William Zinnser’s On Writing Well is a gentle, entertaining guide to nonfiction writing. Rich with diverse literary examples and practical advice, Zinnser provides a “something for everyone” basket of knowledge.
Economics is the study of scarcity. Scarcity is the title and subject of a new book by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan, an book with powerful and new ideas that extend beyond economics to psychology, public finance, and sociology. Drawing on existing and original research from around the world, Mullainathan and Shafir reframe our understanding of poverty by showing that scarcity in and of itself can unusually influence decision-making.
Richard Thaler’s legendary Misbehaving is personal biography, academic journey, and field survey wrapped into one. He recounts his struggles as a fledging researcher, his partnerships with other great minds, and their projects throughout the years. It’s an insider’s view of world of behavioral economics that you can’t find anywhere else.
I’m utterly floored. Robert Sapolsky’s Behave has achieved two firsts among biology textbooks: 1) providing a sweeping, meticulously researched account of human nature, and 2) keeping me thoroughly entertained the entire time. This landscape of a book took three weeks to trek through and I don’t regret a minute of it.
Emperor of All Maladies is an artfully crafted history of cancer, delving into the political, economic, scientific, and personal faces of the disease. The thoroughly entertaining book cements Siddhartha Mukherjee one of my favorite biographers and science writers.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s sequel, Superfreakonomics, is as interesting and insightful as the prequel. Despite covering everything from prostitutes to global warming, the two Steves have the same underlying message: people respond to incentives in unexpected ways.
John Pfaff’s Locked In is a clear-eyed, evidence-based examination of America’s criminal justice system. Pfaff argues that mass incarceration is not primarily driven by nonviolent crimes, long sentences, or private prisons. The real driver of prison growth is the prosecutor. A variety of poor institutional incentives and political pressures empower prosecutors to send more people to prison. Reforms need to reign in the power and discretion of prosecutors.
Noise, a new book by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony, and Cass Sunstein, examines the sources and impacts of inconsistent decision making. An insightful and original book, the authors invite us to look beyond bias and consider a more subtler source of unfairness and inefficiency. It provides practical advice for improving our decision-making.
The Halo Effect is Phil Rosenzweig’s response to decades of vague, ideological management books. He systemically sifts through case studies and past books, showing how they fall pray to various misconceptions. He closes with a sober guide to business success.
Dan Moore’s Perfectly Confident is a decision-making book that dives into the literature behind confidence. As the title suggests, Moore takes the stance that some confidence is good, but over-confidence is dangerous. In plotting out this middle ground. The book succinctly summarizes the existing literature and draws on a broad array of real world examples.
Robert Cialdini’s Influence is a classic book about marketing and psychology. Cialdini outlines six non-obvious “weapons of influence.” For each, he outlines when it’s used, why it works, and how to protect yourself.
Michael Lewis’ Undoing Project is a dual biography of Daniel Khaneman and Amos Tversky. The touching, personal narrative unveils the unique (and often cruel) circumstances that birthed their beautiful academic relationship. It is a meditation on scholarship and friendship.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is a heart-to-heart with American readers about end-of-life care. Sharing personal anecdotes and case studies, Gawande argues that the dying and their caretakers should aim to enrich, rather than merely prolong, life.
David Epstein’s Range is a survey of the research on learning and specialization. Through studies and anecdotes, he argues that we should appreciate and cultivate broader skillsets. Exploring fields from sports to rocket science, Epstein’s argument is likely to have applicable advice for your life.
Laurence Gonzales’ Survivng Survival is a sequel to his Deep Survival. He explores the challenges of moving on from trauma through a series of case studies and offers practical advice for the reader.
Policy and Choice is published by the Brookings Institution and authored by Jeffrey R. Kling, Sendhil Mullainathan, and William J. Congdon. As a compendium on psychological insights in the context of public finance, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in behavioral economics and public policy.
