A Review of Every Book I read in 2023

JW Rich
17 min readJan 2, 2024

Over the course of 2023, I read ~ 27 books. I can’t be bothered to keep a running list throughout the year, so I can only give an approximation for my yearly reading consumption. However, the total is somewhere around there. Following the precedent I set in 2021 and 2022, here is a short review of every book I read in 2023:

“Storm of Steel” by Ernst Junger

Fantastic war memoir from the German perspective in the First World War. It has everything you can ask for: life in the trenches, going over the top to attack the enemy, enduring hours-long artillery bombardments, etc. There were a few things that surprised me, however; foremost being that it doesn’t seem like Junger ever fully lost that virginal naivete of war. At first, all young soldiers think that war is going to be a grand adventure, but are quickly shaken by that illusion as soon as they actually experience it. But throughout his memoir, Junger maintains an undercurrent of belief that the war was still noble and that enduring through conflict (even the unimaginable harrowing conflict of the First World War) ultimately strengthens the character and spirit of a nation. Maybe it was because Junger spent most of the war as an officer, but regardless, he had a more positive view of the war than the vast majority of its participants. Highly recommend for anyone interested in World War I.

“The Progressive Era” by Murray Rothbard

Not my first time reading through Rothbard’s great work on the Progressive Era, but I did find this read-through illuminating on multiple fronts. More than anything, the Progressive Era represented a building alliance of big business, intellectuals, and the state. This alliance was not new — it had existed for centuries in the form of Europe’s ancien regime. However, it was the first time these old partnerships had reformed since the Classical Liberal program had broken them in the early-to-mid 19th century. Rothbard does a masterful job (as always) at expositing how this cronyist systems were rebuilt and strengthened under the guise of “Progressivism”. My only complaint with the book is that it feels rather disjointed at times, with Rothbard repeating themes later in the book that he had already written about at length earlier in the book. This is almost certainly due to the fact that this is a posthumous publication, and Rothbard himself didn’t get a chance to refine the manuscript more into a more coherent whole. In any case, Rothbard’s work is the definitive book on the Progressive Era and a must-read for any interested in understanding that all-important period of American history.

“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins

To be totally honest, I’m not exactly sure what to think about Dawkin’s famous book on evolutionary biology. There are a few interesting portions of the book, such as the chapter on game theory and evolution, but some parts of it I’m less impressed with, such as his insistence that any evidence of group selection is actually gene selection. My main purpose in reading the book was to understand more the idea of memetics, which originated first in this book. Unfortunately, that section was relatively brief compared to the overall length of the book, but was still enlightening nonetheless. If the subject of evolutionary biology interests you, then give Dawkins a shot, but otherwise probably just skip it.

“The Invisible Hook” by Peter Leeson

Man, what a fun book. It combines two of my favorite things: economics and pirates. Strange bedfellows, one might assume, but they actually share a surprising affinity with one another. I’m not going to spoil too much of the book (because it really is a great read), other than to say the organization and structure of pirate ships is very different to what you probably imagine. If you like economics, pirates, or just really interesting books, absolutely pick this one up.

“Fire and Blood” by George R.R. Martin

In what is a part one of a forthcoming two-part series, this is essentially Martin’s stab at creating “The Silmarillion” to his “Lord of the Rings” (which still isn’t completed either). “Fire and Blood” recalls the establishment and lineage of the Targaryen Dynasty in the fantasy world of Westeros. All of the events described in this novel occur several hundred years before the beginning of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, and presumably the following novel in this series will cover the events leading right until the beginning of that saga. The book itself is written very well, and despite being an elongated biography of several imaginary kings, is still a captivating read. Similar to the HBO television adaption of this book, they are best enjoyed if you have some previous exposure to the world of Westeros before, either through the books or the show Game of Thrones. But if you have engaged with Westeros before and enjoyed what you saw or read, “Fire and Blood” is more George R.R. Martin, and he is as good as ever.

