Coming up with a list of my top all-time favorite books is always hard for me. Typically, I don’t linger on books. My favorite book is often 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 I can look back on as having shaped my worldview and informed how I approach life. There are also some that are just such good stories or that came to me in a formative part of my life that they’ve stuck with me. Some of the following books are more “relevant” to health, fitness, and nutrition than others that made the list, but they all “made me” and so I’ve included them.
Without further ado, here are my top 13 favorite and most important books.
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.
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.)
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.
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 classic story of an inventor fed up with the false promises of civilization and the lack of respect for his inventions who uproots his family from rural New England to the dark, dank jungles of Honduras in a search for truth, authenticity, and a people who will appreciate his genius. He finds it but gets far more than he bargained for. I see a lot of myself in the protagonist— I don’t give up, I pursue my dreams wildly, and I risk total failure—so I consider this a self-cautionary tale. The movie starring Harrison Ford from the 80s is also worth a watch.
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. It’s no surprise that Noakes has become a powerful advocate of ancestral, low-carb dieting. 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.
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.
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…
Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers wrote one of the most important books of the century. It upends the popular story of livestock destroying the climate, not just countering the myth but proving that the opposite is true: cows can actually save the world and indeed are required to improve climate change. Given today’s well-meaning but misguided brand of climate activism, Sacred Cow should be read by anyone in power.
I don’t like writing, but I’m good at it. I credit much of my ability to internalizing the lessons of this book, which covers the basics of grammar, syntax, and proper word usage. A must read for anyone who wants to write (and communicate) well.
Those are my top choices. Share your favorites and let me know what you think of mine in the comment boards!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.