Brandes’ The Orchard

The Orchard

Yochi Brandes

A fictionalize portrayal of the life of Rabbi Akiva, told from the perspective of his loving, but long suffering wife.

Akiva is a luminary of early rabbinic Judaism and one of the central figures in the Talmud. He was, allegedly, a simple Shepard, who won the heart of the daughter of one of the richest men in Judea. At her insistence, he began the study of Torah while already in middle age and became one of the most importance forces in the development of Judaism, working to establish the cannon of the tanakh, the development of halakha and more. In this novel, he even comes into contact with the early strains of Christianity and is part of the development of early kabbalah. Eventually, he was tortured and murdered by the Romans for his support of the Bar Kokhba revolt.

According to the Talmud and associated stories, he was a humble, good, man, but it was not an easy life. Scores of sacrifices had to be made for his place as a Torah scholar and his wife bore the brunt of most of it. This is the story that is told here.

The writing is uneven, but perhaps that’s the translation. The story is compelling and at times, clever in how it centers Akiva and the other Tannaim in so many aspects of not only Judaism, but early Christianity. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and despite it being a work of fiction, learned quite a bit. The book assumes no knowledge of the Talmud, but I’m sure a deeper understanding that I have would have open up much more.

I do quickly want to note that the title refers to the story of four rabbis of the Tannaim visiting “the Orchard”. In this book, they do so using some sort of magic, and what they see, when they get there is some version of paradise, or the divine. It changes them all forever, killing one, driving another mad, sending one into blasphemy, and brining Akiva to a place as the most prominent rabbi of his generation.

Just trying to write a single paragraph on the Orchard story reflected back to me how little I understand the story, and the Talmud in general.

So much more to learn.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Rabbi Akiva

David Goggins Resources

David Goggins has been a low level celebrity within the ultra endurance community for well over a decade, but lately, with his appearance in Living with a Seal, on the Joe Rogan podcast, and in his new book, he’s blowing up. I created this page to give people a central place to find lots of things Goggins.

Here they are:



Goggins’s memoir, called Can’t Hurt Me is available in print and audio. Personally, I recommend the audio, which includes the entire book, and extended conversations between David and his ghostwriter Adam Skolnick. Buy it, seriously.

Goggins first got mainstream attention for his role as foil and inspiration in Jesse Itzler’s Living with a Seal. I loved this book and you will too. I reviewed it here. Buy it.

Website and Social Media

Goggins has a website, with tons of information on it.

Goggins is on instagram here and you should definitely, definitely follow him.

Goggins is on facebook here which he often utilizes for live videos.


David has been on scores of podcasts, but three of the best are below.

First appearance Rich Roll. 

Rich Roll and David Goggins

This was David’s first appearance ever on a podcast and I think came about because of a chance meeting between Goggins and Roll on the street.  Of all his many appearances on podcasts, I think this is the best. Honest as fuck and deeply compelling. 

First appearance on Joe Rogan 

You can tell in this interview that Rogan is kind of awed and definitely inspired, by Goggins life story. Generally, Rogan can be annoying, but he so clearly respects Goggins in this interview that his more bro-ish tendencies are put in check.

Second Appearance on Joe Rogan. 

By Goggins second appearance on the podcast, Rogan is clearly more comfortable and familiar with Goggins and his story. This is two plus hours of classic Goggins inspiration gold and well worth a listen.


There’s scores of videos of Goggins on youtube, here;s three of my favorites.

Life Run Shoot – Goggins and Cameron Hanes.

There’s a moment, towards the end of this video, where Goggins is benching and shouting “Who’s Gonna Carry the Boats?!?” that I think is just peak Goggins. If you don’t find it inspiring, you probably don’t belong on this page

Taking Souls

A kind of standard youtube inspiration video is taken to new heights with Goggins unrelenting message of mental toughness.

Pull Up Record Attempt

Literally a video of Goggins doing pull ups, which I have watched more times than I want to admit to get myself pumped to hit the gym.

Joseph’s Evolution of a Cro-Magnon

Evolution of a Cro-Magnon
John Joseph

The completely insane, at times totally unbelievable, utterly compelling, tragic, hilarious, memoir of the street kid turned hardcore legend, John Joseph aka Bloodclot.

Born into an abusive home, Joseph would soon end up separated from his mother and placed with his brothers in a horrific foster home. From there, it was reform school, the streets, jail, the navy, the streets again, Hare Krishna temples, and eventually fame of sorts as the lead singer of one of the most influential hardcore bands to emerge from New York City – the Cro-Mags.

But the saga didn’t end there. Joseph’s mercurial personality clashed with the equally challenging Harley Flanagan and perhaps the most important band in NYHC broke up after a single record. Soon after, Joseph dove back into Hare Krishna and then descended into a mire of self-loathing and crack cocaine, only to eventually recover, re-unite with the drummer from the Cro-Mags and tour the world while preaching a lifestyle of sobriety, veganism and endurance sports. (Joseph has finished numerous Ironmans).

Its actually more complex and crazy than this, but you get the idea.

It is and incredible life. And this book is filled with some of the absolute craziest stories, including recounting the earliest days of New York City Hardcore, living and traveling with the Bad Brains, and the legendary story of Joseph dressed up as a disabled Santa Claus to raise money for the Hare Krishnas.

I am a huge, huge Cro-Mags fan and can sing Age of Quarrel straight through from memory, but even I need to admit that some of the stories are surely embellished, and the book is too long and could have been edited more carefully. It also has the sort of casual homophobia and misogyny that would never be tolerated in today’s more progressive hardcore scene.

