“Just what we need, another book list”
This is the trite and apologetic way in which most people start off an article like this. As if to say to the reader, “I understand you, I know these are annoying, and I’m so sorry.” Like the guy in this commercial in the bikini – they seek to communicate to you: “We are SAME!!!!” They then proceed to explain to you why their book-list is way different.
Not only do I think that these writers should freshen up their approach, but I think their whole premise is completely wrong. I don’t think we need, as the statement implies, less booklists. I think we need more.
“More?! He’s losing his mind, you may say if you’re a pudgy, ruthless, wedding singer (and I’m reaping all the benefits)! I can’t even get half-way done the ones I’ve already got!
Well, first, that reaction seems a bit over the top – we’re just talking about a list of books here, sweetie pie. Second, there are two issues raised there. The first is that you are implying that maybe you don’t have enough time to read. For that, I would just point you to this article by Ryan Holiday or this one by Tyler Cowen on how to read more books. Hint: it doesn’t have to do with speed-reading, it has to do with prioritizing.
The second issue is the one I’m going to address here – why even though you can’t get through all the booklists, more is always better – especially from people who are doing something, or thinking in ways, you admire and would like to emulate. More booklists from these people are not merely a good thing, but a great thing.
If we think hard about it, I bet many of us can start to think about what type of person we want to be. What influences us. Who inspires us? Who do we want to be like? Who do we want to learn more from? Who would we like to think like? To love like? To write like? To play like?
Want to be novelist- how about like Hemingway, The Brontes, or Jane Austen? More into business or finance – how about Bridgewater’s, Ray Dalio, Steve Jobs, or Sheryl Sandberg? More of a Musician? Comedy? Start up? Journalism? Academia? Corporate Stiff? There are people in those industries who will just tell from whom they learned.
Whomever you want to be, or be like, the chances are pretty good, at least if they are a leader in any one of these fields, that they have read a book or two in their lives that has influenced them. As the quote goes: “leaders are readers.” It’s like Big Willie Style says : whatever problem you are going through, someone has experienced it and written about it.
One way to understand or be more like our heroes is to read books about them or by them. This certainly provides us an insight into their actions. Reading books by Seth Godin – a creator I admire – and taking his workshop, has certainly given me an insight into how he thinks, and influenced my own thinking.
But, another way, and perhaps even a better way, or at least a complimentary way, is to take a look at the books that have influenced them. Because, as Austin Kleon writes in his great book, Steal Like an Artist, that is the way we figure out what kind of creator we are going to be. More than likely, Kleon tells us, these artists read or watched, or somehow consumed, the things that inspired them. And then, by taking in a mix of influences and processing it through their own experience and perspective – their creative output was realized.
The same seems to be true in business or the sciences or athletics. Kobe Bryant, for instance, has told us how he studied his heroes – from Michael Jordan to Italian soccer players – and, before he had his own moves, tried to mimic theirs. And then, just by the nature of us all being different, with different movements and thoughts and experiences, he produced his own Mamba game.
And all the better if we have not just Seth Godin’s booklist, but if we have lists from all of our heroes. Because, for me, it isn’t any one of these people I want to be like – it is aspects of all of them. How about for you? Maybe you want the inventor’s spirit of Edison, but the practical business sense of Peter Drucker; maybe the loving, poetic affection of Mary Oliver, with the bravery of Napoleon, the cunning of Machiavelli, and the comedic spirit of Mark Twain. My advice: read what helped to shape them in these ways.
Want to think a little more like Hemingway: read Russian authors, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Thoreau. Want to be like Dalio? Read A Hero of A Thousand Faces, The Lessons of History, The Singapore Story, River Out of Eden. Want to think like Seth Godin? Read The Gift, The Art of Possibility , Finite and Infinite Games, The War of Art. Want to think more like Maria Popova? Maybe read Camus, Sontag, Lamott, and Lightman. MLK? Maybe read the Enlightenment thinkers, Greeks and St Augustine. Morgan Freeman? Moby Dick and Great Expectations. Ellen? The Four Agreements, The Goldfinch, Foer and Wayne Dyer.
