I’ve always been the guy with a stack of books on my desk that I’m reading.

When I started travelling, I traded in the cheap, used books for a kindle, and tend to find myself on weeknights at a bar somewhere with a cheap beer (Indio has been my choice this past year) and a few hours to myself.

You’ll notice that I loved all of these books. Generally speaking, if I don’t find a book useful or interesting I don’t finish it.

Here are 20 of the books I read in 2016:

Never Eat Alone

Never Eat Alone
by Keith Ferrazzi

By: Keith Ferrazzi

One of the most useful business books for me, personally, has been Never Eat Alone. The book is a pragmatic guide to being good at “networking” without being that networking jerk. I think this book is valuable for anyone, but as an introvert, I’ve always felt pretty awkward in situations like conferences, or keeping up correspondence with people that I want to know but don’t really know how to interact with. For that reason, this book’s quite concrete advice has been a huge help to me.

Suggested for: Anyone that isn’t a natural “networker” and has felt like networking is a dark art that you’ll never master. Also for anyone that likes networking, but is looking for pointers on how to do it better.

Find Never Eat Alone on Amazon

The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline
by Peter M. Senge

By Peter Senge

This is a business classic from the 90’s that I’ve been meaning to read for a while and finally got to this year. More philosophical than pragmatic, this book quickly became one of my favorites for it’s concentration on the deeper aspects of humans working together in effective organizations.

Senge breaks down five critical disciplines: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Building Shared Vision, and Team Learning with the fifth discipline that ties them together: System’s Thinking.

I believe that Systems Thinking will grow to be one of the most important disciplines facing the problems of the future, and really like the way Senge brings them all together.

I also like the distinction of “disciplines” that Senge uses. This isn’t one of those throw-away, 300 page business books that one can master in a few weeks. All five of the disciplines take time to master – this is a book I’ll probably return to every few years.

Suggested for: Anyone managing a complex organization (for-profit, non-profit, or otherwise). Also, anyone trying to understand how organizations move an function at the macro scale.

Find The Fifth Discipline on Amazon

Selling the Wheel

Selling the Wheel
by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens

By Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens

I was gifted this book from a friend at the beginning of the year when I was struggling with the last start-up (which eventually failed). I don’t have a background in sales and, like networking, have always kind of considered it a dark art. This book brought a lot of clarity to me thorugh it’s model.

Selling the Wheel breaks down sales strategies into 4 fundamental categories:

  1. Birth
  2. Fast Growth
  3. Incremental Growth
  4. Maturity

…then gives a breakdown of the types of technology, sales tactics, sales people, and target customers for each stage.

This book is a super fast read with a cute ‘fiction’ narrative about cavemen. It is very high-level – more of a strategic than tactical book – and is a primer at best for someone getting into sales professionally, but offers a useful model for having more intelligent conversations about sales strategies with the whole team.

Suggested for: People that will be having discussions about sales. If you don’t know anything about sales, this is a great start. If you do know a lot about sales, but are frustrated because nobody else in your organization does, this may be a useful model for establishing a shared vocabulary.

Find it on Amazon

Wisdom

Wisdom
by Stephen S. Hall

By Stephen Hall

I picked up this book in a Free Library when I was visiting a friend in Portland over the summer. It is an interesting application of recent (circa 2010) findings in neuro-science to classic notions of what “wisdom” is.

I can respect the author’s ambition in trying to nail-down and write about such an amorphous topic and, though at times I think he reads his own morality a little too heavily into his interpretation, I found it to be quite an enjoyable read. One of my favorite parts was his breakdown of the Trolley Problem, and I quite enjoyed seeing all of the different definitions of the word “wisdom” from philosophers and scientists.

I wrote a more extensive overview of the book on my other blog, Knowledge in Society.

Suggested for: Anyone with a general interest in cognitive science and the way its findings can be read onto a moral or ethical plane.

Find Wisdom on Amazon

Americanah

Americanah
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a fiction book written about a Nigerian girl that immigrates to the US for college and graduate school. The book offers a wonderful view of Nigeria in the 90’s and the struggles of an African immigrant to the United States dealing with both the tangible struggles of feeding oneself as well as the misunderstanding Americans have about Africans.

