“If you stop learning, you are obsolete.”
Entrepreneurs and intra-preneurs learn like crazy. (If you don’t know what an intra-preneur is, check out this list of business terms). An intra-preneur is changing the game in his or her current company by breaking the rules, building new programs, and becoming indispensible within their company. An entrepreneur is building something new (often with limited resources) within or beyond the current system: a new company, a new way of communicating, a new way to organize people or things and space.
They learn by testing, iterating, observation, and becoming a sponge for knowledge. We soak in knowledge about our given fields of expertise, and we expand our skillsets by learning about correlating fields that complement and reflect our given fields, and we strive to be better in the specific areas within and related to our business.
Last year I read a book a week, which worked (on average) although I didn’t always make it each week. (More often than not, I found time to read on planes…) Here’s my hit list for my favorites from the past year–a list of 50 of the best books I’ve read in the last year. If you only have time to read three, start with The Social Animal, The Essential Drucker, and (well, this is hard to pick only three) … Trust Agents. Those are the standouts for me this year.
Here are more than 50 great books for the next year, which include some of my all-time favorites from the past year. Consider this your “syllabus” for the next year, if you’re committed to learning and growing. In many cases, notes are included, categorized by my areas of interest.Please note: I’ve purchased, read, marked-up and loved each of these books, below, and they occupy space on my bookshelves near and dear to my heart. I’ve linked to them directly to Amazon–which gives me a bit of money for referring my favorites if you decide to buy it (but by no means enough to quit my day job!)–and I also review some of these books in depth on this blog, so you could skip straight to the summaries if you wanted to. Regardless, that’s the “behind the scenes” bits I have to tell you in my acts of curation.
If you know of some great ones I should check out, please leave a note in the comments. Enjoy!
“Learn like it’s your job, your passion, your food, and your fuel. Learning is a necessity. Crave it.”
Marketing & Advertising
- Tested Advertising Methods, by Prentice Hall Business Classics. A primer on all things copywriting and advertising.
- Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Considered the father of advertising and a guru of branding, marketing and product management, Trout brings together elements of psychology and user experience to show how to describe things to the people that matter to your business–your customers. It’s not how you understand what you do; it’s how well you explain it to others, in a way that stands out.
- Oglivy on Advertising. One of the premier advertising and sales books of all times. Oglivy is a genius. “Ogilvy’s writing is captivating. His work, legendary. His ideas, timeless.” I’ve only begun to dig into the genius in this book, and fully expect to have it dog-eared, flagged, marked, highlighted, and re-read multiple times over.
Information, Communication, Curation & Media
- Trust Agents, by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan. Destined to be a classic. How do people become online influencers? They do more than provide content: they establish valuable relationships, reputations, and utilize media to build trust relationships as leaders and agents in an increasingly interconnected, complex world.
- Information Anxiety 1 and Information Anxiety 2, both by Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED Conferences and author of 80+ books. For excerpts, check out this article. Issue 1 is out of print, but can be purchased used. Hat tip to Lauren Manning for pointing me to these books.
- In The Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. “We’re filling up the world with technology and devices, but we’ve lost sight of an important question: What is this stuff for? What value does it add to our lives?” This is the premise of John Thackara’s book. The book is all text and theory, about design but not visual in and of itself. Main thesis? That we’re regaining respect for the abilities that people have–by becoming increasingly aware of what technology still can’t do.
- Bruce Mao: Massive Change. One of the most visually-stunning, eye-candy laden books about the new inventions and technologies affecting the human race. A collection of stimulating essays and questions about how the world operates–and what designers and planners alike are doing about it.
- How to Think Like Great Graphic Designer, by Debbie Millman. A series of wonderful, thought-provoking, and deliciously accessible interviews with some of the 20th and 21st century’s leading thinkers and designers. Highlighted all over, particularly the interview with Milton Glaser.
- Thinking with Type, Edition 2, by Ellen Lupton. One of my favorite books on typography, layout and style. Most font and style books don’t give enough visual examples labeled and annotated to truly teach; this book is a definitive overview and beautiful guide to using typography, layout, and white space in print (and web) design.
- Information Architecture, by Christina Wodtke. The illustrations can be a bit kitchy at times, but the content and organization is great. A good overview of how information flow, diagramming, and understanding sequences chains is pertinent before starting major projects or designs.
- The Visual Miscellaneum. One of my favorite books to pick up with countless illustrations, diagrams, and information–visualized. Understanding how to show the story of data, and make information meaningful, is an arduous task. This is a collection of hundreds of beautiful examples. No more designers’ block!
Business & Entrepreneurship
- Start With Why, by Simon Sinek. A review of some of the most innovative, influential people and organizations in the world. Start by building a foundation and culture that answers “Why” before you ask “What” or “How.”
- The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufmann. A $15 book in exchange for a $150,000 education? Seems like a no-brainer. A relevant resource that I consult repeatedly. How to build value, what a USP is, how to work well by yourself and with others, and fundamentals of starting your own business.
- The Accidental Entrepreneur, by Susan-Urquhart Brown. A shorter read, and less in-depth than Kaufmann’s book, but still filled with valuable information and great advice for anyone starting out. Covers fundamentals of marketing, creating a business plan, and traits of successful entrepreneurs.
- ReWork, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. In an earlier post, “Thirteen outstanding business ideas from ReWork,” I cover the tips about the book in more detail. Read it. It’s short, straight-forward, and outstanding.