“Maps of Meaning” by Jordan Peterson

I have a complicated and storied relationship with Mr Peterson. When he first materialized on the public scene circa 2017, I thought he was an interesting figure with some valuable things to say. However, when I first read his best-selling book, “Twelve Rules for Life”, I was convinced he was a total pseudo-intellectual fraud. Everything in the book reads like someone trying to convince the audience that their IQ is actually fifty points higher than it actually is. That remained my opinion of Mr. Peterson — until I decided to read “Maps of Meaning”. My opinion has now changed. Whatever Jordan Peterson is, he is not stupid or unintelligent, because nobody who is stupid or unintelligent could have written this book.

“Maps of Meaning” is a profoundly fascinating book. Peterson’s aim is as broad as it is audacious: describe how people understand the world around them and how they relate that understanding to other people. The conclusions that he reaches draw on a number of influences, the most prominent of which is Carl Jung. In essence, Peterson believes the values that individuals hold are best understood not as singular facts or beliefs, but in terms of stories and narratives. The way in which these systems of valuation (or maps of meaning) have historically been related to other people is through storytelling. We can see reflections of different elements of these valuational structures in mythology, religion, and much more.

Most interesting to me is the foundational similarities between Peterson’s understanding of action within the world and the Praxeological understanding of action. Whereas Peterson spends most of his time focusing on the psychological ramifications of the success or failure of our actions, the way in which he views action itself is essentially the same as the Austrian conception. With perhaps a few minor modifications then, much of Peterson’s program can be seen as a fundamentally Praxeological program as well.

While I do highly recommend this book (and would place it as my personal “book of the year”), I must give any potential readers a fair warning. This book is not for the faint of heart. I have read plenty of economics treatises, and even with those under my mental belt, I would say that Maps of Meaning is the most dense book I have ever read. It is only ~450 pages long, but it is just so packed with information on every page that making any progress is tough sledding, even for proficient readers. I don’t want to scare anyone off, but just don’t think you’ll knock this out in an afternoon.

This short review is quickly evolving into a long review, so I will leave you with the comment that Maps of Meaning is an incredible work that deserves more attention and respect. Absolutely must read for anyone who wants to understand the human self within the world.

“How to Think About the Economy” by Per Bylund

It brings me great pain to announce that the great Henry Hazlitt has been overthrown. Long live the new king of introductory economics texts. Bylund does a fantastic job of breaking down economic theory into an easily understood, yet still incredibly profound, text that can be given to anyone to enjoy. I think that Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” still has a place for economic neophytes (Hazlitt’s work is more focused on economic policy), but Bylund should now be the standard for anyone new to economics looking for a place to start.

“An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation” by Jeremy Bentham

Bentham’s classic work on utilitarianism is an interesting read, but not one that is necessary to understand utilitarian philosophy. As is the case with most philosophers, their ideas are better consumed through second-hand sources that communicate their ideas better than they do (and maybe even understand them better than they do). Read it if you have specific interest in Bentham’s work, but otherwise don’t bother.

“The Bitcoin Standard” by Saifedean Ammous

I have read through this book once before, so this was not my first experience with Ammous’ work in Bitcoin. However, what strikes me most about “The Bitcoin Standard” is the degree to which the book is not just about Bitcoin, but about money itself. Ammous spends the majority of the first half of the book just talking about monetary theory: the history of money, different types of money, what makes for a good money, etc. It is only once the reader has a firm grasp of these topics that he introduces Bitcoin. Not only does this make for a compelling read and a compelling argument, but makes this a uniquely informative read as well. Needless to say, this is the book to read on Bitcoin, especially for anyone without a formal background in economics.

