Friends, what books did you read this year?
Which ones did you love? Which could you not get through? Why? What will you read next?
Tonight I share my 2019 list (in the order that I read or heard them; favorites denoted with an asterisk). Please share your own recommendations in the comments!
*Curious by Ian Leslie. I will definitely listen to this one again. I like the distinction between diversive, epistemic, and empathic curiosity.
The Outward Mindset by The Arbinger Institute. This is the third in a series; the first one, Leadership and Self-Deception, was the most impactful for me. That one introduces the framework of being as the foundation of relationships, rather than doing.
The Empathy Effect by Helen Riess, MD. A kind, evidence-based book of practical and compassionate strategies to increase our empathy, so as to make the world better. I met Dr. Riess at the Harvard Writers conference in 2015, and I have heard her speak at conferences on clinician well-being. Anyone could benefit from this book.
*Legacy by James Kerr. Sweep the sheds. No dickheads. Basically, check your ego, make a contribution, and play for the team. In the context of the winningest rugby team in the world, this leadership book is both humorous and humbling.
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. Brené Brown quoted one line from this book, and it’s short, so I decided to listen. I can’t remember anything from it, and I remember disagreeing with much, but that may be because I didn’t really understand what I was hearing.
*Changing on the Job by Jennifer Garvey Berger. Highly recommend this one for anyone on the journey of self-discovery and –actualization. Hard to swallow the idea that a more advanced form of mind (from self-sovereign to self-authored, to self-transforming ) is not better than a less advanced one—so I have more work to do!
Pathways to Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander. Follow up to The Art of Possibility, my favorite book ever, which she co-authored with Ben Zander. A more spiritual, deeper exploration of meaning making and personal development. I will likely listen again in 2020.
Atomic Habits by James Clear. Another gem. Written confidently, and filled with both abstract concepts and concrete, practical tips on habit formation and change. You can also sign up for his weekly email with pearls and resources.
The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller. LOVED this one. In medicine, education, law enforcement and other fields, we all need to measure our performance. But it’s too easy to oversimplify and overgeneralize the things we choose to measure, and lose sight of the big picture. Everybody in a leadership role should read this book.
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett. Bennett is an editor on gender and culture at the New York Times. This book is humorous and hard core. She calls out sexist macro- and micro-aggressions without mercy and seeks to empower women to stick and stand up together. I thought it was fun; my male friend could not get through it. Sometime I’ll ask him more about why.
The Warrior Within by John Little. I highly recommend this book, if you’re at all interested in the life and philosophy of Bruce Lee. He was such an enigma, so mysterious, and yet so magnetic. Growing up I thought he was just weird, seeing him in movies with almost no dialogue and only strange, high pitched grunts. John Little was his close friend, and describes Lee’s unified life philosophy. In 2020 I may look for Lee’s own words to read and contemplate.
Men, Women and Worthiness by Brené Brown. I recommended this one to my friend who could not tolerate Fight Club. It’s much more empathic to humanity in general, while still pointing out gender biases, their origins (so far as we understand them), and ways forward to minimize their negative impact on relationships and society, so we may all, men and women alike, fulfill our highest potential.
*Insight by Tasha Eurich. One of my favorites for 2019. Self-awareness has two components: awareness of our own patterns, and also awareness of how we are perceived by, and therefore impact, others. This book is full of stories, interviews, and also practices and exercises for improving our skills in both realms. Another must-read for leaders.
The Second Mountain by David Brooks. I have liked David Brooks ever since I read The Social Animal many years ago. In this one he gets personal, and I loved it. It’s one of my favorite things to read something and feel a kinship with the author.
*My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD. I picked this one up again, I thought for a friend, but it was really for myself. How cosmic. So grateful to have read it this year; looking back, I think I needed it more than I realized, and I will probably reach for Kitchen Table Wisdom again in 2020.
Braving the Wildnerness by Brené Brown. Like Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I read/listen to this one when I need a little encouragement and empowerment before starting something unique, different, or scary-exciting. Like all of Brown’s books there are personal stories, but this one is the most raw to date, in my opinion. Again, that kinship warms me.
The Thin Book of Trust by Tom Feltman. Also referenced by Brown in Braving, this one was worth the short listen. There is also an excellent PDF summary, so you don’t actually have to read/listen to the whole thing.
