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Rewarding reads on love, life, knowledge, history, the future, and tools for thinking. Out of all the books I read this year, here is a list of what I found most worth reading in 2016.
1. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution
These lectures, which were originally called Six Psychological Lectures, were first privately printed in the 1940s. Of the first run of 150 copies, none were sold. The essays were published once again after Ouspensky’s death, and unlike last time became a hit. While the book is about psychology, it’s different than what we think of as psychology — “for thousands of years psychology existed under the name philosophy.” Consider this a study in what man may become — by working simultaneously on knowledge and inner unity.
2. The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
Imagine the sum of our knowledge as an Island in a vast and endless ocean. This is the Island of Knowledge. The coastline represents the boundary between the known and unknown. As we grow our understanding of the world, the Island grows and with it so does the shores of our ignorance. “We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge,” Gleiser writes, “but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery.” The book is a fascinating and wide-ranging tour through scientific history. (Dig Deeper into this amazing read here.)
3. When Breath Becomes Air
It’s been a while since I’ve cried reading a book. This beautifully written memoir, by a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer, attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? If you read this and you’re not feeling something you’re probably a robot.
4. The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age
The book, which argues “the information revolution will destroy the monopoly power of the nation-state as surely as the Gunpowder Revolution destroyed the Church’s monopoly,” is making the rounds in Silicon Valley and being passed around like candy. Even if its forecasts are controversial, the book is a good read and it’s full of interesting and detailed arguments. I have underlines on nearly every page. “Information societies,” the authors write, “promise to dramatically reduce the returns to violence … When the payoff for organizing violence at a large scale tumbles, the payoff from violence at a smaller scale is likely to jump. Violence will become more random and localized.” The Sovereign Individual, who, for the first time “can educate and motivate himself,” will be “almost entirely free to invest their own work and realize the full benefits of their own productivity.” An unleashing of human potential which will, the authors argue, shift the greatest source of wealth to ideas rather than physical capital — “anyone who thinks clearly will potentially be rich.” Interestingly, in this potential transition, the effects are “likely to be centered among those of the middle talent in currently rich countries. They particularly may come to feel that information technology poses a threat to their way of life.” The book predicts the death of politics, “weakened by the challenge from technology, the state will treat increasingly autonomous individuals, its former citizens, with the same range of ruthlessness and diplomacy it has heretofore displayed in its dealings with other governments.” As technology reshapes the world, it also “antiquates laws, reshapes morals, and alters preconceptions. This book explains how.”
5. To Kill a Mockingbird
I know, I know. Hear me out. Someone I respect mentioned that he thought Atticus Finch was the perfect blend of human characteristics. Tough and skilled, yet humble and understanding. He’s frequently rated as a “most admired” hero in fiction, yet he’s a lawyer competing with Jedis, Detectives, Spies, and Superheroes. Isn’t that kind of interesting? Since it had been at least 15 years since I’d read TKM, I wanted to go back and remember what made Atticus so admired. His courage, his humility, his understanding of people. I forgot just how perceptive Finch was when it came to what we’d call “group social dynamics” — he forgives the individual members of the mob that show up to hurt Tom Robinson simply because he understands that mob psychology is capable of overwhelming otherwise good people. How many of us would be able to do that? Atticus Finch is certainly a fictional, and perhaps “unattainably” moral hero. But I will point out that not only do real life “Finch’s” exist, but that even if we don’t “arrive” at a Finchian level of heroic integrity and calm temperament, it’s certainly a goal worth pursuing. Wise words from the book Rules for a Knight sums it up best: “To head north, a knight may use the North Star to guide him, but he will not arrive at the North Star. A knight’s duty is to proceed in that direction.” (Here are some of the lessons I took away from the book.)
6. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World
If you’re not familiar with Lee Kuan Yew, he’s the “Father of Modern Singapore,” the man who took a small, poor island just north of the equator in Southeast Asia with GDP per capita of ~$500 in 1965 and turned it into a modern powerhouse with GDP per capita of over $70,000 as of 2014, with some of the lowest rates of corruption and highest rates of economic freedom in the world. Finding out how he did it is worth anyone’s time. This book is a short introduction to his style of thinking: A series of excerpts of his thoughts on modern China, the modern U.S., Islamic Terrorism, economics, and a few other things. It’s a wonderful little collection. (We’ve actually posted about it before.) Consider this an appetizer (a delicious one) for the main course: From Third World to First, Yew’s full account of the rise of Singapore. (Dig deeper here.)
7. An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments
Perfect summer reading for adults and kids alike. One friend of mine has created a family game where they all try to spot the reasoning flaws of others. The person with the most points at the end of the week gets to pick where they go for dinner. I have a suspicion his kids will turn out to be politicians or lawyers.
8. Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking
Dan Dennett is one of the most well known cognitive scientists on the planet . This book is a collection of 77 short essays on different “thinking tools,” basically thought experiments Dennett uses to slice through tough problems, including some tools for thinking about computing, thinking about meaning, and thinking about consciousness. Like Richard Feynman’s great books, this one acts as a window into a brilliant mind and how it handles interesting and difficult problems. If you only walk away with a few new mental tools, it’s well worth the time spent. (You can learn a lot more about Dennett here, here, and here.)
9. The Seven Sins of Memory (How the Mind Forgets and Remembers)
I found this in the bibliography of Judith Rich Harris’ No Two Alike. Schacter is a psychology professor at Harvard who runs the Schacter Memory Lab. The book explores the seven “issues” we tend to find with regard to our memory: Absent-mindedness, transience, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. The fallibility of memory is so fascinating: We rely on it so heavily and trust it so deeply, yet as Schacter shows, it’s extremely faulty. It’s not just about forgetting where you left your keys. Modern criminologists know that eyewitness testimony is deeply flawed. Some of our deepest and most hard-won memories — the things we know are true — are frequently wrong or distorted. Learning to calibrate our confidence in our own memory is not at all easy. Very interesting topic to explore. (We did a three part series on this book. Introduction and parts One, Two, and Three).
