10 Books I Think You Should Read

Despite not being much of a reader growing up, late last year I vowed to carve out some time every day to do some reading. After getting a few books under my belt and hearing more and more about how much the people I respected read, I decided that I should really challenge myself and read 1 book per week starting Jan 1, 2017. I bit the bullet and braced for what I feared might be a typical New Year’s resolution, expecting that I’d throw in the towel in mid-January.

I am actually ahead of my goal and have discovered the joy of reading (non-fiction right now, but I expect I will branch out eventually). Wanting to share some of the interesting things I’ve learned and the new perspectives I’ve gained, and also to encourage others to go through the experience of reading, I decided I’d share the top ten books I’ve read so far this year so you might be inspired to pick up a book specifically recommended by (hopefully) someone you trust. If it’s listed here, I highly recommend you take the time to read (or listen to) it.

It should be noted that I listened to all 10 of these books as it was the best way I could commit to the time needed (listening while driving, walking the dogs, on the train, etc.), but also because in many scenarios the book is read by the author which makes the experience of reading the book that much more personal to me. If there is an audiobook and it is read by the author, it is the best way to “read” the book in my opinion.

To the list! (If this article is too long, please just check out #1 Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz… by far the most important book on the list to read).

10. Leaders Eat Last — Simon Sinek

Leadership has always been an important topic to me. There aren’t enough people who really understand what it means to lead, and society suffers for it (I’m reminded of a quote I heard from George Parks, the former band leader of the UMass Marching Band… “You take orders from a boss. You follow a leader.”). I stumbled upon Simon Sinek’s interview about Millenials, and later his TED talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action and found his assessments and insights spot on (and his other book “Start With Why” also could’ve taken this spot).

Leaders Eat Last (Amazon) (Audible)

Start With Why (Amazon) (Audible)

9. Extreme Ownership —Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

While this book is also primarily about leadership, it’s message of ownership in every aspect of every day life is important and something I think we all could do a better job with. Each chapter focuses on a theme, and then provides both a story from personal experience directly in the field of combat from the war in the Middle East, and a situation in business when the same principles applied. While I found the application of principles used in combat to describe some business situations a little cheesey, I understood the point they were making and appreciated them drawing on their real experiences to give examples of why something worked. Plus, most of the stories they tell are absolutely fascinating. I found myself riveted just listening to them tell their war stories and forgetting this was a book about leadership.

Extreme Ownership (Amazon) (Audible)

8. Shoe Dog — Phil Knight

This book is a first-hand account of how Phil Knight created Nike, and all of the ups and downs that happened along the way. Stories about building successful companies and the people behind them are always interesting to me but Phil’s story is humble and transparent, reinforcing the impression that anyone with an idea and the drive to make it a reality can be successful and providing a downright human look into how one of the most recognizable brands in the world came to be.

Shoe Dog (Amazon) (Audible)

7. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — Yuval Noah Harari

This book is an excellent look into our past, a lesson in history that helps us understand more about how we evolved and what makes us human. Some things in here may blow your mind (at one point in history, there were two separate species of humans living on the planet at the same time.. homo sapiens and neanderthals), some things will get your gears turning in ways you might not expect (corporations are really only imaginary entities existing only in our minds), but mostly it will help you get a better understanding of things that you might take for granted when it comes to behavior and human nature and remind you that while major changes in our history might seem like they happened relatively quickly, change occurs over hundreds and maybe even thousands of years (so you know… saying “It’s 2017 how come 100% of us haven’t changed yet?” isn’t really a great argument).

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Amazon) (Audible)

6. Dark Money — Jane Mayer

Probably the scariest book of the bunch, Dark Money tells the story of how very wealthy individuals (primarily the Koch brothers) have gained the power to influence our politics and how intricate and involved their system of manipulation and disinformation really is.

If an individual or corporation is allowed to spend $1,000,000,000 on politics, they have an insane amount of influence compared to someone who can barely afford to make rent. This completely subverts how democracy is supposed to work, and should be denounced regardless of which side of the aisle you are on. This is why some people have been claiming that our country has turned into something more analogous to an Oligarchy as of late.

If you are at all interested in maintaining a democracy that is for the people and by the people, stopping people like this should be a high priority. Might I recommend starting by reading this book!

Dark Money (Amazon) (Audible)

5. Money: Master the Game — Tony Robbins

I have to admit, I have always thought Tony Robbins was a bit of a hack. I always saw him as an infomercial salesman peddling books on how to find your “Personal Power” for only 10 easy payments of $19.95! However when looking for my next book to read, his latest book (Unshakeable — which I also read) was promoted and seemed to be focused on money management, a topic I felt I was severely lacking in, so I decided to give the book a try. What did I have to lose? Unshakeable was quite good and even though it still dripped with the same kind of “infomercial salesman” tones, the information seemed legit but was a little bit lacking as he kept referencing his other book, Money: Master the Game. Eager to learn more I bought that and listened to it right after Unshakeable. After reading it I realized 2 things:

  1. The content was really compelling and worth listening to. The money management principles and knowledge seemed like the kind of stuff I needed to feel like I was in control of my finances, and was not of the “get rich quick” variety like I feared. The author provides real information that will help you understand how to get the most from investments, avoid common pitfalls, and even actual portfolio breakdowns provided by some of the wealthiest people in the world. This is all coupled with historical performance reviews for how that allocation has performed over the past several decades. (unfortunately I do not have enough of a history on my investments to provide first-hand confirmation of its performance)
  2. Unshakeable is basically an abridged version of Money: Master the Game, with different partners and websites to go to. After reading both, I would suggest reading Money: Master the Game and skipping Unshakeable as there really didn’t seem like there was all that much new there. Maybe this is a good example of the “informercial salesman” pumping out another book for you to buy despite it not being all that different than his other one.

