Best Books of 2016: Part 2

Best Books of 2016: Part 2

Back in July 2016, I highlighted the best books of 2016 that I had read during the first half of the year. You can find that list here. This post continues the list with my favorites from the second half of the year.

As always, if you’re curious about what I’m reading right now, visit my Goodreads profile.

1. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, are still two of the greatest inventors in human history. Considering how commonplace air travel is today, compared to just a century ago, one can’t help but marvel at humanity’s ingenuity, for good and for bad. The Wright Brothers’ first successful flights were only in the first decade of the 1900s, yet a few decades later, planes were key weapons of war in WWII. Yet a few decades later, mankind reached the moon.

This book, of course, covers the story of the Wright Brothers themselves. One thing I love about it is the emphasis on their noble characters that were just as invaluable as their ingenuity.

2. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers

One of my favorite books of all time! Derek is one contemporary, contrarian thinker whom I admire. This short book distills his thoughts and rationales in creating a business that is truly his. His values and life lessons, like his views on money and creating things that are simple but great, are so good they are worth reading over and over again.

3. Night by Elie Wiesel

A classic account of the nobility, resilience, and evilness of humanity.

4. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Lots of non-typical insights on how the world is changed by individuals.

5. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy Carter

This is the creation account of the hit musical Hamilton. I love this book because it tells an honest story about how a creative endeavor is birthed, one little step at a time, and also how history–the re-telling of what happened in the past–and our view of history can evolve, which may deviate from the actual facts.

I wrote on this book in this post: Hamilton: How Genius Work Happens

6. A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education by David Goldberg

I was cheering for this book while reading it because I loved it so much. Goldberg is arguing for an engineering education that is not only analytical and theoretical, but practical, project-based, and holistic. The wholeness of the education includes emotion and passion–embracing them to motivate generations of engineers to create even greater things in the future, and feeling fulfilled doing so.

7. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

This is the book that inspired Hamilton the musical, and it is a fine, 700-plus paged biography. I haven’t managed to finish it, but the book is a captivating read, in a non-academic kind of way. The remarkable short life of Alexander Hamilton is a life to marvel at. The man was so prolific; he produced so many original thoughts and documents that became the foundation of the country known as America.

8. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

Probably the best management book I have ever read. This is the story of Pixar, from its inception until now, a studio that keeps on producing top-notch animation movies. Pixar’s movies have never bombed, and this is all credited to a culture of creativity that is meticulously created and maintained by the management team. A culture of creativity is fragile, but the team so far has seemed to master a way of fostering this culture, even replicating it in Disney Animation. You will never look at an animated film the same way again after reading this book. My favorite movie from this year is Zootopia, a direct product of the things Ed Catmull talks about in this book. I have a whole new appreciation for it and its creation.

I hope you can check some of these books out. Also check out Part 1 of this list, and the 2015 list here and here.

 

My Fall Reading List: 2016. What Are You Reading?

My Fall Reading List: 2016. What Are You Reading?

When fall arrives, my brain turns academic. Here are my picks for this Fall!

 

1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

 

 
This 832-page of a doorstopper needs to be conquered! With me being obsessed with Hamilton, the Musical, it’s only natural and responsible to actually read the biography, the source of the musical’s inspiration.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.
 

In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”
 

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804. Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

 

2. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

 


 
Gawande is one of my favorite authors. After his book, Better, inspired the Anatomy of Excellence essay–my most popular post this year–I’m determined to read every book he has written.

The modern world has given us stupendous know-how. Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry—in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail. Atul Gawande makes a compelling argument that we can do better, using the simplest of methods: the checklist. In riveting stories, he reveals what checklists can do, what they can’t, and how they could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds. And the insights are making a difference. Already, a simple surgical checklist from the World Health Organization designed by following the ideas described here has been adopted in more than twenty countries as a standard for care and has been heralded as “the biggest clinical invention in thirty years” (The Independent).

 

3. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

 


 
Some leadership lessons from the military.
 

What if you could combine the agility, adaptability, and cohesion of a small team with the power and resources of a giant organization?

THE OLD RULES NO LONGER APPLY . . .

When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004, he quickly realized that conventional military tactics were failing. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a decentralized network that could move quickly, strike ruthlessly, then seemingly vanish into the local population. The allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, equipment, and training—but none of that seemed to matter.

TEACHING A LEVIATHAN TO IMPROVISE
It’s no secret that in any field, small teams have many ad­vantages—they can respond quickly, communicate freely, and make decisions without layers of bureaucracy. But organizations taking onreally big challenges can’t fit in a garage. They need management practices that can scale to thousands of people.
 
