I read 23 books last year. In no particular order, here are my favourites:
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
The book opens with the story of Justine Sacco, whose life was ruined after tweeting an offensive and careless joke. Ronson continues to interview other people who have been publicly shamed after posting offensive, insensitive, or just plain stupid tweets or Facebook statuses.
Out of all the books I read last year, this had the biggest impact on me. It’ll likely make you use social media differently: both in how you interact with others and how you share yourself online.
If you use social media, you should read this book.
I had enough. I quit Twitter. The world outside Twitter was GREAT. I read books. I reconnected with people I knew from real life and met them for drinks in person.
We see ourselves as non-conformist, but I think all of this is creating a more conformist, conservative age. ‘Look!’ we’re saying. ‘We’re normal! This is the average!’ We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside of it.
The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. Let’s not turn it into a world where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Shoe Dog is a gripping page-turner by the founder of Nike. He covers the early years of Nike, from its humble beginnings as Blue Ribbon Sports, all the way to the company we all know today. It’s a story of struggle, law-suits, hard work and triumph.
It’s also full of wisdom:
Like it or not, life is a game. Whoever denies that truth, whoever simply refuses to play, gets left on the sidelines.
One lesson I took from all my home-schooling about heroes was that they didn’t say much. None was a blabbermouth. None micromanaged. Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome.
Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss
I eagerly awaited Tim’s previous book: Tools of Titans. I found it be to be disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, Tools of Titans is full of gems. But it felt like reading Tim’s unorganised notes, which meant it wasn’t particularly readable or enjoyable.
Tribe of Mentors, however, is what Tools of Titans should have been. Tim does what he does best and asks cleverly constructed questions, and then gets out the way. This makes the book far more readable. I’m not even going to quote any take-aways, as there’s far too many. I was scribbling notes from every other page.
Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
Written in 1920, this is a book about writing advertising copy. Despite it’s age, it stands up remarkably well. If you work on the web or in marketing, I recommend picking up a copy. It’s the shortest book on this list at only 127 pages.
When you plan or prepare an advertisement, keep before you a typical buyer. Your subject, your headline has gained his or her attention. Then in everything be guided by what you would do if you met the buyer face-to-face.
Successful salesmen are rarely good speechmakers. They have few oratorical graces. They are plain and sincere men who know their customers and know their lines. So it is in ad writing.
Don’t think that those millions will read your ads to find out if your product interests. They will decide at a glance—by your headline or your pictures. Address the people you seek, and them only.
Masters of Doom by David Kushner
A fun and easy read about how John Carmack and John Romero started id Software and came to dominate an industry as they created iconic games such as Doom and Quake. I found it inspiring: the raw energy and passion of the two Johns, and their inheritance differences, makes for a thrilling read. If you’re a gamer (especially if you played Doom or Quake), or you’re a developer, then you’ll love this book.
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
This book is about the universal forces that act against creativity and how we might overcome them. Pressfield calls this force the “Resistance”. If you’re a creator – a writer, musician, artist, freelancer, etc. – then you owe it to yourself to read The War of Art.
There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.
Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull is the co-founder of Pixar, an animation film studio who have created some of my favourite movies. I was looking forward to this book to get a glimpse at their creative process. And it did not disappoint. Throughout the book, Catmull is honest and sincere as he examines his own mistakes in an attempt to build a great creative culture.
If you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offence when they are challenged.
Creative people must accept that challenges never cease, failure can’t be avoided, and “vision” is often an illusion.
It’s Ok for leaders to change their minds and say “Okay, I was wrong, it’s this way.” As long as you commit to a destination and drive toward it with all your might, people will accept when you correct course.
Dance of the Possible by Scott Berkun
I loved Scott Berkun’s take on the creative process. It’s a quick read, at only 250 pages, and I finished it in a few sittings.
It’s the kind of book that makes you want to get to work.
The word create is a verb. It’s an action. Creativity is best thought of in the same way.
You must learn to love your mind, to nurture it by feeding it quality ideas and thoughts, and give it time to prove what it can do.
The ability to see an idea, or a thing, from many different perspectives is among the greatest assets a thinking person can have.
Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine by Darren Brown
This book explores—you guessed it—what it is to be happy: the history of how religion and society have shaped happiness, it debunks ideas of how positive thinking makes us happy, and how we can live happier lives largely through the principles of Stoicism. Stoicism is a philosophy that dates back thousands of years, but regardless of its age, Stoicism stands up remarkably well to modern day living.
The vital changes to our happiness do not come from outside circumstances, however appealing they might seem.
We are missing out if we feel that happiness is a result of lucky circumstance rather than something rooted immovably in us.
Our daily employment does not need to be our identity. It’s a wonderful bonus to do what one enjoys, but it’s not necessary.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
Mark Manson likes to say “fuck” a lot. A quick search for the word “fuck” in the Kindle version returns 171 results. It felt obnoxious to start with, but stick with it as there is a lot of wisdom to be found in this book. It’s full of counterintuitive advice. Stop trying to be positive all the time. Pleasure is a bad value. Be in search of more uncertainty and doubt in your life. Be wrong.
The key to a good life is giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about what is true and immediate and important.
Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience.
What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?”
Bonus (favourite fiction books)
All the books above are non-fiction, but I also read some great fiction books:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I was recommended this book by a friend and I read it without any knowledge of what it was about. I didn’t even read the blurb. And I’m glad I didn’t, as there’s a fair chance I would have skipped this book if I had. It made me laugh and cry—often on the same page. As one reviewer put it, it’s “a novel of life and death and the people caught in between.”
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Another recommendation, another book I wouldn’t usually read, and another book I’m glad I read. Wonder is the heart-warming story of August Pullman, a fifth-grader who was born with a terrible facial abnormality. It follows his journey as he gets sent to school for the first time after being home-schooled by his parents.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was my favourite fiction book of the year. It’s the story of Ove, a grumpy old man who wants nothing more than solitude from his neighbours. That doesn’t sound like the setting of a heart-warming story of friendship and love, but it is. One I’ll be revisiting for sure.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I picked up this recommendation from Bill Gates, of all people. On his blog, he said about the book:
Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at.