Money: Master the Game (Amazon) (Audible)

4. Giant of the Senate — Al Franken

I didn’t know too much about Al Franken before this book (I kept confusing him with Allan Sherman the song parody writer from the 60's). After reading it, I have tremendous respect for him and his accomplishments. A Harvard grad, stand up comedian and writer for SNL for most of its early existence, and now Senator from Minnesota. This book tells the story of how he came to be a Senator and what motivated him to run for office.

Regardless of how you feel about his political positions, this first-hand account of his rise to becoming a United States Senator has all of the humor you would expect of someone with his past and simultaneously made me want to run for Senate and never run for the Senate at the same time. It helps that the book is read by the author, but he come across as a hard working, reasonable, and downright likable person who represents the kind of politician I want in our Congress. Apparently Minnesotans agree, as he was re-elected in a landslide 10 points in 2014 after winning the narrowest victory in the history of senate races in 2008 (and seeing many of his democratic colleagues get replaced in the same 2014 race).

Giant of the Senate (Amazon) (Audible)

3. 10% Happier — Dan Harris

I primarily read this book simply because I have friends who have worked with the author to develop the 10% Happier app and had been advising/discussing their product with them so I figured I should know the source material. I don’t consider myself a meditation skeptic, but certainly not someone who believed enough to make it a daily habit so I thought it might be interesting to hear the story of how the author came to believe so much in it.

The book delivers in spades. After reading this book I was inspired to make it a daily practice, and even look into Buddhism and mindfulness, but then my wife gave birth to our daughter Charlotte and any semblance of routine or schedule was difficult to maintain. That being said, now that I’m getting back into the saddle of a regular routine, I fully plan to make meditation a regular thing, and after reading this book you probably will want to as well.

10% Happier (Amazon)(Audible)

2. What is the Bible? — Rob Bell

I am not religious. While I consider myself very spiritual and believe that a “God” exists, I have never felt the need to formalize my beliefs to conform to any specific religious structures. For many people, identifying with specific religious groups is freeing and uplifting, but for me it felt constricting and exclusionary. As result, I never really gave the Bible a chance. To me, the only time the bible was used was to either take certain 2000 year old passages way too literally as a way to measure whether or not I’m going to heaven or hell, or cherry pick passages to justify something they believe and think you should too (both good and bad). Given that I felt I was already practicing the larger themes or love and forgiveness when some of the more religious people I knew were not, I didn’t really know what reading the Bible would get me.

Enter Rob Bell, who basically gave me permission to recognize and embrace the fallibility and downright human aspect of the Bible. Instead of reading it literally word for word, the author challenges you to recognize the reality of the good book. It was written by human beings, translated several times, and the collection of stories and passages we have today were explicitly selected and ordered in the way they are ordered for a reason by human beings because it told a story in a specific way for a specific outcome. As a result, he takes you on a journey through some of the stories to explain some missing details, tie up some loose ends, and maintain the idea that the primary messages are love and equality for all human beings.

Some of his conclusions are presented as if they are definitive (they aren’t) but it doesn’t make his interpretation any less compelling to consider as a possibility and at least an interesting perspective to consider.

This book is #2 primarily because it gave me permission to explore the Bible in a way that didn’t feel like sacrilege, and quite frankly made me want to actually read the real bible cover to cover. This is no small feat (although I didn’t go read the bible… so I guess the jury’s still out on how effective it was 🙃).

What is the Bible? (Amazon) (Audible)

1. Being Wrong — Kathryn Schulz

If there is one book you read on this list, PLEASE make it this one. A topic that is near and dear to my heart, Being Wrong explains all of the ways we can be, and are, wrong about almost everything we think we know. More important than that, being wrong is essential and even an enjoyable part of life and should be a welcome occurrence instead of being something to fear or be embarrassed by.

Any invention or advancement was achieved by challenging what is “right” and risking being “wrong.” All of the people you respect and admire as pioneers risked being wrong, and in most cases sought opportunities to be wrong as a method to learn faster and push themselves further.

Science and the scientific method is really just the practice of constantly trying to prove things wrong. Only when something can’t be proven wrong do we accept it as “right,” though any good scientist will remind you that anything we accept as scientific fact deserves to be challenged as new theories get proposed or inconsistencies get discovered.

While many people will undoubtedly be intrigued by this book as a way to understand why other people can’t accept why they are wrong (Liberals with Trump supporters, Trump supporters with Liberals, etc.), I would actually encourage anyone who reads it to be brutally honest with themselves about all of the things they identify with personally (don’t worry you don’t have to tell anyone). While I found it interesting to better understand the stubbornness I see in others when participating in conversation or debate, I found it equally or more enlightening to open up my own hood and peer into my own tendencies and fallabilities, and question the things I’ve always just accepted as fact that may just be belief or opinion. (spoiler alert: a shocking amount of what you believe is fact or natural law is nothing more than a belief or opinion that may or may not be right)

In today’s society we are on information overload and as a result we spend less time researching and backing up our claims and more time putting up walls and defending any challenge to the wall (a good quote from the book: “Ignorance isn’t always a void to be filled… It is also often a wall that is actively maintained”). My hope is that by reading this book you will start to understand not only why the people you disagree with respond the way they do to the idea of being wrong, but how you respond as well and all of the ways you may not be as right as you think you are.

Being Wrong (Amazon) (Audible)

I am always on the look out for more interesting books, so if you have recommendations please send them my way. Also, I have been considering a book club. If you are interested in joining one or know of one I may want to join in the Boston area where the books are of similar topics and the debate can be lively and civil, I’m all ears.