I loved to read as a kid. Before the internet was mainstream, I would spend endless hours sitting on my window-sill, engrossed in huge hardback fiction books. I didn’t grow up watching TV (my parents never invested in cable, thankfully) and the TV that we did have only showed 5 channels. 4 of them worked.
It was only during the past couple of years that I realised that blog posts and long form articles just aren’t anywhere near enough. It’s like going to a restaurant, devouring three tables worth of bread and asking for the bill. Thankfully, having an iPhone and iPad with me on the 90 minute morning and evening commute helped me to get formally re-acquainted with real reading.
Inspired by the legendary reading habits of the late Aaron Swartz, here’s a brief summary of the handful of books I read in 2013. Books I strongly recommend are in bold.
1. The Flinch by Julien Smith (re-read)
I love three things about The Flinch. First, it’s incredibly minimal. At just 133 pages, it skips all of the bullshit and gets straight to the point – a formula I wish more authors would follow.
Second, both the book’s title and it’s contents make great use of a single, ubiquitous metaphor for fear and the simple methods for silencing it that will stick with you long after you put it down. Thirdly, it’s completely free. £0.00. Zilcho. Read it now and thank me later.
- Execute by Drew Wilson & Josh Long
Execute, like The Flinch, is an incredibly short book that focuses on a single point: taking action. While at times it can feel like a promotional tool for its authors, the book definitely made an impression on me, at least for a little while.
I wouldn’t recommend Execute as a book whose lessons will stick with you throughout your life, but more as a quick read for when you desperately need the motivation to kick start your next big project.
3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
This is the book that made Malcolm Gladwell famous and through which he coined the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’. Outliers looks beyond the typical success stories we tell ourselves of our idols and into the startling patterns of lucky-timing and time spent working that created the conditions to mold our heroes into who they are today.
It’s also a great read if you find Bill Gates’ story interesting (who doesn’t?) as Malcolm does a great job at explaining how the world’s richest man discovered computers. Malcolm’s theories are both incredibly observant and endlessly fascinating, even if a bit far-fetched at times.
- The Effortless Life by Leo Babauta
I’ve always been a big fan of Leo Babauta. This short book focuses on contentment and compassion toward yourself, your work and those around you. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but there are a few nice ideas for a simpler and less painful way of living, which is what Leo’s all about.
5. Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson
The biography we were all waiting for. If you’re a huge fan of Steve Jobs like I am, this rightfully lengthy look into his exceptional life will tell you everything you’ve always wanted to know and more. This is a story I’ll be passing down to my future children, for sure.
- The Little Book of Contentment by Leo Babauta
While at times feeling like a rehash of his previous work (something that can be said about a lot of Leo’s writing) The Little Book of Contentment is a brief look at mixing contentment with productivity and developing a calm and easygoing mindset. Again, no revelations here, just a few more good ideas wrapped in a nice, easy read.
7. What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro
Joe Navarro spent over 15 years working in FBI counterintelligence and counter-terrorism units. This book is the result of those years in the field and focuses primarily on identifying stress and emotional discomfort in non-verbal communications.
This book will not teach you how to tell if someone is lying. That’s the whole point. No book ever could and Joe makes sure to remind the reader of that fact repeatedly throughout, by firmly dismissing common urban myths and mainstream pseudo-science. This is a trait I really admire.
There’s some really eye opening observations here. The author introduces us to pacifying behaviours, non-verbal barriers and a handful of other cues that tell us that a person’s behaviour has changed and reminds us that merely in noticing a change in a persons behaviour isn’t enough. The importance lies in finding out why. If you want to learn about real body language, don’t bother with other books. This is the one to read.
8. The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero
A beautiful love letter to design and the creative practice in general. Every time I’m reminded of this book, I feel an almost uncontrollable urge to read it again. If you feel like you were born to create, you were born to read this. Bravo, Frank Chimero. Bravo.
9. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The classic. I think all good things that can be said about this book have already been said a million times over, so all I’ll say is that this is probably the best book ever written for learning to understand and work with other people. The fact that it was first published in 1936 only makes it that much more incredible. This is a book that everyone should read.
10. The Game by Neil Strauss (re-read)
Essential reading for any young man. Neil Strauss’ honesty, immersive narrative and keen sense of observation make this book almost impossible to put down, no matter how many times you read it.
A visceral insight into why we interact with women the way we do, it’ll make you smack your forehead as much as it makes you fantasize about being an undercover pick-up artist.
11. Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday
During 2012, I unsubscribed from Gizmodo and Lifehacker’s RSS Feeds and vowed to never read their trash again. Later reading Ryan Holiday’s first foray onto the bestseller list confirmed all of my suspicions about media manipulation. As if we needed another reason to hate Gawker Media.
Working in marketing and advertising (at the time of reading) I wasn’t shocked to discover how many similarities there are between manipulating mainstream press and marketing products.
12. Act Accordingly by Colin Wright
I’m a long time fan of Colin Wright. While he began writing about travel and minimalism through Exile Lifestyle, his essays have become more philosophical and his perspective infinitely more valuable over the years.
He gives incredible life advice without sounding like he’s giving advice at all. Reading this short book felt more like sharing a beer with Colin and swapping stories about our lives and the lessons we’ve learned. Colin seems wise beyond his years, but I’m sure he would disagree with me on that.
It’s obvious that he favours quality over quantity and that really comes through in this book. If you feel like you’re in need of some non-condescending yet rock-solid wisdom, Act Accordingly is a great place to start.
- Networking Awesomely by Colin Wright
An earlier book of Colin’s, Networking Awesomely provides solid advice on navigating the professional world and getting to know people. I feel like I’m pretty good at this, but I still found myself smacking my forehead a few times when I realised what I’ve been doing wrong.
14. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo
If you’re a cynic, you’ll read the title of this book and expect a bunch of fluffy tips on how to present to a crowd without pissing your pants. Surprisingly though, the book does exactly what it promises to do; it digs deep into Steve Jobs’ legendary presentation style and offers a handful of invaluable techniques at presenting effectively.
Every time I’m scheduled to present, I re-read my notes on this book before I even think about what I’m going to say and long before I open Keynote for the first time.
15. The 48 Laws Of Power by Robert Greene
I’ve got 2 words for Robert Greene’s 48 Laws – absolutely fascinating. Despite clocking in at over 500 pages (apparently long, by today’s standards) I found myself genuinely wishing it would never end.
The 48 Laws of Power uses captivating stories from hundreds to thousands of years ago to illustrate the fundamental theories, plans and most importantly – actions – that lead to power, along with the fatal blunders that lead to its loss.
16. Clues to Deceit by Joe Navarro
After reading What Every Body is Saying, I found myself hungry for more of Joe Navarro’s observations. In the words of the author, Clues to Deceit is a practical list of non-verbal behaviours, designed to be carried with you and referenced quickly when needed.
Once you’ve trained yourself to observe body language, you’ll want a book like this to come back to so that you can understand and interpret the non-verbal behaviour you see in yourself and others.
As I mentioned, I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked in 2013, so I vow to read at least three times as much in 2014. That’s about a book a week. This post went up a month late, which I’m blaming on my spending so much time reading. I can do that, right?