Top Books from 2016
An overarching theme of my writing is connecting ideas from seemingly disparate domains. Doing so requires reading broadly. I’ve read over 100 non-fiction books this year. I’m often asked about my favorites, the books that most influenced my thinking. The following list, ordered alphabetically (my two favorites happen to come toward the end), represents just that. This holiday season, I encourage you to give others — and yes, yourself — the gift of intellectual stimulation and knowledge. It’s the best gift there is. (Okay, coffee or a fresh pair of running shoes is up there too.)
Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday. There is a big difference between confidence and ego. The former leads to excellence and fulfillment, while the latter leads to failure and suffering. Holiday makes this clear, and shows how self-awareness is a critical skill that determines which path we take. (If you want to learn more, Brad interviewed Holiday about the book here.)
Geography of Genius, Eric Weiner. Plato once said that “what is honored in a country is cultivated there.” Weiner travels across geographies and time to show us that this is precisely the case, and how the most groundbreaking ideas often emerge from broken ground. A must-read for teachers, coaches, managers, or anyone else whose job it is to cultivate high-performance cultures. And, Weiner’s wildly entertaining writing is in a league of its own.
Grit, Angela Duckworth. Talent x effort = skill and skill x effort = achievement. Duckworth shows us that it is not nature or nurture that matters, but rather how we nurture our nature, and she unveils the latest science on how to do just that. The ability to hang in there and persevere when the going gets tough, what Duckworth calls “Grit,” is key. She won a MacArthur Genius grant for her research underlying this book.
How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb. This book takes the last century of psychology and behavioral economics research and turns it into concrete daily tactics. Webb, who is a senior adviser on leadership to McKinsey, offers evidence-based tips on everything from managing email to turning “transactions into interactions” when dealing with strangers. If you enjoyed Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, you’ll love this.
Letters from a Stoic, Seneca. The ancient Greek philosopher Seneca teaches us that what we think are modern ailments aren’t so new or unique. In this collection of letters, Seneca provides life advice that is as timely today as it was when he wrote it over 2000 years ago. He touches on topics like how to manage endless distractions, balance work and play, and deal with stress. When we read this book we couldn’t help but notice that much of modern behavioral science research is simply proving what Seneca observed centuries ago.
Originals, Adam Grant. Originality is certainly part art, but it’s also part science. Grant combines the latest research on originality with the stories of the world’s foremost original thinkers to uncover the practices and methods of decision making that yield breakthroughs. It’s quite engaging to read original thinking on originals from an original himself.
Presence, Amy Cuddy. How we hold our body affects our mind and how we hold our mind affects our body. Cuddy opens with an intimate story of how she nearly lost both her body and mind and what she did to gain them back. From there, the book dives into the still unfolding science on mind-body-performance connection, something Cuddy is at the forefront of from her post at Harvard University.
Surfacing, Siri Lindley. If you are interested in learning more about the single-minded pursuit of excellence — where it comes from, what it requires giving up, and how you can transition to something else — then this book is an important read. Lindley, one of the best triathletes to ever live, shares her bumpy road to the top of sport and how she walked away from competing.
Tribe, Sebastian Junger. A riveting examination of the importance of community and what’s at stake — for both individuals and society — when we lose it. Junger doesn’t waste a word in this tight and compelling work. This was tied with When Breath Becomes Air for my favorite book of 2016.
The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford. How we physically interact with the world has an enormous, albeit not often recognized, influence on how we exist in it. Crawford, who is one of our favorite living philosophers, examines embodied cognition and all the forces pulling on it — from the commercialization of everything, to technologies that remove us from our physical surroundings, to income inequality. He explains that in order to fully live in the world, we must more fully live in the world, not just in our heads.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. An utterly moving book about living and dying. A strong reminder that you should follow what interests you now and strive to not spend a single day going through the motions. This was tied with Tribe for my favorite book of 2016.
If you’re into books…
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If you’re into the science of performance…
Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and New York Magazine.