Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Dec

My Top 10 Favorite Books

A few readers have asked me to offer up a list of my favorite books. That’s always a tough call since typically my favorite book is the one I’ve just finished (I also typically don’t finish a book I don’t like). Nevertheless, there are a few books that are probably more relevant to MDA and my health and fitness philosophies than others. In no particular order, here are five novels and five from the “health/medicine/fitness” category that come to mind as having shaped my worldview one way or another.


The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

In sixth grade I traded Roy Lewis a 5 cent bag of M&Ms for a like-new paperback copy of this wonderful book. It not only cemented one of my first successful business negotiations, I was enthralled by this primal tale of Civil War castaways who had to make do with minimal provisions on a prehistoric island. I still have “word pictures” in my brain from that book. Grok would have been proud of those guys.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac’s fictional account of some real-life Beat Generation characters influenced many artists who followed him – like Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson and one of my favorites Tom Waits. The book also prompted my own extended road trip in 1977, and led to my leaving snowy, cold New England for the warmer training climate and the rich musical culture of the San Francisco Bay Area. (Beats and jazz, to hippies and rock, to New Wave and punk, etc.)

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Many people regard “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as his best work, but I submit that “Sometimes” is truly the great American novel. It’s a tale of a stubborn, quintessentially American logging family in Oregon fighting a battle against their union-based town. Kesey was also the major force behind a group called “The Merry Pranksters” that roamed the San Francisco Peninsula in the 60’s in a “magic bus” dropping acid, a time which was later chronicled in Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Years later I used to ride my bike past Kesey’s compound in La Honda and marvel at what emanated from that group.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Rand’s philosophies helped shape my own feelings on the role of government in society, in corporations and in the life of the individual. With all that’s going on in our nation today, it ought to be required reading for every elected official.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

No one else I’ve ever read writes so powerfully. Be careful. Sometimes those images will keep you up at night.


The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes

In the world of exercise physiology, Noakes is close to a god. This 900-page tome covers every aspect of how training (and the training diet) affects the human physiology – the good, the bad and the ugly. Reading between the lines here is what got me started thinking that endurance training really isn’t that healthy.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
by Robert Sapolsky

No one knows more about stress and stress hormones than this Stanford-based neuroscientist. Certainly no one writes more insightfully or entertainingly on the topic. I had always maintained that stress was probably the greatest factor in disease (dietary stress included) but Sapolsky drove the point home so convincingly that I reordered my priorities to stop endurance training and started looking at how I could better control stress through diet, supplementation and alternative exercise.

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

This book is less than two years old, but it is the definitive work on the history of nutritional science and nutrition public policy. Taubes is not a scientist, but rather a science writer and, as such, is able to objectively evaluate the “evidence” far better than most career researchers. It’s not an easy read, but if you can get through it, you will have a clear picture of just how misguided our diet advice has been – and you’ll become a confirmed low-carber. If you don’t read it, have your doctor read it, and tell him that if he doesn’t, you’ll have to find one who will.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

For lack of a better description (and lack of space) this is a history of the world post-Grok that looks at how agriculture and geography basically determined which societies would thrive (develop technology and weaponry) and dominate, and which would eventually fail or be taken over. Luck had a lot to do with it, of course, but it’s a fascinating thesis that filled in many of the gaps in my understanding of how we left Africa and populated the entire earth.

The Biology of Belief
by Bruce Lipton

Lipton takes the “genes are not destiny” assertion that I am always touting here to a whole new level. It’s the environment we present to our cells that dictates which genes are turned on or off and who or what we eventually become. No one does a finer job of explaining the concept, including the idea that our thoughts can also manifest genetic expression far more than anyone thought possible. This is the new frontier…

Those are my top ten. Share your favorites and let me know what you think of mine in the comment boards!

Further Reading:

My 2 Minute Salad Video

One of My Favorite Pastimes

What’s the Difference Between Primal and Paleo?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great idea, and amen on Tom Waits, even though he wasn’t actually on the list haha.

    goodfriendsam wrote on December 16th, 2008
  2. Great list! I would add The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to category two.

    Alex wrote on December 16th, 2008
  3. The Road – what a book! The only book I have ever read in a single sitting.

    I would also recommend Life of Pi by Yann Martel – a wonderful read.

    Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later wrote on December 16th, 2008
  4. Medicine:
    1. Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer – Shannon Brownlee
    2. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance – Atul Gawande

    1. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    2. The Coffeehouse Investor: How to Build Wealth, Ignore Wall Street, and Get On With Your Life – Bill Schultheis

    SB wrote on December 16th, 2008
  5. Tom Wolfe wrote Electric Kool Aid Acid Test; not Vonnegut.

    VT-XFitter wrote on December 16th, 2008
  6. VT. So right, That’s what I get for writing on the fly. Duly noted and corrected.

