I read a few more life’s worth of books in 2022. According to my reading logs, I read a total of 58 books spanning 17,365 pages. The average length of a book I read was about 299 pages. I had 2,399 book highlights with an average of 44.4 highlights per book.
In this post, I’d like to share a few data points and charts, a selection and note on some of my favorite books, and a reflection on my book reading and intentions for year ahead.
58 Books Read. 17,365 pages read.
Book Reading Highlights: 2,399 total book highlights
I mostly read on my kindle which has the added benefit of enabling me to highlight what I read. Using a little scripting, I can pull out my highlights and get some interesting statistics too, like last year I had:
- 54 total books highlighted
- 44.4 average number of highlights per book
- ~200 highlights per month
My Top Highlighted Books:
- 327 in Explaining Health Across the Sciences
- 184 in Inventing Temperature
- 179 in Lamarck’s Revenge
- 134 in The Most Powerful Idea in the World
- 112 in The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
- 100 in Food: What the heck should eat?
- 94 in To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
- 92 in The Mirage Factory
- 89 in The Book of Why
- 87 in Four Thousand Weeks
- 84 in Working Backwards
My 2022 Book Recommendations:
Check out Goodreads for a list of all of the books I read in 2022. Below are a few recommendations on my favorite books and a brief note, quote or thought on each.
(If you are interested in more book recommendations, check out my Recommended Books page.)
Favorite History Book: The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen
The best estimates for human productivity (a necessarily vague number) calculate annual per capita GDP, expressed in constant 1990 U.S. dollars, fluctuating between $400 and $550 for seven thousand years. The worldwide per capita GDP in 800 BCE3 — $543 — is virtually identical to the number in 1600. The average person of William Shakespeare’s time lived no better than his counterpart in Homer’s.
The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen explores the various threads of technical and scientific knowledge that came together to create the steam engine and why the steam engine and subquent technologies and industries built on it unlocked a new level of humanity’s productivity and wealth. Essentially the steam engine is the “hockey stick” moment in human economic history.
I particularly liked the various interlocking engineering steps (and misteps) with metallurgy and creating a controllable feedback loop with water and steam so energy could be captured/converted (and the machine wouldn’t explode). The horizontal working beam (like an unbalanced seesaw) in Newcomen’s 1712 engine and subsequent steam engines in particular solved a major challenge.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of scientific ideas and technology.
Honorable mention goes to Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America by Michael Hiltzik, which recounts key events and figures in creation of America’s first massive corporations, the Railroads. It’s an interesting mix of technical achievements and innovations in finanical and organizational business practices.
Favorite Sci-Fi Book: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Much of the best art is about balancing between reflecting culture while simultaneously being removed from it and commenting on it.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green is a thought-provoking page-turner from end to end (and even got me to quickly read the sequel days after finishing the first book). The first book offers a nice perspective shift throughout through its main character and her leadership through a huge cultural/humanity changing moment (no spoilers here). I particularly liked Hank’s use of social media and his own perspective on fame too:
It’s so much easier for people to get excited about disliking something than agreeing to like it. The circle jerk of mockery and self-congratulation was so intense I didn’t even notice I was at its center.
Very fun and easy read for any of the sci-fi / fantasy junkies like me.
2nd Sci-Fi Fav: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine falls in the opera-tic intergallactic category along with Issac Assimov’s Foundation series. I particularly liked the identity device concept and how it enabled a periphery planet to pass on knowledge and skills over time. Overall fun and new concept and I look forward to future books in series!
Favorite Biology Book: Lemarck’s Revenge by Peter Ward
The crux of epigenetic theory is that major environmental changes occurring during the life of an individual can cause heritable changes to that organism during its lifetime that can then be passed on to the next generations.
As product marketing and product designer at an epigenetic startup/nonprofit, I invested a good deal of my past year learning and reading about epigenetics or the study of how genes are turned off and on during an animal’s development and lifetime. I read several textbooks and papers on what is likely to be an important area of research and development in years and perhaps decades ahead, namely how our biology utilizes epigenetics to manage cellular development, age and other changes over time.
“Lamarckian” change is where something encountered in its environment, and not necessarily expected in the life of an organism, causes chemical changes to the DNA through the addition of tiny molecules, or through a shape change of the scaffolding that holds the twisted DNA molecules in specific shapes.
Lemarck’s Revenge by Peter Ward is admittedly a pretty weird book and at times a bit of a headscratcher. The book argues that major changes in the past have likely modified our DNA (aka epigenetics) from the dinosaurs to today. The book does a good job explaining a lot of science and why it matters historically and today. One core lesson/idea is that:
Epigenetic effects on gene activity are known to occur in response to nongenetic factors such as body weight, amount of physical activity, type and amount of diet, and environmental poisons.
