“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” — Anne Lamott
I’ve always loved books. During our recent year-long work sabbatical, I decided to focus my reading primarily on non-fiction to continue learning. The list below contains my favorite books from the year - the most life-changing and/ or intriguing - is divided into two categories: Life + Development (Non-Fiction) and Historical Non-Fiction.
Life + Development (Non-Fiction)
*Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
If you only read one book on this list, I would strongly recommend this one. A Stanford psychologist, Dweck’s concept of mindset changed my approach to learning, relationships and life. Her concept is simple: people with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. She illustrates the growth mindset through multiple powerful examples and offers insights on how to achieve the growth mindset. As she illustrates, if Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team in high school and continued to pursue his dreams, shouldn’t we as well?
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
As someone with mild-hoarding tendencies, this book truly was life-changing. If you’re looking to live a more minimalist life – and to be less encumbered by “stuff,” Marie Kondo provides solid principles for how to clean out your home – and simplify your life. The basic principle is to only keep things that “spark joy,” but she offers so many more nuggets of wisdom, from how to organize your socks to how to give away things you received as gifts. After reading this book, we gave twelve large garbage bags full of “stuff” to Goodwill. And are living happier, less-crowded lives as a results.
If you asked most people, myself included, about their relationship with money, the answer would probably be: “It’s complicated.” And it can be complicated. But, Twist offers a new perspective: we can use money to proactively express our life values. Instead of money being a source of suffering, it can be an expression of good, of love, of value in our lives. Maybe it’s shopping locally or giving to non-profits or buying long-lasting, sustainably made clothing. There are so many ways to express your own values with your money.
Admittedly, this is admittedly a common recommendation but worth reading. Tim suggests that we ditch the old model of working – work until you’re 65, retire and then spend your money – for a new one – take mini-retirements throughout your life. Basically, do the things you want to do now, versus waiting for some unknown point in the very distant future. He also offers advice on how to budget and generate income along the way.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
A heart-rendering look at illness, life and love through eyes of a Stanford neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal stage IV lung cancer. A tragic, but beautiful, story written by a doctor forced to see his disease as a patient, rather than just a doctor. And insightful musings on what makes each of our lives really matter.
Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don't by Jeffrey Pfeffer
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of having power; even the word conjures images of slick suits and shady dealings. But Pfeffer offers a new perspective – and challenges us to consider the more positive reasons for obtaining power in our professional lives. He posits that power leads to career progression, and offers some solid (non-shady) tips on how to get more power at work. Things like: taking on projects that no one else wants when you’re new in a job to build relationships and a solid reputation.
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
Classic self-help tenets, repackaged in an edgy, laugh-out-loud, page-turning book. In a chapter on being more laid back, she describes bus journey during wedding season in India, where the passengers get out to dance and celebrate every thirty minutes, leading to a very long 12-hour bus ride. And then her comical (and insightful) conclusion: “… all I could think was how homicidal a bus of New Yorkers on the express bus from New York to D.C. would be in a similar situation.”
Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson
This book is insanely good – non-fiction that reads like fiction. I stayed up until 4am two nights in a row to finish it. There are so many things that make this book fascinating: the story of the previously undiscovered sunken WWII submarine, the history of the submarine and its crew, and the stories of the divers and their heroic exploration of this historical treasure. It’s one of those rare books where I felt sad to finish because I knew that it would be a long time before I found another true story that was this good.
Black Flags: The Rise of Isis by Joby Warrick
While Isis is (sadly) very often in the news, I realized that I knew very little about the history, genesis and beliefs of the Islamic State. This book is very informative and fascinating – from the start of Isis in a Jordanian prison to the growth of the Islamic State to where it is today. This book also reads like fiction – and won the Pulitzer for General Non-Fiction in 2016.
Sides takes you on an adventure in his story of the first expedition to the North Pole. At the time in the late 1870s, it was thought that beyond the ice, sailors would discover a tropical oasis at the center of the North Pole. As such, the expedition was drastically unprepared. The quirky characters and story of this unbelievable arctic expedition are fascinating. (Note: it’s a bit slow until about page 140 – and then becomes a page turner.)