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My Top 10 Books for Today

My Top 10 Books for Today

A good book goes untouched by hyperbole. We hold in our hands a veritable treasure trove of insights composed by the world’s greatest minds, a work of art often involving years – or decades! – of their lives. Descartes reminds us reading a good book is the equivalent of a “conversation with the finest minds of past centuries” (including this one). But where to start? Which one next? Very much like exercise, the key question may have more to do with the what (reading) than the how (which book), However, with upwards of 1 million books published each year, I thought you might appreciate a peek into some of my favorites over the years. What follows is today’s version, focused on relatively recent (1992 – 2022) non-fiction. Although I love keeping a classic in my ongoing 3-book rotation (generally aim for 1 book from before 1966, 1 recent and 1 wildcard) and there are some excellent “hot off the presses” options, this list leans in on books that have remained of value long after I’ve turned the final page. With that said, here is my “Top 10 for Today,” provided in reverse order of release date:

1. Do Hard Things – Steve Magness (2022)

The writing team of Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness consistently provide high value in both their books and their Growth Equation newsletter. I drained the ink from at least one pen underlining and jotting notes in the margins of Steve’s latest. If you’ve not yet tapped into this dynamic duo, they provide several valuable places to start. No hype – solid, evidence-based insights for life.

2. Think Again – Adam Grant (2021)

I previously labeled this as the most important book of the year if that provides context for where it sits on my list. Additionally, it was the obvious choice for our traditional “library-building” book I purchase for our (adult) kids for Christmas last year. Grant provides outstanding insights on how we can stop mindlessly following the crowd and learn to think like a scientist – a skillset that is becoming more and more critical in today’s world!

3. Good Habits, Bad Habits – Wendy Wood (2019)

We’ve given away more copies of Dr. Wood’s book than any other (by far). Often lost among similar titles by BJ Fogg, James Clear and others, GH/BH is my personal favorite on the subject of habits. She also joined us on the Catalyst 360 podcast and later an extremely popular keynote speaker at the Rocky Mountain Coaching Retreat & Symposium

4. The Second Mountain – David Brooks (2019)

For those in/approaching the second half of life, this book sits at the top of my list. Brooks is a multiple-time best-selling author and NY Times columnist and his authentic, thought-provoking book provides a valued companion through this unique phase of life’s journey.

5. How Emotions Are Made – Lisa F. Barrett (2017)

Dr. Barrett’s takes a complicated subject (brain research) and creates a fascinating guidebook to understanding the science behind our emotions and the role they play (and don’t have to play) in our daily lives. Rich with content, I got a slow start with this one, but was soon captured by the practical aspects of a complicated subject and they way she effectively spliced in engaging, real world examples.

6. Skin In the Game – Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2017)

Taleb is a brilliant thinker and writer (e.g., Black Swan) who challenges the status quo and proceeds to back it up. Skin explores the role of personal accountability in our decision-making process and the application both personally and institutionally. The importance of having “skin in the game” is taken beyond it’s original context (gambling) and into our everyday lives… and world! This book was a prior “library-building” book choice for our adult kids.

7. Deep Work – Cal Newport (2016)

Phew! This one hit me at the perfect time – during our annual “no internet” vision retreat in the mountains. It is filled with insights for making the most of personal and professional life in the midst of the most distraction-filled time in history. In fact, even my approach to writing (among a multitude of other aspects) shifted as a result of Newport’s insights.

8. Falling Upward – Richard Rohr (2011)

Destined to become a classic, Rohr’s 2011 text was re-released (2024) with a forward from none other than Brene Brown. It explores the spiritual journey of the two halves of life, suggesting the first half focuses on achievement and the second half personal transformation. Loss, failure, and surrender play a key role through the transition as the reader is encouraged to embrace paradoxes on the transformative journey.

9. The Art of Possibility – Rosamund S. Zander (2000)

While I made no attempt to “order” this list, if you were to walk into my office library and ask me to pick a favorite, this would likely be the choice. Co-written with Boston Philharmonic conductor (and her husband) Benjamin Zander, the reader is provided vast insights on living life with a possibilities mindset. If you’re looking for a book to break you out of limiting beliefs and opening your eyes to the potential we all have within us, this book is an exceptionally solid choice.

10. The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron (1992)

If the recent column encouraging we knock on the silence for the answering music resonated, then you’re likely to soak in this one. As we look for opportunities to treat, not just poetry & painting, but our very lives as works of art, Cameron provides a process for doing so. Incorporating daily practices and themes of self-discovery, overcoming creative blocks and more, she walks alongside us as we knock and listen. Bonus: Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art or Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act are excellent accompanying texts on this subject.

Additional consideration of note: Avoid the mistake I made for years of focusing more on “how many books” you’re reading than how each book read is stretching and growing you. For years, I had a target of reading 25 books/year, and would move from one to the next. Last year, I decided I no longer cared how many books were read and instead wanted to be sure I was truly digesting the ones I did read. My pace slowed, my notes increased, and I’m loving time soaking in wisdom from these incredible authors more than ever.

Additional consideration – Part II: Give each book a chance but don’t give it more than it deserves. At one point I felt like once I started a book, I was obligated to finish it. Not anymore! With most books I have more trouble setting them down than continuing forward, as I’ve vetted them through people I trust or pick up recommendations from other authors of note. But sometimes, I’ll get 80+ pages in and decide “this isn’t worth my time (at least not today).” I’ll set it aside, perhaps return a time or two, and occasionally decide to literally “put it on the shelf.” Read often. Read deeply. But leave the “shoulds” on the shelf.

Thanks for coming along for this journey down memory lane. Simply compiling this brief list caused a mini yearning to dig back into these favs. If helpful, we can explore further into the library of opportunities in the future, as it would have been easy to expand this list to 25+ all-timers. Until then, what would you include on your top 10 list??

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