This book list features my favorites from the big stack of books I’ve read this year.
A few years back I used my book challenge to encourage myself to spend more time nose-to-the-page if you will, but this year I gave myself a pass. This meant two things.
First I allowed myself to stop reading a book even if I had gotten past halfway, and even if I was 90% done with the book. Second, I allowed myself to indulge in some absurdly long books which kept me from reading other things. Maybe I missed out on a few new and challenging ideas, but I enjoyed myself as I indulged in the books I chose, and that counts more to me.
This list includes my favorite books, all of which I read to completion. I present them in no particular order, but the last three *are* my highlighted favorites.
Biographies & Autobiographies
- Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. – Ron Chernow
This is a fascinating story of one of the most successful businessmen in American history. He based his oil trading company out of Cleveland, right by the river so he could leverage the railroad against the boats and back for the lowest prices. I will admit that some of the details are hazy as I listened to this during many long nights watching a tiny baby.
- Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey
I greatly enjoyed listening to this book with Matthew McConaughey telling his own stories and even doing a few amusing accents (Australian!). The highlight for me was the training regime he designed leading up to the film Reign of Fire (where he fought dragons alongside Christian Bale).
- The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music – Dave Grohl
The stories from Dave Growl encapsulate an amazing period of rock history through the 90s and aughts, filled with success, failures, and everything in between.
When I heard the story of a concert in which Dave Grohl broke his leg jumping off stage, only to remain on stage rocking out in a chair while they put a cast on him… If you ever wanted to know what a rock star crossed with superheroes might do, check out these stories.
- Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A. – Eve Babitz
Often compared to Joan Didion, this author covers the “voluptuous quality of LA” in the 1960s. And there’s so much humor injected into her stories that you can’t help but appreciate her troubles as opportunities to exercise her wit in describing the situations.
- Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches – S.C.Gwynne
The harrowing story of how settlers squashed the most powerful Indian tribe in American history scares me but also shows incredible feats of courage and bravery.
- Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers – Gabriel Weinberg
I’m trying to get more into marketing and understanding how you actually take a great product and get in front of people. This book offers an incredible overview of the artistry of reaching customers.
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It – Chris Voss
This book offers incredibly valuable and actionable advice for negotiating with anyone and everyone. If you don’t think you need to negotiate, think again. Anytime you disagree with someone, they become the customer for your idea or point of you. Which makes you the salesperson. It’s become clear to me that negotiation is a basic skill needed for every day life.
- Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization – John Wooden
So much great advice in this book and all of it is backed by Lil simple stories, but the biggest lesson is just that life isn’t about winning. It’s about showing up and doing your best every day and finding satisfaction in that.
- The Book of Form and Emptiness – Ruth Ozeki
I got sucked into the writing by this author, and the characters fascinated me. The story offers a glimpse into the mind of someone who hears voices, meanwhile it offers a harsh critique of consumerism in our society.
- Real Tigers (Slough House, #3) – Mick Herron
I got sucked into this series through the Apple TV show, and when I wanted more and heard that there were multiple books available, I snatched up the second book. But it’s really in the third book at the author hits his stride, offers an interesting story and caught me up in a fun spy narrative.
- The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) – Patrick Rothfuss
I barely noticed the writing style as this story pulled me in with stories inside stories and a fun universe with alchemy that is somewhere between magic and chemistry. As I began the second book in the series, I came to notice the author’s perfect choice of words that just carry you along into this fun world.
- Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has been top of mind lately with pop-culture discussions of his show Sandman on Netflix. But that was too dark for me. So I went back and read an old Neil Gaiman novel (which also became a movie), and the story offers light-hearted characters, adventures, and escapades, and still includes some of the darker sides of any tale.
The Terrific Top Three
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip Heath
This book is full of actionable lessons on how to share information clearly and so that it spreads.
And I got a lot out of the explanation for why creative genius is not required to cook up a great idea.
“If you’re a great spotter, you’ll always trump a great creator. Why? Because the world will always produce more great ideas than any single individual, even the most creative one.”
(BONUS: Jono’s Made to Stick Book Notes)
- Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life – Jennifer Aaker & Naomi Bagdonas
I have underappreciated how valuable humor is, and the incredible gift of laughter. This book offers practical tips on adding more levity to work and in life. I’ve taken on the challenge of trying to come up with a funny sign-off for every email. Even if I decide it’s not worth, including, at least it makes me take myself seriously for a few moments.
(BONUS: Jono’s Humor Seriously Book Notes)
- Invention: A Life – James Dyson
This book inspired me in so many ways, most specifically, with the lesson that learning to sell some thing unorthodox opens the doors for you to make all sorts of new products because you weren’t limited to what someone would put on the shelf today.
(BONUS: Jono’s Invention Book Notes)
More to Read
If you enjoyed this list, you should check out last year’s reading lists: