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Letter sent on Dec 19, 2016

The 13 Best Books I Read in 2016

Photo, Aaron Burden

IMHO, here are 13 of the best books I read in 2016.

I picked these 13 books for many reasons, and I included a few of these by each book. These books contain insights and prompted introspection that I suspect will benefit me for years to come. I’m sure I missed some amazing books, so feel free click respond anywhere in this article and let me know which books I should read next!

If you decide to read one or more of these books, I think you’ll find them to be insanely valuable.

13. Tool of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ― Tim Ferriss

Tools of Titans contains much more than what meets the eye. At first glance, it is a collection and distillation of 200+ interviews from world class performers from the Tim Ferriss Show. That alone would make it valuable to read and reflect on. But the book also contains far more than that, and the sum total is a primer to optimize your health, wealth, and wisdom in modernity. With so many ideas and entries points, Tools of Titans is the ultimate holiday gift for anyone who wants to get more out of life.

12. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Imagination can’t be channeled into creation without serious levels of grit.The topic has been covered superficially by many in the media, but Grit by Angela Duckworth takes a rigorous look at the subject.

Grit, by Angela Duckworth

Grit is a must read for those trying to harness their imagination and create/find their mission. “Grit” may be a buzzword, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be gained by following the threads all the way back to the original scientific source material. Angela Duckworth’s book points the way there.

My favorite part about the Audible version of Grit is that it’s read by the author. Having a pro read your book is nice, but sometimes a skilled author who knows exactly what intentions she had with each point creates a far better experience.

11. I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. –Walt Whitman

It’s hard to put into words how important Ed Yong’s book might be. With recent obsessions around robotics, it’s easy to forget that the human body is already a collection of millions of highly complex biological nanobots (bacteria, microbes, and our micro-biome). As science begins to show that almost all of our mental health and brain health are correlated with the health of our gut and micro-biome, it’s important for each of us to begin learning about the multitudes of miracles inside ourselves. You contain multitudes.

10. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

If Michael Lewis writes it, I’m in. This book is a story about the friendship and discoveries of two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The men were polar opposites of each other, yet became fast friends. They faced enormous adversities of war and dictators, yet still managed to create work that went on to win the Nobel Prize and pioneer the new field of Behavioral Economics.

“Man is a deterministic device thrown into a probabilistic universe. In this match, surprises are expected.” ―Michael Lewis

This book was a hard-hitting reminder of the importance of finding a single, true friend to be a collaborator and co-conspirator in your efforts, projects, and pursuits. Without someone working alongside you and challenging you, it is difficult (maybe impossible) to make meaningful achievements.

9. Death’s End by Cixin Liu

I was losing my hope that I’d find any great modern science fiction to read. Then came Cixin Liu, a Chinese author that restored my faith. His trilogy, The Remembrance of Earth’s Past, is awe inspiring, and I just finished the third book, Death’s End. Here is a snippet of the genius contained within,

“The faction opposed to researching lightspeed vessels felt this way for political reasons. They believed that human civilization had suffered many trials before reaching a nearly ideal democratic society, but once humanity headed for space, it would inevitably regress socially. Space was like a distorting mirror that magnified the dark side of humanity to the maximum. A line from one of the Bronze Age defendants, Sebastian Schneider, became their slogan: When humans are lost in space, it takes only five minutes to reach totalitarianism. For a democratic, civilized Earth to scatter innumerable seeds of totalitarianism among the Milky Way was a prospect that these people found intolerable.”

If you enjoy sci-fi, or want a trilogy that truly expands the mind, The Remembrance of Earth’s Past is it.

8. Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian, and Tom Griffiths

I mentioned this book in a previous newsletter, so I won’t revisit much here. It’s an important study in how to make better decisions. If you like nerding out about mental models, or thinking in stages, game theory, etc… then you’ll probably like it. I especially liked that the book wasn’t a push or call to cede all of our agency to algorithms. The next book highlights the more obvious reasons why.

7. The Industries of the Future by Alex Ross

“Serendipity fades with everything we hand over to algorithms. Most of these algorithms are noiseless. They gently guide us in our choices. But we don’t know why we are being guided…”

The Industries of the Future is a must read for those who want insights on recent developments in robotics, cybersecurity, genomics, and big data. There isn’t any need to be overwhelmed by these fields, because it’s still day one in all these industries. After all, just consider that “venture capital funding in robotics is growing at a steep rate. It more than doubled in just three years, from $160 million in 2011 to $341 million in 2014.” But as a whole, U.S. venture capital in 2015 deployed $58.8 billion dollars. This shows how small the investments in these emerging industries are. Now is the perfect time to paddle into the proverbial waters of information and get ready to surf the waves of robotics, cyber security, genomics, and big data. The Industries of the Future is a surfboard for the ride.

