“It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.” — Victor Hugo
With only a few days left of 2016 I’m going to give you the best reads I’ve had this year. I will focus mainly on non-fiction books released in 2016.
There are a couple of older ones that can help explain the events of 2016, as well as what we can do going forward in 2017.
But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past — Chuck Klosterman
Let’s start things off by saying that this is the single best book I’ve read this year. If there’s one book I’d implore you to read from the list, it’d be this one. While the title basically gives it away (as a good title should), it presents you with ideas and concepts you can actually relate to.
While we admire and reward people who show absolute confidence in their ideas, maybe this isn’t the best person to follow. How often have we been completely convinced that things were one way and only changed our minds when we were presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary? If even then.
Like Klosterman’s previous book “I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined)”, this one challenges our basic assumptions and beliefs about the world by making us think about how ideas that were commonplace less than 50 years ago seem moronic today by asking: Which of our current ideas will be laughed at and seen as moronic 50 years from now?
Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets — Luke Dittrich
What if you woke up one day and couldn’t form new memories? In an attempt to cure the patient Henry Molaison (known as “Patient H.M”) from severe epilepsy, the author’s grandfather surgically removed parts of his brain. While this didn’t stop the seizures, it did have the unintended effect of preventing H.M from forming new memories. This book contains the story of the world’s most studied research subject, the people involved in the surgery, as well as the people who studied him. A gripping story and fascinating read.
Born a Crime — Trevor Noah
It’s the kind of funny where your laugh gets caught in your throat as you realize that it’s funny because Trevor actually lived to tell about his experience. It’s a wonderful insight in what life was like for a mixed-race kid growing up in South Africa during Apartheid. It also makes you realize why he, besides being funny, was a great choice to take over “The Daily Show” after John Stewart left.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds — Michael Lewis
You’ve probably heard of the book “Thinking: Fast And Slow”, it covers many flaws and biases in our thinking and Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky’s work has had a tremendous influence in helping us understand why we think the way we think, as well as how we can counteract it. In this book Michael Lewis tells the stories of Kahneman and Tversky, and how they came to work together.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life — Mark Maron
It’s an interesting and funny read on how letting go of the fear of what other people will think of us can help us lead a happier life. I recommend this to anybody who tends to care a little too much about that. It definitely put a smile on my face!
Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior — Jonah Berger
The reason we act the way we do is because we’re rational and thinking beings, right? Wrong. Jonah Berger shows you how things you didn’t think would have any impact on the way you think and behave in fact do. He doesn’t inform you about it, he gives you tools you can use to counteract that impact.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World — Adam Grant
This is actually a sober look at how we can have improvements in our world without a “revolution” or turning everything upside down. It sounds like a rational way of moving forward whether it comes to enacting new policies, supporting novel ideas, or implementing new practices.
The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future — Kevin Kelly
An optimistic look at the future of technology. Kevin Kelly shows us how the ideas we have set in motion is going to influence what we come up with for the next 30 years. He isn’t playing Nostradamus, but it’s a curious thought experiment and well worth reading.
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise — K. Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool
The 10,000 hour rule has been talked to death. Well, almost. When it was presented by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” I started reading up on it. While the 10,000 hour rule was an easy “meme” for the media to latch on to, it didn’t really explain what K. Anders Ericsson’s research actually said. Thankfully, this year the complete explanation to how people attain expert level performance was released in Ericsson’s book. It gives nuance and a more complete understanding for what it really takes. And it isn’t just about 10.000 hours of purposeful practice.
The Social Organism: How Social Media Is Growing, Evolving, and Changing Who We Are — Oliver Luckett & Michael J. Casey
Luckett explains how social media (A.K.A the internet) works by showing the parallels between it and how cells and viruses work. It gave me some new ideas and ways to think about how ideas spread, something that leads us perfectly into the last books on my list.
The following books are the ones I think sum up the events of 2016 best. They aren’t the most cheerful topics, but they will give you a deeper understanding for the current political climate, events in the world, how to become a more informed human being, and what you can do.
Ideas with action.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America — George Packer
This book tells the stories of people that don’t always get their side of the story told. If we keep ignoring those voices and their concerns we get, well, what we got. At the time it was written there was no way to see what was coming. But if we keep repeating this pattern, which isn’t just happening in America, then we can’t be surprised by the results we get. It’s time for us to truly listen.
A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age — Daniel J. Levitin
This year will go down as the year that fake news managed to undermine confidence in actual journalism. It’s not like the mainstream outlets didn’t play a role in their own downfall, but regular people are the ones who are taking the hit for it. That’s why it’s more important than ever to take responsibility to question every source and article we come across.
The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads — Tim Wu
Whether it’s commercials, news, or social media, everything is competing for our ears and eyeballs. It’s also eating into our most precious resource: Time. It’s a game of cat and mouse. They come up with a way to get our attention, we learn to ignore it, they come back with another way, and so it goes round and round. Tim Wu explains how we got to this point and what we can do going forward.
Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals — Saul D. Alinsky
Want to understand the methods the “alt-right” used (and still uses) to gain influence and spread their message? There’s a buttload of irony in that the book is written by a person of Russian-Jewish descent, yet is being used by a group whose ranks include white nationalists, white supremacists, and anti-semites. Yeah, let that one sink in. By reading this book you’ll start to understand how those without power can gain influence by using the principles outlined in this book.
While the book was written against the backdrop of the 60’s counter culture, it doesn’t take away from the fact that these principles can still be applied to great affect today. However, if you understand them you can also figure out ways of counteracting them as well.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article. Please leave a comment, share, and subscribe for more.