And so, by reading the influences of our influences and inspirations, perhaps we can start to understand a little bit better how they think, and even how they came to think their thoughts. And maybe, if we stay gritty and keep a Growth Mindset, we can start to come up with some of our own.
In the spirit of the above sermon, and because it’s my 32nd birthday – and I can therefore cry if I want to – I’ve put together a list of my 21 books favorite books read this year, and the 11 books that I find so valuable that I re-read them this year. I’ve tried to categorize them into themes for easier navigation. I’ve also noted, where I can remember, whose book list or recommendation lead me to a specific book. Hopefully, you decide to grab one or two of these and they change the way you think in some way.
Ok – onwards…
My Top 21 First-Time Reads (Feb 28 2017 – Feb 27 2018)
- Born Standing Up, Steve Martin.
“Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”
Prior to writing this book, Steve Martin – a man once on the top of the stand-up comedy world – had not performed, spoken about, or even really thought about stand-up comedy for about 20 years. Recently, he started to wonder why he had stopped, and, more interesting, what had originally lead to his love, and (eventual) success, in the world of performance. I was shocked by how great of a writer and deep of a thinker Martin turned out to be – I thought I was going to be reading the goof that I’ve seen on stage and screen all of these years. He tells the story – an inspiring one – of just how long it took to not suck (10 years) and then how long it took to be good (another 4) and then how long it took to be successful (another 4). There are also tons of gems about how to think about creativity, mastery, relationships, and tons of other topics. I plan to re-read this year.
Recommender: I believe this came from Brian Koppleman’s interview of Seth Godin.
- Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool”
Richard Feynman was a Nobel-prize winning physicist, professor, and irreverent enthusiast of learning and curiosity. Bill Gates has advised everyone to watch the Feynman Lectures – famous lectures from an intro to physics class Feynman taught at Cal-Tech. He’s influenced everyone from teachers, to artists, to CEOs. To me, this book is as valuable for it’s personalized and “human” style of writing, as it is for the lessons in nearly every page. I found his life compelling and his style of thinking refreshingly playful and full of enthusiasm.
Recommender: Tim Ferriss, among others.
- Between The World and Me, Ta-Nehasi Coates
“To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”
A friend at a blogger conference I went to in Boise, ID last year (yea, you read that right), told me that this was the most powerful book she’d read or listened to (read by Coates) in a while. She is a well-read person of excellent taste, so I bought it on the spot. Man, am I glad I did that.
It isn’t hard to see how this book won the national book award. First, get this book in the audio version as well as text so that you can hear the author read it. Second, prepare for some point-blank shit.
In the book, Coates, the Baltimore-born journalist, is writing to his son and telling him about his experience growing up in a dangerous and corrupt world governed, explicitly and implicitly, by the exploitation of one race by another. The problem is the corrupters don’t believe themselves to be such, and because of that, Coates doesn’t seem optimistic about a cure. And because he is not optimistic, he believes that African-Americans will go on having to fear for the safety of their bodies – as he always has. And this fear, Coates suggests, is misunderstood, is denied, and is ultimately shoved aside by the corrupting.
The book will force you, as it forced me, to really think about what your attitude is (your real one – not the one you would like to have) and has been on this issue. And most of all, if “I believe I am white.”
This book cannot be ignored, and shouldn’t be.
- Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett.
“If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned this: a question is a powerful thing, a mighty use of words. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers mirror the questions they rise, or fall, to meet. So while a simple question can be precisely what’s needed to drive to the heart of the matter, it’s hard to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. It’s hard to transcend a combative question. But it’s hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking better questions.”
I usually take about an hour walk each day sometime around sunset. This July, those walks were enriched by listening to this audiobook, which combines a sense of spirituality and love with the practical and wise, in a way that perhaps only this author can do. Krista Tippett is the great journalist and interviewer behind the podcast On Being. In this semi-bio, Tippett tries to take her experiences – from being in Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall, to interviewing everyone from Physicist and writer, Brian Greene, to Surgeon / Writer Atul Gawande, to Poet David Whyte, to Brainpickings.org’s, Maria Popova, to civil rights leaders and clergymen. The podcast and the book have some what of a spiritual bent, but always bringing themselves back to the worldly things. I read the book as well as listened to the audio – I advise the same, as her voice and clips from the interviews are played during the audio, and should not be missed.
Recommender: Her Podcast
- Principles, Ray Dalio “Whatever success I’ve had in life has had more to do with my knowing how to deal with my not knowing than anything I know. The most important thing I learned is an approach to life based on principles that helps me find out what’s true and what to do about it.”
There are certain friends and people I know with whom I immediately comply when they tell me I “must read” a certain book – no matter how far afield that book may seem. In 2011, while I was still in Law school, my friend Dan (on the must-read friend list) called me one evening and told me that I have to drop whatever I was reading (including class materials) and immediately download and read these Principles by this guy named Ray Dalio. Dan told me that Dalio was basically a god of the finance world but that his lessons were applicable anywhere. As usual, I found Dan’s recommendation to hit the mark. I read it twice that year.
That downloadable collection of principles was the precursor to the newly-released book, Principles, by Ray Dalio, the CEO of Bridgewater. You’ll notice that I’ve cited Dalio extensively – including in my three-part meditation post (Dalio has credited much of his success to it). The book starts with a great biography and then goes on to cite his principles of Life and then Work. I thought it was great. You probably don’t need to read the second half of the book – Work Principles – if you don’t plan to apply this to an organization. Even just reading the first third – the biography – is valuable. Oh, and you’ll notice that he recommends a bunch of books that were formative in his own thinking — another booklist!!!!
Recommender: My Friend Dan
Honorable Mentions: Financial Fitness (Corley), Elon Musk (Vance), Upstream (Mary Oliver), M Train (Patty Smith), The Score Takes Care of Itself (Bill Walsh), Lincoln: The Unknown (Carnegie), Michael Jordan: The Life (Lazenby)
Behavior / Psychology / Big Idea / Business
- Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari.
If you don’t like some of these possibilities you are welcome to think and behave in new ways that will prevent these particular possibilities form materializng. However, it is not easy to think and behave in new ways, because our thoughts and actions are usually constrained by present day ideologies and social systems. This book traces the origins of our present-day conditioning in order to loosen its grip and enable us to think in far more imaginative ways about our future.”
In 2013 / 14, while searching through the catalog of Coursera courses, I happened upon a course with an intriguing title A Brief History of Humankind I enrolled in the course and proceeded to watch an hour or two of lectures for the next month or so…Then I took it again. Literally just retook it right after it was over (not in the shit girls say ‘literally’ way but in the true meaning of the word). The course promised that the tandem book, Sapiens, would be translated to English within a few months. I preordered it. That was my first exposure to historian / professor / author Yuval Harari, and it changed the way I think about so many things: money, people, corporations, fire – but mostly, it changed the way I think about ideas.
By the way, it also changed the way that people who are much more important than me think: Obama, Gates, half of Silicon Valley, among them. Also important to note, that not all people were blown away – for instance, my friend Mikey (a very smart and experienced reader) and Ryan Holiday (whom I wrote about here).
This sequel, Homo Deus, is just more of that, and perhaps a bit scarier as it foretells a precarious future for the human race: automation, bio-tech, robotics, etc. The most vexing idea (vexing? Who am I, Commodus?) for me is the idea of freewill and our apparent lack of it. Whether or not you think it is a great book (which I do, undoubtedly), you are forced to grapple with the ideas, which are big and complex. Read it. Trust me.
Recommender: Was on Email List
- Grit, Angela Duckworth
“When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t.”
I’ve written extensively about Grit in my article, How to Raise One Gritty Bastard. What I will say here is that Duckworth, a MacArthur “Genius” Grant Recipient, shows us with psychological research why one of the most consistent markers for success is the formula of persistence + passion. It sounds obvious and maybe a bit fluffy, but Duckworth redefines these terms and shows how we can utilize them using evidence and practicality. I also found it inspiring, and as I’ve written here, I find inspiring books very useful (as did Thomas Jefferson).
- The Obstacle is The Way, Ryan Holiday
“Too many people think that great victories like Grant’s and Edisons’s came from a flash of insight. That they cracked the problem with pure genius. In fact, it was the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the elimination of so many other more promising options, that slowly and surely churned the solution to the top of the pile. Their genius was unity of purpose, deafness to doubt, and the desire to stay at it.
