It’s no secret that I love to read (and listen to) books. I do my best to gift books, especially to the children in my life, as often as possible. And since it’s that time of year when everyone is buying presents, I thought I’d share some potential gift ideas.
A number of my favorite authors have sent me lists like this and I thought you might like the same from me. I’ve compiled my highlights from 2017 with a few bonuses, most of which can still arrive before Christmas thanks to Amazon Prime.
My reading is slanted toward business/non-fiction books, but I’ve found myself getting into fiction as I get older and I’m not mad about it one bit. I’ll start there 🙂
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was my favorite fiction of the year. It happened to be the first fiction I read this year and, because it was so much fun, Iit made me want to dig into more. Set in the year 2044, this story follows a young hero through a series of seemingly impossible quests as he and his uber-nerdy friends navigate virtual reality and fight a mega-conglomerate trying to ruin the internet and basically life as they know it. If you love 80’s references, your mind will explode with this book.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid is the most creatively told story I’ve ever read. It could probably fall into the “business” section, but the excellent storytelling landed it here. The entire book is told in a second person narrative (“You wake up. You go to the bathroom. You brush your teeth.”) and it makes you feel like you’re there! You (the main character) grow up in the slums of Asia and learn to make a life for yourself, sharing your life’s lessons along the way.
Bleachers by John Grisham was a solid book. Short, sweet, and tugged at my heartstrings. A town is deeply affected by its legendary football coach’s passing and his old players reminisce about what made him successful, awful, and so impactful on the town. In some ways the coach reminded me of my dad and the story was about football, I didn’t stand a chance against this one.
If Ready Player One was my favorite fiction of the year, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was a close #2. It’s about a boy raised by ghosts (think The Jungle Book, but with ghouls) and his coming of age challenges. I highly recommend the audiobook performed by a full cast of actors.
I finally checked Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead off my list. I read Atlas Shrugged, her iconic behemoth of a novel, a few years back to try to impress someone and accidentally fell in love with it. The Fountainhead is another of Rand’s Objectivist novels aimed at portraying the power of the individual. Though not on the same level as Atlas Shrugged, this was thoroughly entertaining. Also, if you’re into architechture you may enjoy this.
Going Deep: 20 Classic Sports Stories is a collection of Gary Smith’s life work as a Sports Illustrated featured columnist. Smith was known for writing one article per year because he was so good at what he did. He’s covered Muhammad Ali, Mia Hamm, Andre Agassi and so many more. Though this isn’t technically fiction, these stories are amazing and read just like fiction. He goes deeeeeeep and he helped inspire me while I wrote my own book so this has a special place in my heart.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams was a fun combination of life lessons, business advice, and health tips. Adams is the creator of Dilbert, one of the most famous cartoons of all time, and he does a great job of extracting useful experiences from his life and relating them to the everyday person.
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers is an excellent (very short) read for entrepreneurs, creatives, and anyone who isn’t afraid to go against the grain. He writes simply and he has ideas that are inverse to most people’s thinking. He’ll challenge you to see things from a new perspective.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is an intense book. And that’s not just because of the unedited rap lyrics that open every chapter. Horowitz is an extremely successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur who describes his time building companies as “war” and himself as a “wartime CEO.” If you are a business owner, especially in the tech space and/or seeking funding, you’ll be able to relate to Horowitz’s perspectives and lessons learned.
Smarter Faster Better is the second book by Charles Duhigg’s that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Spawned from Duhigg’s desire to be more efficient and effective, the researcher/author delves into what makes certain people and companies get more done than the rest of us. His first book, The Power of Habit, is an excellent precursor this, though they are mutually exclusive.
I struggled with my job a good bit this year. Fortunately, Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance helped me push through some of the low points. Duckworth won an award nicknamed “The Genius Grant.” As you can imagine, she knows her stuff. She talks about how world class performers stick with things longer, practice harder, and develop more love for their work as a result than most of us. The best part is that she shares how the rest of us can do the same.
