The best tough and practical books for living well

Edward Castronova Author Of Life Is a Game: What Game Design Says about the Human Condition
By Edward Castronova

Who am I?

Edward Castronova is a gamer who also has a PhD in Economics and a lifetime of research on games, technology, and society. In this book he applies everything he has learned to the burning questions at the heart of every person’s life: What am I doing here? How am I supposed to live? When Castronova faced those questions himself, the answer was clear: I have been thrown into a game called “Life” and, being a gamer, I should figure out the rules to this game and try to beat it. 


I wrote...

Life Is a Game: What Game Design Says about the Human Condition

By Edward Castronova,

Book cover of Life Is a Game: What Game Design Says about the Human Condition

What is my book about?

Life is a Game is a method book, forcing you to think on the strategic layer that most people ignore. You decide what life is about on the philosophical layer, and you decide what to do today on the tactical layer. The strategic layer lies between. It is where you decide how to win life in the universe that you believe in. This book encourages you to be a gamer, and to use your gaming mindset to make the same excellent choices in life as you do in your games.

The books I picked & why

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12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

By Jordan B. Peterson,

Book cover of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Why this book?

I started reading Peterson in the early 2000s. His mind has a weird combination of knowing all the research, knowing all the ancient wisdom of humanity, and having a feel for the practical, like, what does it mean for my life, right now. When Peterson talks about drug addiction, men and women, young people, and so on, it feels like he is talking to me, directly, with complete understanding and sympathy for the kind of life I am in. he holds no punches and says completely reasonable, thoughtful, wise things that just happen to totally undermine the messages of weakness and victimhood that people get today.


Man of the House

By C.R. Wiley,

Book cover of Man of the House

Why this book?

Wiley tells a guy how to stop being an aimless fool and start being the man of the house. His lessons tell you how to earn authority, not through domination but through toughness and a determination to give your family what they need from you. Wiley wants men to create strong shelters for their wives and kids, so that they can thrive and become independent themselves. It’s practical stuff, like, fix your own damn appliances. Women: If you want men with spines in your life, have them read this. And if you find yourself having to be both mom and dad in your house, do what Wiley says so that you can act with authority as well as compassion.


The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

By Jonathan Haidt,

Book cover of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Why this book?

If you thought that the keys to true happiness were magically uncovered in 1968, just take a look at our society to see how completely wrong you are. Haidt shows that every step we have taken away from ancient wisdom has been a step into sadness, anxiety, and rage. This book validated my commitment to the wisdom in Catholic teaching. Anything that has survived 2,000 years despite its many corruptions and hypocrisies must be on to something, and Haidt tells you what that something is. Haidt is so common-sense about it. Don’t live according to theories and fads, he says. Look at the way real people have become happy through the millennia, and live like they did.


Gorilla Mindset

By Mike Cernovich,

Book cover of Gorilla Mindset

Why this book?

Cernovich is famous for not giving a shit about what people think. He made his own reputation with his own journalism and gives gloriously hard-nosed advice for being an independent thinker and an emotionally strong actor in a world that tells everyone to whine whenever something goes wrong. I really admire people who can be independent, who make their own way and stir up hornet’s nests. Like comics, they poke society and make us all think harder. Cernovich makes me examine where I’m being a cowardly conformist. Gorillas walk head first into situations, says Cernovich, and so should you.


Catechism of the Catholic Church

By No author,

Book cover of Catechism of the Catholic Church

Why this book?

Speaking of ancient wisdom: Here you have a manual of right and wrong. You’re not going to agree with all of it, or even most of it. But what I got out of reading this, before I became Catholic, was that some very smart people over the course of hundreds of years had thought through the basic norms of correct action and written them down. The catechism embeds rules for living within a larger framework of reality, built on faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. Again, most of you aren’t going to believe that, as I didn’t when I first read the Catechism. But the critical thing is the coherence and accountability in this document. Nothing is out of place. Every rule for right action has some connection to the overarching scheme. There are no inconsistencies (this is the church’s theory, not its actions).

And by this book, you can hold yourself accountable in very specific ways. Are you flirting with someone at work? Look in the index for divorce and delve into what adultery means. Are you drinking too much? Look up addiction and dive into the theory of gluttony as a sin. Wandering around in life? Read up on acedia, the sin of letting yourself get bored. I’m not recommending this because of the content, though. I recommend it as a method because it makes you put everything together: Your beliefs, your commitments, your strategies, and your actions. The catechism shows that it is possible in this whiny age to have moral commitments that make sense and are firm as steel.


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