“The Rules of Warfare” by Robert Greene

Robert Greene is the new Malcom Gladwell. He writes books on interesting, if not overly broad, topics that are filled with nice anecdotes and stories. His books are fine enough, as long as you don’t take them too seriously. In “The Rules of Warfare” Greene collects lots of scattered historical examples and accounts of conflicts, and tries to boil them down into a set of rules for warfare. I don’t think all these rules are particularly helpful (and not altogether consistent with each other), but again, as long as you don’t take the rules too seriously, there’s still lots to be learned.

This was one of the few books this year that I listened to via audiobook as opposed to reading. I can’t speak to the reading experience, but I enjoyed the audiobook format. The narration was well-done, and kept me engaged throughout. If you are looking for an interesting book on warfare that isn’t too deep or difficult to digest, give this one a shot.

“Mythology” by Edith Hamilton

“Mythology” is a collection of cultural myths compiled together in a format easy to read and understand. Hamilton provides plenty of background, introduction, and commentary throughout the book, so the reader has context for the stories being relayed. The lion’s share of the book is dedicated to Greek mythology, although other cultures do get some space as well. One of the biggest benefits that this book provides is placing the myths in chronological order. This is important because many of these myths have a “shared universe” of sorts (truly, nothing in Marvel movies is original), where characters that appeared in previous myths may reappear again in later myths, such as Hercules seeing Achilles during his trip to the underworld. Because of this editorial work from Hamilton, it makes the mythos as a whole much easier to understand, as opposed to just reading one-off stories. If you are interested in mythology — and specifically, Greek mythology — then Hamilton’s book is a great place to start.

“Money, Interest, and the Structure of Production” by Mateusz Machaj

A very interesting read on capital theory from Machaj. While his work is certainly steeped in the Austrian tradition, he also holds some views that would be considered heterodox among them as well. I found his discussions on interest and the idea of “Intertemporal Labor Intensity” to both be enlightening, although I don’t think I agree with his conclusions on either topic. If you are interested in Austrian Capital theory and want a unique perspective, Machaj is your man. A warning, however, this book is not for introductory students.

“12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson

Inspired by my surprisingly enlightening read-through of “Maps of Meaning”, I decided to give “12 Rules” another shot. I had read the book before (or rather, listened to it via audiobook), but didn’t find it very compelling. My previous impression of the book was that Peterson spends too long rambling on about topics only tangentially — at best — related to the chapter’s main focus. After re-reading (or rather, re-listening) to the book again, I still maintain that gripe. However, given the benefit of being familiar with Peterson’s other, and more substantive work, I did find that I was able to understand the main points that Peterson was trying to make — at least, when he was actually making a point in between the rambling about Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and the like. I’m not sure how much I recommend this book, ultimately speaking. There isn’t much meat on this paper-bound bones, and I think “Maps of Meaning” is a much better read, if you can get through it.

“The Dark Ages” by Charles Oman

This may be just my own personal experience, but the Dark Ages (circa 476–900 AD) are by far my least understood period of history. “The Dark Ages” did much to help ameliorate this cognitive deficiency. Oman starts at the fall of Rome and recounts events leading up to the turn of the millennium. While Oman does spend the lion’s share of the book focused on western Europe, he does cover events happening elsewhere, such as Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. This may be just my own printing of the book, but I found quite a few typos and other mistakes. It didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book at all, but there were enough of them that I found it surprising, especially with the overall quality of the work itself. For a walk-through of the Dark Ages, pick this one up.

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

First off, this book is just too long. I’m not talking about the story, but just the book itself. It weighs in at almost 1200 pages, and you could easily cut at least 200 pages out without impacting the main story at all. That being said, I did enjoy the book for what it was: a narrative tour guide of Rand’s philosophy. Everything that her stories are (in)famous for can be found here: strong and independent protagonists, evil left-leaning academics and bureaucrats, the rebellion of morally just man versus a morally unjust world, and so on. While Rand’s protagonists are a bit over the top (to put it mildly), I found it striking just how accurate her villains are to real life. You could make a very difficult and entertaining game out of taking quotes from Rand’s “bad guys” and mixing them in with quotes from leftist academics, and having to guess which is which.

