2016 was the year that I grew the most as a human. The growth was primarily due to the simple act of setting and following through on a goal to read 30 books within the year. I remember reading somewhere that there are two paths for growth as a person: 1) Find a mentor, someone who can show you how to be a decent human being, or 2) Read good non-fiction books, which tell you how to be a decent human. Finding the right mentor can be really difficult, but books are always available– just an Amazon click or trip to the library away.
Goals should be difficult, but attainable. Reading 30 books in the year was not easy for me. Firstly, my reading speed is on the lower end of the spectrum; I like to ponder things read and don’t go zooming through a book. To make matters worse, I tend to enjoy reading longer, non-fiction books.
I accomplished this goal and here is the breakdown of the books I read this year:
1 – Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton
Sometimes we forget that life is short and we should cherish every moment. This book is a wonderful reminder. It is a memoir from a man dying of stomach cancer (Peter Barton). Guaranteed to make the reader cry.
2 – Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
The cost of an MBA is around $140,000. The cost of this book was around $10. What a deal! Each short chapter is an MBA lesson. I got a lot of valuable information from this book. For example, he goes through the 5 independent processes of business:
- Value Creation – Discovering what people want then creating it
- Marketing – Attracting attention and building demand for what you’re created.
- Sales – Turning prospects into paying customers.
- Value Delivery – Giving customers what they are promised and ensuring they are satisfied.
- Finance – Bringing in enough money to make effort worthwhile.
3 – Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
I felt this book was full of fluff and it would have been better as a blog post. The biggest takeaways:
- Tax advantages of corporations An employee is taxed on income. A corporation is taxed on income after expenses.
- Aim for increasing assets instead of liabilities. Keep expense low to reduce liabilities.
- Work to learn, not earn.
- Be in control of your emotions. Don’t let fear or opinions of others dictate your actions.
4 – How to Fail at Anything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
A hilarious book filled with great advice. Some takeaways:
- The power of simplification e.g. capitalism is only about making profits.
- A failure is a tool, not an outcome.
- Passion is bullshit– more likely to take unreasonable risks in pursuit of passion.
- System vs goals With goals, you are in a constant state of failure. Having a healthy diet would be a system; losing ten pounds would be a goal.
- Combining skills to make one very marketable. “Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success”
5 – Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court Hardcover by John Wooden and Steve Jamison
John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach, is one of the people I most admire. In an age of indecency, he had such a strong moral character. This short book gives a glimpse into the life he led. He preached to be more interested in the process than the results. For example, he never worried before a game whether they would win or lose because it had already been determined by the previous month/year’s practices.
6 – The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
Recounts a similar idea to John Wooden’s idea of focusing on the process and the things that can be controlled and letting go of everything else.
7 – AWOL on the Application Trail by David Miller
A story of a man who quit his office job to do the 2,000+ mile hike of the Appalachian Trail. A great reminder of the possibility to step outside of the norm and that hardship builds character. Excerpt:
Having a rough time on the trail is not the same as the irredeemable frustrations of urban life, such as being stuck in traffic or wading through a crowded store. Difficulty on the trail, like this long and rainy day, is usually reflected upon fondly. There is the soothing, rhythmic beat of rainfall, the feeling that the woods are being washed and rejuvenated, the odors of the woods awakened by moisture. There is appreciation for the most simple of things, such as a flat and dry piece of ground and something warm to eat. There is satisfaction in having endured hardship, pride in being able to do for myself in the outdoors. There is strength in knowing I can do it again tomorrow.
8 – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
Memoir of Chris Hadfield, a prolific astronaut. The book is filled with interesting stories and practical life advice.
9 – Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
A memoir from Lucy Grealy who had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in her jaw. Surgery was required to remove the tumor, leaving her face disfigured. The book is about her coming to acceptance of her new appearance.
This singularity of meaning—I was my face, I was ugliness—though sometimes unbearable, also offered a possible point of escape. It became the launching pad from which to lift off, the one immediately recognizable place to point to when asked what was wrong with my life.
10 – The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change by Adam Braun
The story of Adam Braun who gave up a lucrative career in the financial sector to start a non-profit, building schools around the world. A great reminder to not get trapped in the rat race and make sure to add some good to the world.
11 – Do you talk funny? by David Nihill
Public speaking tips from an Irish stand-up comedian. Specifically, he talks about how adding humor can improve public speeches. Some takeaways:
- The speakers who deliver their talk most tend to be the best and most polished. They know where the laugh lines are, they know what phrasing works best, and they know their timing.
- People don’t invest in your business or product. They invest in you and your story. If you want people to remember what you say, tell a compelling story.
- The best way to be more engaging, memorable, and funny quickly is to tell a story that contains a few essential elements. “Who wants what and what stops them from getting it?”
- The most powerful stories are not about the storyteller; they are about the person who is hearing the story.
- Joke structure: P = Preparation (the situation setup), A = Anticipation (this can be often achieved with just a timely pause), P = Punch line (story/joke payoff).
- There’s always a funny or a humorous relatable element in real-life stories. The key is to tie them to your overall macro concept and get to laugh lines as quickly and effectively as possible. Keep it relevant to everybody on a macro level before going micro and adding detail.
- The reality is, you can’t wing it. If you don’t prepare, you may do okay some of the time, poorly all too often, and good occasionally. You have to practice. Practice breeds consistency, good habits, and success. This is something that every comedian, performer, and athlete knows.
13 – Buried In The Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan
The story of the 2008 climbing disaster on Mount Everest where eleven people died. Really interesting in that it talks about the mistakes that led to the disaster.