2015 BONUS: If you enjoy this book, or even the sound of it, check out So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. Read it last year and LOVED it. Less sciencey, more anecdotal.
Part of my job getting is touch with C-level executives who are very hard to reach. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on how to get these people’s attention. The LinkedIn Code was a good, though slightly dated, book on how to use the social network LinkedIn to drive B2B sales. How to Get a Meeting with Anyone also helped me tremendously this year. It’s about being more creative when reaching out to these top level execs with a more targeted approach.
Negotiation is an important skill for any business person. I heard a guy on a podcast talking about hostage negotiation stories and was immediately hooked by his ideas. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss more than delivered, even after I listened to 10+ podcast interviews he did. He takes the high stakes situations he’s encountered with bank robbers and kidnappers and teaches you how to bring those to the board room/sales floor/boss’s office and use rock solid negotiating skills to get what you want. If you enjoy this, two other books that might be of interest to you: Compelling People (about body language and reading people) and Crucial Conversations (a little persuasion, a little negotiation, and a lot of anecdotes from which to learn).
This is a mix of books that don’t fall into a “perfect” category but were still impactful.
Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is dense. It’s hard to understand and difficult to follow in places because the author is so smart (also because he’s not afraid of tangents (or parentheses)). In a nutshell, this book discusses how we don’t give randomness enough credit. Often times we think we’re good, when we’re actually lucky. He’s a genius trader and he’ll talk over your head if you don’t pace yourself, but his ideas are important and will give you perspective.
Taleb also wrote Antifragile, which I love. Also dense, also hard to follow at times, but this idea is massively important. Taleb discusses the idea that without stressors in our lives, we become fragile. Think about weightlifting and what it does for the body: by small, calculated amounts of stress being strategically placed on the muscles and bones, we become stronger so that we can withstand more intense, single occurrence stressors. If you’re into numbers, you’ll dig this because he’s not shy with the statistics talk in this one. Thanks for making me download this, Ryan!
Ryan Holiday wrote Ego Is The Enemy, a brief reminder that if our egos go unchecked, they’ll destroy us. This short read is packed full of goodness via examples of people who put their egos aside and accomplished more than most of us could ever hope. This book is summed up in one quote from John Boyd: “To be someone or do something.” You can’t do both, your ego won’t let you. Which will last longer than your life? Holiday was inspired by many Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations, I reread this year and plan on doing again in 2017.
Sebastian Junger wrote The Perfect Storm, War, and a number of other bestselling books. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging takes a hard look at why so many soldiers experience PTSD (as a result , 22 veterans kill themselves each day) when so few actually experience war. This book will make you reevaluate things like why you live alone, why you don’t hold your baby against your naked skin, and why you aren’t more involved in your community. I loved this short, well-written book and I’m a new fan of Junger’s.
Under our Skin by Benjamin Watson is the most important book I’ve read this year. It addresses the problem of racism in America. Doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, purple, or green, you will benefit from reading this in light of all the hatred we’ve experienced recently in America. It comes from a Christian perspective, which is why it’s in this section, but it discusses issues that we all need to examine.
Bad Christian, Great Savior was written by a few guys I know back in Charleston who happen to have a wildly successful podcast called Bad Christian. The motto is “bad Christian, great savior” and it’s about how we’re all sinners. Your sin isn’t better than my sin. We’re all “bad” at being Christians and we all have a GREAT savior.
That’s all I have. Hopefully you can find something in this list that you can lost in. Oh, and one last suggestion… My book, Believe EG21: Play Like There Is No Tomorrow, just turned 1 year old and I’d love it if you gave it a read.
P.S. I’m always open to suggestions. If you have something you think I’d like to read, please send it. However, my first two months of the year are pretty much taken up by MLK’s autobiography as well as A Beautiful Constraint, Business Model Generation, The Art of Possibility, and a few others for a course I’m taking.