I’m not sure if I recommend “Atlas Shrugged” or not. If you are interested in Rand, then you should probably give it a whirl. If not, then the book itself is just too long and too much of a time commitment to pick up on a whim.

“Human Action” by Ludwig von Mises

I can’t say anything about “Human Action” that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll keep this brief. Mises’ magnum opus doesn’t have the craft or structure that can be found in other treatises like Rothbard’s “Man, Economy, and State”. However, it has a character all of its own that has never been — and I suspect, never will be — replicated anywhere else. One of a kind.

“Harassment Architecture” by Mike Ma

If I had to describe “harassment Architecture” in one phrase, it would be: disturbingly humorous. Mike Ma doesn’t hold back at all, which results both in passages where he provides considerate insight into the modern world and its problems, as well as passages where he describes his desire to shove pencils into someone’s eyes. The result is a book as entertaining as it is transgressive. Ma tends heavily towards pseudo-primitivism as a main theme of the book, which I don’t fully agree with but can nonetheless appreciate as a contrast to modern society. If this book sounds enticing to you, you’ll probably like it. Give it a shot.

“Positive Theory of Capital” by Eugen von Bohm Bawerk

I was mostly reading through “Positive Theory” specifically for the sections on interest, but I came to appreciate Bohm Bawerk’s prose and intellectual prowess displayed throughout the book. Bohm Bawerk has a particular way of writing and expositing that displays his deep grasp of economics, as well as his ability to relay that understanding to the reader. Murray Rothbard once said that Bohm Bawerk was the greatest economist of all time, and while I think his answer was a bit too cute, I can understand why he would think so. Despite all of this, “Positive Theory” is only worth reading for advanced students interested specifically in Bohm Bawerk. Other books, such as the aforementioned Rothbard’s “Man, Economy, and State” are much better places for actually learning economics.

“Suicide” by Emile Durkheim

Buried among the vast quantities of 19th-century surveys and data, “Suicide” contains some compelling sociological insights. While unpacking many of those insights is beyond the scope of this review, Durkheim is clearly a serious thinker. Durkheim certainly has his problems — foremost of which is his social realism and reliance on empirical data. Even so, Durkheim is a necessary figure to read and understand for anyone interested in sociology. I’m not sure that “Suicide” is the best place to start for diving into Durkheim’s work, but it is still worth the read. Pick it up if you want some sociological work to look through.

“Crony Capitalism in the 21st Century” by Hunter Hastings

An excellent overview of the regulatory capture of numerous industries — including healthcare, food and beverage, military, energy, etc. — through the 21st century. Hastings’ work is all well researched and appears to be well-substantiated from the sources I did follow-up on (which is unfortunate, given the deleterious developments described in the book). There is a good amount of literature on the crony capitalism of the past (Progressive Era and so forth), there isn’t much written on the crony capitalism of the present (and not for a lack of material). Hastings does an admirable job filling this hole in the literature, and I hope he continues to expound on these themes in later works as well. Highly recommend.

“The True Flag” by Steven Kinzer

The Spanish-American War is one of the least known, but most impactful wars in American history. It was responsible for the anointing of Teddy Roosevelt in the popular consciousness, granted America her first colonies in Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines, and was the first successful mobilization of the American media apparatus to mold public opinion in favor of war. Kinzer does a masterful job exposing how the conflict came to be, the figures primarily responsible for it, those who benefited from the whole affair, and those who belatedly tried to stand against it. To understand the American of the present day, you must understand the America of 1899 that went to war. Kinzer’s work is the best place to start. Very much recommend for all interested in American history, foreign policy, and current events.

