|FICTION||PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION||AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURES||MARTIAL ARTS||OTHER|
Tom Robbins has been the main inspiration for me as a writer. His style influenced me deeply. The way he puts words together… he truly is a joy to read. If at all possible, he is even better as a person than as a writer—truly an awesome human being. The four titles listed above are my favorite novels written by him.
Move over, Shakespeare. Eat your heart out, Homer. The greatest epic poet of all times is the one and only Ludovico Ariosto. This is an English translation (in two volumes) of his most famous work. It comes in two volumes since it’s insanely long. You’ll find love, fighting, wild flights of fantasy, amazing writing, and pretty much everything else. As Ariosto writes, “Of ladies, cavaliers, of love and war, of courtesies and of brave deeds I sing…” And later “Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme…” Definitely not an easy read, but damn…. this is what pure poetry looks like.
Brief but deep, Herman Hesse’s Siddharta is a book everyone should read at least once in their life. This particular edition sports a forward by Tom Robbins. You can’t go wrong.
If Tom Robbins is indeed one of my long-standing sources of inspiration, Don Winslow is my most recent one. Style-wise, there really aren’t too many writers I look up to, but Winslow is one of them. I’m not a big fan of thrillers, but he is just too good to pass. These three are some of his titles I like best.
Mistakenly considered a children’s book, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is an amazing tale of willpower, nature, wild instincts and our own barbarian nature. I have no doubt Nietzsche would have dug it.
A legend about Robert E. Howard tells that one night when he sat down to write, he saw out of the corner of his eye a gigantic barbaric figure standing behind him. The dark giant told him that if Howard didn’t write, he’d get his head chopped off with an ax. So, Howard would write frantically through the night until dawn when the apparition would fade away. But the next night, it’d be there again using the ax to induce him to write. Supposedly, this is how the character of Conan the Barbarian came into being. The books listed above are some of the greatest titles in heroic fantasy.
I can’t really say anything about Tolkien that hasn’t been said already. If you want to see if it’s your thing, start with The Hobbit. If you pass that test, you can move on to The Lord of the Rings.
Compared to the author of this book, the screenwriters of the Starz’s TV Series Spartacus are frigid puritans who are horrified by blood. If there were a prize for the most amount of sex and blood under one cover, this book would win it hands down. Definitely not for the faint of heart (you find everything from hearts ripped out the chest while still beating to random cannibalism) and also not for slow readers (almost a thousand pages long).
No other philosophy influences my worldview as much as Taoism. The Tao Te Ching is the foundation of all Taoist thinking. Taoists, however, are not big on explaining their ideas, so this book is as elusive as it is enlightening. The first time I read it I thought it was complete and utter bullshit. Luckily, I read it again and again since then and each time I discovered more in its pages. Hundreds of translations of the Tao Te Ching exist ranging from the sublime to pure crap. The two listed above are a couple of my favorites.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (including Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, and Nietzsche Contra Wagner)
Ecce Homo (including The Birth of Tragedy, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, and The Case of Wagner)
Friedrich Nietzsche is is a giant among the gnomes who crowd the field of Western philosophy. His Thus Spoke Zarathustra is one of the greatest books ever written. But this doesn’t mean I’d recommend it to everybody. Not by coincidence, the subtitle of the book reads “a book for all and none.” Potentially, it’s open to everyone, but Nietzsche’s weird poetic philosophy requires a peculiar type of sensitivity. I know plenty of wonderful people who just can’t get into it, so don’t feel bad if it’s not for you. Having said that, it’s my favorite book in Western philosophy. Plenty of other books by Friedrich, such as Ecce Homo, are great as well.
Thoreau will always have a place in my heart since my first conversation with my wife was about him (actually, the first conversation was about how badly a guy in martial arts class stank, but the next one was about Thoreau.) Here’s Thoreau speaking for himself: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” If you can get past the 1800s English style, it’s a great book.
To this day I can’t think of a better critique of organized religion than the one crafted by Paine. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens can’t even begin to compare to Paine’s genius. The fact that he wrote this at the end of the 1700s makes his achievement even more amazing.
This short composition is one of the greatest books of poetry/philosophy in Western history. William Blake’s epigrams are timeless.
Chuang Tzu is, after Lao Tzu, the most renowned Taoist author. Some parts of the book are slow and some I flat out don’t like, but there are passages of hilarious humor and deep beauty.