For example, Dutch famine winter and Great Chinese Famine are two famous incidences where those that survived through a pregnancy passed on epigenetic changes the affected chance of certain diseases like obesity
If you are looking to read a bunch of science in one place while also learning and getting entertained, this is one popular science biology book to check out.
Fantasy Favorite: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
Science itself is guesses: lucky guesses, intuitive guesses, researched guesses.
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara is a highly immersive novel. It starts out as an anthropological account of professor and his students to a remote island in the Pacific. They eventually stumble into a secret that gives new powers to certain individuals in one of the remotest tribes. Definitely a good premise, descriptive writing and suspenseful. It got into my head and made me think about deep life philosophy questions too. I really enjoyed the writing and first-person perspective throughout. Here is one particularly magical passage I highlighted:
The problem with being young and in a singular place is that one assumes that one will inevitably find oneself in an equally foreign and exotic location at some later point in life. But this is very rarely true. For most of what we see in our immediate surroundings is in fact replicated elsewhere in the world with a sort of dull exactness: birds, animals, fruits, sky, people. They may look different from place to place, but their fundamental behaviors are essentially identical: birds tweet and flap, animals prowl and bleat, fruits are insensate and inanimate, the sky fills and empties of clouds and stars, people wear clothes and kill and eat and die.
Favorite Startup/Business Book: To Sell Is Human by Daniel H Pink
I spent part of this past year developing a marketing and sales strategy for one of my clients. To Sell Is Human by Daniel H Pink helped me think about this process more globally and via human psychology. One interesting technique/tip that stood out to me was attunement or “syncing,” namely “mimicing mannerisms and vocal patterns to someone else so that we both understand and can be understood” is fundamental to attunement. For example:
For example, a Dutch study found that waitresses who repeated diners’ orders word for word earned 70 percent more tips than those who paraphrased orders—and that customers with servers who mimicked were more satisfied with their dining experience…several studies have shown that when restaurant servers touch patrons lightly on the arm or shoulder, diners leave larger tips.18 One of Guéguen’s studies found that women in nightclubs were more likely to dance with men who lightly touched their forearm for a second or two when making the request.
This book removed some of the negativity I had towards selling and sales and reminds us that selling is essentially about moving others, which is essential in nearly all jobs and situations.
I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their mindset and approaches to marketing and sales as well as anyone interested in practical human psychology.
Honorable mention in this same category goes to Super Mentors by Eric Koester (my brother), which flips the narrative on what you should look for in mentors. While we commonly seek advice and long-term engagement with mentors, Eric argues that modern mentorship is best framed as seeking out opportunity mentors that can give you a job, a project lift or some other unlock in your career journey. Using a number of personal examples, Eric shows that the best “Mentors are Super because of what they do not who they are.”
Favorite Philosophy Book: Inventing Temperature by Hasok Chang
I’ve long been influenced and fascinated by philosophy of science and in particular Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which argues that what we know and see is impacted/influenced by the scientific paradigms we live in. A paradigm has become the keyword expressing how the shared set of concepts and theories that frame what and how we (as scientists and societies) “know.” Put simply, to know requires an assumed background of how we measure and see the world.
The single word “temperature” obscures the existence of separate layers of concepts.
Inventing Temperature by Hasok Chang is basically a history book on discovery and invention of thermometers and a standard of (meaningful) measurement. In order to have an effective and proven way of measuring temperature, you need certain standard points for how physics of materials behaves. This book recounts the challenges in creating such standards.
how certain phenomena could have been judged to be constant in temperature, when no standards of constancy had been established previously.
We often think of measurement as an extension of observation based on sensation. But we can’t “perceive” temperature exactly, instead seeking out proxies that elicit the effects of temperature changes over time like boiling and freezing point of water or air or some other material.
The invention of the thermoscope (the “stage 2” standard) created a different kind of temperature as an observable property. Numerical thermometers (the “stage 3” standard) established yet another kind of temperature concept that was observable.
While I enjoyed the historical pursuit and various characters in early chapters, I kept finding myself repeatedly thinking about how often we assume measured characteristics as “existing” or discovered as such when in reality they are invented too. For example, while we might observe water’s freezing and boiling as fixed points, we can’t necessarily assume a linear relationship between them.
Following a pretty detailed analysis and retelling for inventing temperature and thermometers, Hasok Chang shares:
how certain phenomena could have been judged to be constant in temperature, when no standards of constancy had been established previously. The answer was found within the self-improving spiral of quantification—starting with sensations, going through ordinal thermoscopes, and finally arriving at numerical thermometers.
“Epistemic iteration is a process in which successive stages of knowledge, each building on the preceding one, are created in order to enhance the achievement of certain epistemic goals. … In each step, the later stage is based on the earlier stage, but cannot be deduced from it in any straightforward sense. Each link is based on the principle of respect and the imperative of progress, and the whole chain exhibits innovative progress within a continuous tradition.”
