Each year, as part of my annual review process, I look back at all my reading notes for the year and pick out the best and most influential books I’ve read in the past year. Here I’ve listed them in rough order of personal impact. Thanks for reading!
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand I love that the hero of this book Louis Zamperini, is a mile runner, which is what I ran in college, so right away I’m thinking, i can handle whatever he can handle. Yeah right. If this wasn’t true story I wouldn’t believe that anyone could endure so many long and trying experiences. The fact that this book is a survival tale plus war story makes it that much richerI found myself wondering – how can Hillenbrand write such an epic tale? I learned that because she has chronic fatigue syndrome and doesn’t leave her house much, she buys newspapers from the 1930s, or whatever era she’s writing about, on eBay and has them sent to her house to immerse herself in thevibe of the era.If you like epic tales of survival, I also recommend Mans Search for Meaning, Mawson’s Will, Wind Sand and Stars, and Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
- High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard This is probably the best business book I have read in the last two years. It takes higher level approach than tactical or strategy level, and looks at what factors lead to long term success. In just three weeks of diligently applying the habits in the book, I have seen a huge shift in my own work output. There are lots of journaling prompts and tools in this book – you can treat it like a complete course.
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance Forget The Magic of Thinking Big, this book has done more to 10X my thinking than anything I have read. It also makes me feel like my 12 hour work days are normal or even underperforming if I have a big vision and I really want to see it come to fruition. I didn’t know much about Musk before reading this book, but I’m really impressed with his ability to mobilize people and funds around a vision, and his ability to understand and recall the physics and engineering needed for rocketry and electric vehicles. I’ve heard him called a snake oil salesman, but many of his ideas that seemed much more crazy when they launched we are now celebrating. It feels like Musk is singlehandedly keeping America in the race in key industries like space and energy. I’m not sure I would like him as a person, but I’m so glad he is doing what he is doing.
- Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. By Gregory Boyle. I’ve never cried more and been more amazed than while reading this book. This was thebook I needed to read right now – this reminded me that as a coach coming from a place of compassion is the best starting point. I was struck by how rival gang members became friends when they worked together at Boyle’s bakery, and how much shame can be tied up with not doing more with our lives. Combined with watching The Wire, this was a reminder of how much of an uphill battle some people have, even in America. I was impressed with Boyle’s ability to maintain healthy relationships with different gang members, community members, and church members.
- Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. I was struck by the similarity of the US political climate in 1790-1810 to the current state of affairs – i.e. polarizing political agendas, threat from terrorists and global instigators, worry about the presidency becoming too powerful, and isolationism. I was fascinated to learn about how Jefferson’s use of the executive power far outpaced his ideals in light of his need to do what he thought best for his country. Basically, his vision for the country was more powerful than his vision for good governance. The author makes many statements about the nature of Jefferson’s character and how Jefferson thought about the use of power. This gave me ample opportunity to ask myself “Is the author correct? do I agree with him? Would I have reached the same conclusions if I has researched this book?” I was also intrigue by Jefferson’s willingness to operate his personal life from a place of debt, even while maintaining multiple residences, hundreds of slaves, and reducing the national debt
- A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power by Paul Fischer. This story is so crazy that it could only be true. I really knew nothing about North Korea or the history of theregion before reading this book. The book is incredibly well researched and told, and centers around Kim Jong-Il’s love of cinema and plot to kidnap and use South Korea’s best actress and producer to make North Korean Propaganda. Even though he is using his skills to subjugate his people, I was really impressed with Kim’s strategic maneuverings.
- The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M Marshall III Stories allow us to experience lives and situations we otherwise never would. Sometimes on long bike rides by myself, I try to imagine what I would have done if I were Crazy Horse. Would I have stayed free as long as he did or given myself up to live on the agencies? Crazy Horse almost never talked about his brave deeds (as was expected), and because of his vision as a young man, placed the needs of his people before his own. This book was especially meaningful to me because I have been to many of the places Crazy Horse lived, including Little Big Horn and the Black Hills. I went to the site of thebattle of the little big horn after I read Black Elk Speaks, the story of a Lakota medicine man. My Aha moment from this book: We have a cultural norm in the western world to try to extract as much good out of something as possible: a herd of buffalo, cropland, an oil well, our employees, a business deal…you name it. Because this thinking is so pervasive that we don’t notice it, We Do This To Ourselves Also! We burn ourselves out and work in an unsustainable way, because of the way we view ourselves as a resource. Just think about that for a moment. How can you only take what it needed from yourself?
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I was a little surprised that I loved this book so much, because I thought I had read most books about running worth reading. Maybe its because it was nice to be reminded of all thelong hours I spent running, or maybe it was nice to think that being an endurance athlete, where running and cycling are the perfect preparation for being a writer. As with most good writers, Murakami makes writing simply seems easy. It’s called a memoir, but the book is really a way Murakami examines his life through the lense ofhow he feels about running.
- The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston. This books starts as an Indiana Jones type adventure archaeology mission about the recent (2015) discovery of several lost cities in the Honduran jungle. The second part of the book is cultural and medical history of the cultures of the Americas and colonization, while the last part is the author’s personal account of a rare disease that he contracted in the jungle. I like the arrangement of the book, with the adventure coming first, then filling in the back story later on. I expected it to be like The Lost City of Z, but was pleased that they actually found their city!
- Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson This is one ofthose books that changed the way I look at cause and effect in the world. Now almost everyday I see how delight has driven development. He makes logical leaps from Ladies’ desire for calico cotton fabrics in preindustrial England to how Obama captured southern states in the 2008 election. I read Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From a few years back and heard about this latest book on a James Altucher’s podcast. I was really excited because I had just decided to add a chapter to my own book about fun, gamification, and healthy competition. I’m more convinced than ever that the future lies in fun!
Which books made your top 10 list?