This is definitely not my favorite translation of the work of the greatest Western “Taoist,” but it is the most easily available. It’s amazing how Heraclitus ideas and images are nearly identical to Taoist writings despite the fact that he probably knew nothing about Taoism and Taoists probably knew nothing about him.
Unraveling Zen’s Red Thread
I have no amazon link for this book since it’s out of print. But it’s the best source of information in English about my idol Ikkyu Sojun. Shoot me an email if you are interested and I’ll try to put you in touch with people who may be willing to part with their copies.
John Steven’s Three Zen Masters
Another cool book about Ikkyu that’s out of print. Email me if interested.
John Steven’s translation of some of Ikkyu’s poems.
Alan Watts is one of the best Western writers to discuss Zen and Taoism. Most of his books are enlightening but I particularly like these two.
A great collection of brief Zen stories. The first time I read it I “got” about 2 out of over 100. Now I “get” probably 50% of them. Quite a few gems here.
Sun Tzu’s classic textbook on strategy.
Cleansing the Doors of Perception (Huston Smith)
High Priest (Timothy Leary)
The Politics of Ecstasy (Timothy Leary)
If you are into altered states of consciousness, these books are for you. Smith’s book is a somewhat scholarly (but well written) work about the impact of “drugs” on world religions. Leary’s books… well… are Leary’s books. What do you expect from a guy who became famous for being the apostle of LSD?
In this famous text, Bertrand Russell lays down his reasons for rejecting organized religion in general, and Christianity in specific.
AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURES
Very funny, well written book about the life and practice of Severt Young Bear, a traditional Lakota drummer and singer.
This is possibly my favorite book ever written about American Indian culture. It follows the story of the Dull Knife family from the 1870s through the present. Unlike most historians (who are famous for being painfully bad writers), journalist Joe Starita tells the history of the Dull Knifes in a masterful way. Lots of drama and humor throughout. I have assigned this book for 10 years in my courses and not once did a student ever complain about it. Of course, the fact that I choked unconscious the first guy who tried to do that may explain the other students’ enthusiasm.
This is one of the great classics about American Indian cultures. The story of Black Elk’s vision and early life is a pillar of American literature: deeply moving and very well written.
John Fire Lame Deer was a rodeo clown, an outlaw, and a medicine man among many other things. Here he shares his life, humor and wisdom. I read this probably about ten times.
This is not the book to read if you are about to go on a big date. It will not put you in the mood. Stannard tells the story of the 500 year encounter between Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Europeans in very graphic fashion. Great work, but not for the faint of heart.
A great biography about Mary Crow Dog, an American Indian Movement activist who offers a unique feminine perspective about contemporary American Indian cultures.
Lakota leader Crazy Horse is in my mind one of the most legendary figures in history. This is a great biography about him written by a Lakota writer.
This book was out of print for a long time since the governor of South Dakota had sued trying to ban it. Here, writer Peter Matthiessen provides a very detailed account of the conflict between the American Indian Movement and the FBI in the 1970s.
A very cool little book about the sweet science by one of the most celebrated American writers. It’s a good meditation on why anyone—particularly a woman—would be so attracted to people punching each other in the face. Very well written
John Stevens is one hell of a writer. His books about Zen and martial arts are amazing. This is a great biography of sword master and zen master Yamaoka Tesshu.
Another great title by Stevens. Here he presents the philosophy of Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba.
Sam is a great guy, a talented writer and a gifted storyteller. In A Fighter’s Heart, he chronicles his journey in the world of fighting—from Muay Thai training camps in Thailand to Pat Miletich MMA school in Iowa and through a million other places. In The Fighter’s Mind, Sam interviews some of the greatest combat athletes (from Randy Couture to Dan Gable) to uncover how they have developed their iron will and mental toughness.
A collection of writings by the late Bruce Lee published under one cover.
Anderson Silva is easily one of the greatest MMA fighters in history. These two instructional books break down his striking game, and even some grappling in the clinch. Both of them are highly recommended.
Erich Krauss is the brain behind Victory Belt, the publishing company that has revolutionized the way martial arts instructional manuals are produced. In this volume he utilizes the expertise of several top fighters and coaches (from Greg Jackson to Forrest Griffin) to present some of their favorite MMA techniques.
Randy Couture is one of the patron saints of MMA. His two instructional books for Victory Belt are top notch. I particularly love the way he breaks down his wrestling techniques in Wrestling for Fighting. I picked up quite a few useful tips from this one. Xtreme Training instead is all about strength and conditioning.