Americanah is a fiction book written about a Nigerian girl that immigrates to the US for college and graduate school. The book offers a wonderful view of Nigeria in the 90’s and the struggles of an African immigrant to the United States dealing with both the tangible struggles of feeding oneself as well as the misunderstanding Americans have about Africans.

Americanah is a fiction book written about a Nigerian girl that immigrates to the US for college and graduate school. The book offers a wonderful view of Nigeria in the 90’s and the struggles of an African immigrant to the United States dealing with both the tangible struggles of feeding oneself as well as the misunderstanding Americans have about Africans.

Suggested for: Anyone who likes fiction that is interested in either immigrant group assimilation or the subject of black identity.

Find Americanah on Amazon

Sprint

Sprint
By Jake Knapp

By Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz

Sprint outlines how to run a Design Sprint, a one-week strategy-to-validated prototype method that was developed by some of the guys at Google Ventures. I blasted through this book a week before running my first design sprint with a team down in Mexico and found both the book and the process itself to be fantastic.

I’ll write about the process in an upcoming post, but can say that the book itself is VERY concrete – essentially a well-formatted how-to manual that not only sums things up well when reading, but offers a lot of checklists and quick reference guides so you can refer to it while you’re running your sprints.

I loved running the design sprint, and will be looking forward to running more in 2017!

Suggested for: Anyone looking for a quick method to validate a business or product idea. I also suggest that everyone that will be involved in running a sprint try to read the book as well (or, at least, skim it for the checklists and overviews)

Foundation

Foundation
By Isaac Asimov

By Isaac Asimov

Another on the list of books I’ve been meaning to read for forever – and it did not disappoint.

Foundations is the first book in Asimov’s Foundations Series – the fictional sci-fi story of a scientific organization that – in the midst of a galactic political melt-down and transition into the dark ages – tries to build a record of all of the knowledge humanity currently has.

It is a quick and easy read, but I love the global perspective that the book takes. Rather than seeing knowledge as something that can save a system from a meltdown, it sees knowledge as something that – if retained – may be able to restart a renaissance later on.

It is a fast and fun read, and I know the second book in the series is on my list for 2017!

Suggested for: those into Sci-Fi or the general history of and transfer of knowledge.

Find Foundation on Amazon

The Wisdom of Insecurity and Still the Mind

By Alan Watts

Alan Watts is a perennial favorite of mine, and The Wisdom of Insecurity, in particular, was a very pleasant read. I generally like to read a chapter or so right before bed to loosen up my thoughts a bit and get business off of my mind.

Alan Watts is a British guy that discusses a lot of eastern philosophy and western religion with an eastern perspective. He has the knack for discussing a lot of deep topics with a distinctly British sense of levity and humor. Generally speaking, he concentrates on the message that we all aren’t “in” the universe, rather we’re all part of it.

I found The Wisdom of Insecurity to be a better book that Still the Mind, which tends to ramble a little incoherently at times (even for Alan Watts). For anyone interested in Alan Watts, I’d recommend checking out some of his lectures on YouTube (there are a ton of them) or The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.


Suggested for:
Most humans. If you’re strongly monotheistic, you may enjoy the books a bit less, but they’re still interesting. Start with the YouTube lectures or The Book.

Find The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, The Wisdom of Insecurity, and Still the Mind on Amazon.

The Total Money Makeover

By Dave Ramsey

I used to listen to this guy on the Christian radio stations every once in a while when I was driving through Texas, but never picked up his book until a friend suggested it to me. When I met her, she was pulling herself out of a hole of credit-card debt, school loans, and trying to figure out how to invest in her own future. By the time I met her, she wasn’t out of the hole, but had made huge progress and had a plan and a sense of clarity that I was envious of – this is the book that she suggested.

As a 28 year old without a good sense of how money works in a your-personal-life sense, this book was fantastic. It lays out a plan for being successful financially that is based on being honest about the situation you’re in and building good habits that will – over time – lead to financial security. It isn’t a “get-rich-quick” book, but a pragmatic guide to getting on the right track and sticking to it over time.

If you’re in debt, you start there. If not, you start at the next level: building enough of an emergency fund to last 6 months, etc… The general goal of the book is to get to a point where you have a cost of living low enough and enough investments that you can live off the interest – a process that will vary for most people, but usually takes a decade or two to achieve. There are several levels in the book that build on one another.