10. Talk Lean: Shorter Meetings. Quicker Results. Better Relations
This book is full of useful tips on listening better, being candid and courteous, and learning what derails meetings, conversations, and relationships with people at work. Don’t worry. It’s not about leaving things unsaid that might be displeasing for other people. In fact, leaving things unsaid is often more detrimental to the relationship than airing them out. Rather, it’s about finding a way to say them so people will hear them and not feel defensive. If you want to get right to the point and not alienate people, this book will help you. I know because this is something, personally, I struggle with at times.
11. The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World
I recently had a fascinating multi-hour dinner with the author, Pedro Domingos, on where knowledge comes from. Historically, at least, the answer has been evolution, experience, and culture. Now, however, there is a new source of knowledge: Machine learning. The book offers an accessible overview of the different ways of machine learning and the search for a master, unifying, theory. The book also covers how machine learning works and gives Pedro’s thoughts on where we’re headed. (Dig deeper in this podcast.)
12. Why Don’t We Learn from History?
This is a short (~120pp) book by the military historian and strategist B.H. Liddell Hart, a man who not only wrote military history but surely influenced it, especially in Germany in the World War period. He wrote this short synthesis at the end of his life and didn’t have a chance to finish it, but the result is still fascinating. Hart takes a “negative” view of history; in other words, What went wrong? How can we avoid it? The result of that study, as he writes in the introduction, is that “History teaches us personal philosophy.” Those who learn vicariously as well as directly have a big leg up. Something to take to heart. I plan to read more of his works.
13. A Powerful Mind: The Self-Education of George Washington
What a great book idea by Adrienne Harrison. There are a zillion biographies of GW out there, with Chernow's getting a lot of praise recently. But Harrison narrows in on Washington’s self-didactic nature. Why did he read so much? How did he educate himself? Any self-motivated learner is probably going to enjoy this.
14. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
One of the best books I’ve come across in a long time. Sapiens is a work of “Big History” — in the style of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel — that seeks to understand humanity in a deep way. Many of Professor Harari’s solutions will be uncomfortable for some to read, there is no attempt at political correctness, but his diagnosis of human history is undeniably interesting and at least partially correct. He draws on many fields to arrive at his conclusions; a grand method of synthesis that will be familiar to long-time Farnam Street readers. The book is almost impossible to summarize given the multitude of ideas presented. But then again, most great books are. (Dig deeper into this amazing read here, here, and here.)
15. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living — A refreshing signal in world of noise that should be read and immediately re-read. There is so much goodness in here that scarcely will you find more than a page or two in my copy without a mark, bent page, or highlight. The entire book offers texture to thoughts you knew you had but didn't know how to express.
16. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living
The way most of us search for and attempt to hold onto fleeting moments of happiness ends up ensuring that we’re miserable. A great practical book on developing mindfulness, which is so important in many aspects of your life, including satisfaction. Might be the best self-help book I’ve read.
Reading nonfiction is a fantastic way to expand your mind and give you an edge in this world. It’s especially useful when we have a specific idea or concept that we’d like to learn more about. However, it’s important not to over-look everything we can learn from fiction.
Fiction resonates with us because it shows us truths about the human condition through great storytelling and compelling narratives. Through an engaging story we can be introduced to big ideas that just don’t resonate the same way in nonfiction: the medium allows for freedom of thought through creativity.
With this short book list, we’d like to take a look at a handful of novels that have inspired some truly extraordinary thinkers, especially today's leaders in technology. Some of these you're probably already aware of. Some not. But they're all worth a look.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Considered one of Fitzgerald’s greatest works, the novel follows the story of the wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan during the roaring 1920s. With its focus on wealth, excess, status and privilege some have called this a cautionary tale regarding the great American dream. It's also just a hell of a yarn.
This is one of Bill and Melinda Gates‘ favorite books. Mr. Gates says it's “the novel that I reread the most. Melinda and I love one line so much that we had it painted on a wall in our house: ‘His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.’”
It’s not only the Gateses who adore this book, the author Haruki Murakami has called it one of his favorites and Chuck Palahnuik has said it was a source of inspiration for Fight Club. “It showed me how to write a ‘hero’ story by using an apostle as the narrator. Really it’s the basis of the triangle of two men and one woman in my book, Fight Club. I read the book at least once a year and it continues to surprise me with layers of emotion.”
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The story paints a spiritual portrait of the quintessential English butler as his world changes from World War I era to the 1950s. The themes of professionalism and dignity versus authenticity are prevalent throughout the novel.
This is Jeff Bezos‘ favorite book. “If you read The Remains of the Day, which is my favorite book of all time, you can’t help but come away and think, I just spent 10 hours living an alternate life and I learned something about life and about regret.”
Actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson has also cited this book as one of her favorites. “When I was growing up, my family, particularly my father, were very stoic. Part of me is very resentful of this British mentality that it's not good to express feelings of any kind – that it's not proper or brave.” She has said she appreciates the book for how it expressed the consequences of this type of discretion.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The book that introduced us to the ever loved and ever hated Holden Caulfield. The unique narrative gives us a glimpse into the mind of a 16 year old boy and the events surrounding his expulsion from prep school.
Bill Gates has said, “I read this when I was 13. It’s my favorite book. It acknowledges that young people are a little confused, but can be smart, and see things that adults don’t.”
Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, also lists this as one of his favorite books.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The second book centered around a teenager is A Wrinkle in Time, which brings us into Science Fiction. Some of the most innovative ideas of the last two centuries (trains, planes, robots) were considered science fiction at one point and made appearances in stories before they came about in real life. Science fiction is thus a window into our visions of the future, and tells us a great deal about what people of certain eras were both looking forward to and afraid of.
A Wrinkle in Time follows high schooler Meg Murry as she travels through space and time on a quest to save her father. The novel uses Meg’s extreme/out of this world situations as a way to explore the very real trials of teenagers.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has called A Wrinkle in Time her favorite book as a child.
I wanted to be Meg Murry, the admittedly geeky heroine of “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved how she worked with others to fight against an unjust system and how she fought to save her family against very long odds. I was also captivated by the concept of time travel. I keep asking Facebook’s engineers to build me a tesseract so I, too, could fold the fabric of time and space. But so far no one has even tried. Jeff Bezos also loved the book. “I remember in fourth grade we had this wonderful contest — there was some prize — whoever could read the most Newbery Award winners in a year. I didn't end up winning. I think I read like 30 Newbery Award winners that year, but somebody else read more. The standout there is the old classic that I think so many people have read and enjoyed, A Wrinkle in Time, and I just remember loving that book.”
The sci-fi author Neal Stephenson comes up multiple times in the reading lists of some incredibly successful individuals. Above are three that seemed to come up the most.
Bill Gates has said that Stephenson’s novel Seveneves rekindled his love for sci-fci, a genre he thinks can be used as a vehicle to help people think about big ideas. With Seveneves in particular, he was struck by “the way the book pushes you to think big and long-term. If everyone learned that the world would end two days from now, there would be global panic, plus a big dose of hedonism. But what if it were ending two years from now? Would people keep going to work? Would kids go to school? If they did, what would you teach them?”
The novel gives us an idea of what might happen if the world were ending and we were forced to escape to space. If that idea wasn’t interesting enough, the book also shoots forward 5,000 years and has the humans going back to what once was Earth.
Larry Page, co-founder of Google, has Stephenson’s Snow Crash in his list of favorite books.
That story takes place in a future America where our protagonist Hiro is a hacker/pizza delivery boy for the mafia in reality and a warrior prince in the Metaverse. Stephenson gives us a glimpse of a what a world would look like where much of our time and definition of self is explored in a shared virtual space and effortlessly weaves together concepts of religion, economics, politics, linguistics and computer science.
Meanwhile, Samuel Arbesman, the complexity scientist and author of The Half-Life of Facts (whom we interviewed recently), told us that Stephenson's Cryptnomicon is one of the best books he's ever read, saying:
The idea that there can be a book that weaves together an amazing plot as well as some really really profound ideas on philosophy and computer science and technology together, that was, I think one of the first times I had seen a book that had really done this. There were these unbelievably informational pieces. It’s also an unbelievable fun read. I’m a big fan of most of Stephenson’s work. I love his stuff, but I would say Cryptonomicon was one in particular that really demonstrated that you could do this kind of thing together.
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was another author who appeared on multiple lists, his Foundation Series in particular has influenced an extraordinary number of people. The novel centers on a group of academics (The Foundation) as they struggle to preserve civilization during the fall of the Galactic Empire.
In more than one interview, Elon Musk has expressed that he was greatly influenced by the Foundation Series. He said the books taught him, “The lessons of history would suggest that civilizations move in cycles. You can track that back quite far — the Babylonians, the Sumerians, followed by the Egyptians, the Romans, China. We're obviously in a very upward cycle right now and hopefully that remains the case. But it may not. There could be some series of events that cause that technology level to decline. Given that this is the first time in 4.5bn years where it's been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth, it seems like we'd be wise to act while the window was open and not count on the fact it will be open a long time.”
The series also influenced the likes of George Lucas and Douglas Adams. Speaking of…
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The story chronicles earthling Arthur Dents’ amazing voyage through space after he escapes the destruction of Earth.
Elon Musk considers Douglas Adams one of the great modern philosophers. It was Adams that taught him that “The question is harder than the answer. When we ask questions they come along with our biases. You should really ask, ‘Is this the right question?’ And that’s hard to figure out.”
It’s interesting to note that Musk happened upon the book at a time that he says he was going through and existential crisis (between the ages of 12 to 15). He first turned to Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer but found what he needed through Douglas instead. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy also lists this as one of his favorite books.
This is in no way an exhaustive list of fiction that has influenced people whom we admire, but we hope that it has inspired you to find more places for those big ideas. Happy Reading!
If you enjoyed this post, check out a few other book recommendation lists we've put out recently:
Book Recommendations by the Legendary Washington Post CEO Don Graham – Among his answers are his favourite fiction and non-fiction books and the book that will stay with him forever.
A Short List of Books for Doing New Things – Andrew Ng thinks innovation and creativity can be learned — that they are pattern-recognition and combinatorial creativity exercises which can be performed by an intelligent and devoted practitioner with the right approach. He also encourages the creation of new things; new businesses, new technologies. And on that topic, Ng has a few book recommendations.
On Twitter in late November we asked Farnam Street readers What Was The Best Book You Read in 2016?
Turns out you are all a well read bunch: almost 90 books came up in the discussion and many of them brand new to us.
Below are the most frequently mentioned books on the list, followed by a few dozen other non-fiction and fiction titles you recommended (in alphabetical order by author), with a focus on books that should be new to many readers and well worth exploring.
We think you'll find the range and type of books very interesting and almost certainly find something to read or give as a gift. Enjoy!
Titan: The Life Of John D. Rockefeller
By Ron Chernow
“John D. Rockefeller's story captures a pivotal moment in American history, documenting the dramatic post-Civil War shift from small business to the rise of giant corporations that irrevocably transformed the nation. With cameos by Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, Jay Gould, William Vanderbilt, Ida Tarbell, Andrew Carnegie, Carl Jung, J. Pierpont Morgan, William James, Henry Clay Frick, Mark Twain, and Will Rogers, Titan turns Rockefeller's life into a vivid tapestry of American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is Ron Chernow's signal triumph that he narrates this monumental saga with all the sweep, drama, and insight that this giant subject deserves.”