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 16th, 2008
  7. Cool! “Atlas Shrugged” – you have to be an independent thinker to appreciate that book or the Primal Blueprint – both are full of great and stimulating ideas for life and living.

    John Campbell wrote on December 16th, 2008
  8. Ditto on Atlas Shrugged, but it should be required reading for everyone – elected officials and citizens alike.

    gharkness wrote on December 16th, 2008
    • Atlas Shrugged is my #1 favorite book! With everything going on around us, I often referred back to it for motivation and keeping me focus. Glad to know PB loves it too!

      kitty wrote on October 19th, 2012
  9. “Collapse”, also by Jared Diamond — Brilliant. And the best fitness book ever written, “The Art Of War” Sun Tzu.

    emergefit wrote on December 16th, 2008
  10. Interesting…this is the 2nd mention of Atlas Shrugged I’ve heard in a couple days. The fiance just got a video game called “BioShock” for a friend of ours, and its based on that book.

    Mara wrote on December 16th, 2008
  11. In the Health/Fitness category, I would ditto the suggestions for Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma above, and add two books:

    Mary Enig’s Eat Fat, Lose Fat
    Nina Planck’s Real Food

    FoodRenegade wrote on December 16th, 2008
  12. Realting to Michael Pollan, if you follow this link, there is a great 2-part intervew with him on Bill Myers last week.

    emergefit wrote on December 16th, 2008
  13. I have to agree with your comments on Sometimes a Great Notion. I had always hoped that Kesey had one more great novel in him. Sailor Song was not it, I don’t think. McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is on my list. I’ve read 7 0f your 10. Jared Diamond is brilliant and readable. Other great living American writers: Jim Harrison, Barry Lopez, Charles Bowden. For philosophy, see Ken Wilber. Bill McKibben sees the big picture as to environment and economy.

    Rick Strong wrote on December 16th, 2008
  14. I loved Omnivore’s Dilemma, too. Just too many books and too little space, I guess.

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 16th, 2008
  15. Sorry, but I have to disagree with “Atlas Shrugged” which I regard as abysmally bad political philosophy and very possibly one of the worst things anybody could ever read. Look, if you go in for Libertarian politics, read something w/ actual intellectual weight like Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia” or A. John Simmons’ “On the Edge of Anarchy,” or even John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”.

    On a more positive note, here are some truly great reads:

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamzov.

    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man. (Really a book of great genius; much more so than “The Origin of Species”.)

    Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy.

    Aldo Leopold, A Sound County Almanac.

    Galway Kinnell, The Book of Nightmares.

    Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct

    Brian Green, The Elegant Universe (or Fabic of the Cosmos)

    Marc Moffett wrote on December 16th, 2008
  16. Out of the list I’ve only read Atlas Shrugged and I couldn’t be happier than you put that on this list! Fabulous book everyone should be required to read (like gharkness said). Since I agree with you so strongly on that one I’m definitely putting the rest of these on my reading list and moving them straight to the top. Thanks for the great suggestions!

    Holly wrote on December 16th, 2008
  17. Mark, it’s customary in the blogging world to link to the books listed on Amazon so that one could add them easily to their cart. This should have been a no-brainer for such a prolific and good blogger as yourself, as now one must manually input the books to their list.

    Also, Fountainhead is better than Atlas Shrugged.

    Tony wrote on December 16th, 2008
  18. Thanks for the suggestions, I need some books to put on my Christmas list :)

    Although I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read two (Atlas Shrugged and On the Road)- I’m excited to read the rest!

    BEELifestyle wrote on December 16th, 2008
  19. Good Calories Bad Calories is probably my favourite book of all time. I loved it.

    Dr Dan wrote on December 16th, 2008
  20. In the health category, I would include:

    o The One Hundred Year Lie — about how FDA-approved chemicals damage our health. Well researched.

    o The Omnivores Dilemma — A look at the industrialization of food.


    o The World Without Us — a look at how Earth heals and recovers if all humans suddenly vanished.

    Scott Miller wrote on December 16th, 2008
  21. Tony – Many bloggers are part of Amazon Associates and link to books on to make money. I am not trying to sell these books. I’ve added the links nonetheless. Enjoy!

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 16th, 2008
  22. Good man! Thank you Mark :)

    Tony wrote on December 16th, 2008
  23. I love Atlas Shrugged, too. And Good Cals/Bad Cals is on my must-read list!

    Fit Bottomed Girls wrote on December 16th, 2008
  24. Great books – I love Kesey and will have to pick up “Sometimes” sometime :)

    Another book I’d add – Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Innovative and life-changing.

    treesa wrote on December 16th, 2008
  25. I’m a huge fan of “Atlas Shrugged” and Ayn Rand’s earlier novel “The Fountainhead.” Her principles of rationality, independence, individualism, egoism, and free-market capitalism are desperately needed today. Consider: If more Americans thought critically about what they eat — rather than just accepting the conventional wisdom, courtesy of government bureaucrats armed with inane food pyramids! — we’d not be in the big fat mess-o’-flab that we’re in today.