It is a quick read, very concrete in it’s advice, and includes worksheets for figuring out your own situation. It is also laid out in a way where you can work on the goal you’re on, then easily come back a year or two later to see what the next goal is. (Also, other than a few bible verses here and there, it isn’t too Christian 😉 )

Suggested for: Anyone that isn’t an expert in finance and doesn’t really know what they’re doing. No secrets or schemes here – just a framework and encouragement for a lot of hard work!

Find the Total Money Makeover on Amazon

Scrum Product Ownership

Scrum Product Ownership
By Robert Galen

By Robert Galen

This book was on a recommendation slide from my Scrum.org PSPO I (Product Owner certification) class. The teachers were quick to point out, though, that it is best to read it after the test as a lot of the information inside was useful, but not necessarily “correct” Scrum.

I found the book to be a quick read and generally useful for getting more perspectives and information about being a good product owner. The book talks a bit about how different people interpret certain methodologies and what the author has found works best.

Worth a place on the shelf if you’re a product owner – not life changing.

Suggested for: Product Owners that already basically know what they’re doing but want more perspectives and ideas.

Find Scrum Product Ownership on Amazon

The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis
By Jonathan Haight

By Jonathan Haidt

Disclaimer: I’m a kind of a Jonathan Haidt fanboy.

The Happiness Hypothesis was psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s first book that he completed (I believe) during his PhD thesis. Similar to Wisdom above, the book attempts to relate an older concept – this time, Happiness – to the current findings in cognitive psychology (the major difference being that Haidt is an actual psychologist).

As with Wisdom, the premise is a difficult one as cognitive psychology is a fast-changing field with many concepts that are difficult to validate and “Happiness” is one of those terms that is nearly impossible to really define.

The Happiness Hypothesis is, in many ways, a thematic precursor to A Righteous Mind, Haight’s next book and one that I strongly recommend for everyone. Many of the themes about how people form into to – and in many ways have evolved to be a part of – groups are sketched in this book as well as a lot of the drivers that show chemical responses around human satisfaction.

Suggestion: Start with some of Jonathan Haight’s talks, then read his second book The Righteous Mind – it will change your perspective on life. If you enjoy these, check out the Happiness Hypothesis – not as solid, but still a fun and brain-stretching read.

Find The Happiness Hypothesis on Amazon

Leon Trotsky, A Revolutionary’s Life

Leon Trotsky
By Joshua Rubenstein

By Joshua Rubenstein

I lived in Mexico City all year, the site of Leon Trotsky’s house where he fled with his wife after Stalin took over in the U.S.S.R. (it is down the street from Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s house – they were all roommates until Leon slept with Frida and everyone decided it may be time for the Trotsky’s to get a house of their own). Before I visited the house, I wanted to read a quick overview, and this book fit the bill.

It is a super fast read – good for someone (like me) that doesn’t really know much about the Russian revolution and the early days of the U.S.S.R. It is full of fascinating characters, not the least of which is Trotsky himself, and offers a fair portrait of him as both man and monster.

Suggested: If you’re interested in historical biographies, or if you want a quick historical overview before visiting the Trotsky house. Also, if you’re ever in Mexico City, I recommend visiting the house, for less than 100 pesos you can get a tour (in English) and you can see lots of awesome stuff – like the bullet holes from the first (failed) assassination attempt, and the modifications the Trotskys did to fortify the house afterwards!

Find Leon Trotsky, A Revolutionary’s Life on Amazon

Creativity, Inc

Creativity, Inc
By Ed Catmull

By Ed Catmull

The history of Pixar!

This book is essentially a management guide for running creative teams written by Ed Catmull, the CEO of Pixar from the very beginning up until it was acquired by Disney. Catmull is a very insightful leader, and has allowed himself to be quite vulnerable discussing the mistakes he’s made over the years, the cost of those mistakes, and how they rearranged their internal structures to be better over time.

Catmull really brings a fresh perspective to the growing list of management books – probably because most of his insights are based in his own experience and the experience he gained working first hand with giants such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, George Lucas, and John Lasseter. I believe the breadth of his perspective (and its uniqueness) also comes from the mixture of his deep technical background (remember, Pixar was a high-end computer company before it was an animation house) with the unmatched storytelling and animation culture of the Pixar team.