I’ve already written 500 words on this book here. I’ll just add that I find Holiday to be an important thinker. Oh, and he has his own booklists. And you thought you were overwhelmed before…
Other books I read by Holiday this year: Ego is the Enemy, Perennial Seller
Recommender: Like the entire NFL
- Influence, Robert Cialdini.
“When those single features are truly reliable, there is nothing inherently wrong with the shortcut approach of narrowed attention and automatic response to a particular piece of information. The problem comes when something causes the normally trustworthy cues to counsel us poorly, to lead us to erroneous actions and wrongheaded decisions.”
You might be put off by the title of this book – I don’t want to learn how to coax or manipulate people, you might say. I understand, I had a similar hold up. However, it appears Cialdini wrote the book in order to prevent others from suckering him – not to allow him to influence others. That was much easier for me to swallow.
If you can get passed the title, I suspect you will not regret it. Cialdini discusses how our instincts can lead us a stray in very particular ways -especially as it relates to “being sold” on a product or service. I have a forthcoming article suggesting that we can use Cialdini’s principles of influence to get ourselves to do things that we want using commitment, social proof, reciprocity, and more.
Oh, and to use one of Cialdini’s principles – social proof – basically everyone who has a booklist in the area of business and psychology recommends this book. Either they’ve all been secretly influenced to buy by Cialdini, or there is something to it.
Recommender: Everyone in Business
- Deep Work, Cal Newport.
“Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.”
Cal Newport, a Georgetown comp-sci professor and author of another best-seller, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, believes that the ability to learn new skills quickly + the ability to produce good work product are the keys to survival in our new complex economy. The only way to get there, Newport suggests, is via Deep Work – consistent daily blocks (2-4 hours) of uninterrupted and deep concentration on a task or skill. After reading this book, I tend to agree. The research he uses to prove this point is fascinating, but even more so might be the research he uses to establish his other point: not only is Deep Work the way to production, but it is the way to happiness. Get this book.
Recommender: James Altucher
- Thanks For the Feedback, Shelia Heen and Doug Stone.
“Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity, and even when the feedback seems wrong, how to find insight that might help us grow.”
I’ve written a little ditty on this book here. I also recently attended a writing retreat hosted by the authors, which was great. Here I will just add that a title like this, indicating feedback and listening, does not naturally attract me. So if it doesn’t sound so interesting to you, I understand. However, I would urge you to reconsider assuming that (a) you agree feedback is vital for progress and (b) you’re probably not as good at taking feedback (or requesting the specific kind of feedback) as you could be.
Recommender: Seth Godin
Honorable Mention: The Strengths Book (Bibb), Barking Up The Wrong Tree (Barker), What the Dog Saw (Gladwell), A Whole New Mind (Pink), Drive (Pink), Behave (Sapolsky), The Talent Code (Coyle), The Art of Possibility (Zander), The Gift (Hyde), Made to Stick (Heath Bros), Switch (Heath Bros), Lynchpin (Godin), Better Than Before (Rubin)
- Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there”
All I can say about this book is, Holy Shit. Now I understand what all the hype was about. It’s the true story of a former professor (author) on a cross-country motorcycle trip with his son and some friends, but as you might be able to guess from the category, it is not quite about that. It’s about values, technology, a way of thinking, art, life. Read it if you are prepared to read very slowly. I assume I will reread this many times – out of both necessity and desire.
- The Outsiders, Colin Wilson.
“The exploration of oneself is usually also an exploration of the world at large, of other writers, a process of comparison with oneself with others, discoveries of kinships, gradual illumination of one’s own potentialities”
I found this book via this old piece in The New Yorker by Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood) describing an interview and experience in Japan in 1957 with Marlon Brando. The piece made me very interested in Brando, whom Capote noted, was reading The Outsiders while shooting.
The book was written by a 24 year old Brit who was immediately thrown onto the scene when it came out in 1956 and sold millions of copies. He was praised as an “underground” philosopher. After reading the book, it is easy to see why. The book is the authors intellectual and experiential quest to find the answer to the question that most philosophy is after: how should we live? His search through literature is seemingly exhaustive and certainly exhausting – but also exhilarating. If you like literature and philosophy, you’ll like this book.