6. Wealth, Poverty, and Politics by Thomas Sowell

In College, Thomas Sowell became one of my intellectual heroes. He still is, and his work on economics, politics, ideologies, and race are unparalleled. This isn’t light reading, but if you want to go deep on why wealth inequality exists, and what policies cause or prevent it, Dr. Sowell is the authority.

5. Originals by Adam Grant

Originals is an excellent book for anyone who wants to become more creative. Here are five of my takeaways.

1. Being “All In” is not always a sign of commitment.

At Wharton, Grant taught several of the eventual founders of Warby Parker. Early on in the company’s formation, they approached Grant to invest. He declined for what appeared to be good reasons:

• the founders weren’t “all in” on the company (several of them were pursuing other jobs on the side)

• they weren’t racing to build it (they took six months to decide on a name!)

Warby Parker is now valued at $1.2 billion dollars. Grant missed out on the investment because he thought every entrepreneur needed to fit the mold of, “all in.”

2. It’s hard work to build a culture that fosters originality.

Originals profiles one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, Bridgewater Associates. They go to painstaking efforts to create an egalitarian culture of innovation. Some of that work includes:

• recording almost every meeting and call

• having 200 core principles to guide all decision making

• have a, “believability score on a range of dimensions” to judge every employee

It takes hard work to become more original.

3. You can draw recruits for big missions by presenting them with simple problems to solve.

All entrepreneurs or aspiring originals must master this art. If you want your creation to help as many people as possible, sell it in bite-sized, easily digestible pieces or problems others can help solve. Otherwise, if you keep your vision in large, unsolvable problems, you risk alienating those who might help you.

4. You must have a champion who can help sell your vision.

When Jerry Seinfeld first pitched the Seinfeld show to NBC, the pilot was rated as mediocre. Seinfeld didn’t make any progress until he found a single champion inside NBC, Rick Ludwin. You don’t need everyone to like you, but you do need a single champion.

5. Start shipping, even if it’s embarrassingly small increments.

After all the work Seinfeld, Ludwin, and others put in, they didn’t get a big yes from NBC. They got an offer to order just four episodes. According to Ludwin, that was the smallest amount of episodes ever ordered for a show. Many people would have considered this an embarrassment, given up, or stopped taking the project seriously. Seinfeld, on the other hand, knew he had his foot in the door, and that was all that mattered. Sometimes, the path towards originality isn’t pursued because its origins are so humble. Take any start or foothold you can get. Embrace humble beginnings and do the work that others don’t want to do.

4. The Power of the Other by Henry Cloud

How much do other people influence your behavior? This book helps to become more aware of the influence of others, escape the negative aspects of this reality, and harness the upside of it for good. Almost all of human culture is learned through imitation, so naturally, others hold power over us. When we start talking about those in positions of influence, crowds, or mobs of people, the power to elicit mimicry can become tremendous. The Power of the Other is a vital first step in seeking to understand the pull of others. If you want to gain more personal freedom, this is a must read book. The unseen pull to mimic others is like a tractor beam, and this book arms you with the awareness and language you need to escape that pull.

3. Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee

I’m a big Robert McKee fan. His first book Story, is filled with first principles for storytelling.

Dialogue, by Robert McKee.

His latest book, Dialogue lays out principles for character development and– you guessed it– dialogue! McKee’s books provide invaluable story, screenplay, and dialogue advice, along with case studies and frameworks applicable to everyday life. If you’re not obsessed with learning how stories are made, you might not like his books, but if you like diving deep into the nuances of what makes stories resonate, Story and the recently published Dialogue are a must. Case studies and breakdowns in this book range from Macbeth to Breaking Bad.

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive — no matter how skilled or talented you are.” ―Cal Newport

A recent study by the University of Southern California media center found that Americans interact with some form of media (their definition was broad) for an average of 12 hours per day. We all know our attention and focus are valuable, but we need reminders and a toolkit to help channel and direct them. Deep Work provides just that. Our children are likely to look back at a lot of our behavior with technologies in the same light we view smoking cigarettes today. This is the book to put it all in perspective and remember that each day you need to practice doing work or sharpening your skills that matter. In our distraction dense digital age, Deep Work contains insights that cannot be overstated. I’ll be revisiting my highlights from this book often in the coming year.

1. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

One of the best audiobooks I listened to this year was Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It’s the memoir of the co-founder of Blue Ribbon, which later became a little company called Nike. The book was excellent, with a 4.8 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. It even made me tear up twice.

There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It’s that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can’t tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun. –Phil Knight

Looking for some amazing book recommendations? Check out my latest free book obsessions here:

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