- Change by Design, by Tim Brown of Ideo. Theories about design-thinking and innovation: how good ideas happen, and the processes and rigors behind developing great ideas.
- End Malaria, edited by Michael Bungay Stanier. ”62 Business thinkers pushing you to rethink the way you work.” Ignore the title, albeit good; it’s deceiving. This is a book of essays by some of the most brilliant across industries. Listen to them.
Management & Leadership
- The Essential Drucker – The Best Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management. Considered the father of modern management, this book shifted how I think about the role of leadership and managing teams. Can’t put it down.
- Confessions of a Public Speaker, by Scott Berkun. Funny as hell, and likeable. Sound advice through good stories.
Organization & Effectiveness
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen. I don’t subscribe to all tactics GTD, but it did change how I thought about 2-minute tasks and the limitations of the human brain: we aren’t wired for as much as we think we are. Figure out how to override your shortcomings and really find systems that work.
- Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belksy and the founder of Behance. The system is different than GTD (focused on the action method), but another good way of re-configuring how you do your best work.
- Life After College, by Jenny Blake. Crowd-sourced tips on being awesome, figuring shit out, and getting beyond the craziness of life in your early twenties. Check out the full-length review here, with references to Jenny’s super-human powers, wonder-woman outfits, and killer heels.
- The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry. Strategies for becoming a creative, even if you feel like you aren’t one. Don’t think you need this? Todd argues that we all are creatives now–it’s no longer enough just do do your job.
- The Four-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss. I was skeptical of this at first, given that the man spent 15+ years testing and tweaking strategies obsessively all in the name of being able to eventually work 4-hours per week; but if you want to learn how to game the system, watch a man who does it well. (I suppose my ire is more suited towards the wannabes that followed who promised lifestyle design success–without any of the core research to back it up.)
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. Another mind-blowing organization and strategy book. My favorite premise is that the highest form of being is interdependence, and not independence or dependence. We need more thinking like this, particularly in our image-centric, ego-centric, independent entrepreneurial world. We definitely do not do any of it alone.
- How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. One of my favorite psychology writers of all time; constantly reveals how our brains work and what’s going on inside our strange heads.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. “Influence is a science.” It’s not magic; and Cialdini outlines six principles for how people relate to each other, socially, and why tools like reciprocity, scarcity, and liking affect how we interact with each other. And it’s fun to read.
- Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath. All about making ideas sticky, and the psychology of how we remember things.
- Predictably Irrational, by Dan Riley. The peculiarities of being human, and how and why we repeatedly behave weirdly.
- The Elements of Persuasion, by Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman. Master storytelling will get you further in persuading people – effectively getting them to do what you want. And in work and life, don’t you want to get what you want?
- The Social Animal, by David Brooks. Possibly–actually–my favorite book out of this entire list. A story that reads like fiction, Brooks reveals thousands of interesting insights about the human condition, all through the lens of a pair of people growing up, falling in love, and growing apart (and together again) over time. The unconscious mind is phenomenal.
- The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss. I’m not sure if this is a true story or not, but as a woman living in a city, this certainly opened my eyes to the games being played all around us.
- Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt. The subtitle, “why we drive the way we do – and what that says about us,” tells us that it’s more about our quirks as humans than about the fact that we’ve gone and made entirely awful-yet-awesome transportation systems designed around 10,000 pound steel structures. Good read, but not mind-blowing. Full review here.
Inspiration & Motivation
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. A book on writing and life, and all the zany-crazy-personality quirks in between. Fluttering between self-deprecation and frank honesty, Lamott tells the story of the difficulty of writing and getting out of our own way. Humorous at times and painful at others, I have owned this book for more than 10 years and refer to it readily whenever I experience my own writers’ block.
- Swimming to Antarctica, by Lynne Cox, one of the greatest open-water swimmers there ever was.
- Do The Work, by Stephen Pressfield. Also going to add in his other one, “The War Of Art” – both are brilliant ass-kickers to doing the work and actually getting out of your own way to do something.
- The Flinch, by Julien Smith. How and why to lean into discomfort, pain, and discipline: it’s not about being comfortable. It’s about getting comfortable being uncomfortable, and doing the painful or scary things. Without flinching.
- The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. Frank and reasonable sense about how ordinary-looking people with small-to-modest homes become millionaires by accumulation, not spending. A good reminder for me personally to worry less about “things” and “stuff” and focus on what matters (and what’s within my means).
- Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan. One of the first books that made economics make sense to me. Described the ins and outs of inflation, capital markets and finance to me. To be fair, I read this book for the first time a few years’ back and went back through it again this year, because it makes economics fascinating and interesting–and I got a bit out of the book the second time around, as well.
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi. The full review, “$10 for a financial wizard” covers my thoughts in detail. Worth the read for it’s psychological understanding of how we actually behave around and with money, and the idiotic things we say we’ll do, but never actually end up doing.
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami (and almost anything and everything by Haruki Murakami!). Essays from running, writing, and doing both over time. Beautiful.
- Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. Just don’t buy vibrams and start running half marathons straight away. Then you’re an idiot.
- To Have and Have Not. Ernest Hemingway. Classic.
- The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. What would become of the world without humans? How would cities fall and crumble, how would the ecology of place change, what would rust and tumble?
- Ender’s Game. Have read and re-read probably ten or more times.
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Depressing, by all means, but I stayed up until 5 AM just to finish this book.
- Last Child In The Woods, by Richard Louv. Reviewed over here, and one of the reasons why I love my job(s).
Know of any more great books? Leave notes in the comments!
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