“What’s Our Problem?” by Tim Urban

Why is our society so fractured, angry, and tense today? This is the question Urban seeks to answer in “What’s Our Problem”. In doing so, he leads the reader on a journey through intellectual discourse, human psychology, and American political history, all with his own trademark hand-drawn stick figure finesse. The result is a book that contains heaps of information, but feels very cohesive and approachable at the same time. There’s also a ton of illustrations as well, which makes for a fun read (pictures in books have long been unfairly maligned). I don’t think I agree with all of Urban’s views or prescriptions, but I do find many of them to be useful mental models to understand the world. Idiosyncratically, this book is only available as an E-book, but don’t let that deter you. It reads very well on a screen (no doubt due to Urban’s history as a blogger), and is a very enjoyable experience overall.

“Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Volume 1” by F.A. Hayek

When Hayek is at his best, he is almost incomparable in his literary output. When Hayek is at his worst, he is almost incomprehensive in his literary output. I am pleased to say that “Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Volume 1” is easily among the ranks of Hayek’s best works. The main intellectual thrust of Volume 1 lies in the exposition and elaboration of Hayek’s views on the evolution of law. He then carries this over into his overall justification for a (classical) liberal society. This should be considered essential reading for anyone seriously interested in Libertarian literature and theory. Again, this is among Hayek at his best. Absolutely recommend.

“The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Heidt

One of the best books I read this year. The Righteous Mind discusses how humans think about ethical questions, what this means for human psychology as a whole, and how this spills over into all forms of ethical discourse in society. Every now and then you come across a book that perfectly answers questions you didn’t even know you had. “The Righteous Mind” was one of those books for me. Heidt is a skilled author as well, which makes this a very approachable read despite the heavier subject matter. Completely, 100% recommend this book. Must read!

“Napoleon: A Life” by Andrew Roberts

Of all the various genres of literature, I believe that biographies are the most deceptively difficult to write. On the surface it might seem fairly straightforward — you just select among the events of an individual’s life to write about and form it together into a narrative. However, forming those events into a compelling story that not only captivates the reader, but also gives them a true sense of the subject’s life is no easy task. However, that’s exactly what Roberts pulls off in “Napoleon: A Life”. Roberts shows Napoleon from a variety of angles all at once: the general, the emperor, the workaholic, the opportunist, the student, and the lover. Finally, he draws them all together into a picture of Napoleon that is as personal as it is enthralling. While there may be more informative or voluminous biographies of Napoleon that have been written, I doubt there is one as alluring as Robert’s. For anyone interested in the life and times of Napoleon, this is the place to start.

“The Rise of the Warrior Cop” by Radley Balko

Balko presents a well-researched and well-documented picture of how police forces throughout America started looking and behaving less like officers and more like soldiers. Throughout the book, Balko demonstrates how police forces have used pretenses, such as the War on Drugs or the War on Terror, to expand their own power at the expense of the rights of the American people. Throughout the book, Balko provides example after heart-wrenching example of how American citizens pay the cost of police overreach — many times with their own lives. While I think Balko is occasionally too critical of police in places throughout the book (particularly in dealing with violent protests), the vast majority of his book is necessary and vital information for all American citizens to know and understand about their “law enforcement” services. Definitely pick this one up.

“The Coddling of the American Mind” by Jonathan Hedit and Greg Lukianoff

While not as good as “The Righteous Mind”, I did still find “The Coddling of the American Mind” an interesting read. Specifically, the way that Heidt and Lukianoff tried to tie in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy into the book to show how many behaviors and thought-patterns of young people today are counter productive and dangerous. Overall, a good read and helpful for understanding the potential consequences of modern patterns of thinking.

“Reassessing the Presidency” assembled by John V. Denson

A great collection of essays from Libertarian and Libertarian-adjacent scholars on presidents throughout American history. However, I think the two best essays are from the compiler, John Denson. His essays on the beginning of the American Civil War and the lead-up to Pearl Harbor are both excellent and highly worth reading. Many of the other essays are excellent as well, including those from Ralph Raico, Tom Woods, Joe Salerno, and many more. While there are a few essays in here you can skip, the majority are well-worth your time. If you are interested in Libertarian scholarship on American history, give these a read.