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Essential Reads

Growing up, I didn't have a passion for reading. The books assigned in school didn't interest me much. It wasn't until a few years after college that I started to read consistently.

Recently, a friend shared her goal of reading 100 books this year - no typo, 100 books! I am certainly not that ambitious, but I do try to read 12 books a year, about one per month. Some books take longer than others, but I prefer short chapters with fewer than 400 pages.

One thing that has helped me stick to this habit is my Kindle.

I've mentioned this before, but the Kindle e-reader is amazing. It allows me to try several books from the comfort of my couch. I don't force myself to read a book I'm not enjoying because I only read 12 books yearly. I strive to ensure that they're worth my time and effort. The Kindle has made that much easier.

I'm happy to share some of my favorite books, whether you prefer physical copies, audiobooks or ebooks. I'll provide a brief summary to help you decide if it's worth checking out and some personal context for why I enjoyed it.

I'm interested in hearing your recommendations. Feel free to leave a comment below.

A friendly reminder: Reading business or improvement-focused books alone won't help unless you apply what you learn. That's why I suggest focusing on quality over quantity. Make the most of your time by putting the knowledge you gain into action. Personally, I use Notion to take notes on the books I read so I can refer back to them in the future.

Everyone Should Read At Least Once

  • Summary: This book provides readers with practical advice on how to become more effective both personally and professionally. Covey presents seven habits that he believes are essential to achieving success: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand, then to be understood, synergize, and sharpen the saw. The book has sold over 25 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 40 languages. Spend enough time in meetings, and you will start to notice how impactful this book has been on business.

  • Personal Context: This book was first recommended to me by my Dad, senior year of high school. It is one of the only books I actually remember from High School. Since then, I have read this book about 6 more times. It’s simple, which might be its most powerful part. This is also one of the books I recommend and gift the most.

  • Summary: This book is a how-to on improving one's interpersonal skills. It contains tips on how to make people like you, win people over your way of thinking, and be an effective leader. When you boil it down, this book is about effective communication. The book has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and has been translated into multiple languages.

  • Personal Context: Communication is one of the most essential aspects of life. Wars are started globally and in our relationships because of poor communication. Learning how to say what you mean in a way that can be received is a skill, unfortunately, that most lack.

Influential & Awesome People

  • Summary: This book is a biography of Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla, SpaceX, and several other companies. Ashlee explores his early life, his successes and failures in business, and his vision for the future of humanity. It provides an in-depth look at Musk's personality, work ethic, and business strategies and offers insights into the challenges he faces as he pursues his ambitious goals. The book was written by Ashlee Vance and was published in 2015.

  • Personal Context: Elon has become a more polarizing character as time passes, but his impacts on society are inarguable. The man has accomplished an astonishing level of innovation and continues to push technological boundaries. It is important to note the publish date was in 2015, so this pre-dates the Boring Company, Nueralink, OpenAI, and the acquisition of Twitter.

  • Summary: Steve Jobs is a biography of Steve Jobs, the co-founder, and CEO of Apple Inc. Walter Isaacson, the author, conducted numerous interviews with Jobs and his family, friends, and colleagues to create a portrait of the complex and often controversial figure. The book covers Jobs' early life, his work at Apple, his departure from the company, his founding of NeXT and Pixar, and his eventual return to Apple. It also delves into Jobs' personal life, including his relationships and battle with cancer. The book provides insights into Jobs' creativity, obsessive attention to detail, and sometimes abrasive personality.

  • Personal Context: I had a Rolling Stones magazine cover poster with Steve Jobs posted on my dorm room wall. Steve was someone that I was fascinated by. His ability to drive technology forward in a way that did not (for the most part) require an instruction manual. He wasn’t the programmer, like Gates or Woz, but as Michael Fassbender says in the movie by Danny Boyle, Jobs is the orchestra's conductor, bringing all the individual pieces together in a beautiful & meaningful way.

  • Summary: This is an autobiography by Bear Grylls, a British adventurer, writer, and television presenter. The book covers his early life, his time in the military, and his expeditions around the world, including his ascent of Mount Everest and his crossing of the North Atlantic in an inflatable boat. Grylls shares his insights and lessons from his experiences, including the importance of resilience, determination, and self-belief. The book was published in 2011 and has been translated into multiple languages.