Recommender: Marlon Brando, sorta
- Finite and Infinite Games, Carse
“no limitation may be imposed against infinite play. Since limits are taken into play, the play itelsf cannot be limited. Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with the boundaries.”
Another book that floored me. It’s a very short book but it took me at least as much time as a book double its size. Each page is full of these little nuisances and ideas that I needed to read a couple times over to make sure I understood.
The main idea is that there are two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is a competition seeking an end – like a one-on-one game to 10; an infinite game is like having a catch – there is no winner or real end point – the point of the game is to keep playing. Carse uses this basic distinction to explain a whole lot of “games” including work, war, and love. Great stuff.
Recommenders: Seth Godin, Stanford Design professors Evans and Burnett
- On Writing, Steven King
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
I’ve never read a Steven King book. Not one. But so many writers that I have read and admire have this on their booklists, so I had to at least check it out. Plus, anytime a person who has had this much success offers to teach some of what got him to where he /she is, it’s probably worth a look.
This book didn’t disappoint. It was half bio / half writing “tool kit,”as he calls it – the first part serving to interest and inspire and the second serving to equip and remind. I particularly liked one analogy where he compared writing a book to digging for archeological remains. You don’t exactly know what you are going to find, but if you keep digging, maybe you eventually come upon a finger or a toe. Sometimes it is just that, sometimes it ends up being an entire torso. But you keep digging. I am going to make it a point to read some King fiction this year.
Recommender: Ryan Holiday
2. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
Anne Lamott is another author whom I had not read before. The book, inspiring and instructive. It tells about her life writing – how she gained confidence, how she gained subject matter. And then warns of typical traps to writing, based on her own experience, like the need for perfection. Her antidote for perfection? Write a shitty first draft. As Adam Grant has shown us, people of many good ideas, aren’t just inherently more creative; they simply generate more ideas – most of which are bad. This is the same for writing, Lamott tells us – if you write enough shitty first drafts, eventually, they start to become not so shitty, and then passable, and then, maybe even good.
Recommender: Maria Popova
3. On writing well, William Zinsser
“Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it”
To complete the trifecta – never read anything by Zinsser before this book either. But many have recommended the Yale professor’s book on writing over the years and I finally got around to it. His writing style is full of whimsy and straightforwardness – a style that I have a particular affection for, so that probably helped. It is specifically about non-fiction as well, where as Lamott and King’s books are probably trending fiction. It’s all writing though, and this book is a great one.
Recommender: Stephen Pressfield
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?
We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”
Sometimes, if I don’t feel like physically reading, I’ll throw on a audiobook with the timer set instead. Typically when I do this, I will turn towards fiction or biography – I find them both to concentrate on story (and with what psychologists tell us about memory – they might not be so far apart). One bio I chose for this was M Train by Patty Smith – mostly because she has a sort of mystical way of writing and talking that is very similar to fiction. Anyway, one night, she was getting into the subject of books and then what she felt were the most world shattering books. She spoke about a book that affected her so much that she had to read the rest of the author’s books. The author was Haruki Murakami, someone that screenwriter and producer, Brian Koppelman calls the best living fiction writer, and the book was the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Laying in bed, stirred-up by the lively description, I ordered the book on the spot.
This book is fascinating and weird and irking and crazy. I have never read another book quite like this. There were so many emotions it dug out of me: humor, disgust, fear, sadness, wonder – incredible. It’s a bear of a book, but I couldn’t recommend it enough.
- Sherlock Holmes, Vol 1, Arthur Conan Doyle
“Let me see if I can make it clearer. Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backwards, or analytically.”
For some reason, I used to think that this book was for dweebs. The mere category of “detective story” sounded so… something to me. Luckily, someone Hitched me out of that mindset (“Hitched me” means to get me out of my own way, inspired by Will Smith in the all-time great movie Hitch). The book is a ridiculously intelligent and interesting way to think about how to know things, and how to operate in a world of uncertainty with seemingly little to go on. And how to observe and listen.
The good thing about this book is that even though it’s like 1000 pages, it is made up of short stories – episodes of Holmes’s humorous and deductive detective style. I have been reading it since mid-2016, just not continuously. You can easily pick it up, read one of the “episodes” and not come back to it for weeks. But, trust me, you will want to.