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari
“In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical — and sometimes devastating — breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, palaeontology, and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behaviour from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come?”
Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow
By Yuval Noah Harari
“Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century – from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.”
Ego Is The Enemy
by Ryan Holiday
“Many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world. In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego. Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.“
The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art Of Turning Trials Into Triumph
by Ryan Holiday
“The book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher.”
A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy
By William B. Irvine
“One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives.”
Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
“Kahneman's singularly influential work has transformed cognitive psychology and launched the new fields of behavioral economics and happiness studies. In this path-breaking book, Kahneman shows how the mind works, and offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and personal lives–and how we can guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.”
When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
“What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.”
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
by Phil Knight
“In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.”
Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World
by Cal Newport
“Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way.”
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
by Nassim Taleb
“Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish.“
Superforecasting: The Art And Science Of Prediction
by Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardener
“The authors show us how we can learn from this elite group (superforecasters). Weaving together stories of forecasting successes (the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound) and failures (the Bay of Pigs) and interviews with a range of high-level decision makers, from David Petraeus to Robert Rubin, they show that good forecasting doesn't require powerful computers or arcane methods. It involves gathering evidence from a variety of sources, learning to think probabilistically, working in teams, keeping score, and being willing to admit error and change course.”
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, And The Quest For A Fantastic Future
by Ashlee Vance
“In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley's most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur's journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world.”
by Gretchen Bakke
“America’s electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It’s not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources–solar, wind, and other alternatives–the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future. If we hope to realize this future, we need to re-imagine the grid according to twenty-first-century values.”
Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live And Lead
by Laszlo Bock
“From the visionary head of Google's innovative People Operations comes a groundbreaking inquiry into the philosophy of work-and a blueprint for attracting the most spectacular talent to your business and ensuring that they succeed.”
Red Notice: A True Story Of High Finance, Murder, And One Man’s Fight For Justice
by Bill Browder
“This is a story about an accidental activist. Bill Browder started out his adult life as the Wall Street maverick whose instincts led him to Russia just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, where he made his fortune. Along the way he exposed corruption, and when he did, he barely escaped with his life. His Russian lawyer wasn’t so lucky: he ended up in jail, where he was tortured to death. That changed Browder forever. He saw the murderous heart of the Putin regime and has spent the last half decade on a campaign to expose it.”
Brain On Fire: My Month Of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan
“In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. “A fascinating look at the disease that . . . could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life” (People), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.”
The Big Picture: On The Origins Of Life, Meaning And The Universe Itself
by Sean Carroll
“Carroll shows how an avalanche of discoveries in the past few hundred years has changed our world and what really matters to us. Our lives are dwarfed like never before by the immensity of space and time, but they are redeemed by our capacity to comprehend it and give it meaning.”
Finite And Infinite Games
By James Carse
“Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the participants may change—as long as the game is never allowed to come to an end.“
The House Of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty And The Rise Of Modern Finance
by Ron Chernow
“The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about American finance. It is a rich, panoramic story of four generations of Morgans and the powerful, secretive firms they spawned, ones that would transform the modern financial world”
Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way To Influence And Persuade
by Robert Cialdini
“The author of the legendary bestseller Influence, social psychologist Robert Cialdini shines a light on effective persuasion and reveals that the secret doesn’t lie in the message itself, but in the key moment before that message is delivered.”
The Three-Body Problem
by Liu Cixin
“Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.”
The Fish that Ate The Whale: Life And Times Of America’s Banana King
by Rich Cohen
“The fascinating, untold tale of Samuel Zemurray, the self-made banana mogul who went from penniless roadside banana peddler to kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary. When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless. When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty-nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. Working his way up from a roadside fruit peddler to conquering the United Fruit Company, Zemurray became a symbol of the best and worst of the United States: proof that America is the land of opportunity, but also a classic example of the corporate pirate who treats foreign nations as the backdrop for his adventures.”
How Not To Be Wrong: The Power Of Mathematical Thinking
by Jordan Ellenberg
“Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. It's a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does “public opinion” really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?”
Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise
by Anders Ericsson
“Have you ever wanted to learn a language or pick up an instrument, only to become too daunted by the task at hand? Expert performance guru Anders Ericsson has made a career studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens. Peak condenses three decades of original research to introduce an incredibly powerful approach to learning that is fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring a skill.”
The Shadow World: Inside The Global Arms Trade
by Andrew Feinstein
“Andrew Feinstein, former member of the African National Congress, investigates the secretive world of the global arms trade in his gripping new book The Shadow World. Feinstein reveals the corruption and the cover-ups behind BAE's controversial transactions in South Africa, Tanzania and eastern Europe and the revolving-door relationships that characterise the US Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex. The Shadow World exposes both the formal government-backed trade in arms as well as the illicit deals and lays bare the shocking links between the two.”
by Kahlil Gibran
“The Prophet is a collection of poetic essays that are philosophical, spiritual, and, above all, inspirational. Gibran’s musings are divided into twenty-eight chapters covering such sprawling topics as love, marriage, pain, self-knowledge, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death.
by Robert Greene
“Each one of us has within us the potential to be a Master. Learn the secrets of the field you have chosen, submit to a rigorous apprenticeship, absorb the hidden knowledge possessed by those with years of experience, surge past competitors to surpass them in brilliance, and explode established patterns from within. Study the behaviors of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and the nine contemporary Masters interviewed for this book.”
