January 2023

Lex Fridman's Reading List

— Lex Fridman's Controversial 2023 Reading List
Lex Fridman's Reading List
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Lex Fridman is a well-known artificial intelligence researcher and podcast host who has become popular for his in-depth interviews with experts in a variety of fields. In addition to his work in AI, Fridman is also an avid reader, and has shared many of the books that have influenced his thinking on his social media channels.

Many of you may have seen his tweet announcing his plan to read a book a week throughout 2023.

The tweet caused quite a bit of controversy especially by Nassim Nicholas Taleb stating in a tweet "It is not about the CHOICE of books: classics are to be absorbed & distilled with contemplation, not read programmatically 1/week like an automaton."

Agree or disagree here is Lex Fridman's current 2023 reading list.

Our favourite quote from 1984

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

Written more than 70 years ago, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, his dystopian vision of a government that will do anything to control the narrative is timelier than ever...

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching...

A startling and haunting novel, 1984 creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions—a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Our favourite quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together, this dynamic pair began a journey through space aided by a galaxyful of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox—the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian (formerly Tricia McMillan), Zaphod’s girlfriend, whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; and Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he’s bought over the years.

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars!

Our favourite quote from Brave New World

Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.

Now more than ever: Aldous Huxley's enduring masterwork must be read and understood by anyone concerned with preserving the human spirit

"A masterpiece. ... One of the most prophetic dystopian works." —Wall Street Journal

Aldous Huxley's profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls. “A genius [who] who spent his life decrying the onward march of the Machine” (The New Yorker), Huxley was a man of incomparable talents: equally an artist, a spiritual seeker, and one of history’s keenest observers of human nature and civilization. Brave New World, his masterpiece, has enthralled and terrified millions of readers, and retains its urgent relevance to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as thought-provoking, satisfying work of literature. Written in the shadow of the rise of fascism during the 1930s, Brave New World likewise speaks to a 21st-century world dominated by mass-entertainment, technology, medicine and pharmaceuticals, the arts of persuasion, and the hidden influence of elites.

"Aldous Huxley is the greatest 20th century writer in English." —Chicago Tribune

Our favourite quote from The Stranger

I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn't.

Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd." First published in 1946; now in a new translation by Matthew Ward.

One of the key works on Stoicism is Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, published during his reign as Roman emperor. In Meditations, Aurelius expresses his views on the superiority of reasoning over passion and offers advice on how to begin molding your mind to think logically. You can live a meaningful life and pass away with grace by adhering to the Stoic philosophy.

Our favourite quote from Meditations

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Meditations is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova and the second book was written at Carnuntum.

Our favourite quote from On the Road

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac's adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naiveté and wild ambition and imbued with Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.

Our favourite quote from Foundation

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future—a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save humanity, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire—both scientists and scholars—and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls this sanctuary the Foundation. But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. And mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and live as slaves—or take a stand for freedom and risk total destruction.

During a battle, more than simply muscle and wit are needed for success. The tactics needed to prepare for and engage in warfare are the same whether you are fighting someone else alone or guiding a team of people through a competition.

Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese warrior and philosopher, outlines the key factors that must be taken into account while creating strategic conflict resolution techniques in his book The Art of War. The steps necessary to develop into a capable leader and fighter are guided by Sun Tzu's concepts. They give you advice on how to judge success, when to fight, and when to employ coercion and intimidation to end a problem amicably. With the help of these lessons, you'll learn to read conflict and opponents to choose the best course of action.

Our favourite quote from The Art of War

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Twenty-Five Hundred years ago, Sun Tzu wrote this classic book of military strategy based on Chinese warfare and military thought. Since that time, all levels of military have used the teaching on Sun Tzu to warfare and civilization have adapted these teachings for use in politics, business and everyday life. The Art of War is a book which should be used to gain advantage of opponents in the boardroom and battlefield alike.

Our favourite quote from The Old Man and the Sea

Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.

This short novel, already a modern classic, is the superbly told, tragic story of a Cuban fisherman in the Gulf Stream and the giant Marlin he kills and loses — specifically referred to in the citation accompanying the author's Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

Our favourite quote from 2001

It was the mark of a barbarian to destroy something one could not understand.

On the Moon, an enigma is uncovered.

So great are the implications of this discovery that for the first time men are sent out deep into our solar system.

But long before their destination is reached, things begin to go horribly, inexplicably wrong...

One of the greatest-selling science fiction novels of our time, this classic book will grip you to the very end.

Our favourite quote from Animal Farm

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

What purpose does life serve? Humans have struggled with this issue for ages, and it has undoubtedly motivated you at least once. But how do we respond to this question and how can we guarantee that our lives have purpose? In his book Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes his time spent in the WWII concentration camps as well as the school of therapy he founded to confront this very question.

Our favourite quote from Man's Search for Meaning

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.

Beacon Press, the original English-language publisher of Man's Search for Meaning, is issuing this new paperback edition with a new Foreword, biographical Afterword, and classroom materials to reach new generations of readers.

Yuval Noah Harari blends historical, economic, and biological principles to describe the tale of Homo sapiens in his book Sapiens. We begin 2.5 million years ago, when the first Homo sapiens appeared, and we conclude in the future, when the emergence of a superhuman race would spell the end of the Sapiens genus. We discover along the road how our capacity to conjure up imaginary worlds contributed to our dominance over other animals. We observe how the Industrial Revolution, Imperialism, Capitalism, the Agricultural Revolution, and the Scientific Revolution have all had a lasting, and not always favourable, impact on our species.

We are left with just one decision to make as we plan our future: Who do we want to become? Finding the proper answers may not be as crucial as asking the right questions. Read this book to learn more about the evolution of our species; you'll have a completely different perspective on the world as it is today.