  • Personal Context: Bear Grylls has played a big role in my upbringing. As a family, Man Vs was one of the only shows we all came together to watch. Wild. We’re an outdoorsy bunch and loved watching Bear and his team get dropped into the most remote locations and have to survive. There were always helpful nuggets to carry with you. I cannot tell you how many times I have been on a camping or backpacking trip and been the only one that can start a fire without matching or a firelog.

  • Summary: Thirst is an autobiography by Scott Harrison, the founder of the non-profit organization Charity: water. The book covers Harrison's early life, his time as a nightclub promoter, and his transformation into a humanitarian. Harrison shares his insights and lessons from his experiences, including the importance of giving back and positively impacting the world. The book was published in 2018.

  • Personal Context: This book was one of the first to springboard me into a consistent habit of reading. It is by far the book that I have gifted the most. If you are a listener, check out the Audiobook; Scott reads it himself, and is perfectly performed. His story inspires you to be better, to think harder about your actions and their impacts, and to take stock of the good things going on in your life. One of the other aspects of this book that really struck me was his challenging the status quo when it comes to the structure of charities.

  • Summary: Greenlights is an autobiographical memoir by American actor Matthew McConaughey. The book covers his life, experiences, and personal philosophy, providing insights and lessons from his career and personal life. McConaughey shares stories from his childhood, family life, and his journey to success in Hollywood. The book also delves into his personal struggles and offers advice on how to live a fulfilling life. The book was published in 2020 and has received positive reviews for its honesty and humor.

  • Personal Context: I have never laughed so hard or been struck by someone’s writing like this. This man has a larger-than-life persona, but his ability to be open and vulnerable and remain playful throughout is unmatched. I read it and then immediately downloaded the audiobook. Another audiobook worth listening to, McConaughey’s performance is spectacular. You will find yourself saying, “Bumper Sticker” in a southern accent by the end, guaranteed.

  • Summary: This book is a memoir of Jedidiah Jenkins' bicycle journey from Oregon to Patagonia. His journey lasted sixteen months and covered over 14,000 miles. Along the way, Jenkins explores his identity, relationship with his family, and spirituality. The book has been praised for its beautiful writing, vulnerability, and inspiring message.

  • Personal Context: I came across this book by chance while browsing at a local bookstore, and it immediately caught my attention. It was before the COVID pandemic, and I was on my way to Colorado to visit my brother. As soon as I started reading it on the flight, I couldn't stop until we landed. The author's writing style is comforting and relatable, almost as if a close friend recounts their latest adventures. It's safe to say that this book is a true page-turner.

Worth Your Time

  • Summary: We Were Dreamers is a memoir by Simu Liu, the star of Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The book covers his journey from an immigrant child to a successful actor. Liu shares his struggles in pursuing his dreams and the lessons he learned along the way. The book has been praised for its honesty and inspiring message.

  • Personal Context: I liked the movie, but this was not a book I went searching for. It was recommended to me by my partner. I’d hear her laughing aloud as she was reading it and had never really seen her do that before. One night, she read a chapter aloud and I was hooked. Simu’s writing style and storytelling are incredible. For me, it also provided a lot of meaningful context on the immigrant experience and how lucky we are to be born where we are.

  • Summary: This book is a follow-up to Mark Manson's popular book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck. In Everything is Fcked, Manson examines the current state of the world and offers a new perspective on how to live a meaningful life in a world that seems to be falling apart. The book covers a wide range of topics, including the human experience, emotions, ethics, and the role of technology in society. Manson argues that we must embrace our limitations and imperfections to find happiness and fulfillment.

  • Personal context: I never read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck. A number of people close to me recommended it. I read a summary and felt that was good enough for me. After reading the summary on Blinkist, it recommended this book to me. The title alone had me interested. I read a brief summary and committed, and I never looked back. I think, more than anything, it gives a fresh perspective on many of the things we already know about ourselves. But sometimes, we don’t need something new, just a new perspective on something we are familiar with.

  • Summary: This book guides transforming your habits and achieving your goals. Clear presents a framework for building better habits focusing on small, incremental changes over time. He argues that by focusing on the systems that underlie our habits rather than the outcomes we want to achieve, we can make lasting changes in our lives. The book provides practical advice on identifying and changing bad habits, creating new habits, and overcoming common obstacles to habit formation. It has been praised for its clear writing, actionable advice, and evidence-based approach.