General McChrystal led a hierarchical, highly disci­plined machine of thousands of men and women. But to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, his Task Force would have to acquire the enemy’s speed and flexibility. Was there a way to combine the power of the world’s mightiest military with the agility of the world’s most fearsome terrorist network? If so, could the same principles apply in civilian organizations?
 
A NEW APPROACH FOR A NEW WORLD
McChrystal and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom and remade the Task Force, in the midst of a grueling war, into something new: a network that combined extremely transparent communication with decentralized decision-making authority. The walls between silos were torn down. Leaders looked at the best practices of the smallest units and found ways to ex­tend them to thousands of people on three continents, using technology to establish a oneness that would have been impossible even a decade earlier. The Task Force became a “team of teams”—faster, flatter, more flex­ible—and beat back Al Qaeda.
 

BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELD

In this powerful book, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and other or­ganizations. The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion. As the authors argue through compelling examples, the team of teams strategy has worked everywhere from hospital emergency rooms to NASA. It has the potential to transform organizations large and small.

 

4. Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

 


 

“While the history books are filled with tales of obsessive visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, I’ve found that history is also made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, who eschewed the spotlight, and who put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.” —from the prologue
 
Many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world. In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego. Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.
 
Ego Is the Enemy draws on a vast array of stories and examples, from literature to philosophy to his­tory. We meet fascinating figures such as George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichick, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who all reached the highest levels of power and success by con­quering their own egos. Their strategies and tactics can be ours as well.
 
In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts. Armed with the lessons in this book, as Holiday writes, “you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”

 

5. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull 

 

 
Learn creativity from the world of Pixar!
 

From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy Award–winning studio behind Inside Out and Toy Story, comes an incisive book about creativity in business and leadership—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Fast Company raves that Creativity, Inc. “just might be the most thoughtful management book ever.”
 
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
 
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.
 
As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on leadership and management philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:
 
• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

 

To see the books I read this summer, check out my Summer Reading List. Also see my Best Books of 2016 (mid-year review).

 

 

Reading Interview Episode 1: Justin Kim

Reading Interview Episode 1: Justin Kim

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Reading Interview Series, where I chat with bookworms, avid readers and learners, to unpack their reading habits and philosophy.

 

My first guest is Justin Kim. Justin Kim is a public speaker and minister for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His official title is Assistant Director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as the Editor of Collegiate Quarterly, a religious publication for young adults. He graduated from a Roman Catholic high school, a Jewish-sponsored university, and has dialogued with many denominations.

 

In this conversation, we talked about how he digests books, how he uses audiobooks, reading in first and second languages, parenting and reading, reading for students and graduate students, how he finds time to read, using emotion as a tool for learning, and much more. I enjoyed it tremendously and I hope you will too.
 

Visit Justin’s Blog, beforethink.org. Connect on Twitter: @justinkimjk

 

 

Mentioned Books, Authors, and Links
How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler
Encyclopedia of Britannica
The Bible
Ellen G. White
The Big Five
John Stott
Philip K. Dick
J. R. R. Tolkien
Curious George
Little Blue Truck

 

Minute Markers:
Current work at the General Conference of  Seventh-day Adventist Church [1:53]
People’s behavior towards digital vs. print publications [4:42]
How he started reading and loving to read [7:00]
On collecting series [8:40]
How the genres he reads change over time [10:29]
Learning reading and writing skills in college [12:12]
On the book, How to Read a Book, and the multiple ways to read a book [14:57]
Whether he reads cover to cover [18:45]
Reading in first and second languages [19:27]
The types of books he reads now [23:04]
How to improve the mind’s life: reading 7 types of books [23:50]
What he is reading right now [25:34]
How he finds titles to read [26:24]
Books vs. ebooks [28:20]
On audiobooks [30:29]
The power of narratives [32:40]
How many books he goes through per month [33:33]
How he remembers what he read [34:53]
On lending books to other people [38:11]
On using public libraries and borrowing audiobooks [40:19]
How he arranges his bookshelves [43:47]
What he reads for entertainment [47:53]
The relationship between science fiction and systematic theology [48:47]
How he finds time to read [53:02]
Parenting and reading [55:23]
Selecting children’s books [59:33]
Favorite children’s books [01:02:00]
What he wants to get better at in terms of reading [01:04:14]
Important skills for students and graduate students [01:05:45]
Books he would give to a younger version of himself [01:06:13]
What people should read [01:07:25]

 

Attributions

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Book Giveaway: Presence by Amy Cuddy

Book Giveaway: Presence by Amy Cuddy

[CLOSED – 9/20/16] Thanks to everyone who entered! Announcing the winner of #jeliabookgiveaway: Congrats to Jezmin! Look for your new Kindle book in your inbox!