Jackson is one hell of a smart guy and one of the most brilliant coaches in MMA. Here he demonstrates in detail his favorite techniques.
Cung Le is truly a spectacular fighter. In this volume, he offers step-by-step instruction in his bread and butter san shou techniques (striking and throws.) Great if you want to add some flare to your style.
Lyoto Machida is a living paradox. He is a traditional karateka who modified his training in order to excel in MMA. Under this cover, you’ll find a beautiful intro to his stand up game, takedowns and ground game. I picked up some very useful ideas from it.
Dave Camarillo is notorious for bringing Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu together. Here he shows how to transition from throws to submission rather quickly. Unfortunately, most of the techniques are designed to be used with a gi, but there’s quite a bit of useful non-gi stuff as well.
For much of his career, Fedor was considered the greatest MMA fighter on the planet. Even though some question this claim, he was undeniably a well-rounded competitor. This is the one and only instructional manual.
Very few heavyweights have used Brazilian Jiujitsu as smoothly as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. His guard game, in particular, is top notch. Here, he demonstrates his favorite grips for no-gi, MMA fighting and his favorite sweeps and submissions from the guard.
Karo’s book is one of my favorite instructional manuals. Karo, in fact, is one of the few who have beautifully adapted Judo techniques to no-gi fighting. If you can get over the introduction (in which Karo makes excuses for every one of his losses), the technical portion of this manual is truly a jewel.
These are two great instructionals by BJJ world champion and UFC champion (in two different weight classes) BJ Penn.
Mifune is one of the gods of Judo. Even as an old, skinny man he could move beautifully and throw his opponents effortlessly. This volume truly is a bible for Judo.
A good intro to the fundamental techniques of Judo based on Mifune’s work.
Another great manual in Judo practice.
Some writings from Judo founder Jigoro Kano are here presented with step-by-step pictures demonstrating the whole Judo syllabus.
One of the very few books in English about Shuai Jiao, a great throwing art fairly similar to Judo.
A good overview to Royler Gracie’s grappling game (both takedowns and ground work).
Yang Jwing Ming is possibly the most prolific writer about Chinese martial arts in the United States. His specialty is Chin Na (primarily joint locks executed while standing) and this is his master text.
Tim Cartmell has been one of my main martial arts instructor. A BJJ black belt, san soo master and expert in the internal arts, Tim unites his amazing martial knowledge with a great intellect. All of his books are well written and illustrated. Some of the books listed above were translated from Chinese.
Oscar Ratti was an amazing artist. In this book, he illustrates with drawings Aikido techniques in such a way as to make them come to life. Beautiful work.
A Renegade History of the United States (Thaddeus Russell)
Thad certainly was not out to make friends when he wrote this book. Here he argues that all the greatest freedoms in America come to us not thanks to heroic founding fathers but thanks to prostitutes, outlaws, gangsters, pirates and other individuals considered “lowlifes” by the members of “respectable” society.
Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (Susan Jacoby)
History books are probably not what you read for excitement on a Saturday night, and this is no exception. However, if you want a great text about the history of freethinkers opposing religious dogmatism in U.S. history, this is it.
If you want a true tale of courage, heroism and fighting against crazy odds, Ghost Soldiers is for you. It’s a beautifully written reconstruction of the raid to save the survivors of the Baatan Death March in WWII from a Japanese POW camp.
Love for Sale: A World History of Prostitution (Nils Johan Ringdal)
A world history of prostitution… need I say more?
The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods (Julia Butterfly Hill)
The very interesting story of environmental activist Julia Hill. Not too many people have the guts to take stand for what they believe in the way she did.
Speaking of environmental activists with an edge, Paul Watson is probably the wildest of them all. Considered a pirate by illegal whalers and a hero to many environmentalists, Watsontells of his adventures in fighting (not metaphorically) illegal whaling.
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (Eric Schlosser)
This book singlehandedly changed the perspective of thousands of people about the fast food industry: a masterful historical study.
The author of Fast Food Nation works his magic with a book about the black market (particularly focusing on marijuana, illegal immigration and porn).
A good political analysis explaining why so many poor people vote against their own self interest in the name of so called “moral” values (aka wanting to impose one’s morality on everyone else).
Jarred Diamond never returned my emails so I’m not particularly fond of him on a personal level, but this is a good historical book presenting case studies about several societies in history that destroyed themselves by mismanaging their own environments.