listening to Goggins tell the story of his San Diego 100 lit a fire inside me. At the time I had just watched the movie Wind River and had this thought of running a marathon without any training at all. So I’m thinking to myself, “If this mother fucker can run 100 miles the way he did, I can get up and do a marathon without training. I can push myself.” This book helped pull parts of my character back to the forefront that had maybe slipped between the ages of 22 and 25 when my wrestling career ended. Goggins revived my dog mentality and I’m coming for him.
YOU DON’T KNOW ME SON!
2. TR Volume 3- Edmund Morris published 2011…. ‘19
If you are a regular listener to my podcast you know how I feel about Teddy Roosevelt. He is my idol, epitome of man, exploration, adventure, curiosity, open mindedness, and doing the right thing. He had flaws and made mistakes in his life and he was not perfect but damn did he live well. I think my initial interest in TR was sparked by a book I read a few years ago called The Naturalist. After I read the book Grant by Ron Chernow- a biography of U.S. Grant I became quite interested in biographies of prominent leaders. Grant is my #2 American, followed by Alexander Hamilton by the way. List subject to change.
The particular book of this discussion however, refers to Volume 3 of Edmund Morris’ definitive 3 volume work on the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Over 2,500 pages of LIFE in the truest meaning of the word. For the purposes of this work I had to choose the third volume which covers his life after presidency. His African adventures, his unbelievable journey charting a river in the Amazon, an attempt to return to politics etc etc. But really what I wish to say is that this entire work fascinates me, inspires me to live fuller, and gives me a model to aspire to. I chose Volume 3 because I read Vol 1 in 2018 and Vol 2 was a crossover 18/19. Volume 1- probably my favorite of the 3, chronicles his life from birth to the day he found out McKinley had been assassinated making him President of the United States. Vol 2 covers the years of his presidency.
Never in my life have I heard about, read about, met, dreamed about…nothing…no one attacked life with such vigor and tenacity as my man TR. He was a true dog. Seriously, you couldn’t possibly write a Hollywood script or all-time novel that could conceivably include all of Teddy Roosevelt’s life. He was a remarkable human.
I want to give you one of my favorite quotes of his: First the short version “Get action.” for me that’s all I need to hear. Get action. Fucking go. Do things. Live. Make it happen.
Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -Teddy Roosevelt
1. The Alchemist– Paulo Coelho published 1988…. ‘19
At last….we comin for that numba 1 spooot!! Drum roll pleeeaassseeeeeeee……my number one favorite book of 2019/2020 iiiiiiiissssss…… THE ALCHEMIST written by Paulo Coelho. I finally decided to pick up The Alchemist after years of hearing or seeing people recommending it. Friends, people on podcasts, on the internet, on the road traveling you name it. I read The Alchemist for the first time in October 2019. In the first few days of October 2019, I moved into a new house, I started a new job working as a plumber, I began my yoga teacher training. I had also just submitted my Medical School applications. Ok I had also just come back from a few weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua living that pura vida life. Yoga can be an extremely spiritual experience. The effect it has on my body is one thing, the effect it has on my mind is what has me longing for a hot class when I’ve been away for too long. October 2019 was the peak of my Yogi being. My practice was at its highest level to date and mentally I was crushing it. During our training, one of our instructors mentioned how impactful The Alchemist has been on her life and I decided that was the last straw. I would read it at once. And so I did. This book is all about following one’s personal journey- fulfilling our Personal Legend. Following your journey, listening to the universe, trusting in yourself and the universe. In actuality, The Alchemist is probably not a book I needed at the time. Remember I felt like I was absolutely crushing life at this period so I don’t recall being hit with some profound insight or life changing epiphany. I think the book impacted me in a more subtle way. I read the book, I appreciated the lessons- and lets not forget that the story itself is a fuckin home run-, and came away feeling good about it. I think the real work, the real impact, took refuge a little deeper in my soul waiting for the opportunity to present itself to me once again. I think I would’ve benefitted more by reading that book exactly a year later when I started this podcast.
I won’t say this is my favorite quote from the book but one that always sticks out to me. The Englishman who Santiago meets on the caravan in the desert is in search of the Alchemist as well so he can finally learn how to transform lead into gold. He says: “I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But l’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years.”
Right now it cannot matter that he should’ve started 10 years ago. The fact is, he has the power to start now. If he doesn’t, another 10 years will pass him by. He is happy to have realized this and on his way to pursuing his personal legend. I think this lesson resonates with a great many of us. You had a dream, life got in the way, you chase careers or relationships for the wrong reason and now you’re 10 years down the road, you’re 10 years behind. The thought of being 10 years behind, where you could be if you started could be overwhelming to think about. So we don’t try. We go on living another 10 years and we let our dreams die. The Englishman got a late start, he is ready to GET ACTION. He is not looking back. He is living in the present, grateful that he has now decided to pursue his personal legend.
I can relate to the Englishman just as I can find meaning throughout the entire book. I feel late to my own party. But I’m here now and the keg is tapped. I’m glad I didn’t wait another 10 years to show up…the cake would for sure be stale and the beer flat. If you haven’t read this book, no matter how old you are, do yourself a favor and introduce it to your life. The great thing about the book is it’s not going anywhere; I occasionally put it on while I fall asleep. I will continue to find new meaning from this book as long as I live; it will serve as a reminder to always stay true to myself and pursue my Personal Legend. Mactube.
Cup o’ Joe and a good book
Does it get any better than that?!
That wraps up my 10 favorite books of 2019/2020!