14 – A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz
Tells of a man’s walk of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Rain falls, adversity discourages, and pain hurts. They are all inevitable. The Camino taught me to go with the flow of these uncontrollable situations. We all control the reaction.
15 – Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
A book on accepting oneself. She tells a story that really hit home for me. One of her friend’s mother was on her deathbed:
“Most of the time Marilyn’s mother remained unconscious, her breath labored and erratic. One morning before dawn, she suddenly opened her eyes and looked clearly and intently at her daughter. “You know,” she whispered softly, “all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” Shaking her head slightly, as if to say, “What a waste,” she closed her eyes and drifted back into a coma.”
16 – Five Lessons by Ben Hogan
I am trying to improve my golf game. This is the defacto golf instruction book. It is short but filled with all the information needed to create the perfect golf swing. I will be re-reading this one.
17 – Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
An argument for the power of checklists as a problem-solving tool to simply the complex. Because of this book, I started using checklists a lot more.
18 – You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
I am usually not one for self-help books, but I thought this contained a lot of great motivational quotes and stories, eg:
- It’s not that the things and opportunities that we want in life don’t exist yet. It’s that we’re not yet aware of their existence (or the fact that we can really have them).
- It’s like we’re born with a big bag of money, more than enough to fund any dream of ours, and instead of following our instincts and our hearts, we invest in what other people believe we should invest in.
- Our thoughts become our words, our words become our beliefs, our beliefs become our actions, our actions become our habits, and our habits become our realities.
- It’s so simple; fear will always be there, poised and ready to wreak havoc, but we can choose whether we’re going to engage with it.
- Because so often when we say we’re unqualified for something, what we’re really saying is that we’re too scared.
- There’s something called the Crab Effect. If you put a bunch of crabs in a bowl and if, while they’re in there crawling all over each other, one of them tries to climb out, the rest of them will try to pull him back down instead of helping to push him out.
- The only failure is quitting. Everything else is just gathering information.
19 – Edison – Inventing the Modern World by Alexander Kennedy
A few things struck me about the life of Edison:
1. Despite his many successes, he was not very wealthy.
2. When his laboratory burned down and he lost everything, he saw it as an opportunity to start over.
3. He was a proponent of his DC electric current and even when it was clear AC was more practical, he stubbornly tried to push his system. He even helped finance the execution of animals by AC current to show its danger.
4. His friendship and partnership with Ford allowed him to keep inventing, even when his financial outlook was grim.
20 – On the Move by Oliver Sacks
A beautifully-written memoir of Oliver Sacks, a famous neurologist. Talks about his dealing with the social stigma of his homosexuality and stories from his rounds of seeing patients.
21 – Open by Andrea Agassi
I enjoyed this book so much that I read all 400 pages is 3 days. The thing that was the most surprising for me about Andrea Agassi’s life is that he didn’t enjoy playing tennis, but still proceeded to play for so many years.
22 – Tripping Over the Truth by Travis Christofferson
Covers the Metabolic Theory of Cancer, which says that cancer is caused by damage to cell’s mitochondria (the energy-producing part of the cell). The currently accepted theory is SMT (Somatic Mutation Theory), which says that cancer is caused by DNA mutations.
23 – Darwin by Alexander Kennedy
- Darwin was considered by his teachers and his father to be somewhat below average in both intelligence and achievement.
- Darwin was included on the voyage of the HMS Beagle because the captain wanted “to bring along a gentleman companion for company.”
- It wasn’t any formal training that led Darwin to his theory. It was Darwin’s firm belief that the training acquired on the voyage allowed him to achieve all of his scientific accomplishments.
- Darwin was in bad health for most of his life: “My chief enjoyment and soul employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort.”
24 – Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Similar to Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, this book is a good read about “owning our story.”
25 – Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
A long book, but well worth the time. Chronologically tells the story of how humans became the most dominant species on earth. Also, provides insight into human social norms, traditions, etc. One of the “must read” books on the list.
26 – The Par Plan by Golf Tech
Another book to try and help improve my golf game. This one contains a lot of worthwhile drills.
27 – Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice by Katherine Preston
A memoir from Katherine Preston, a woman who stutters. I am a stutterer and this felt like my life story. If you stutter or know someone who stutters, I highly recommend this book.
28 – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Man, Steve Jobs was a dick. I kept asking myself if I would want to work with this man; Does his genius outweigh his treatment of people? I think the answer is no.
29 – Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
The story of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who run ultra distances without modern footwear. Started off kind of slow, even thought of putting it down, but I am glad that I didn’t.
– Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.
– American distance running went into a death spiral precisely when cash entered the equation.
– Perhaps all our troubles—all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome—began when we stopped living as Running People.
– Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.
– Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and turns into a racket.
– “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.
– Chimps don’t have a nuchal ligament. Neither do pigs. Know who does? Dogs. Horses. And humans.
– Using running as a weapon in persistence hunting. “If you can run six miles on a summer day then you, my friend, are a lethal weapon in the animal kingdom.”
30 – Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
Along with John Wooden, Benjamin Franklin is the person I admire most. It’s crazy how prolific he was as a writer, inventor, and statesmen. This book goes into great detail (I felt sometimes too much) about Ben’s life. Some things I was not aware of:
– He spent most of his adult life in England and France.
– Just how revolutionary his experiments with lightning and electricity were.
– He was a celebrity in France.
– He was a bit of flirt. He kept lifeline correspondence with several women over his life.
– He almost completely ignored his real family. His wife died after not seeing him for several years while he was in France.
31 – Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
I love the Tim Ferris Podcast. This book is kind of like cliff notes for all of his podcasts. A must buy for any fan.