Our favourite quote from Sapiens

You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.

100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens.

How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?

In Sapiens, Dr Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical – and sometimes devastating – breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behaviour from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come?

Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power ... and our future.

Our favourite quote from The Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories

Franz Kafka (1883-1924), whose writings attracted relatively little attention in his own lifetime, has long been recognized as one of the most famous, distinctive, and influential voices in modern world literature. His Erzählungen (stories), which are famously enigmatic, have prompted and continue to prompt a wide variety of critical debates from any number of literary schools and have stimulated interpretative adaptations of many different kinds by actors, painters, photographers, and film makers.Kafka s fictions typically present an unusual, sometimes surreal story, in a deliberately flat prose, so that there is a wrenching gap between the weirdness, tension, humour, or horror of the events described and the apparently calm surface of the language. It is a style which at once pressures the reader to discover some allegorical structure at work in the tale, while at the same time frustrating all attempts to impose such an interpretative scheme. Hence, Kafka s stories, which for this reason some have called parables, tend to remain in the reader s imagination as vivid puzzling challenges and are very difficult to forget. The strange world Kafka depicts in his stories has given rise to the adjective Kafkaesque, which Merriam Webster defines as "having a nighmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality."This new collection of stories translated by Ian Johnston includes a selection of Kafka s best known and most popular stories, Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, A Hunger Artist, A Report for An Academy, The Great Wall of China, Jackals and Arabs, Before the Law, Up in the Gallery, A Country Doctor, The Hunter Gracchus, and An Imperial Message.

Our favourite quote from The Plague

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation, and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resign themselves to fate, some seek blame, and a few, like Dr. Rieux, resist the terror.

An immediate triumph when it was published in 1947, The Plague is in part an allegory of France's suffering under the Nazi occupation, as well as a timeless story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence. In this fresh yet careful translation, award-winning translator Laura Marris breathes new life into Albert Camus's ever-resonant tale. Restoring the restrained lyricism of the original French text, and liberating it from the archaisms and assumptions of the previous English translation, Marris grants English readers the closest access we have ever had to the meaning and searing beauty of The Plague.

This updated edition promises to add relevance and urgency to a classic novel of twentieth-century literature.

Our favourite quote from The Player of Games

Gurgeh is one of the best Game Players to emerge from the Culture, which is a human/machine symbiotic civilization. Every board, computer, and strategy are in your hands. Gurgeh, bored with success, travels to the ruthless and opulent Empire of Azad to participate in their fantastic game...a game so complicated, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Gurgeh accepts the game, as well as the challenge of his life - and maybe his death - despite being mocked, blackmailed, and almost assassinated

Our favourite quote from Fight Club

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.

The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.

In his debut novel, Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation's most visionary satirist. Fight Club's estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret boxing matches in the basement of bars. There two men fight "as long as they have to." A gloriously original work that exposes what is at the core of our modern world.

Our favourite quote from The Little Prince

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

One of the most published and translated books in the world, The Little Prince fascinates the reader with its story of a pilot marooned in the Sahara after something goes wrong with his plane, and a little man with golden hair who has ‘fallen’ to earth by chance. As the pilot tries to repair his plane, the little man requests him to draw a sheep as well as a box to keep the sheep in, so that it may not harm a flower he cares for—and therein begins a friendship that leads us to re-examine the many things we take for granted in our everyday life. Part fantasy, part fable, this is written as much for children as for adults, bringing home the message ‘what is essential, is invisible to the eye’.

Our favourite quote from The Brothers Karamazov

Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.

The Brothers Karamasov is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving the “wicked and sentimental” Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons―the impulsive and sensual Dmitri; the coldly rational Ivan; and the healthy, red-cheeked young novice Alyosha. Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the whole of Russian life, is social and spiritual striving, in what was both the golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian culture.

This award-winning translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky remains true to the verbal inventiveness of Dostoevsky’s prose, preserving the multiple voices, the humor, and the surprising modernity of the original. It is an achievement worthy of Dostoevsky’s last and greatest novel.

Our favourite quote from Siddhartha

Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.

Herman Hesse's classic novel has delighted, inspired, and influenced generations of readers, writers, and thinkers. In this story of a wealthy Indian Brahmin who casts off a life of privilege to seek spiritual fulfillment. Hesse synthesizes disparate philosophies--Eastern religions, Jungian archetypes, Western individualism--into a unique vision of life as expressed through one man's search for true meaning.

Dune is a science fiction novel by Frank Herbert that was first published in 1965. The novel is set in the distant future, in a feudal society where noble houses control the planet Arrakis, the only source of the valuable substance known as "spice." The story follows the journey of Paul Atreides, the son of the Duke of Arrakis, as he navigates the treacherous political landscape of Arrakis and learns the truth about his own destiny. Dune is a complex and epic tale that explores themes of politics, religion, and ecology, and is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.

Our favourite quote from Dune

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert’s classic masterpiece—a triumph of the imagination and one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time.

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for....

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

Our favourite quote from Frankenstein

Scientist Victor Frankenstein learns how to create life, but his discovery goes quickly awry when he creates a monster larger and stronger than an ordinary man. As the monster uses its power to destroy everything Victor loves, the young scientist is forced to embark on a treacherous journey to end the monster's existence. It's an epic, enthralling tale of horror from a master of suspense.

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Some of the other books he is considering for the list are below.

  • The Dead by James Joyce
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand
  • The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • Nightfall, Last Question by Isaac Asimov
  • The Little Trilogy by Anton Chekhov
  • The Nose, The Overcoat by Gogol
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Prince by Machiavelli
  • Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  • Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman
  • Dead Souls by Gogol
  • 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
  • Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter
  • The Idiot by Dostoevsky

Update:

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.