 

 

I’m giving away one Kindle ebook to one lucky reader!

 

Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, has been a roaring success ever since it came out. Her inspiring 2012 TED Talk about “power posing”—how a posture of confidence can inspire confidence—has been seen over 36 million times. She also shared her amazing life story in that talk, so make sure you check it out.

 

Presence follows that TED talk and covers Amy’s work as a social psychology professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, where she studies how body language affects the mind and other people’s perceptions.

 

In short, it’s not just mind-body connection; it’s also body-mind connection.

 

But let’s cut to the chase. I’m giving away a Kindle ebook copy of Presence, because this book is just perfect as a gift: inspiring, empowering, and edifying.

 

To be eligible for the drawing, follow these steps:

 

  1. Share at least one of the following articles!

Pick your favorite article from the Individuality series and share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ with the hashtag #jeliabookgiveaway. It’s all about empowering individuality!

Individuality: What Makes You, You

Individuality and Creativity: A Christian Perspective

Hamilton: How Genius Work Happens

Curiosity: The Key to Maximal Learning

Why Self-Learners Rule the 21st Century

 

  1. Sign up for the free newsletter!

    (If you’ve already signed up, then you’re good to go!)

 

Every other Sunday, you’ll get:

  • Blog updates. Never miss a post!
  • Book recommendations
  • Podcast recommendations
  • Links to interesting reads and brain food from around the web
  • First dibs on ebook projects, interviews, behind the scene stories, etc.

Plus, another FREE book after you sign up!

 

You can enter this giveaway until Monday, September 19, 2016, at 11:59 PM Central Time.

 

Enter now!

Uncle Tungsten: Oliver Sacks on Leaving Childhood Fascination

Uncle Tungsten: Oliver Sacks on Leaving Childhood Fascination

In Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Childhood, Oliver Sacks recounted memories of his younger years being fascinated and consumed by chemistry. Under the familial apprenticeships of his chemist uncles, he enjoyed the exploration of a scientific field with all the joy and wonder a boy could experience in his favorite playthings. Except that for Sacks, his toys were chemicals, including metals and radioactive materials that were much more accessible to the general population in the 1940s.

 

As a chemistry fan myself, I was actually jealous of the hands-on experiments he could do for fun, at home. Not very many college educated chemists would have half of what he got to do as a child. He got to know each element of the periodic table simply out of curiosity and joy.

 

At the end of the book, however, Sacks asked these profound questions on what happened as he entered adolescence. Somehow, his fascination with chemistry faded. I think we can probably resonate on the experience of growing up, and letting go of a childhood fascination.

 

But now all this had changed: other interests were crowding in, exciting me, seducing me, pulling me in different ways. Life had become broader, richer, in a way, but it was also shallower, too. That calm deep center, my former passion, was no longer there. Adolescence had rushed upon me, like a typhoon, buffeting me with insatiable longings. At school I had left the undemanding classics “side,” and moved to the pressured science side instead. I had been spoiled, in a sense, by my two uncles, and the freedom and spontaneity of my apprenticeship. Now, at school, I was forced to sit in classes, to take notes and exams, to use textbooks that were flat, impersonal, deadly. What had been fun, delight, when I did it in my own way became an aversion, an ordeal, when I had to do it to order. What had been a holy subject for me, full of poetry, was being rendered prosaic, profane.

 

Was it, then, the end of chemistry? My own intellectual limitations? Adolescence? School? Was it the inevitable course, the natural history, of enthusiasm, that it burns hotly, brightly, like a star, for a while, and then, exhausting itself, gutters out, is gone? Was it that I had found, at least in the physical world and in physical science, the sense of stability and order I so desperately needed, so that I could now relax, feel less obsessed, move on? Or was it, perhaps, more simply, that I was growing up, and that “growing up” makes one forget the lyrical, mystical perceptions of childhood, the glory and the freshness of which Wordsworth wrote, so that they fade into the light of common day?

 

This change, Sacks felt, happened when he was fourteen years old. Between then and the writing of Uncle Tungsten, many decades passed, and of course, Sacks became a neurologist, author, polymath. While he ended the last essay with these sobering questions, he gave a hopeful afterword. Many decades after his passion for chemistry faded, he found it again, triggered by a friend who sent him a poster of the periodic table with a picture of each element and a little bar of tungsten, his childhood favorite element. With that, a flood of memories overcame him and his old love for chemistry was unearthed. One of the last essays Sacks wrote before he died was about his love for the elements of the periodic table. You can find this essay in Gratitude.

 

I love the contrast Sacks made between learning out of joy vs. necessity, and how one is more poetic, lyrical, the other prosaic and dull. Do you have a childhood fascination that faded away too?

 

Image credit: freeimage.com

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