Sex, Psychedelics, and the Deep Sea: My Favorite Reads in 2016

Jan 05, 2017

I’m a closet introvert and when I’m on the road giving talks or meeting clients, reading is the refuge that keeps me sane. A few great books lit up my year. Last year, I shared 108 favorite books; this year, there was a lot of crazy sh*t going on in the world so I guess I had less time to read.

The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

by Jeremy Narby, blew my mind with passages like this:

“The molecular biology that considers that 97 percent of the DNA in our body is “junk” reveals not only its degree of ignorance, but the extent to which it is prepared to belittle the unknown…biology tends to project its presuppositions onto the reality it observes, claiming that nature itself is devoid of intention. This is perhaps one of the most important things I learned during this investigation: We see what we believe, and not just the contrary; and to change what we see, it is sometimes necessary to change what we believe.”

Narby, a Stanford-trained anthropologist, spent years studying the shamanic traditions of Peru and, rather than do the typical Western-guy-meeting-indigenous-people thing, decided to take the shamans seriously. He discovered incredible parallels between contemporary molecular biology and indigenous beliefs about the origins of life.


Not Pretty Enough

a genius biography of Helen Gurley Brown by Gerri Hirshey, tells the story of a publishing legend and feminist icon from her days in rural Arkansas to her last years helming Cosmopolitan magazine in Manhattan. After becoming a star with the publication of her first book, Sex and the Single Girl, Helen grew into a nontraditional feminist icon:

In her manifesto, the Single Girl, long the outlier in two-by-two Leave It to Beaver–land, was swept past those tedious tract ranch kitchens and told she deserved the best table in the house — at Sardi’s, the Polo Lounge … and in the boardroom. It carried a stern caveat: nobody’s going to hand it to you, sister. Hers was not a plan for sissies: “There is a catch to achieving single bliss. You have to work like a son of a bitch.”



by Yuval Noah Harari, helped relieve some of my anxiety about this crazy election year by putting humanity in context with lines like:

“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.”


Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

by Peter A. Levine and Ann Frederick, illuminates the neuroscience of trauma and how it lives on in people and societies, sometimes for generations:

Much of the violence that plagues humanity is a direct or indirect result of unresolved trauma that is acted out in repeated unsuccessful attempts to re-establish a sense of empowerment.



by James Nestor, penetrates the secret world of freediving and the human capacity for underwater breath-holding, chronicling conservationists like my new friend Hanli Prinsloo who use the technique to study marine mammals up close. It’s filled with fascinating stats for nerds like me, such as:

A human body generates around 100 millivolts (a measure of potential energy). If all the electricity in a person’s body could be harnessed and converted to light, the human body would be sixty thousand times brighter than a comparable mass of the sun.

And finally, as a counter to the narrative of corporate greed (and support for this year’s environmental movements, like Standing Rock) Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s:


Let My People Go Surfing

gave me inspiration to keep fighting to build ethical businesses that put people and planet above profit.

My company, Patagonia, Inc., is an experiment. It exists to put into action those recommendations that all the doomsday books on the health of our home planet say we must do immediately to avoid the certain destruction of nature and collapse of our civilization…We believe the accepted model of capitalism that necessitates endless growth and deserves the blame for the destruction of nature must be displaced.

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