    Diana Hsieh wrote on December 16th, 2008
  26. Am I the first one to give mad props to your choice of Guns, Germs, and Steel?

    Great list. ‘The Road.’ Sad, beautiful stuff. One of my favorites.

    Must admit I don’t wear an ‘Ayn Rand’ club badge; but I like her stuff, I like it good.

    McFly wrote on December 16th, 2008
  27. Diana, How cool that you are studying philosophy at CU! We must have overlapped a bit as I graduated in 2003, before taking a job at the University of Wyoming.

    Still, couldn’t disagree with you more about Rand!

    Marc Moffett wrote on December 16th, 2008
  28. Dear Mark, please let me refer my own Listmania – “Civilization is killing you? Try a primitive lifestyle instead!” –

    Ricardo Carvalho wrote on December 16th, 2008
  29. I am really not getting all of this Ayn Rand love!

    kitfisk wrote on December 16th, 2008
  30. no nutrition and physical degeneration…or Homo Optimus….then good calories bad calorie.

    awesome list though!! I will have to check some of these out!!!

    good topic!

    Troy wrote on December 16th, 2008
  31. treesa – I love Ishmael!!! Have you read The Story of B by Daniel Quinn? It is amazing!

    Also, I would add The Protein Power Lifeplan to the list. Has anyone read it? I am getting Good Calories, Bad Calories for Christmas. :)

    KQ wrote on December 16th, 2008
  32. KQ – I haven’t read any of his others books, but I’d like to…. maybe that will be my solstice present to myself :)

    treesa wrote on December 16th, 2008
  33. Hey Mark… I see several of my favorites here:

    Atlas Shrugged (I read it at my wife’s urging, and after 9 of the top 10 wealthiest men listed it as their most inspiring book).

    The Road (How can anyone go wrong with Cormac McCarthy? I was introduced to him through a literature and the environment course. The first? All The Pretty Horses.”)

    Guns, Germs, and Steel (After seeing just one PBS installment, I went right out an got this great book.).

    My current favorite (not on your list)? “Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life” by Gregg Michael Levoy. I’m on my second reading. It’s a wonderful book, beautifully written and deeply insightful.

    Will Sherwood wrote on December 16th, 2008
  34. The Book of Five Rings – Miyamoto Musashi
    The Art of War – Sun Tzu
    The Day the World Came to Town – Jim Defede
    The Stand – Steven King
    The Word and the Void + Shannara series – Terry Brooks
    Olympic Weightlifting – Greg Everett

    Zen Frittata wrote on December 16th, 2008
  35. Those interested in Kesey and Kerouac will love

    Carbon Based wrote on December 16th, 2008
  36. Great list, Mark. Those I haven’t read will soon go on my (very long) reading list.

    One quibble, though. Saying Taubes is not a scientist, but is a science writer strikes me as dead wrong. Science is a way of thinking and learning that requires skepticism and empiricism. Published as the Diet Delusion where I live, Good Calories, Bad Calories is the quintessential example of the application of skepticism and empiricism to diet and nutrition. Being a true scientist is not dependent on having the right academic credentials – it is all about how you think and how you approach problems. As Taleb has said, “Gary Taubes is a true scientist.”

    Russell wrote on December 17th, 2008
  37. What a coincidence; I have “Sometimes a Great Notion,” “Atlas Shrugged,” and On the Road” sitting on my desk as I write.

    I often wonder if Kesey and Kerouac were libertarians. Kesey was once referred to as a “psychedelic conservative,” and Kerouac was very much aligned politically with William F. Buckley jr., who once said, “I am 90% libertarian.”

    Anyway, both Kesey and Kerouac’s live and let live outlook is very much in line with mine.

    William wrote on December 17th, 2008
  38. We agree on your pick of On the Road!

    Maybe you’d enjoy my Kerouac-obsessed blog at

    Rick Dale wrote on December 17th, 2008
  39. Great list!

    I read and followed Protein Power, the first edition, about 10 years ago,losing 30 lbs. I have managed to keep it off but still need to lose another 30. Protein Power Lifeplan has a wealth of nutritional science information and a great bit on artificial sweeteners. I found the science very understandable. I also like Neanderthin. But of course, PB is the best!

    Mark, any thoughts on Neanderthin?

    Sheri wrote on December 17th, 2008
  40. Russell, I agree that Taubes is more a scientist than many with the training and degree. I was deferring to his own description of himself.

    Sheri, Protein Power is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone. It certainly would have made a longer list. My limitations here were finding only 5 in that genre that were varied in their influence on my thinking.

    For sure, Neanderthin is also an interesting POV on the same topic.

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 17th, 2008

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