Complex Adaptive Leadership by Nick Obolensky. Not gotten all the way through this one, as it has all kinds of references to math, physics, and a multitude of other works in many genres (the footnotes can be a quarter of the page). But I continue to read it, and will likely try one of its team exercises in 2020.
Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. I believe the lower case author’s name is intentional. Poems, stories, philosophy—it’s all in here. It’s a bit all over the place, but no question, this woman has a purpose on Earth and she is working it. I think it’s about inclusion, respect, and striving for the highest calling of shared humanity. I pick it up off and on, still enjoying it.
*To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue. LOVED this one. Poems and reflections on aspects of life that we too easily take for granted. Bought copies and sent to friends. Flagged my favorites and look forward to rereading lifelong in times of tumult as well as peace.
Consolations by David Whyte. “The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words,” says the subtitle. At least one word for every letter of the alphabet. Dipping in and out since late summer. Gotta take my time with this one, contemplate.
The Will to Change by bell hooks. Another lower case author name. I recommend this one—another feminist piece, this time discussing the patriarchy. On the surface, coming at it defensively, it could feel attacking, adversarial. But from another perspective, it’s written with deep love and empathy for men and the constraints of patriarchal masculinity. So, she proposes feminist masculinity as the antidote, with which I fully concur and actively advocate. Highly recommend this one.
*Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cathilda Jetha. Another of my favorites for this year. A hilariously written, evidence-based takedown of all the sociological theories and writings purporting that humans are physiologically or otherwise built to be monogamous. It does not attack monogamy itself, just our collective, delusional insistence that that is our one natural state. A contrarian piece, no doubt—deliciously so. You’ gotta read it.
*The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp. Another one I will reference often hereafter. They draw on work by people I already admire, like Byron Katie and Oto Scharmer. Practical and easy to read, but make no mistake—these commitments are not easy and require much work. A handbook for the lifelong-learning leader.
Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. Aaaarrrrgh I only have one chapter left, why do I procrastinate? Maybe because it’s on aging?? I started this one at the same time as the next book, found fun and cosmic parallels between them, and wrote about them. Another one to keep and pull out to get cozy with sometimes.
*Self-Renewal by John W. Gardner. Recommended to me by a patient. I love this book, but it’s another one that requires time and some cognitive effort. So it’s slow-going, and the learning is well worth the energy expended. I’m about 2/3 through.
The Essentials of Theory U by Oto Scharmer. Recommended to me by one of my fellow cosmic journeyers, the same friend who recommended Changing on the Job. It’s about individual attitude and how it intersects with group dynamic—sort of. It’s a self-exploration as well as a leadership book. Hard to explain, and likely not everybody’s cup of tea. Been listening on and off since April, always getting something out of it.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan. My first novel in years, and the first book chosen by my first ever book club (I don’t count the Junior Great Books group in third grade because I never actually read the books). I liked it, but will not read it again.
*Range by David Epstein. This one will hang on my consciousness for a long while. I will remember it in patient encounters, watching TV, reading other books. Highly recommend.
*The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. I have followed Simon Sinek for many years now, and his thesis of Why has basically become the framework on which I construct much of my professional and paraprofessional activities. Suffice it to say, within the first hour, this audiobook altered again, in a way consistent with my existing values and Why, how I see and will do leadership. You don’t have to read his previous books, Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, to read this one. But if you do, you might become a disciple, too.
*Educated by Tara Westover. I read this one for book club—we will discuss next week, I cannot wait. The writing is masterful, and that much more impressive because the author never attended school, was not home-schooled, and educated herself to take the ACT and enroll in college, going on to get her PhD at Cambridge and complete a fellowship at Harvard. Her family story is tragic, unf*ingbelievable, wrenching and, ultimately, quintessentially human(e). I recommended it to all of my friends, many of whom have already read and loved it.
*Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. My anti-Fight Club friend told me about this one last week, when I told him about Educated. It’s over 12 hours long to hear, and I finished it today. The co-founder of Nike tells the company’s 18 year start-up story in this riveting memoir, in which I find so many connections to Epstein and Sinek. Highly recommend this one.
In the next few weeks I will read Mrs. Bridge by Evan S Connell and James Salter for book club, and continue Ozan’s book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist. Oh and I just picked up tidy the f*ck up by messie condo, loving it already. Maybe I’ll listen to Collaborating with the Enemy by Adam Kahane. Also got two books, one by and one on John Muir, to stoke my love of hiking and nature.
So looking forward to another year of reading and learning, friends! And happy to do it together!