My Favourite Books Of 2016
In my last article, I wrote on how I believe that consuming a mass amount of content in the past year was one of the biggest factors allowing me to achieve a lot of the goals I set for myself in 2016, I mentioned that one of those forms of content was books and audiobooks.
In this article, I want to run down a list of some of my favourites of the books I read in the past year and give a brief summary of each. Just a heads up, I’ll be putting these in chronological order, not by rating.
In Mastery, Robert Greene takes us through the lives of both contemporary and classic masters such as Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, Mozart and others you’ve probably never heard about, but will be glad you did. He examines in depth what mindsets and habits contributed to that greatness, and how we might be able to apply those same attitudes to our own pursuits in life.
I read this early on in the year and this is definitely one that will need to be re-read at some point. It’s a hefty book and took some time to read, but it was well worth it.
To be honest, I thought this book was going to be a little too touchy-feely for me to really connect to, but after hearing it referenced again and again by a diverse group of people I decided to give it a shot.
Boy, am I glad I did. This book is definitely in the running for the top book I read this past year, and maybe ever.
Brene tackles uncomfortable concepts that we often don’t like to talk, or even think about such as shame, vulnerability, and worthiness, and explores what her research has taught her about each of these and how they affect our lives and the lives of those we interact with.
Ultimately, the book is about courage, and it’s opened my eyes to a whole new side of myself, and people in general, making me a little more compassionate, understanding, and humble along the way
A concise kick in the ass is how I think I would best describe this book.
This is a must read for anybody who creates anything, whether you consider yourself an artist or not. Especially useful for the classic artist who struggles with the concept of charging for their work, or “selling out”, The War Of Art is all about making a living as a creator, and profiting from it. And you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that.
The book also covers in depth the mysterious force of “Resistance” that we all experience, how to beat it, and what it means to be a “pro” in whatever field you’re in.
I ended up buying this book after initially borrowing it, and will probably read it a few times a year going forward. It’s easily readable in a day or two.
Another front-runner for best of 2016, this book opened my eyes to a world which I can never truly understand or be a part of. In this case, it’s the world of being black in America, and the impact that your skin colour (if you’re not white) has on your everyday life and mentality throughout your life, even if – in the case of Ta-Nehisi Coates – you’ve “made it” as a celebrated author.
Few books that I’ve read have portrayed as viscerally the reality of another person, or another group of people. To be honest, despite knowing intellectually that it was possible and true, I’d never felt that knowledge that there were alternate realities in which people lived – probably right around me in my everyday life – that I could never know or be a part of.
This is a powerful, well-written book that can be hard to read at times as it turns the mirror on the culture we live in. Completely essential reading for everyone.
This past year I really honed in on storytelling as one of the core desires and passions of mine, and so wanted to learn as much about it as I could. This book is specifically aimed at screenwriters for movies, but has a wealth of information on the art of crafting stories in any medium if you’re willing to extrapolate.
More than anything, this book made me look at movies differently, and truly appreciate how almost impossible a quest it is to see a movie from start to finish, and how much art goes into a film.
A follow-up to The War Of Art, this book is more focussed on writing – whether that be copy, books, screenplays, poetry, etc – than the arts at large, and yet the principles can be applied everywhere.
Again, it’s written in a blunt style that instantly lights a fire beneath you.
Despite the tone the title implies, this is not a book about manipulating people. This is a book about being a better, more useful person to those around you, and how that can improve your life through friendships, work relationships, and more.
This is a classic for a reason and is still completely applicable 80 years after its first publishing.
Along with both books by Brene Brown that I read this year, this was a highlight in the area of inner work and self-improvement mindset-wise.
Shortly after finishing this book I went through a breakup with my partner of over two years. I was absolutely amazed at how many of the practices in this book allowed me to process all of the emotions I was feeling, come to terms with them, and ultimately release them.
I think a lot of people will be put off by the new-age vibe of the book, but don’t be. I’ve heard this book referenced by countless entrepreneurs and business people as a vital book, which is how I came to hear of it.