The Price We Pay documents Marty Makary’s perspective working with American healthcare. An established physician famous for working with Atul Gawande on WHO’s surgery checklists, Makary recounts his journey discovering and addressing the disfunctions of the healthcare system. His core belief is that healthcare requires transparency in prices, performance, and transactions. He believes that accessible billing, good physician metrics, and awareness of middlemen can reduce costs, improve quality, and cut out scheming businesspeople.
Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life is written by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, a pair of academics and sisters. Their work traces the development of race and challenges its pervasiveness in American social life.
Matthew Walker is a UC Berkeley professor, a sleep researcher, and the author of Why We Sleep. The book catalogs the best research to date on the mechanisms and motivations behind sleeping. The conclusion, and the clear, urgent message of the author, is this: you probably should sleep more.
For years, Dan Harris was a cranky, cutthroat, coke-loving anchor on ABC News. Through a series of fortunate encounters with pop spiritual figures and “Jew-Bu”’s, he discovered and developed the power of meditation. His book, 10% Happier, tells the story of how he became a calmer, kinder person. It also introduces a pragmatic compromise between Western Buddhism and success in the workplace.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor is a practical guide to positive psychology. He draws on case studies from various settings around the globe to prove a simple point: happiness begets success, and not the other way around. Achor synthesizes these lessons into seven principles.
Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez explores “Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” with science and storytelling. While most of the book is in the context of the wilderness, its lessons are directly applicable to the stresses of everyday life, whether at home, in the gym, or at the office.
Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel is an interdisciplinary deep dive into the trajectories of human societies. He explores thousands of years of history using an variety of methodologies to answer a basic question: why are some societies more successful than others? The answer, he argues, is geographical determinism.
In What Every Body is Saying, Joe Navarro provides a dictionary for the human body. Based in science and personal experience, Navarro’s insights are immediately applicable and verifiable. Anyone who wishes to unlock the “70% to 93%” of communication that’s nonverbal, Navarro’s book is the place to start.
Flash Boys by Michael Lewis is a story about Wall Street dysfunction post-financial crisis. He documents the rise of high frequency trading, the adjacent, enabling institutions, and people who tried to stop it—the flash boys.
Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds is a book about octopuses. It is also a book about evolution and conciousness. Starting at the intimate contact between a scuba diver and an octopus, the book journeys in and out of the ocean, backwards through millions of years of time, and concludes with comments on the future of the sea.
Fellow Creatures by Harvard Professor Christine Koragaard is a Kantian account of our obligations to animals. She argues that animals are “ends-in-themselves” and outlines practical consequences for human obligations.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals is a stimulating collection of essays on culture and race from Thomas Sowell, a renowned black, conservative intellectual. It traverses topics ranging from redneck culture and Jewish oppression to Nazism and black education. It is an important and valuable critique of progressive views on history and society.
In An American Sickness, Elisabeth Rosenthal diagnoses our healthcare system with a serious case of bloated costs and misplaced priorities. A physician-journalist, she provides insightful examples from around the country backed with a technical understanding of the industry. The book is divided into two parts, each further subdivided by components of healthcare. In the first part, she traces the historical trends that led to modern malfunction; in the second part, she prescribes specific advice for patients and doctors.
Brad Stone’s The Everything Store is a close look at the e-commerce giant Amazon and its founder-CEO, Jeff Bezos. Backed by decades of reporting from its infancy to 2014, Brad documents the company’s journey through rises and falls, as well as the personal growth of its captain. It provides an insider’s perspective on office politics, business strategy, and the workings of one very wealthy thumb.
Todd McGowan’s Universality and Identity Politics has advice for the Left. Today’s theorists are afraid of politics based on universality - it’s seen as homogenizing and emblematic of Nazism and Stalinism. Drawing on Lacanian thought, McGowan rereads universal values such as freedom and equality as emerging from our shared experience of absence. He identifies this unattainable universality with the Left and, conversely, shows how particularism and identity politics are the strategies of the Right. The book concludes with a call for collective struggle.
Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto reviews the surprising utility of a simple checklist. While his personal background is in medicine, Gawande explores the triumphs of checklists in contexts ranging from mid-flight disasters to investment decisions.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari tells the story of the human race. It’s a case study in deep history, drawing on evolutionary biology, psychology, and the social sciences to explain how we got here and where we might be headed. It’s a broad, insightful narrative with interesting takes and speculations.
Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H-Mart recounts the death of her mother. The narrative dances between a turbulent cross-cultural childhood, her mother’s gradual loss to cancer, and the painful family fractures left in its wake.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals unveils the cruelty you and I inflict every time we consume animal products. Half memoir and half journalism, Foer’s argument spans from dinners with grandma to horrific scenes at the slaughterhouse. He implies that we should be vegan, or at least support ethical farming practices.
Drawing on decades of experience in politics and business, Frank Luntz seeks to document the Words that Work. The book is a catalog of strategies and principles for effective communication, particularly for organizations.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker is an collection of mental models for success in business and life. It spans common misperceptions about bell curves, nice guys, quitters, networking, confidence, and work life balance.
Bottle of Lies is the product of Katherine Eban’s 10-years long investigation into the market for fake drugs. The book is a thrilling narrative that follows a whistleblower at an Indian pharmacuetical manufacturers who uncovers an illegal falsified drug operation. The scale of the fraud - and how long it took to stop it - is frightening and informative.
Smartcuts by Shane Snow teaches you how to leverage the power of lateral thinking for success. Replete with case studies of figures like Skrillex, Jimmy Fallon, and Elon Musk, Snow synthesizing principles for accomplishing more in less time.
On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis is a sweeping account of the history of war, a rollercoaster that takes the reader from ancient Persia to World War 2. It extracts useful lessons about the practice of war and the difference between successful and failed leaders.
Don’t let the dry reviews on the back cover deter you (Forbes says: “Clear, well-argued”). Cass Sunstein’s The Cost-Benefit Revolution is an awesome read for anyone interested in public policy or economics. He walks through the principles of cost-benefit analysis and considers a variety of challenges and case studies. The book won’t keep you at the edge of your seat (unless, you’re like, really into this), but Sunstein’s arguments are well-written and organized—a pleasure to consume.
Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers is a pop psychology book about the difficulties of communication. He weaves together case studies of misunderstandings and deception to argue that human communication is filled with folly.
Gary Wenk’s Your Brain on Exercise is a slim, myth-busting survey on the benefits of exercise for the brain. According to his review of the academic literature, the cognitive effects of exercise are modest, while anaerobic exercise may pose risks via oxidative stress and inflammation.
Phake is Roger Bate’s account of the global trade in substandard and falsified medicines. The culmination of almost a decade’s worth of research efforts, the book is a journey through the lens of a researcher. He brings us from continent to continent, looking at the prevalence, causes, and impacts of illegal medicines, as well as potential solutions.
Michael Pollan’s Food Rules is a pocket-sized manual on effective eating.
I just finished Bradley Miles’ #BreakIntoVC. It’s a short, clearly-written book that boils down the essentials of venture capital. The book is sometimes a little disorganized and often moves a little too fast. Nonetheless, provides a great overview the subject for anyone willing to read carefully.
Subtract by Leidy Klotz argues that we overlook subtraction to our detriment. In a story that spans from the laboratory to racism and climate change, Klotz diagnoses the causes of and solutions to subtraction neglect.
Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels argues that oil, gas, and coal are net contributors to human welfare and should continue to be promoted. The book defends fossil fuels against criticisms of pollution and sustainability while criticizing renewable energy sources. It concludes with a call to embrace fossil fuels as a moral good.
Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence is a three part book. First, he recounts his intellectual journey as a consultant, advisor, and chairman of the Fed. Then, Greenspan lays out a framework for understanding the global economy. The book closes with speculations on global trends. Forewarning: I did not get to the third part.
Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a decent casual read packed with anecdotes about living a happier life. As you probably guessed from the title, the writing is conversational and flows well. The content provokes you to consider connections to your own life.