Still and all JJ’s story is one for the ages, and his tale of overcoming a truly horrific childhood and major self-imposed setbacks as an adult is, despite his many flaws, inspiring. If you ever cared about hard core, you probably have already read this. If not, you should just take it all with a grain or two of salt.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

PS – Get the audio book, Joseph reads it himself and its BANNANAS

John Joseph

Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer
Viet Thanh Nguyen

There are novels that when you’re reading them you can tell that the autor agonized over every word, thought deeply about every plot point, knew intimately every character. You can tell that the book is more than a work of fiction, its an attempt to tell something true and real about a time, a place, or a person.

The Sympathizer is such a book. The story of Vietnamese refugee, told in flashback form, from his time in Vietnam working for the government (but secretly spying for the North Vietnamese) through his time in the refugee communities of Southern California, and then back to Vietnam. Nguyen knows the Vietnamese community of Southern California intimately, that’s clear, and he’s researched the hell out of the Vietnamese war its aftermath, all of which has produced a book of exquisite writing and deeply sympathetic characters. I’ll note that, like many great books, the ending felt a little off, but still a wonderful book.


*See what I did there?

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Skolnick’s One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits

One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits

Adam Skolnick

A book about a lost young man who finds himself through the extreme sport of free diving. A tale of ambition, physical brilliance, and ultimately death. A book about how far you can really push the human body, and a book about what it means to try to find a life of meaning. A book pretty much custom made for me.

This is the story of Nick Mevoli, a kid of came up through punk rock and radical politics* and who eventually found a place for himself in the world of competitive free diving.

This is also the story of free diving, a sport where athletes compete against each other to see either how long they can hold their breath or how deep they can dive on a single breath. Still very much in its infancy, we’re only now beginning to understand the physical risks associated with the sport. Unfortunately, our understanding came too late to save Nick, who died during a competition at the young age of 32.

I was deeply moved by this book, in part because Mevoli’s biography is in many ways eerily similar to my own. Some different twists and turns and I could be the guy at Dean’s Blue Hole going for a record. But also, because Skolnick is an excellent writer who tells the story of Mevoli’s life, and of the free diving world with clarity and compassion. If you’re interested in feats of human performance, or lessons from a life lived to its fullest, this is worth your time.

Recommended for the enthusiast.


*much like I did. I did not know Nick, but I know people who did, all of whom speak of him as a wonderful kind man.

Nick Mevoli

Nick Mevoli

Bonne’s New Rules for Wine

New Rules for Wine: A Genuinely Helpful Guide to Everything You Need to Know
John Bonne

Widely thought of as one of the best books on wine in the last decade, this one does not disappoint. A clear, concise, and approachable guide to drinking wine today. Filled with insights and tips that will be helpful for first time wine buyers and those with a bit more experience.

We’re in a real golden age of wine right now, with more small producers that ever doing more and more unusual and interesting things. The days of the Robert Parker fruit bomb are over, and nothing tastes the same. If you’re interested in exploring what its like to drink wine today, Bonne’s wonderfully illustrated little guide is an invaluable resource.


John Bonne

Boyrain’s Borderlands: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity

Borderlands: The Partition of Judeo-Christinaty
Daniel Boyarin

Daniel Boyarin is a genius and a personally fascinating scholar. A Talmudic scholar and an expert on rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, he’s also versed in what is generally called “theory” and rhetoric. He’s an observant Jew, and an anti-Zionist.  He’s also, I’m afraid to say, a complex and, frankly, difficult writer.

Those who know me know I’ve long had a simmering interest in the time that produced both the rise of Christianity and the developed of so called Rabbinic Judaism (i.e. ~30-300 b.c.e). This simmering interest in starting to deepen and, I think, may be the central part of my personal intellectual life for the foreseeable future. To get a sense of this world, and especially the inter-play between Judaism and Christianity in this time, I went to Borderlands, which everyone considers to be one of the central contemporary books on the topic.

I wasn’t prepared for what I found there, for several reasons.

First, I wasn’t prepared for the introduction to be a nuanced, compelling argument against the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza. I’d assumed that because Boyarin is an observant Jew, he was also at least a “soft” Zionist. He is not. Even if you care nothing about Boyarin’s scholarship, and whether or not you agree with Boyarin, this book is worth picking up for the careful and brilliant introduction alone.

After the introduction however, things get much more challenging. The central thesis, as I understand it, is that in the first hundreds years or so, C.E., as Judaism and Christianity developed, they did so in conversation and tension with each other — theology and practice was sometimes shared, and sometimes developed in stark opposition. Remember that the Judaism developed by the rabbis in this time was something new, not focused on the (now destroyed) temple in Jerusalem, but rather focused on the Torah and the Talmudic laws and commentary surrounding it. Similarly (and often in opposition, or reinterpretation of Judaism) Christianity was attempting to develop of cohesive theology out of the remembered teachings of an iterant Jewish messianic preacher, Jesus of Nazerth.

The thesis is fascinating, and to the degree I understood what Boyarin was saying, I was captivated. But the real talk is this is an academic book, and it assumes far more knowledge of Hebrew, the Talmud, and the early church fathers than I have.

For someone like me, interested in the subject, but far from an expert, it wasn’t the place to start. But even if I was lost and drowning at times, it was exciting to get a sense of what the deep end of the pool looks like. I’ll be back when I’m better able to swim.

Recommended for the (learned) enthusiast.

Daniel Boyrain