Reading has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember with the notable exception of high school and college when I did as little as possible, and often far, far less than I needed to do. Finding the Harry Potter novels after college reminded me of the enjoyment of reading. I’m stoked to have the opportunity share of few of my favorites. I’d love to hear about your favorites or your experiences with the books below at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extreme Ownership - Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
If you read any book on this list, make it this one. Jocko’s made a name for himself on Tim Ferriss’s and Joe Rogan’s podcasts and his own fantastic podcast (jockopodcast.com). This book is an entrance to the way he thinks about leadership. Each chapter spells out a principle then follows it up with examples from both his 20-year career in the Navy SEAL Teams and from the businesses he works with. Valuable lessons with understandable and straightforward delivery make this an easy but important read. Jocko’s other books (Way of the Warrior Kid and Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual) are also worth more than whatever time you’ll spend reading them. “The only meaningful measure of success for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.”
Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday
Taking it's title from a quote by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Obstacle Is The Way blends ancient Stoic wisdom with contemporary lessons. My biggest take away from this was a new mental framework for thinking about problems. For me personally, this dovetailed well with Extreme Ownership. “Through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation — as well as destruction — of every one of our obstacles.”
War of Art - Steven Pressfield
War of Art breaks down a force that Pressfield names “Resistance.” If you've ever confronted hesitation when faced with a creative project or big new task you know "Resistance." He explains his own struggle with "Resistance" and gives concrete advice for conquering this insidious force. One of Tim Ferriss’s favorite questions is something like “What book have you gifted most to others?” This is mine. “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
Never Split the Difference - Chris Voss
This is the negotiating book you never thought you needed. Voss's background is as the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. He’s since founded a consulting and training company, and lectures at some of the country’s most prestigious business schools. Never Split the Difference does for Negotiating Theory what Daniel Kahnneman and Amos Tsversky did for Economics. That is to say that his thinking shifts the most important part of the negotiation from logical, but ultimately sterile concepts (like BATNA and ZOPA, etc.) to the people involved. The techniques he explains in this book were developed and honed in the field by FBI agents negotiating bank robberies, kidnappings, and hostage situations and he explains them by telling some of those stories. This book holds a ton of value for anyone who has regular contact with other human beings. “It doesn’t matter the leverage they have on you, what matters is what they think of the leverage you have on them.”
Stealing Fire - Stephen Kotler and Jaime Wheal
An overview of so called “Ecstatic States,” Stealing Fire was, for me, and introduction to the concept of shifting mental states to change performance. Kotler and Wheal describe how modern day Prometheuses are using advances in psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology to access altered mental states previously attainable only by people on the fringes of everyday society, like extreme action sports athletes and monks who dedicate their lives to meditation, to radically improve cognition and decision-making and to shorten learning cycles. It's a fascinating look behind the curtain at controversial ideas fueling a "Golden Age" of peak performance. Enter this book with your mind open. “When free from the confines of our normal identity, we are able to look at life, and the often repetitive stories we tell about it, with fresh eyes. Come Monday morning, we may still clamber back into the monkey suites of our everyday roles—parent, spouse, employee, boss, neighbor—but, by then, we know they’re just costumes with zippers.”
What I’m reading now:
Tribe - Sebastian Junger
Junger is the war reporter behind the documentary Restrepo and books like War and A Perfect Storm. Coming home after the making of Restrepo, he struggled to understand why so many of the warriors he embedded with expressed a desire to leave the comfort and safety of home to go back to the mountains of Afghanistan with their brother warriors. Tribe is his attempt at an explanation. The general thesis seems, so far, to be that humans have a biological need for close community and struggle with stakes that are, if not life and death, at least very meaningful. “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact, they thrive on it: what the mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari
It seems like this has been on every list of “What [Insert Smart Person] Is Reading” for the past five years. Fifty pages in and I can see why. Harari has a way of breaking down complex ideas that makes them both interesting and understandable. His chapter on the false promise of the agricultural revolution explains how our biological imperative to make as many copies of our DNA as possible can undermine our health and happiness. “The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species including wheat, rice, and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo Sapiens, rather than vice versa.”
Leonardo Da Vinci - Walter Isaacson
A GREAT biographer takes on one of western civilization’s most interesting figures. This will earn my monthly Audible credit.
Origin - Dan Brown
Dan Brown writes supremely readable stories. I thought Inferno, his previous book in the Langdon series, was a fascinating thought experiment on the problem of human overpopulation.