Life and Fate
by Vasily Grossman
“On its completion in 1960, Life and Fate was suppressed by the KGB. Twenty years later, the novel was smuggled out of the Soviet Union on microfilm. At the centre of this epic novel looms the battle of Stalingrad. Within a world torn apart by ideological tyranny and war, Grossman’s characters must work out their destinies. Chief among these are the members of the Shaposhnikov family – Lyudmila, a mother destroyed by grief for her dead son; Viktor, her scientist-husband who falls victim to anti-semitism; and Yevgenia, forced to choose between her love for the courageous tank-commander Novikov and her duty to her former husband.”
Grassroot Innovations: Minds On The Margins Are Not Marginal Minds
by Anil Gupta
“For over two decades, Professor Gupta has travelled through rural lands unearthing innovations by the ranks—from the famed Mitti Cool refrigerator to the footbridge of Meghalaya. He insists that to fight the largest and most persistent problems of the world we must eschew expensive research labs and instead, look towards ordinary folk. Innovation—that oft-flung around word—is stripped to its core in this book.”
The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling And Start Living
by Russ Harris
“Are you, like milllions of Americans, caught in the happiness trap? Russ Harris explains that the way most of us go about trying to find happiness ends up making us miserable, driving the epidemics of stress, anxiety, and depression. This empowering book presents the insights and techniques of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) a revolutionary new psychotherapy based on cutting-edge research in behavioral psychology. By clarifying your values and developing mindfulness (a technique for living fully in the present moment), ACT helps you escape the happiness trap and find true satisfaction in life.“
Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive And Others Die
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
“Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.”
Why Information Grows: The Evolution Of Order, From Atoms To Economies
by Cesar Hildago
“What is economic growth? And why, historically, has it occurred in only a few places? Previous efforts to answer these questions have focused on institutions, geography, finances, and psychology. But according to MIT’s antidisciplinarian César Hidalgo, understanding the nature of economic growth demands transcending the social sciences and including the natural sciences of information, networks, and complexity. To understand the growth of economies, Hidalgo argues, we first need to understand the growth of order.”
Meaningful: The Story Of Ideas That Fly
by Bernadette Jiwa
“We don’t change the world by starting with our brilliant ideas, our dreams; we change the world by helping others to live their dreams. The story of ideas that fly is the story of the people who embrace them, love them, adopt them, care about them and share them. Successful ideas are the ones that become meaningful to others—helping them to see what’s possible for them.”
by James Kerr
“In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world's most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.”
Nobody: Casualties Of America’s War On The Vulnerable, From Ferguson To Flint And Beyond
by Marc Lamont Hill
“In Nobody, scholar and journalist Marc Lamont Hill presents a powerful and thought-provoking analysis of race and class by examining a growing crisis in America: the existence of a group of citizens who are made vulnerable, exploitable and disposable through the machinery of unregulated capitalism, public policy, and social practice. These are the people considered “Nobody” in contemporary America. Through on-the-ground reporting and careful research, Hill shows how this Nobody class has emerged over time and how forces in America have worked to preserve and exploit it in ways that are both humiliating and harmful.”
Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America
by Jill Leovy
“Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.”
Curious: The Desire To Know And Why Your Future Depends On It
by Ian Leslie
“Curious shows how the practice of “deep curiosity” ― persistent, self-reflective seeking of knowledge and insight ― is key to the success of our careers, the happiness of our children, the strength of our relationships, and the progress of societies. But it also argues that it is a fragile quality, which wanes and waxes over time, and that we take it for granted at our peril.”
Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need To Know Now
by Gordon Livingston
“Livingston illuminates the thirty true things in a series of carefully hewn, perfectly calibrated essays, many of which focus on our closest relationships and the things that we do to impede or, less frequently, enhance them. Again and again, these essays underscore that “we are what we do,” and that while there may be no escaping who we are, we have the capacity to face loss, misfortune, and regret and to move beyond them-that it is not too late. Full of things we may know but have not articulated to ourselves, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart offers solace, guidance, and hope to everyone ready to become the person they'd most like to be.”
Fat Chance: Beating The Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity And Disease
by Robert Lustig
“To help us lose weight and recover our health, Lustig presents personal strategies to readjust the key hormones that regulate hunger, reward, and stress; and societal strategies to improve the health of the next generation. Compelling, controversial, and completely based in science, Fat Chance debunks the widely held notion to prove “a calorie is NOT a calorie”, and takes that science to its logical conclusion to improve health worldwide.”
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach To Living A Good Life
by Mark Manson
“Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.”
Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story Of Turning Followers Into Leaders
by L. David Marquet
“Turn the Ship Around! is the true story of how the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy's traditional leader-follower approach. Struggling against his own instincts to take control, he instead achieved the vastly more powerful model of giving control. Before long, each member of Marquet's crew became a leader and assumed responsibility for everything he did, from clerical tasks to crucial combat decisions. The crew became fully engaged, contributing their full intellectual capacity every day, and the Santa Fe started winning awards and promoting a highly disproportionate number of officers to submarine command.”
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune And Random Failure In Silicon Valley
by Antonio Garcia Martinez
“Liar’s Poker meets The Social Network in an irreverent exposé of life inside the tech bubble, from industry provocateur Antonio García Martínez, a former Twitter advisor, Facebook product manager and startup founder/CEO.”
The Defender: How The Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America
by Ethan Michaeli
“Drawing on dozens of interviews and extensive archival research, Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America and brings to life the reporters who braved lynch mobs and policemen's clubs to do their jobs, from the age of Teddy Roosevelt to the age of Barack Obama.”
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For Work You Love
by Cal Newport
“In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. Not only is the cliché flawed-preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work-but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.”
