2016 was a great year for reading, as this year I got through more books that I ever though I could. This year I read 29 non-fiction books, and for this post I’ve chosen the top 7 that I’ve gotten the most value out of, and I think they can provide value to you.
Do you ever feel like your attention span has lessened over the last few years? You’re not alone, The Shallows explores the history of information sharing from verbal storytelling to books to the internet, and how the different forms of communication effected how we think.
The core of the book is focused on how the internet, with all it’s notifications, and constantly updating streams, is changing how we think and how we make ourselves feel good. It’s a very interesting read and made me think about how I use the internet, and how I should try to adjust my usage based on my focus on in depth thinking.
Quite simply Sapiens is a history of humans, and what we’ve done as a species to get to where we are at the moment. But don’t just take my word for it, Sapiens has received recommendations from President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and plenty more people!
If you have any interest in exploring the elements that have lead Homo Sapiens to be the most impactful species on the planet, look no further. Dr. Yuval Noah Harari will take you from 70,000 years ago up to the modern day using a blend of scientific and historic tools to explain why things have happened the way they have.
This book explores the value of taking a solid block of time and devoting it to one task you need to get done. Often in my day I’ll feel like I’m flitting in between 20 different things every hour, and I end up not getting as much done as I should. This is because our brains are more suited to spend time focusing and thinking deeply, and they’ll get the most out of the time rather than suffering from the switching cost of doing too many things at once.
The greatest value of this book is that Cal Newport goes through techniques to help you ensure that you get into the habit of deep work, and gives you ideas on how to communicate the benefits of deep work to colleagues and bosses. If you’re looking to be more productive this year, I strongly suggest Deep Work as a must read.
Ryan Holiday is one of the best authors when it comes to the exploration of Stoicism, and how it can be applied to your life. He started it with The Obstacle is the Way (which I read for the second time in two years in 2016), and has followed up with a book focusing on one of the biggest reasons things go wrong: your ego getting in the way.
Our egos cause many issues, because it cannot stand being offended, and it’s offended easily. This leads to issues, as it leads to us not believing the truth, and leads us to overconfidence. I suggest that everyone should at least give Ego is the Enemy or The Obstacle is the Way a read, as there will be little tidbits of tips and tricks that you’ll be able to get out of it.
Have you wondered if the choices you make are yours? Or if your decisions are being effected by decisions people have made in the past, intended to effect your decision? This is what is explored in Nudge. Thaler and Sunstein run through many examples of where certain changes in choice architecture can nudge you to make certain decisions. This is especially relevant to defaults, as quite often the majority of people stick with the defaults rather make decisions.
Thaler and Sunstein run through numerous examples in the book, from eating healthier, to saving for retirement. Nudge explores the world of behavioural economics, which is endlessly fascinating as it realises that the traditional economic view of humans, was that we’re completely rational, but I’m sure everyone knows they’re not completely emotionless in decisions. Nudge uses behavioural economics to explain how people creating systems can ensure that the best long term decisions are made by people, who simply aren’t thinking completely rational at the time of a decision.
This is one of the most educational and funniest books I’ve read in a long time! Randall Munroe (the creator of the comic xkcd) explores completely absurd hypothetical questions and answers them both seriously and scientifically accurately. Questions include: What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? And more…
If you’d like an example of the questions he explores, many What If? questions exist within the xkcd website. If you like science but often find typical science books boring, I strongly suggest checking out this book to learn some physics and to laugh out loud reading it.
If you’re looking for a good overview of the eight core productivity concepts, such as: goal setting, decision making, and managing others, Smarter Faster Better is for you. This is especially true because Duhigg is one of the best writers I’ve read able to explain complex ideas in clear and compelling language.
If you haven’t done much research into productivity across all aspects of life and are looking for a good place to start, I strongly recommend this book It’ll kickstart you journey, and give you a place to then start exploring the topics that interest you most.
Well I hope you find all of these books useful, they’ve all provided value to me this last year and into the future. I hope you have a great year, and I hope you read many great books!