Top Books in 2017 (So Far)
An overarching theme of my writing is connecting ideas from seemingly disparate domains. Doing so requires reading broadly. I’ve read over 35 non-fiction books so far this year. (And I published one!) I’m often asked about my favorites, the books that most influence my thinking. The following list, ordered alphabetically, represents just that. Though this year has been mired with upsetting politics, we’ve been blessed with plenty of wise, intellectually-stimulating, and thought-provoking reads. I encourage to you to dive into these books yourself, and to consider giving those you love the best summer gift there is: a book!
Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett. A beautiful book that reminds us that listening is not the same thing as waiting to talk and that wisdom — which “leavens intelligence, enables consciousness, and advances evolution itself” — is gained through our lived experience with words, flesh, love, faith, and hope. This book made me realize that if we slow down and show-up to life fully present and without judgment, beauty and awe is all around us.
The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs. A courageous and heartfelt book about living and dying with cancer. Riggs does her best to help us — her readers — imagine the unimaginable. Though reading about death is never comfortable, I believe there is no better way to help you zero-in on what you want out of life. Riggs: “Living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But living without a terminal disease is also like walking over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a little more.” Riggs passed away before this book was published, but she’ll live on through her profound words.
The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Although this book didn’t come out in 2017 (it was published last year), I just now read it, and I’m glad I did. Bungay Stanier shows us that the best way to lead and influence — whether it’s as a manager, a coach, or a parent — is to say less and ask more. He presents 7 critical questions and reminds us that when the “advice monster” wants to creep in with some kind of answer, we’re almost always better off asking another question.
Conscious Coaching, Brett Bartholomew. A must-read for anyone who coaches athletes. Bartholomew, who has vast experience working with some of the world’s best, lays out over 10 different athlete “archetypes” and provides concrete tips on how to coach them. Additionally, he describes the importance of developing your own personal coaching strategy, and, in doing so, leaving your ego behind.
Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari. Harari’s first book, Sapiens, was a detailed account of our species’ past. His latest looks into the future, and offers a few potential narratives of what lies ahead for us humans. Will we clash with technology, live in harmony with it, or become one with it? Harari has said that his books aren’t so much meant to be read literally but rather to make us think. This book does not disappoint.
Irresistible, Adam Alter. If you have a hard time putting down your phone or signing off from the internet, you’re not alone. Alter traces the rise of addictive technologies, discusses their downsides (hint: virtual reality and social networks take our attention away from lived-reality and real-life networks), and offers concrete practices that can help us have more harmonious relationships with our devices. A must read for anyone — which means just about everyone — who relies on 21st century tech. It’s not that these devices are inherently bad, but using them mindlessly is.
Overcomplicated, Samuel Arbesman. A quick read that makes clear an important difference: complicated systems have a lot going on but are somewhat predictable, whereas complex systems have a lot going on and are much harder to predict given the interdependencies within them. Read at a societal-level, pretty much everything is becoming more complex (think: financial crisis, an election in one country having impossible to predict ripple effects elsewhere, etc.). Read at an individual-level, this book can help you figure out what in your own life is complicated vs. complex, and how your approach should change as a result.
Option B. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Contrary to what we might think, resilience isn’t only about pushing through, toughing it out, or finding meaning in loss. It’s also about cultivating joy. More than anything else, this book taught me that one need not give themselves permission to experience unadulterated joy. Rather, it is those very experiences that give us strength when we need it most. Part personal story (Sandberg’s tragic loss of her husband) and part science (Grant’s research), this book is sure to leave you thinking differently about resilience.
Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. In addition to reading a lot of books, I wrote one! Researching and reporting Peak Performance made clear to me that so many of the books in the self-help or emerging “performance” genre are full of shit. There are no silver bullets, magical “hacks,” or quick fixes. Getting better at anything requires honing a few time-tested practices: stress + rest = growth, priming, and the power of purpose. This book provides an evidence-based operating-system for getting the most out of yourself while avoiding burnout. I’m doing the best I can to practice what I preach!
Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday. If you make (or want to make) creative work, this book is a must-read. Holiday draws upon his own experience and those of so many others to outline the steps necessary to produce— and market — work that lasts. I got an early-copy and followed its advice to a T when launching my own book. Holiday makes clear there are no shortcuts on the road to great work. You’ve got to put in the effort and cultivate the right relationships. But even then, that’s often not enough. You’ve also got to be strategic — and that’s what this book offers: a good strategic framework.
The Power of Meaning. Emily Esfahani Smith. Lasting happiness often comes from struggle. The most fulfilling activities are usually anything but easy. This book follows in the footsteps of classics like Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning to show us that the meaningful life is the good life. What separates this book from similar ones of the past is that Smith includes the emerging (and fascinating) science behind the power of meaning.
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Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and New York Magazine and the co-author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.