A Mind For Numbers: How To Excel At Math And Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)
by Barbara Oakley
“In A Mind for Numbers, Dr. Oakley lets us in on the secrets to learning effectively—secrets that even dedicated and successful students wish they’d known earlier. Contrary to popular belief, math requires creative, as well as analytical, thinking. Most people think that there’s only one way to do a problem, when in actuality, there are often a number of different solutions—you just need the creativity to see them.”
The Paradox of Success
by John R O'Neil
“This text explores the paradox of business success, where the pain of business victories outweighs the rewards. It discusses the cost of success and how it affects those involved. The second half of the book provides guidelines on how to overcome the problem and start again.”
Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces And Careers One Truth At A Time
by Jeffrey Pfeffer
“In Leadership BS, Jeffrey Pfeffer shines a bright light on the leadership industry, showing why it’s failing and how it might be remade. He sets the record straight on the oft-made prescriptions for leaders to be honest, authentic, and modest, tell the truth, build trust, and take care of others. By calling BS on so many of the stories and myths of leadership, he gives people a more scientific look at the evidence and better information to guide their careers.”
The Song Of The Dodo: Island Biogeography In Age of Extinctions
by David Quammen
“In The Song of the Dodo, we follow Quammen's keen intellect through the ideas, theories, and experiments of prominent naturalists of the last two centuries. We trail after him as he travels the world, tracking the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses nothing less than the study of the origin and extinction of all species.”
The Globalisation Paradox: Democracy And The Future Of The World Economy
by Dani Rodrik
“In this eloquent challenge to the reigning wisdom on globalization, Dani Rodrik reminds us of the importance of the nation-state, arguing forcefully that when the social arrangements of democracies inevitably clash with the international demands of globalization, national priorities should take precedence. Combining history with insight, humor with good-natured critique, Rodrik’s case for a customizable globalization supported by a light frame of international rules shows the way to a balanced prosperity as we confront today’s global challenges in trade, finance, and labor markets.”
Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story
by Arnold Schwarzenegger
“Thirty-six years after coming to America, the man once known by fellow bodybuilders as the Austrian Oak was elected governor of California, the seventh largest economy in the world. He led the state through a budget crisis, natural disasters, and political turmoil, working across party lines for a better environment, election reforms, and bipartisan solutions. With Maria Shriver, he raised four fantastic children. In the wake of a scandal he brought upon himself, he tried to keep his family together.
Until now, he has never told the full story of his life, in his own voice.”
Just Mercy: A Story Of Justice And Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson
“Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.”
The Art Of Learning: An Inner Journey To Optimal Performance
by Josh Waitzkin
“Josh Waitzkin knows what it means to be at the top of his game. A public figure since winning his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine, Waitzkin was catapulted into a media whirlwind as a teenager when his father’s book Searching for Bobby Fischer was made into a major motion picture. After dominating the scholastic chess world for ten years, Waitzkin expanded his horizons, taking on the martial art Tai Chi Chuan and ultimately earning the title of World Champion. How was he able to reach the pinnacle of two disciplines that on the surface seem so different? “I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess,” he says. “What I am best at is the art of learning.””
Narconomics: How To Run A Drug Cartel
by Tom Wainwright
“How does a budding cartel boss succeed (and survive) in the $300 billion illegal drug business? By learning from the best, of course. From creating brand value to fine-tuning customer service, the folks running cartels have been attentive students of the strategy and tactics used by corporations such as Walmart, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola.
And what can government learn to combat this scourge? By analyzing the cartels as companies, law enforcers might better understand how they work—and stop throwing away $100 billion a year in a futile effort to win the “war” against this global, highly organized business.”
A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design
by Frank Wilczek
“Artists as well as scientists throughout human history have pondered this “beautiful question.” With Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek as your guide, embark on a voyage of related discoveries, from Plato and Pythagoras up to the present. Wilczek’s groundbreaking work in quantum physics was inspired by his intuition to look for a deeper order of beauty in nature. In fact, every major advance in his career came from this intuition: to assume that the universe embodies beautiful forms, forms whose hallmarks are symmetry—harmony, balance, proportion—and economy. There are other meanings of “beauty,” but this is the deep logic of the universe—and it is no accident that it is also at the heart of what we find aesthetically pleasing and inspiring.”
Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead And Win
by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
“Detailing the mind-set and principles that enable SEAL units to accomplish the most difficult missions in combat, Extreme Ownership shows how to apply them to any team, family or organization. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic such as Cover and Move, Decentralized Command, and Leading Up the Chain, explaining what they are, why they are important, and how to implement them in any leadership environment.
A compelling narrative with powerful instruction and direct application, Extreme Ownership Revolutionizes business management and challenges leaders everywhere to fulfill their ultimate purpose: lead and win.”
The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation Of American Preeminence And The Coming Global Disorder
by Peter Zeihan
“In The Accidental Superpower, international strategist Peter Zeihan examines how the hard rules of geography are eroding the American commitment to free trade; how much of the planet is aging into a mass retirement that will enervate markets and capital supplies; and how, against all odds, it is the ever-ravenous American economy that-alone among the developed nations-is rapidly approaching energy independence. Combined, these factors are doing nothing less than overturning the global system and ushering in a new (dis)order.“
All The Kremlin’s Men
by Mikhail Zygar
“All the Kremlin’s Men is a gripping narrative of an accidental king and a court out of control. Based on an unprecedented series of interviews with Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, this book presents a radically different view of power and politics in Russia. The image of Putin as a strongman is dissolved. In its place is a weary figurehead buffeted—if not controlled—by the men who at once advise and deceive him.”
by Blake Crouch
“Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.”
by Gregory David Roberts
“Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.”