While I think that perhaps Peter Diamandis is more of a thinker and doer than a writer (not that the book is poorly written) the concepts the book lays out are mind opening, and Peter is a fascinating human. As founder of the X-Prize foundation, Peter has a deep commitment to moving the planet forward, largely through technology. The book lays out in detail how, despite how the media may present it, the world is becoming a better place with every day that passes, and as the power and integration technology grows at an exponential rate, things are only going to keep getting better.
If I had to pick one book that I connected with the most this year it would probably by The Art Of Asking by Amanda Palmer. The book is often labeled as an expansion on her overwhelmingly popular TED Talk, but in my opinion, that’s selling the book waaaaayyy short.
The book is an extremely emotional view into Amanda’s soul and to me was all about connection with other people, why we’re so scared to make those connections, and why we must break through the vulnerability and open ourselves up to the world.
I would highly recommend the audiobook version of this one, as Amanda reads it herself. She obviously put all of her heart and soul into the book and her voice is really the only one that can do it justice. I would probably say that this is the best audiobook I’ve ever read.
Tony Hsieh is the founder of Zappos, known around the world as having one of the most unique (and strongest) company cultures of any company in the world (for example, every new employee is offered $2000 to quit after 2 weeks, as they only want people working for them who actually want to work there).
Besides a fascinating look into how to craft a winning culture, this is a rousing story of Tony’s entrepreneurial journey including all of the highs and lows, and the tumultuous journey of Zappos from inception to being acquired by Amazon for nearly a billion dollars.
2016 Saw Malcolm Gladwell become one of my very favourite authors. His style of storytelling envelopes you completely and yet conveys an incredible amount of information at the same time, that has a way of sticking with you.
What The Dog Saw is a collection of Malcolm’s favourite articles that he’s written for the New Yorker, and are incredibly insightful and entertaining. This is truly journalism at it’s finest.
Like all of his audiobooks, Malcolm reads it himself which only adds to the experience as his voice is as engaging as his writing.
My favourite line in the book comes from the forward where he describes how he finds the story in the somewhat obscure topics he writes about (ketchup, women’s hair dye, etc)
“If you believe that everything is interesting, you’ll find that it is.”
There’s so much wisdom in that quote, and it’s changed the way I look at the world for the better.
Probably my favourite Gladwell book thus far, Outliers is a look into what makes those exceptionally successful or seemingly “gifted” people capable of what they do. Similar in concept to Mastery discussed earlier in this list, but written in a much more engaging style of storytelling that is absolutely spellbinding.
My favourite concept from the book is one that I’ve believed for a while about myself and was reinforced further. People who achieve success rarely do so entirely on their own. We all owe a great deal of success or failure to circumstances beyond our control, genetics, luck, connections, etc. However, even with all the circumstances falling in our favour, it still takes a tremendous amount of dedication, work and tenacity to truly become an outlier in the mold of Bill Gates, The Beatles et al.
I didn’t have much expectation of this book going into it. I’m not into long distance running, and I thought that that’s what the book was about. I was wrong.
Born To Run definitely centers around long distance running, but it is also a fascinating scientific inquiry into the human relationship with running, as well as a rousing adventure travel story, one of the best in fact that I’ve ever read.
Absolutely a fantastic read, one of the most fun books I read this year.
Daring Greatly is along the same lines as Rising Strong, discussed earlier. It revolves again around vulnerability and dispels the myth that vulnerability is a weakness. I think everyone should read these two books, but I think the most can be taken by men, especially those who are able to approach these books with an open mind.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
– Theodore Roosevelt
Another Gladwell on the list. Can you tell I’m a fan yet?
In Blink Malcolm explores that feeling or knowing we often refer to as “our gut”, “instinct”, or “a hunch”. It’s that part of our being that seems to be a level beyond conscious thought, and more often than not seems to be correct.
He breaks down how this knowledge works, and what you have to do you develop a reliable gut instinct.
A really, really, fascinating read with fantastic stories and case studies.
A book about grief, death, marriage, family, heartbreak and hope. A powerful book written about the death of Joan Didion’s husband days before New Years 2004, after only days earlier watching their daughter be put into a medically induced coma and life support after suddenly falling ill.