Honorable Mention: Huckleberry Finn (Twain)
Nutrition / Health
- Spark, John Ratey
” The point I’ve tried to make—that exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function—is based on evidence I’ve gathered from hundreds and hundreds of research papers, most of them published only within the past decade.”
Many people exercise for their waistline. What Ratey argues, is that they should exercise for the benefit of their brain, their body and their blood (not far from my own Green Light theory). In Spark, Ratey shows how exercise can make our brains and hearts better performing and less susceptible to disease and cancer. This isn’t merely a down-the-line impact either – this is a right now impact, as well as for the rest of our lives. Impact on cognitive performance, anxiety, depression, disease, you name it . After reading, I was hard-pressed to find any reason for anyone – skinny, married, whatever – not to exercise several times per week. Ok, I’m going out to take a walk.
Recommender: Tim Ferris, William “Chip” Corley
- Eight Weeks To Optimal Health, Andrew Weil
“In order to change behavior, you must be clear about what satisfaction that behavior is giving you as well as what it is costing you, then make a conscious decision to move.”
Finally, a diet book that is focusing more on integrated health, behavioral change, AND evidence-based eating. I am not sure I’ve seen strategy for adopting a healthy lifestyle that is better than the one in this book. And all of it is supported by both evidence and experience. The overall goal being, not a certain kind of diet, not praising one macronutrient over anther – but just trying to achieve health, across all areas of life, based on the science.
Recommender: Kevin Rose
Honorable Mention: Secrets From The Eating Lab (Mann), The TB12 Method (Brady), Gut (Enders),
The 11 Re-Readables
Bill Simmons, formerly known as ESPN’s Sports Guy, has a new podcast called “rewatchables.” I’ve never heard it, but my friends seem to like it. Apparently, the podcast is about breaking down old movies that Bill would consider “rewatchable” (like Hitch, I assume). That is, they are so good that they are either just as good or better on the second and third and 10th watch.
There are some books like that – let’s call them Re-readables. Obviously, these are books that are so good we need to reread them, and, like Seinfeld, many of them get better and you notice more, the second or 10th time around – perhaps like the Torah (you might call it a bible?).
Anyway, here are 11 of the best that I reread this year since they are so damn good.
- Give and Take, Adam Grant.
“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Adam Grant is one of my favorite thinkers. I wrote extensively about this book here, and about another Grant book, Originals, here. You can read those if you want to know more, but here I will just add two quick things. First, this philosophy has, in many ways, changed the way I think, and in other ways, affirmed my heroes (including my parents and grandparents who seem to operate this way). Second, the research that Grant uses to back this up is convincing and extensive.
“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.”
I have a forthcoming article about Ferriss and his influence on me, and what I think are the core abilities that make him such an amazing force. I will say here that these two book profoundly influenced how I think about both life and my body. Read these books if you want to want to get excited about possibilities in either life or your body and challenging dated convention; reread it if you want to put that excitement and those ideas into action.
- The Writing Life, Annie Dillard.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing”
Julia Cameron has one suggestion on how to “access your inner artist” – it’s called an artists’s date. This is where you take a random trip or random class that excites you or that you wouldn’t normally take. I did this a few years back in Hastings-on-Hudson, a adorable little town 30 minutes north of NYC. When I got there, I was drizzling, so I wondered into the library. In the library, I wondered into the used books for sale – each was like a dollar each. Stephen Johnson (whom I discuss below), talks about the benefits of serendipity to the creative process. This was the book I serendipitously found and it is one of my favorite books of all time. Even if you are not a writer, the biographical and life insights from this book are incredible and the stories just feel so real. I mean, of course they are real, but just told from a person whom, when you read her, you know she’s beautifully authentic. She talks lyrically and rhythmically about her experiences, her shortcomings, her fears, and her small triumphs. I’ll read it every year.
- Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnenman.
“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”
This book, by a Nobel Laureate in economics, is the best book I’ve read on how we think and how, in many ways, our styles of thinking are plagued with error – though we would never know it. The book is massive, and it will take a while to read, but I am not sure there is a better education for how your mind works in the context of everyday decisions. Many of the best thinkers I know have called it required reading. Worth a look.