The book would be worth it for the management advice alone, but, of course, it also serves as a history of Pixar taking us behind the scenes of some of our (or, at least, my) favorite movies of the past few years. Pixar courted with the giants – Microsoft, Apple Computer, Lucasfilm, and Disney, before getting acquired so Disney could bring the Pixar magic to its new batch of (wildly successful) animated films. Catmull also spends a lot of time discussing how the company negotiated this transition – managing to keep the Pixar culture alive in the face of acquisition by the industry giant while managing to spread its culture to its new owner.

For me, though, this book was one in a few that changed my personal view of work. As a millennial, most of us grew up with the understanding that wed swap jobs every two or three years as we got bored. Ed Catmull and John Lasseter built a truly revolutionary company in their field, but it didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy to come by. They worked for decades, made a lot of mistakes, and learned from a lot of incredible leaders outside their company about how they could make their dream better. I believe it is this long-term perspective that pushed them to focus less on short-term goals, and more on building a strong internal culture. Most organizations can do mediocre work for a while with a short-term goal perspective, but I believe it takes an obsession with internal culture to build great things. This was also the case for Steve Jobs and Apple – a very different culture, to be sure, but the same level of obsession and long-term commitment.

Suggested for: Anyone managing teams, particularly creative teams. Also, anyone that is interested in Pixar and the animated movie industry.

Find Creativity, Inc on Amazon

Winning in Fast Time

Winning in Fast Time
By John A. Warden III

By John A Warden III

This book was suggested to me by a CEO with a ton of experience turning large companies around. It was written by a military strategist that had a lot to do with the fast and profound success of the first Gulf War and went on to consult with a lot of businesses about how to make dramatic changes within organizations.

Systems are stubborn; as one of Peter Senge’s principles of systems in The Fifth Discipline states: “The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.”

Though he doesn’t use the words specifically Winning in Fast Time is well grounded in systems thinking and often specifically addresses how systems have a way of rebalancing themselves when acted upon by outside forces – often in ways that reinforce the existing system.

Warden builds model for assessing the different factors of a system and “shocking” it in a way that an outside force can actually create a path to change. The “Five Rings” of his model outlining methods for identifying and dealing with:

  1. Leadership
  2. Processes
  3. Infrastructure
  4. Population
  5. Agents (people or factors that protect the old way)

It took me a few chapters to get past the militaristic style that the book is written. Once I got into it, though, I really started to love the model Warden creates, and the way he identifies all of the factors that are necessary to consider to create a change in a system.

Suggested for: Anyone that is responsible for enacting significant change on a system – be it an organization formal or informal. What Peter Senge will help us understand in a deep way, Warden will help us act on and change.

Find Winning in Fast Time on Amazon

Switch

Switch
By Chip and Dan Heath

By Chip and Dan Heath

This is one of those 300-page ‘read in a couple days’ business books that may reframe the way you approach your business, school, or whatever. I borrowed it from my mom when we were on a family vacation in Colorado.

It is a good primer, and a nice, inspirational read. Not life-changing, I barely even remember what it is about – but still probably worth a read if you’ve got a long flight ahead, you see it in an airport bookshop and your kindle is dead. For what it’s worth, it has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

Suggested for: Those that are new to modern philosophies of organizational change. Also good to read if one of your clients read it and it changed his/her life.

Find Switch on Amazon

The Forever War

The Forever War
By Joe Haldeman

By Joe Haldeman

Another really good, short, sci-fi book with an awesome premise. I borrowed this from a friend when I was at home in Texas for a few days.

The book was written in the 70’s by an American Vietnam veteran and captures a lot of the sentiment of a soldier from those days. It uses an interesting mechanic to play with time – the war that soldiers are fighting in is so far away, that decades or more pass as soldiers and information travel to and from the front. Soldiers are frozen in stasis during the travelling, so the experienced life of a soldier runs on a different timeline that the course of Earth’s society.

I won’t spoil it, but it is a great book!

Suggested if: you like SciFi. Interesting premise, fast read!

Find The Forever War on Amazon

Being Mortal

Being Mortal
By Atul Gawande

By Atul Gawande

Being Mortal is a nonfiction book about the way the United States deals with its aging population. The book is told from the perspective of its author – an Indian doctor from a family that immigrated to the United States, which gives it a healthy amount of narrative anecdotes from patients, his own family, and the norms in India, as well as statistics about the way the Geriatric industry has evolved in the US over the last several decades.