Incredibly touching and a beautiful insight into life and connection.
As a photographer, I found this especially enlightening and powerful, but I think most readers would agree that this is an absolutely fantastic book.
An autobiography of acclaimed conflict photographer Lynsey Addario focusing on her photographic journey, which ultimately lead her to view some of the worst – and best – of humanity during her time working in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, The Congo, and Libya, among others.
More than a book on photography, Lynsey delves into what it is to be a woman in a male-dominated field, the nature of how the media shapes the perception of international conflicts, and the nature of home and relationships when living or working abroad.
I don’t think there can be any doubt that this was the most important book I read this year. It sounds like a cheesy self-help book, but once you get into the book you’ll realize that this is the essential manual that no one has ever given you on how to relate lovingly to your fellow humans and really connect with them in a way that they understand.
Over the years since the success of this initial book which focuses on intimate relationships with a partner, Gary Chapman has released a wide array of books applying the framework to relationships of various kinds. It’s not hard however to apply the concepts in this issue to relationships of any kind, however.
I wish I had been exposed to this book years ago, but am incredibly grateful that I’ve read it now. This is one I’ll probably read many more times.
I was first exposed to Dan Ariely through his excellent TED talks, and ever since, this book has been on my to-read list. It’s a fascinating insight into how (and maybe why) humans make seemingly irrational decisions every day. These decisions just don’t seem to make sense when you stop to look at them, and yet we as a species make the same types of irrational decisions consistently.
Dan has a wonderful, humorous writing style that makes some of the denser information and studies easily digestible.
I just happened upon this book one day on my audiobook app and decided to check it out. Am I ever glad I did.
One of the funniest books I read this year, Randall Munroe started his career as a programer and roboticist for NASA before moving on to write his popular blog and web comic xkcd.com full time.
The blog is heavily science-based, infused with razor sharp wit and humour, and is the result of the mass amount of reader-submitted questions he’s received over the years, and is reminiscent of a kid asking their parents “what would happen if…”
The scenarios presented to Munroe by readers range from long shot to completely absurd, and he applies his (and his equally erudite scientific contacts) scientific intellect to answer them in an accurate a manner as possible, according to observed and theoretical science.
Simply hilarious, and a great read if your mind tends toward the absurd.
One of two books on the history of the English language I read this year, both of which were enlightening as well as humourous. It’s easy to take for granted the language we speak, and which has now spread across the globe, but have you ever wondered why English was so widely adopted, or how it evolved?
This book takes us through 100 different words in the English language, providing a backstory, and the effect of the word – or words like it – on our modern day language.
If you’re looking for a laugh, it’s hard to beat the storytelling style of David Sedaris. I read a few of his books this year and found myself laughing out loud through all of them. If you get the audiobooks he reads them himself, which simply can’t be beat. His voice lends itself perfectly to the neurosis of his daily escapades.
Film and TV producer Brian Grazer takes us through his view on the concept of curiosity, an underexplored subject as he sees it, and how curiosity has shaped his life.
As someone who is naturally curious myself, I really identified with Brian on his interest in the subject, and particularly enjoyed his concept of “curiosity conversations” where he regularly weasels his way into interviews with people who lead lives outside of his circle of experience and absorbs as much as he can from them about what it’s like to be them, or someone in a position similar to them.
As I’m currently living nomadically and don’t have a lot of possessions, this book wasn’t as practically useful as it might have been to someone looking to downsize their possessions or de-clutter their life. However, I found that Marie Kondo’s relationship with her possessions was fascinating and enlightening, as was her view on how our things have a way of inhibiting us of achieving what we want to in life, usually without us even realizing.
The final book I finished in 2016 was a doozy, both in length and depth. To be honest I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet. It’s going to take some time to process, and probably at least a few more reads.
Deeply philosophical and yet entirely captivating, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenence will leave you shaking your head at times, wondering what the hell is going on, and yet you won’t be able to put it down
And that’s it! My favourite and the most impactful books that I read (or listened to) in the past year. I can’t wait to add to the list in this new year!
What are the best or most impactful books you read in the past year? Let me know in the comments, as I’m always looking for something good to read!
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