My Fifteen Favorite Books of 2019
Updated: Jan 8
Ever come across a book you wish you had found years earlier?
This year I was on a roll. I had the good fortune to be pointed to so many paradigm-shifting books.
They've made me a better man, dad, coach, and (hopefully) friend.
Without further ado, here are some books I really enjoyed this year.
Range: Why Generalists Thrive in a Specialized World - by David Epstein.
Given I like to think of myself as a master generalist when it comes to health, I was thrilled to see an affirming book title! This book opened my mind to the paradigm of "kind" and "wicked" learning environments. His overall theme is how having "range" (i.e. the ability to see what others, specialists in particular, miss), is a key factor in finding real, creative, solutions. This book really affirmed our approach of coaching the whole human--mind, emotions, and body.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Why Everything You Know About Success is (Mostly) Wrong
- by Eric Barker (love the irony of his name)
This book got better with each chapter. The last chapter was so good I listened to it four times! My biggest takeaways were about taking a hard look at my capacity and the reality of where to direct my limited energy. He uses great illustrations to show how having both a clear definition of success, and a thoughtful, detailed plan are make-or-break when it comes to enduring success. Great book!
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much - by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir
This was another paradigm shifter because it zoomed out on all forms of scarcity (time, money, energy, etc) and showed how any type of scarcity impacts our ability to make good decisions. It exposes the loops we get stuck in and how recognizing them can help us break free. The book also gave me a much greater level of empathy to consider a person's context in relation to how they're behaving.
Mind Hacking Happiness: The Quickest Way to Happiness and Controlling Your Mind
- by Sean Webb
This book could probably been half the size and just as good. That said, some of the insights into how we allow ourselves to be unhappy were profound. Whether because of 1) the narratives we tell ourselves, or 2) the expectations we bring to situations, so much of the happiness we miss is because we are looking at situations the wrong way. His discussions of parenting and dealing with aging parents have definitely stuck with me.
PRODUCTIVITY AND LIFESTYLE ENHANCERS
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World - by Cal Newport
For anyone who gets paid for their knowledge, you gotta read this book, or similar ones like The War of Art (by Steven Pressfield). Doing deep, meaningful work, requires mental white space--i.e. the time to let the mind wander, and then come back to a block of focus without distraction. This book is great for solidifying your buy-in regarding protecting your time, and about giving you practical ways to evaluate how you might want to spend it.
Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning - by Peter C Brown
Being in the business of helping people make lasting change (not quick-fixes), I was excited to find a book about how I can help my clients (and myself) remember more of what I learn. I picked up several new insights and habits that have helped me, my family (we homeschool our kids) and our clients, retain more of the potentially life-changing information we have to share with them. If you're a teacher, or tend to forget what you learn, check it out.
Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results - by James Clear
This book is a runaway best seller this year and I see why. Both this and his weekly newsletter are full of so many super-practical, thought-provoking nuggets. I love how he frames human motivation around the concept of identity, and shows how that undercurrent of how we see ourselves drives us to be successful, or drives us away from our goals. You'll learn a lot about yourself in this book. Thanks Marsha for sending this to me!
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
- by Bessel Van der Kolk MD
This is a magnum opus type book! Nina and I were both blown away by it. The discussions of how the body manifests/remembers physical and emotional trauma has changed the way we see so many issues with ourselves and our clients. For a man who can prescribe any medication, it was refreshing to see how little he recommends meds, and how the other therapies he details are way more effective. Because of the traumatic stories, this is a tough book to read at times, but nothing I can think of has given me more empathy.
Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement - by Katy Bowman
This down-to-earth, but brilliant lady has shifted the way I think about exercise and movement. If you're someone who "doesn't like exercise," there's a good chance you'll like this book. Her discussion of a "movement ecology" and how countless things you've never thought of regarding how you move (or don't move) throughout your day, will likely change the way you think too. You'll see "exercise" in a totally new light.
Healthy Gut, Healthy You - by Michael Ruscio
Wanting to improve my own gut health this year, I decided it was time to do a legit, deep dive into studying digestion. This book is a good bridge between the hard-science reads, and the often fluffy, best-sellers that are better at marketing than actually giving good health advice. In addition to helping sort good science from bad, he also helped me see a spectrum of aggressiveness and gave me a framework to discern the logical trial-and-error steps most likely to lead to results.
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration - by Weston A. Price
I read this book nearly 12 years ago, and upon reading it again was reminded of how much of a stud Weston Price was. He should be called the "Indiana Jones of Nutrition." His work around the globe in the 1930s, meticulously documenting the health and diets of people on five continents, is unparalleled. Because this classic came at a time in history, before mass production and convenience foods made today's landscape of healthy eating so confusing, I think the lessons here are more profound today than ever...for those who have eyes to see them.
How to Win Friends and Influence People - by Dale Carnegie
Yeah...I'm way late to the party on this one! I wish I had read this, pretty much every year since I was in high school. The emotional intelligence and people skills passed on in this timeless classic are as relevant today as ever. I love it that human nature doesn't change. This book has enriched my interactions with people, and it will definitely be a book my kids are required to read before they leave the home. You will only help yourself enjoy life more by reading this book.
The Meaning of Marriage - by Timothy Keller
My favorite line from this book was "My wife has been married to five different men, and all of them are me." I love how it paints a picture of us growing over time. I think anyone, married or unmarried could benefit from this book. Nina and I both listened to it, and it has given us both a greater level of grace and understanding for each other. It has also helped us both become less self-focused and more interested in how we can help each other become more of who we are meant to be. Great read!
Unbroken - by Laura Hillenbrand
If you ever hear me complain again, slap me. Nothing I can imagine enduring could compare to what Louis Zamperini went through during his time before, during, and after being a POW to the Japanese in World War II. This amazing true story of resilience and redemption is simply mind-blowing. The book covers the gamut of human depravity, force of will, and the ability to forgive and find healing. Incredible!
Hawaii - by James Michener
This book was my mental escape to a warmer place last winter. It's a brilliant fiction book that paints the picture of the known history of Hawaii. It's over 900 pages, but it's a truly fascinating read that gave me a great appreciation for a culture I knew little about. It also made me excited to go see the islands again some day. Thank you Nancy for the book!
BOOKS I'M EXCITED TO READ/FINISH NEXT YEAR
Here is a partial list of some of what I have on tap for next year. Hopefully all of these will make it into my review of books this time next year.
Thinking Fast and Slow - by Daniel Kahneman
The Art of Explanation - by Lee Lefever
Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Life and Work - by Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most - by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
Can you recommend a book that's made a big impact on you? I'd love to hear about it. Send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's to you finding a good book to read this holiday season.
PS. If you want some help getting your health in order--you know, lose weight, stop pain, heal your body...that sort of thing: Check this out.