I’ve started writing year-end book lists rather than summer reading lists. See past lists here.
I recently heard someone say that they only read books that are more than ten years old. His thinking is that if the book is still getting good reviews after all that time then it must be really good. I think I like that idea. A lot of newer books that get good reviews don’t end up standing the test of time. This past year I read a lot of new books. I’m going to change that in 2019.
Here are the best books I read in 2018, in order:
Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’m such a believer in the power of habits. Motivating yourself every day is just too damn hard. This book offers a very actionable guide for creating them. A fast read with great advice that you can put into action right away.
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes. Business history is my favorite book genre. This one gives the reader all the detail on these three amazing entrepreneurs and the competitive dynamics they faced in trying to commercialize electricity and light. Not much has fundamentally changed in entrepreneurship since the 1800s. Success in new ventures requires the ability for the founder to see the crazy big opportunity that most can’t see. Most people thought electric lights would only be used to replace gas street lamps. These three saw so much more than that.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. The story of the rise and fall of Theranos. Even if you don’t care about tech or healthcare or startups this one is just a great read. It reads like a great fiction novel. Carreyrou was the Wall Street Journal reporter that exposed what was really happening within the company and this book lays out all the troubling detail.
Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferris. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The only reason it isn’t first on the list is because it isn’t really a book; it’s a series of short interviews with dozens of world-class performers (writers, entrepreneurs, athletes, etc.). It talks about their habits, morning routines, secrets to success and other philosophies on life. I made more highlights in this book than any book I’ve ever read. After reading nearly 600 pages of interviews with high performing individuals, if I had to summarize their secrets to success I’d say it’s two things: they read a lot and they meditate daily.
The High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil. Gil has been through it all at several high growth startups (Airbnb, Twitter, Google, and others). This book is basically a technical handbook on growing a startup. It offers extremely practical and actionable advice and gets really, really specific. I’d call this a must read for any first-time founder.
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes. The title says it all. A fascinating and detailed look at the way societies have evolved and why some have done so well while others have struggled (hint: it’s mostly about climate). Despite the heavy topic, Landes keeps this one pretty readable.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. I think I’ve read everything Junger has written since the Perfect Storm (one of my absolute favorites). He’s such a great writer. Tribe is a quick read and covers the topic of PTSD for veterans returning from war and the irony that so many troops are happier at war than they are when they return home. The reason is that war-time creates such strong bonds between platoons regardless of race or ideology or other individual traits. It creates enormously strong ties and loyalty and there’s a strong human desire to belong to a tribe. All that seems to fall apart when troops return home. A troubling but really interesting topic.
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell. This is a classic leadership book that I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it until someone recommended it to me a few months ago. The book chronicles Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leadership of his crew through a failed 1914 Antarctic expedition. Shackleton’s boat got stuck in ice and sank in the middle of the Antarctic and he and his crew survived for two years before being rescued. The story itself is amazing but Morrell lays out really interesting and classic leadership lessons from Shackleton along the way.
This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See by Seth Godin. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of Seth books and I rarely miss his daily blog posts. Seth’s books are always a little idealistic and aspirational and this one is no different. This one is sort of a summary of most of Seth thoughts on marketing. If you haven’t read anything by Seth this one would be a good place to start, though I think Permission Marketing should be required reading for business school students and is one of the best business books ever written. So read that one too.
Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion Dollar Company and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff. The story of how Benioff flipped the enterprise software business on its head. This is a great read for anyone that works in enterprise software. Someone recently made the point that every 1% of Salesforce.com’s market cap represents a unicorn. I think this company is going to be really interesting to watch over the next several years. There are literally hundreds of startups trying to unbundle this massive CRM. Benioff is an outstanding salesman and a great leader and for anyone that works in enterprise software this one is definitely worth reading.