“The choices that are most powerful in generating motivation, in other words, are decisions that do two things: They convince us we’re in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning. Choosing to climb a mountain can become an articulation of love for a daughter. Deciding to stage a nursing home insurrection can become proof that you’re still alive. An internal locus of control emerges when we develop a mental habit of transforming chores into meaningful choices , when we assert that we have authority over our lives.”
First the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist told us about what the research has discovered about how to form and keep habits. HE then followed that up with a book summarizing, and extrapolating from, the available research on productivity. Wonderfully written, memorable stories, convincing evidence – I loved both – twice.
- Where Good Ideas Come From, Stephen Johnson.
“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.”
A great book on creativity – from the process of idea formation to how collaboration and new breakthroughs make old ideas possible. There are stories about Darwin, various inventions like the internet, how public meeting places cultivate ideas, and how ideas often form by accident. Every time I look back at it, it makes me think. That’s good enough to reread in my book (pun, yes).
- Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins.
“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”
I’ve written about my experience at Unleash the Power Within, one of Robbins’s subtly-and-totally-not-corn-ily-named live seminars. I have also mentioned how I too thought this guy was a kook (hard to think otherwise after he was Banana Hands in Shallow Hal). That was until I actually read this book and went to his seminars, and realized that most of the content is based on 100s of other thinkers, psychologists, doctors, scientists, athletes, artists, etc… After that, I figured either I turned into a gullible kook myself (totally possible), or his shit has a ton of merit. There is a reason why he counsels the likes of billionaires, CEOS, international heads of state, and former US presidents. I’ve read this book twice. If you do the work, you’ll see a change.
- How Not To Die, Michael Greger.
“In other words, a long and healthy life is largely a matter of choice. In 2015, Dr. Kim Williams became president of the American College of Cardiology. He was asked why he chose to eat a strictly plant-based diet. “I don’t mind dying,” Dr. Williams said. “I just don’t want it to be my fault.”
I’ve cited Dr. Greger in many of my articles on the Intelligent Eater piece of my blog. He is one of the few evidence-based voices in the nutrition industry that I have come across. In his videos on nutritionfacts.org, he literally shows you the articles that he is citing and where they say what he is saying. This book ultimately drove me to the point where I had to at least try the Vegan Experiment I had been consciously avoiding for years. Give it a read if you want to see the evidence on the plant-based side of things. Oh yea, and if you don’t want to die.
- The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
If you are doing anything or want to do anything at all but are being held back by a fear to move forward – read this book. That is all that needs to be said. I’ve read it several times, and each time, it moves me further along the path on which I want to go. Hard to find a creator who does not recommend this book.
10. The Intelligent Investor, Ben Graham.
“We shall say quite a bit about the psychology of investors. For indeed, the investor’s chief problem—and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself”
I reread this with the intention of addressing my finances, but I found a couple principles that I saw as completely applicable to the area of health (I’ve written about that here). Ben Graham was Warren Buffett’s teacher and mentor and is his method is largely what Buffet went by in a significant portion of his career. On a deeper level, the book is about how a typical person can invest by removing themselves (and their emotions) from the process. Like health, it requires a long-term perspective and a keen self-awareness.
11. Mindset, Carol Dweck.
“In this book, you’ll learn how a simple belief about yourself…guides a large part of your life. In fact, it permeates every part of your life. Much of what you think of as your personality actually grows out of this ‘mindset.’ Much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of it.”
I don’t think any book on this list fundamentally changed the way I think more than this one. In fact, I think that nearly all the living authors on this list have recommended it. A key insight is that merely believing a certain thing about how we improve or get smarter may decide whether or not you in fact do improve or get smarter. And she has decades of research to back it up.
I wrote a quick primer on it here. I view it as indispensable.
And there she is, my favorite 32 books for my 32nd year. Most of these altered my way of thinking in some way, or made me aware of something I was not before. Also, it was fun to read them. Sure, I expect this to pay dividends in the future, but the enjoyment of reading is quite enough for me.
Let me know your favorite books of this year or send me your list. Would love to take a look.
Stay thirsty, my friends. Oh shit, that’s not mine. I mean..