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  • The Renaissance Surgeon

The Best Books I Read in 2022

Growing up, my siblings and I used to exchange Christmas gifts each year. We would do it on Christmas Eve, after returning from the traditional gathering at my grandparents’ house. As we grew older, we switched to a Pollyanna format, drawing names to assign one gift recipient per person, for simplicity. We tried capping the amount that could be spent per gift to limit the material aspect of the exchange, but still found that we did not feel the need to receive the gifts. One year, my brother suggested that we have an exchange of ideas rather than gifts. We piloted this five years ago and it was a hit. We recently completed our fifth annual Exchange of Ideas. Around Christmastime, we set up a video call and talk about our favorites from the year. Any and all suggestions are welcome – books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, activities, life hacks, whatever. It serves as an impetus for reflection on the year that was, but also has a forward-looking element. There is accountability but also camaraderie. Reflections but not resolutions. Encouragement but not coaching. Reflecting on my 2022 reading, I’ve picked ten of my favorites – one novel, one memoir, one travelogue, and seven books that would broadly fall under the umbrella of personal development. Enjoy!


Photo: Kira auf der Heide via Unsplash

  1. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. Originally published in 1937, this has been updated in the revised edition, but even the original parts are timeless. Hill was charged by Andrew Carnegie with interviewing a boat load of mega-successful titans of industry, and it’s heady to think of not just getting an assignment from Andrew Carnegie but also all the other huge names of the people he interviewed to try to capture the essence of what makes success happen. Similar to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this is a book that subsequent books lean on heavily, especially for the mindset side of choosing to be successful and implementing the steps required to bring about that success. There is an air of mystery surrounding this book, too. Hill writes that he does not explicitly state the secrets of success, but that they lie within for those who are ready to receive them. I think I comprehended the book fairly well, but I will definitely be reading this again to mine the rich content within and access the deeper levels of meaning.

  2. French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore. I read this while cycling the classic climbs of the Tour de France. Tim Moore did (nearly) the whole tour route starting with minimal training and has written a hilarious account of his exploits. The self-deprecating humor reminds me of Bill Bryson (e.g. A Walk in the Woods). I was laughing out loud as I sat alone in the airport reading this, dabbing the tears from the corners of my eyes.

  3. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. This is a book that has been read by everyone in my family at this point. I was the last to the party. As the recommendation from multiple family members hung out reproachfully on my to-read list, I finally decided to prioritize it, making it the first book I read in 2022, a year in which I vowed to dedicate more time to the novel. This novel did not disappoint. Somehow, a story that takes place entirely in one hotel, from which the house-arrested main character is forbidden to depart, manages to be engrossing and entertaining. I also found the prose to be quite delicious, a welcome entrance to the literary stage for this author’s first book. This year I also read his second novel, The Lincoln Highway (a road which, by the way, passes through both my hometown and my current town). It was also excellent, but A Gentleman in Moscow was better. Don’t delay, read some Towles!

  4. The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday. I’ve gotten very into Stoicism recently. Although I studied Greek and Roman literature as an undergraduate and in graduate school, I was focused on epic poetry at the time, so I had read relatively little of the philosophy, other than the Plato and Aristotle that came along with the standard intro level philosophy requirements I took. This book is a great introduction to that philosophy. It doesn’t get bogged down in any academic discussions of the ancient texts. It’s short and easy to read. I’m looking forward to reading more of Holiday’s writing in 2023.

  5. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight. It’s always kind of interesting to hear founder’s stories for enterprises that have risen to greatness. But it might only be just that – kind of ­interesting. To fill a whole book and make it worth reading, it has to be more than kind of interesting. I didn’t know much about the backstory behind Nike, and this memoir by its founder gives the reader insight into this now mammoth brand. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it. I found it inspiring as well as endearing. It put a more human face on a corporate giant. Perhaps that in part motivated the author to tell his story. At any rate, he tells it with verve, and I found it fantastic.

  6. Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level by Mark Divine. Navy Seals are by definition and by virtue of their admission requirements major badasses. So it’s always worthwhile to hear what they have to say. As someone with diverse interests, I appreciated the way Divine defies categorization. He is a warrior, yet believes that the highest level of self-mastery is when one can lead and act with the heart, connect authentically and partake in an integrated consciousness with the rest of humanity. He got into CrossFit but found it not spiritual enough. He got into yoga but found it not physical enough. His brand of fitness is called SEALFIT. Having enjoyed his perspective on cultivating the mind, I’ve obtained a copy of his book on SEALFIT to read more of what he’s got to say on the subject of fitness.

  7. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck. This book was on my to-read list for a while. I read so many other books that referenced it, I felt like I knew the thesis already. As a classicist, though, I always feel it’s best to go to the original source, rather then allowing yourself to get lost in an academic echo chamber. Dweck has essentially created her own field of psychology with her characterization of the mindsets. The dichotomy she outlines pits the growth mindset against the fixed mindset. The fixed mindset views abilities as innate and talent-based. The growth mindset views ability as something that can be cultivated. The book lays out how this framework can be applied to school, sports, business, and parenting, with a wealth of research and case examples to flesh out her points. It is also easily accessible for the lay reader who is not in the habit of reading psychology texts.

  8. What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, by Shad Helmstetter. The mind is like a computer that will run whatever program you feed it. Feed it positive programming and watch it feel good and do well. Simple but powerful. Don’t short change yourself with negative self-talk! This book is good for bringing your awareness to what type of self talk you’re already engaging in and gives you a template for changing.

  9. The Wealthy Gardener: Lessons on Prosperity Between Father and Son, by John Soforic. This book is written as a parable, more in the style of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari than in the style of The Alchemist. In fact, it is a hybrid parable/memoir/epistle. The impetus for Soforic to write the book was to distill the wisdom he has obtained in order to share it with his son, hence the epistolary element of the structure. The unifying theme is the pursuit of financial independence, told from the perspective of a chiropractor who branched into real estate in order to accelerate his path to financial freedom. The writing and parable are straightforward, clear if not riveting. The great strength of this book lies in its author’s distillation of the wisdom of the world’s literature and structured presentation to his son. He has clearly devoured a vast amount of what’s been written on topics of wisdom, finance, personal development, philosophy and the like, sprinkling both quotes and key ideas throughout the book, contextualizing it for the modern reader.

  10. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker. At times, this book was not boatloads of fun to read. Yet despite not being a real page-turner, it earned a spot on this year’s top ten due to its importance. Sleep is foundational. Walker lays out rather comprehensively the how and why of sleep for humans and other animals. The book can become a bit of a slog at times when discussing sleep wave patterns and the science of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. Sections of this tome are certainly not ideal for those not scientifically inclined. However the book is written for the lay public and he does not leave any jargon unexplained. The chapters are written as stand-alone topics, thus releasing the reader from reading them in order or in continuity. I personally took some breaks to read other books in between chapters just to give myself a hiatus from sleep science. The presentation of data was quite compelling. I knew that sleep was healthy and sleep deprivation detrimental, but this book enumerates study after study showing just how devastating lack of high quality, sufficient quantity sleep can be. Inadequate sleep is associated with cancer, heart attacks, shorter life span, decreased productivity, mental health disorders, and decreased athletic and academic performance. None of these associations were surprising, but the extent of the effects and how great the detriment to losing even one hour of sleep gave me a renewed appreciation for the benefits of slumber.



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