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
“Japan's most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II. “
The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro
“The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards—some strange and other-worldly—but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.”
by Ben H. Winters
“A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.”
by David Foster Wallace
“A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the pursuit of happiness in America. Set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are.“
Naughty or nice, at the beginning of December, we always post an assortment of book lists so you can pick something up to read over the holidays or find just the right book for the bookworm on your list. While some of our own favorites will come out over the next month or so, this will get you started on your holidays.
As a voracious reader you can check out a list of all the books I've read in 2016. If you're still hungry for my recommendations see all the books I've read since 2014. The members of our learning community created a great list this summer and have been passing great recommendations on our slack channel. (Joining our learning community might be the best present you can give yourself.)
There are books that will improve your general knowledge of the world. If those are not for you, try these five noteable non-fiction books or books for doing new things. We has a curated list of timeless books published way back in the spring.
Here are some book recommendations from famous CEOs like Mark Zuckerburg, Don Graham, and Bill Gates. Amazon’s editors also selected their top 100 picks for the year. And the New York Times picked the 10 best books.
“My goal in reading a book is to entertain myself and perhaps to learn.
You won’t read much unless what you read is enjoyable for you.”
— Don Graham
In 1973, Warren Buffett famously began investing in the stock of the newly public Washington Post. Watergate was on, the stock market was crashing, and the Post, led by Katherine Graham, was a wonderful company selling at a cheap price.
Over time, Mrs. Graham would pass the CEO mantle to her son, Don Graham. With Buffett’s board level influence, Graham would become one of the most successful and admired CEO’s in the media business, financially and editorially.
While other papers were busy buying up news or television properties one after another, mostly financed with debt, Buffett encouraged Graham to stick to his knitting. And so when media properties (including the Post) began to rapidly lose their value in the 1990’s and 2000’s thanks to the Internet, the Post survived intact. (Helped along by the shrewd purchase of Kaplan Inc.)
The Grahams’ reign running the Post was so successful that it was later profiled in The Outsiders, a book by Columbia’s William Thorndike which showed how a group of “unconventional” CEOs generated way above average shareholder returns through smart capital allocation and decentralized operating management.
Graham, now the CEO of Graham Holdings and the lead independent director of Facebook, seems woefully understudied as an operator and a human being. But we do have one window into the man: His book recommendations.
Graham actively answers questions on Quora, mostly about books, so we went through and collected some of his thoughts.
The long time head of a major media organization is someone who must, by the nature of their work, be broadly educated and broadly wise. And his interest in books shows it: Graham is clearly a fan of the classics and of biography and history. (Not altogether surprising for a man who was part of the Pulitzer Prize board for many years.)
Among his answers are his favourite fiction and non-fiction books and the book that will stay with him forever. (One obvious choice would be his mother's wonderful memoir.)
First, his response to a 14-year old asking which books he should read, to which Graham gave a wonderful answer:
I would—for a lifetime—think first about “what will I enjoy reading,” and only second about “what is good for me.” If you like novels, I’d read novels. If you like biographies, I’d read biographies. If you like science fiction, mysteries, or science books, I’d read those. But read the best, and keep asking what that is.
The Plays of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare (“They are incomparable.”)
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (Also his answer to: What is the most instructive biography you've ever read?)
The Civil War by Shelby Foote (“The greatest work of American history.”)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands by Charles Moore
Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo (“I would not only recommend it; I’d say it is my favorite contemporary American novel.”)
Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas (“If the subject of your question is of great interest to you, I strongly recommend reading it.”
The Man Who Stayed Behind by Sidney Rittenberg and Amanda Bennett (“As a discharged GI in China with leftist sympathies, he hitchhiked across China to Yenan, lived in the caves with Mao Zedong and the whole leadership, and became Mao's translator, among other things.”)
The Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson (“The classic history of this aspect of the age.”)
Second Readings by Jonathan Yardley
A Literary Education and Other Essays by Joseph Epstein
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katharine Boo (“It is a great, great book.”)
John Marshall by Jean Edward Smith
The Supreme Court by William Rehnquist
The Great Terror by Robert Conquest. (“Almost unbearable in its chapter-by-chapter description of life under Stalin’s rule.”)
Gulag by Anne Applebaum
Letters to His Son on Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman by Lord Chesterfield
Lincoln: Speeches and Writings: 1859-1865 by Abraham Lincoln (“There's only one choice.”)
In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg did something slightly unusual for a CEO of a major technology company: He started a book club!
In that year, Zuckerberg ended up recommending and discussing 23 books with the group — about one every two weeks. We found it a great list of interesting reads. Let's check it out.
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?
Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.
In a bold and provocative interpretation of economic history, Matt Ridley, theNew York Times-bestselling author of Genome and The Red Queen, makes the case for an economics of hope, arguing that the benefits of commerce, technology, innovation, and change—what Ridley calls cultural evolution—will inevitably increase human prosperity.
With The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don’t arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation but that the revolutions in science, those breakthrough moments that disrupt accepted thinking and offer unanticipated ideas, occur outside of “normal science,” as he called it. Though Kuhn was writing when physics ruled the sciences, his ideas on how scientific revolutions bring order to the anomalies that amass over time in research experiments are still instructive in our biotech age.
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities.
In The End of Power, award-winning columnist and former Foreign Policyeditor Moisés Naím illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micropowers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. Drawing on provocative, original research, Naím shows how the antiestablishment drive of micropowers can topple tyrants, dislodge monopolies, and open remarkable new opportunities, but it can also lead to chaos and paralysis. Naím deftly covers the seismic changes underway in business, religion, education, within families, and in all matters of war and peace.
Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”
Arguably the most significant scientific discovery of the new century, the mapping of the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome raises almost as many questions as it answers. Questions that will profoundly impact the way we think about disease, about longevity, and about free will. Questions that will affect the rest of your life.
