I love to read books. In recent years, with free time being more limited, I’ve opted to do a lot more of my “reading” on my way to and from work with Audible audio books. (Thanks Mom for a great birthday present.) For me, listening to audio books better than listening to pop music, learning about pop culture or depressing myself with the news, and it makes good use of time that would otherwise be wasted by cursing at motorists. That said, I still read with my eyes as often as I can too, delving into both printed and digital books as time permits. Reading, regardless of the method, is something I love.
With 2016 now upon us, I thought it might be fun to share 12 of my favorite books from 2015. So, here goes:
A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer – First on the list for a reason. This book is all about the power of curiosity. Filled with interesting stories and thought-provoking ideas, it really got me thinking hard about how I could ask more and better questions of myself and of others to improve my thinking, my relationships, and my life. Great book.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – A masterful story told by a master story teller. This book is simply brilliant. I found myself struggling to put it down and simultaneously telling everyone I ran into to read it. Perhaps, being from Dayton, it resonated with me more deeply as I could picture much of where the story of Orville and Wibur’s failures, adventures, and ultimate triumphs over the common wisdom of the day, critical doubt of most of the world, and gravity itself took place. The book gave me a new and deeper appreciation for the Wrights and their persistence, dedication, and resourcefulness. If ever there was an argument for the power of play, the importance of creativity, the value of interdisciplinary critical thinking, and the importance of failure as a tool for learning, this book is it. I loved this one, and I’ll be reading it again in 2016.
Scrum by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland – Scrum is a methodology from the world of software development that focuses on applying focused effort on quickly accomplishing specific and clearly defined tasks in order to eventually accomplish big things. Define clearly, move quickly, make progress, course correct regularly, adjust accordingly – there’s more to it than that, but in a nutshell it’s a really useful way to approach projects. The authors do a great job in this book of showing how the principles of scrum can be used far beyond the world of information technology. A great book for anyone tasked with managing people, projects, and responsibilities – so pretty much a great book for everyone.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – People. Where did we come from? How did we get here? Where are we headed as a species? What makes humans, human? This book was incredibly interesting, as it chronicles the evolutionary journey of homo-sapiens-sapiens (us) through time. I had no idea that 100,000 years ago there were at least 6 other types of “humans” living on earth with homo-sapiens-sapiens. This book explains why we’re still here when the other species are not, and what the future may hold for us.
How We Got to Now by Steven R. Johnson – We take so much of the modern world for granted. Things like heat, light, glass, time, sound, and refrigeration. It’s easy to think that all these things have always existed, but much of our world was invented through a long and messy process of failure, luck, and creativity that transcends the generations of humanity. The idea that until just over about 100 years ago the only sounds you could hear, were those that were unamplified, unrecorded, and taking place in your immediate surroundings is an obvious but jarring idea, and one of many presented by Johnson. If you don’t have time for the book, PBS has a television series based on the books that is equally compelling.
How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton – Much like How We Got to Now, this book examines human innovation from the perspective of time and the genius of humankind, as opposed to the genius of any one specific man or woman. In addition to learning that a poor slave boy in the Carribean was responsible for making vanilla available to the world and that a woman named Rosalind Franklin was likely the actual person who discovered DNA, the book is filled with countless stories. Generations upon generations of humans are responsible for the miracle that is our modern world. This book illuminates that idea and encourages all to participate in the creative process.
Rising Strong by Brene Brown – I love Brene Brown’s work. Daring Greatly is one of my favorite books, and this follow-up book is, as the title suggests, strong. This book talks about how to dust ourselves off and get back in the game after we fail, and it is full of good advice. If you are going to accomplish things, you are probably going to fail, sometimes in spectacular fashion. This book is a guide for how to come to terms with it and move forward.
Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin – Gretchen Ruben’s exploration of how to build good habits that improve the quality of life. This one has a lot of practical advice and is an easy read.
10% Happier by Dan Harris – One man’s journey into the power of mindfulness meditation. This particular man happens to be a network news television personality and he candidly shares his story in this book. It is not a hippy-dippy, flower power treatise on meditation, but rather a candid and sometimes skeptical look at what mindfulness meditation is and how it can help people to find happiness – about 10% more of it according to the author. If you are a little curious about the whole idea of mindfulness, this is a great book to learn a little more about it.
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn – Mindfulness was on my mind in 2015, and this book was one of several I read on the topic. It’s a pretty easy read that walks the reader through the basics of meditation. I’d love to say that I’m way beyond the basics, but I’m not ashamed to say that I’m at the novice end of the spectrum on this topic. That’s where I am and that’s ok.
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle – This is a book about Myelin. It is also a book about practice. Practice? Practice? Turns out that practice is important, but only if you do it the right way. Practicing the right way involves breaking it down, challenging yourself to get better, focusing on what you’re doing, and doing it over and over and over until you get it right. As you do this, your brain creates new connections and wraps neural pathways in myelin, which I think of as insulation around the wires of thought and action in the mind. More mylein = more efficient thoughts and actions = greater expertise. The brain is malleable. Practice is important. You can learn to do pretty much anything if you work at it, and work at it, and work at it. A very interesting book that might just change how you think and how you approach learning new skills.
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. – How better to finish a New Year’s Day list of books than with one dedicated to Willpower. Willpower seems to be something on everyone’s brain at this time of reflection and resolution. What this book offers is some great information on scientific and psychological research as to what willpower is and how we can manage it to stay on track. One of my favorite takeaways was the idea of using the “I want ____, I will ___ , I won’t ____ ” framework for leveraging willpower. This one is worth checking out if you intend to be in the gym beyond the first 2 weeks of January this year.
I wish you all a happy 2016. Here’s to reading more great stories and creating several of our own. Cheers.