Epistemic iteration is definitely a concept I hope to integrate in my own work and thinking.
Conclusion and Reflection
Why Read Books:
In world that feels increasingly centered on shallow work and consumption, book reading sometimes feels like an act of rebellion.
Book reading enables me to maintain a learner and growth mindset throughout the year. For whatever topic or field that interests me or area I seek knowledge or improvement, I try to find a book or two. For example, while they weren’t my favorite books this past year, I read two books on music production and song writing that re-framed my expectations on my music production craft and ultimately lead me to finishing my first album, Take Life Chill.
How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back by Jeff Tweedy and Music Habits - The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production: Finish Songs Fast, Beat Procrastination and Find Your Creative Flow by Jason Timothy offered first-hand advice on how to approach music creation and both reiterated that much of what we often do in a creative or project needs to be boiled down to doing the thing itself. In order to improve as a music producer, you need to produce music. Watching videos, studying tutorials and buying gear are basically forms of procrastation.
This is honestly applicable advice in any field you want to learn and master. Maximize time on iterative practice on the skill or output you want to create and seek feedback that helps you learn and grow. This is in many ways the practical takeaway from one of my more popular posts from a few years back Learning to Learn: On the Science of Memory and Effective Learning.
So why read? So you can continue to cultivate yourself and remain curious each and every day.
My Book Reading Tracking
Several years ago I had stopped book reading as much as I would have liked. In order to develop a better habit and remember what I read over time, I started to track my book reading. I currently use Goodreads to track the titles and number of books I read and occassionally I also log book reviews and scores.
Goodreads enables me to do a bit of manual tracking as well as helps me find new and interesting books to read in general and from people in my social network. I’m also a fan of setting a public book reading goal.
While Goodreads is a fun tool to keep track of your general reading behavior, I think kindle highlights are a pretty underappreciated feature. If you read with a kindle and take highlights, you can simply plug your device into a computer and pull out all of your highlights. I wrote a little python script that takes those highlights and converts them into a singular reading notes text document for each every book I read. This enables me to quickly pull up my highlights and drop them into my writings and smart notes.
Book Reading Goals, Yearly Time Reading and an Update on My 2000-Book Progress
My original goal for this last year was conservatively set at 52 books. Basically I imagined with 4-5 hours of reading per week or 45 minutes per day I should be able to easily finish a book a week. In reality I finished 58 books, nearly 59. So I read a lot more than the goal I had set. Compared to 2021, I read 3 extra books.
Unfortunately there isn’t a reading time tracker on Kindle so it’s impossible to know exactly how much time I spent book reading. A few years ago I used a reading speed estimation tool that predicted I read somewhere between 350 and 200 words per minute. So let’s run some math:
- It’s been reported that there on average about 300 words per page in most novels and nonfiction.
- So having read 17,365 pages in 2022 and…
- assuming 300 words per page, then
- I read 5.2 million book words last year. Wow!
If I read 275 word per minute then I would have spent 315 hours total reading books in 2022 or about 52 minutes per day.
A few years ago I set a somewhat ridiculous and ironic challenge goal of reading 2000 books. At present I’ve logged 1147 books as “Read,” meaning I have another 853 books to read to reach that milestone goal. Based on my numbers this year, that’s 256k pages or 76.7 million book words I still have to read.
Even though this seems huge, in reality assuming my current pace of 52 minutes of time reading or 14k words read per day, that’s actually about 5368.5 days (or 14.7 years) of reading to go.
A Final Thought on My Reading Intentions for 2023
Overall, looking at my log of books read and my reading habits, I’d generally like to simply “stick with the program” when it comes to reading. I’d like to continue with keeping at least one book of fiction and one book of nonfiction in my active reading. Generally since I like to have some variety on nonfiction side I find it’s good to have one that is lighter and one that is heavier.
In terms of content choices, I plan to (at least):
- Read 3 History Books
- Read 3 Philosophy Books
- Read 5 Books on Science & Technology
I’d like to throw in 3-5 popular “big ideas” book on business, psychology and human behavior.
While I’m not actively tracking it, I’m still trying to consciously be sure I read beyond “old white American/European guys” so I’m planning to incorporate female and non-Western writers as much as I can. I should try and find and add to my queue more Asian, Latin American, African and Middle-Eastern writers and books.
Thanks for reading this post. Here’s to book reading as an act of rebellion against mindless scrolling and engaging our consciousness and critical thinking and openness to wonder.
FYI – If you are interested in more detailed data logging and tracking practices, I log my reading with Goodreads, Kindle and Instapaper. Data collection and visualization powered by QS Ledger. This post and a few related ones are part of my Year in Data project.