Genome offers extraordinary insight into the ramifications of this incredible breakthrough. By picking one newly discovered gene from each pair of chromosomes and telling its story, Matt Ridley recounts the history of our species and its ancestors from the dawn of life to the brink of future medicine. From Huntington's disease to cancer, from the applications of gene therapy to the horrors of eugenics, Matt Ridley probes the scientific, philosophical, and moral issues arising as a result of the mapping of the genome. It will help you understand what this scientific milestone means for you, for your children, and for humankind.
Nearly forty percent of humanity lives on an average of two dollars a day or less. If you've never had to survive on an income so small, it is hard to imagine. How would you put food on the table, afford a home, and educate your children? How would you handle emergencies and old age? Every day, more than a billion people around the world must answer these questions. Portfolios of the Poor is the first book to systematically explain how the poor find solutions to their everyday financial problems.
In Dealing with China, Paulson draws on his unprecedented access to modern China's political and business elite, including its three most recent heads of state, to answer several key questions:
How did China become an economic superpower so quickly?
How does business really get done there?
What are the best ways for Western business and political leaders to work with, compete with, and benefit from China
How can the U.S. negotiate with and influence China given its authoritarian rule, its massive environmental concerns, and its huge population's unrelenting demands for economic growth and security?
The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature is a book by Harvard University psychologist and philosopher William James. It comprises his edited Gifford Lectures on natural theology, which were delivered at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1901 and 1902. The lectures concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science in the academic study of religion.
Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.
Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty–and impress his professors with his boldness. He never imagined that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JT’s protection. From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peace with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang’s complex hierarchical structure.
As Einstein pointed out in his famous equation, E=MC2, all matter can be described as energy. It is everywhere; it is everything. In this engaging book, prolific author and academic Vaclav Smil provides an introduction to the far-reaching term and gives the reader a greater understanding of energy's place in both past and present society. Starting with an explanation of the concept, he goes on to cover such exciting topics as the inner workings of the human body, and the race for more efficient and environmentally friendly fuels. With global warming becoming a mainstream political issue, this guide will help shed light on the science behind it and efforts to prevent it, and how our seemingly insignificant daily decisions affect energy consumption. Whether you're after insight or dinner table conversation, “Energy: A Beginner's Guide” will amaze and inform, uncovering the science behind one of the most important concepts in our universe.
In an extraordinary demonstration of the emerging supermedium's potential to engender new forms of creativity, Huber’s book boldly reimagines 1984 from the computer's point of view. After first scanning all of Orwell’s writings into his personal computer, Huber used the machine to rewrite the book completely, for the most part using Orwell’s own language. Alternating fiction and non-fiction chapters, Huber advances Orwell’s plot to a surprising new conclusion while seamlessly interpolating his own explanations and arguments. The result is a fascinating utopian work which envisions a world at our fingertips of ever-increasing information, equal opportunity, and freedom of choice.
Why do Internet, financial service, and beer commercials dominate Super Bowl advertising? How do political ceremonies establish authority? Why does repetition characterize anthems and ritual speech? Why were circular forms favored for public festivals during the French Revolution? This book answers these questions using a single concept: common knowledge.
The Muqaddimah, often translated as “Introduction” or “Prolegomenon,” is the most important Islamic history of the premodern world. Written by the great fourteenth-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldûn (d. 1406), this monumental work established the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics. The first complete English translation, by the eminent Islamicist and interpreter of Arabic literature Franz Rosenthal, was published in three volumes in 1958 as part of the Bollingen Series and received immediate acclaim in the United States and abroad. A one-volume abridged version of Rosenthal's masterful translation first appeared in 1969.
The Culture – a human/machine symbiotic society – has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life – and very possibly his death.
In this bold, fascinating book, Eula Biss addresses our fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what may be in our children's air, food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines. Reflecting on her own experience as a new mother, she suggests that we cannot immunize our children, or ourselves, against the world. As she explores the metaphors surrounding immunity, Biss extends her conversations with other mothers to meditations on the myth of Achilles, Voltaire's Candide, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Susan Sontag's AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond.On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected-our bodies and our fates.
In this groundbreaking book, award-winning physicist David Deutsch argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe—and that improving them is the basic regulating principle of all successful human endeavor. Taking us on a journey through every fundamental field of science, as well as the history of civilization, art, moral values, and the theory of political institutions, Deutsch tracks how we form new explanations and drop bad ones, explaining the conditions under which progress—which he argues is potentially boundless—can and cannot happen. Hugely ambitious and highly original, The Beginning of Infinity explores and establishes deep connections between the laws of nature, the human condition, knowledge, and the possibility for progress.
Henry Kissinger offers in World Order a deep meditation on the roots of international harmony and global disorder. Drawing on his experience as one of the foremost statesmen of the modern era—advising presidents, traveling the world, observing and shaping the central foreign policy events of recent decades—Kissinger now reveals his analysis of the ultimate challenge for the twenty-first century: how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent historical perspectives, violent conflict, proliferating technology, and ideological extremism.
From its beginnings in the 1920s until its demise in the 1980s, Bell Labs-officially, the research and development wing of AT&T-was the biggest, and arguably the best, laboratory for new ideas in the world. From the transistor to the laser, from digital communications to cellular telephony, it's hard to find an aspect of modern life that hasn't been touched by Bell Labs. In The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner traces the origins of some of the twentieth century's most important inventions and delivers a riveting and heretofore untold chapter of American history. At its heart this is a story about the life and work of a small group of brilliant and eccentric men-Mervin Kelly, Bill Shockley, Claude Shannon, John Pierce, and Bill Baker-who spent their careers at Bell Labs. Today, when the drive to invent has become a mantra, Bell Labs offers us a way to enrich our understanding of the challenges and solutions to technological innovation. Here, after all, was where the foundational ideas on the management of innovation were born.