  • Personal Context: This book kept coming up. You want a certain car, and all of a sudden, it seems to be the only car on the road. A bit like that. Just a few months ago, I committed to it. Again, this is stuff that we already know, but it is presented in a way that makes it more tangible, more actionable. Clear provides some great resources on his website to help kickstart your campaign of improvement. My two biggest takeaways were: Don’t miss twice. Whether it is your workouts, diet, or work tasks, don't let it compound if you miss one day. Never miss twice in a row. And, I am the type of person…insert the context. This is something that I have started doing. Saying to myself I am the type of person that gets this specific thing done right now. It’s a sort of self-affirmation and motivation to get up and get it done. Simple but useful.

Enjoy Yourself & Escape

  • Summary: Origins is a novel by Dan Brown that explores the intersection of science and religion through the eyes of Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology. The novel takes place in Spain and follows Langdon as he becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a former student and a secret that could upend religious beliefs. As with Brown's other works, Origins is full of twists and turns, historical and scientific references, and thought-provoking themes.

  • Personal Context: Only reading to better yourself can become a bit of a chore. Every once and a while, it’s nice to have something that you can escape with. I never read any of the other, more popular, Dan Brown books. On a long cross-country flight, I got tired of the preaching and decided to look for something to read just for fun. Stumbled on this one and immediately got sucked into it. As Roy Kent put it, he keeps the chapters so short you feel like you can and should keep going to find out what the next twist or turn is. If you have seen the movies or read the other books, this will likely feel quite familiar, the overall story follows the same tried and true arch, but this one is still a fun ride worth the time. Of all of the 4 Robert Langdon-focused stories by Dan Brown that I am aware of (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Inferno), this was the most interesting to me.

  • Summary: The Midnight Library is a novel about a young woman named Nora Seed who finds herself in a library between life and death. In the library, she is given the opportunity to try out different lives that she could have lived had she made different choices. Through these experiences, Nora learns about the importance of regret, forgiveness, and the value of living in the present moment. The book has been praised for its thought-provoking themes and emotional impact.

  • Personal Context: This was the first book that I purchased on Kindle. I woke up early, made a cup of joe, and picked up this new little piece of tech. When I turned it on, this was the first thing it recommended. Initially, I found that pretty odd, but it was early, and I felt adventurous. Started reading and couldn’t put it down. Haig’s ability to channel the voice of a character is uncanny. I enjoyed this book through and through. The overall message is about being present and recognizing the blessings in front of us. I have since read a number of other novels by Haig, and the man is incredible. Cannot wait to see what he does next.

Next on the list

  • Summary: In this book, Dr. Anna Lembke explores the role of dopamine in addiction, pleasure, and motivation. She argues that modern society's emphasis on instant gratification and constant stimulation has led to an addiction and compulsive behavior epidemic. Lembke offers insights into how dopamine works, how it can be harnessed for positive change, and how to break free from unhealthy habits and behaviors. The book provides practical advice on how to develop healthier relationships with technology, food, and other sources of pleasure.

  • Summary: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is a novel about a woman who discovers she is pregnant shortly after her husband dies unexpectedly. The book explores themes of grief, loss, and new beginnings as the protagonist navigates her unexpected pregnancy and the challenges of becoming a single mother. The novel has been praised for its empathetic portrayal of complex characters and its poignant exploration of life's unexpected twists and turns.

  • Summary: The Four Agreements is a self-help book that draws on ancient Toltec wisdom to offer practical advice for living a more fulfilling life. Ruiz presents four agreements that he believes are essential to achieving happiness and inner peace: be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, and always do your best. The book provides insights into how to break negative patterns of thought and behavior and offers a new perspective on what it means to live a meaningful life.

  • Summary: Lessons in Chemistry is a novel about a woman named Elizabeth Zott who dreams of becoming a scientist in the 1960s. She faces discrimination and challenges in pursuing a career in science, but she perseveres and manages to secure a position as a chemistry teacher. Along the way, she struggles to balance her career aspirations with her personal life, including her relationship with her boyfriend and her desire to have a family. The book has been praised for its engaging characters and portrayal of women's challenges in science during the 1960s.

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