The author has many themes, but the most important is the tension between the industry’s current focus, solving medical problems, and that which makes end-of-life patients happier: living meaningful lives. Atul describes how the current system is built to extend life as long as possible no matter what the cost: favoring safety over agency – even if it means depression and extreme procedures over end-of-life planning – even if it means suffering for both the patient and the family.

I’m not going to lie – this book hits you hard. It got me thinking deeply about a lot of things including both the future of the US healthcare system as a whole, my family members, and my own mortality.

Suggested For: All humans, mostly Americans. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is an important book to add to the list, especially if you have aging family members or are approaching retirement yourself.

Find Being Mortal on Amazon

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman

By Daniel Kahneman

This book has been on the list for a long time as Kahneman is one of the big-shots of the Behavioral Economics world. The book is a tome of insights in behavioral psychology as Kahneman and his research partner, Amos Tversky, in many ways set the stage for the next several decades of research in the field.

Kahneman’s most useful theme is the difference between what he calls the System 1 aspects of the mind and the System 2. System 1 acts quickly with intuition and is responsible for 95% of the decisions and actions we take day to day. System 2 is slower and more rational – unfortunately, we rarely use it as System 1 is more convenient!

That said, the book has come under fire recently for a number of studies cited that psychologists aren’t able to replicate. This doesn’t invalidate the book as a whole, but many of the chapters have been largely called into question.

Regardless of some of the lesser insights, I believe that the System 1 and System 2 model is an incredibly useful for discussing behavioral tendencies, and I still highly suggest the book – just make sure to take a look at Uli Schimmack’s grade card as he’s created the “R-Index” for rating the reliability of scientific findings, using many of Thinking Fast and Slow’s chapters to tell which are reliable and which aren’t.

Suggested for: Those that want to understand a bit better how humans make decisions. This is especially (though indirectly) useful for people that deal with people – designers, marketers, sales people, or people managing teams.

Find Thinking Fast and Slow on Amazon

User Stories Applied

By Mike Cohn

This book was specifically recommended to me by my teacher in my Scrum Master class and then mentioned again in my Product Owner class – and I can see why, it is excellent for product owners.

The book walks through what user stories are, how to present them as a method for teams that are unfamiliar with them, and describes the difference in great detail between them and similar paradigms in methods such as Xtreme Programming.

This book is packed with practical methods for creating stories, running meetings with stakeholders and customers, and includes both easy to refer to checklists and answers to common problems for new Scrum teams.
I highly recommend this book, and will probably cite it quite a bit in many posts to come!

Suggested for: Product Owners.

Find User Stories Applied on Amazon

However Long the Night

However Long the Night
By Aimee Molloy

By Aimee Molloy

However Long the Night is an inspirational non-fiction book about Molly Melching, an American that moved to Dakar in the 1970’s and went on to build Tostan, one of the most successful womens’ empowerment organizations ever created. The book discusses how the organization grew slowly over Melching’s decades in Senegal as she learned Wolof, the most common tribal language, and began to employ locals from various tribes to grow an educational program that would actually gain traction in the villages that it was brought to, and focuses on one of its’ crowning achievements: leading to thousands of villages abandoning the tradition of female genital cutting.

Overall the book is good, the author certainly took some creative liberties with her narrative – it can come off as a little cheesy at times.

Nevertheless, it acts as a biography of a truly inspiring woman that achieved great things by being patient and listening to the people that she was trying to help. In a time of constant (and necessary) scrutiny for non-profit organizations trumpeting short-term programs with questionable results, However Long the Night offers a counter narrative: true change must be deep and happen slowly.

However Long the Night tells the story of a person that was obsessed not with a problem, but with someone who truly fell in love with the people she was trying to serve. Like Creativity Inc’s story about Pixar, it discusses how the building of the organization itself – and the cultivation and learning of the people within it – builds a robustness and a patience that can foster long-term results. It serves as both inspiration, and a bit of a warning for those of us that tend to be a little impatient 😉

Suggested for: Anyone that is into social change for women or the developing world. It is a little more inspirational than pragmatic, but there are some nice themes that – while they may be common now – were completely revolutionary through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Find However Long The Night on Amazon

 

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