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:

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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. No biggie. Thanks for the response/ correction.

    VT-XFitter wrote on December 17th, 2008
  2. I’ll have to go back 36 years to come up with my favorite book — Mila 18 by Leon Uris. Second would be the 2003 Golfsmith catalog :-)

    DaveC - DaveGetsFit wrote on December 17th, 2008
  3. Atlas Shrugged… not light reading. The only thing I remember is the first sentence, which is good for trivia night! I do remember having an Ayn Rand thing when I was in high school.

    I tend to judge my favorite books by their “timeless” quality, or would I pick it up a few years from now and read it again. I loved Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road” when we read it in our creative writing class but alas I’m not sure it’s an “I’ll reread this in 10 years and still think wow this is a great book” book.

    But I do have a handful I feel that way about: Lord of the Flies, Lord of the Rings trilogy (no, I don’t have a whole “Lord of… fixation), The Color Purple, and To Kill a Mockingbird. On the less “high brow” list… Where the Red Fern Grows (ok, I CRY when the dog grieves itself to death over the other dog) and Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. These are all well done and have staying power for me.

    Nonfiction: Hands down, The Double Helix is the best. I also thought The Making of the Atomic Bomb was quite good.

    Nina Planck’s Real Food was very influential in turning my thoughts back to a natural, unprocessed diet. Only she was able to convince me that whole milk, cream, butter, and other fats were really good for me. Her argument was very compelling and made everything seem tasty. After that I was a farmers’ market girl.

    I must confess that I’m not much of a non-fiction reader. I like characters and stories.

    I’m not even gonna bring up the very best ever… Green Eggs & Ham, said Sam I am.


    TrailGrrl wrote on December 17th, 2008
  4. Sorry to chime in again.

    I agree totally with Zen Frittata. The Sword of Shannara rocked. Ditto on The Stand and The Art of War.


    TrailGrrl wrote on December 17th, 2008
  5. Okay, I have to pile on with two more; The Religions Of Man, by Huston Smith. Often used as a college text, 50 years after its’ initial copyright, this remains the most relevant book on comparative religions ever written, and provides the reading with a profound understanding of why religion matters, even if you are not religious.

    And, Horton Hatches The Egg. All the important lessons in life are learned here. Cheers Mark!

    emergefit wrote on December 17th, 2008
  6. Since we seem to be on a Seuss kick, what about “Oh, the Places you’ll Go!”?

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 17th, 2008
  7. Great list Mark. On my list is also On The Road and Atlas Shrugged. Also enjoyed the entire trilogy by Jared Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee; Guns, Germs, and Steel; and Collapse).

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

    Scott Kustes - Modern Forager wrote on December 18th, 2008
  8. I’m with kitfisk: What’s with all the Ayn Rand love? She’s just about the exact opposite of what we need at the moment. Egoistic, me-first, anti-regulation economics is what got us into this mess in the first place. What we need is large-scale investment in the common good (energy and transportation infrastructure, schools, universal health care, parks). Worshiping at the altar of free-market capitalism is as head-up-the-ass stupid as still being a diehard communist, especially right now. If you want to read about what really should be done in these desperate-looking times, try adding to your list “The Return of Depression Economics,” by Paul Krugman, who has been so right-on in recent years that it’s almost like he’s clairvoyant.

    ukelele wrote on December 22nd, 2008
    • I would like to comment on Atlas Shrugged. I first read it at 18 and have read it several times since then. It is one of my very favorite books, but I have never seen it as a political book, not at all. Rather I have always viewed it as a book that inspired me to live up to my highest ideals.
      I personally am bothered that it’s been usurped as the bible for the republican party, when truthfully, the people she describes with most distaste, act the way many of them in government act. That the party wants to use her book to talk about anti-government and deregulation, when yeah, we saw what that did after living through 2000-2008. Her book is a statement against communism more than it is a statement for a particular political party in the U.S.

      Sheryl Valentine wrote on March 28th, 2012
  9. Other than that, though, great list. I’d add “Waiting for the Barbarians” by JM Coetzee. Freaking brilliant.

    ukelele wrote on December 22nd, 2008
  10. Rand had some problematic issues with her philosophy, but Atlas Shrugged is closer to what’s going on in the present than any single dystopian novel out there. Not easy reading, but worth it, in the end.

    It’s completely wrong that it was anti-regulation that got us into this mess. It was BAD regulation, or ignoring of regulations. One of thousands of examples. There were politicians (I’m not getting into x vs. y party or individual, it doesn’t matter for this discussion) who tried to get OTHER politicians to wake up to the problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The crooked politicians, literally weeks before the collapse of the markets, continued to say, in spite of knowing better, that there were NO PROBLEMS.

    There are hundreds of thousands of regulations out there. They didn’t stop anything.

    Rand advocated for FREE MARKETS. We do NOT have free markets, and certainly, they are less free all the time. And that’s mainly because of the unholy alliance of very big businesses and the Federal Govt, who conspire, via “laws”, to suppress true competition.

    There is a saying that no one hates capitalism more than capitalists. Rand’s books showed that, in a way. Atlas Shrugged shows how innovation and competition can be stifled, by greedy and TRULY selfish people (e.g. certain Senators, bought off for votes in Congress at 1 am this morning).

    Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead showed how fake altruism causes us immense harm, suppresses our freedom and impoverishes us. I’m sorry I’m going on so long about this, but I”m TIRED of seeing really stupid comments by know-nothings who either haven’t read the books or don’t get what they were about.

    Maurice S. wrote on December 21st, 2009
    • maurice wrote: Atlas Shrugged shows how innovation and competition can be stifled, by greedy and TRULY selfish people

      sv: Yes and we see innovation and competition stifled more than ever in our corporate run America.

      Sheryl Valentine wrote on March 28th, 2012
  11. Body By Science – Doug McGuff and John Little

    The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge

    Jolly wrote on December 21st, 2009
  12. I used to be more than happy to seek out this internet-site.I wished to thanks in your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you weblog post.

    beats by dr. dre australia wrote on February 13th, 2012
  13. How about adding Primal Body Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. This book has gone straight to the top of my list!

    Joan Mercantini wrote on March 29th, 2012
  14. I think that Atlas Shrugged should be required reading for anyone, not simply politicians.

    Excellent list, Mark!

    Zatt wrote on March 29th, 2012
  15. Just discovering you Mark, and am on my 4th day of trying out Primal. Loving it and everything I have read on your site so far (and just ordered the book). And I am So relieved to see Atlas Shrugged on this list. If I’m going to be following your advice,I have to know your head is screwed on straight, and that recco is a good indication :-)

    Newto wrote on March 29th, 2012
  16. Mark you will be interested to know that Prof Tim Noakes (The Lore of Running) has recently become an outspoken convert to the Primal approach vs high carbohydrate diet.

    Ulrich wrote on March 30th, 2012
  17. “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

    Chuck wrote on March 31st, 2012

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