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The 5 Books You Should Have Read in 2017


One of my most used subscriptions is Audible. I have always enjoyed listening to voice more than music when I drive and over the last few years, I have found it a great way to catch up on non-fiction and business books. Unlike fiction, which is often about the reader and their timing, you can listen to some business books at 1.25 or 1.5 times speed and get the value faster. It gets you past the inevitable long ‘boring’ pieces and you can always go back and listen to best bits at usual speed.

As we journey to the end of another year, I thought I would share my five favorite listens of the last year. Of these books, only 1 was published in 2017, so I am late to the party on 4 of them. At the end I will add a couple of ‘also rans’ from 2017.

For your convenience I have included both the Audible and Amazon links.

Enjoy.

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed - Audible and Amazon

I am in the process of hiring two new team members and I have asked them both to read Black Box Thinking. This easy to read and entertaining books discusses how failure may not only be an option but is a prelude to success. Black box in this respect is not meant in terms of an opaque process many of us get frustrated about, but it is like the Black Boxes you find in aircraft. The message of the book is that you should test and retest everything you think and everything you believe, make incremental improvements, and be open to failure. Some of the greatest achievements happen as a result of mistakes. It is a good lesson for all of us to remember and embrace.

You can read a longer review I wrote earlier in the year at called “Failure is an option” at LinkedIn. 

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – Audible and Amazon

This 2013 published book was recommended to me as additional reading following a course I took last year. The course was based on “The 3 Laws of Performance” which was a book I recommended last year. One of the core ideas around this approach is understanding that “thinking does not cause action” and what causes us to action is in 100% alignment with how a “situation occurs to us.” If the thought that thinking does not cause action is a shock to you, the first few chapters of this book will explain.

This book came with a warning that scare some people off. The subtitle of Haidt’s book is “Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” While this may not appeal to you, the book is not a commentary on why one side of our political divide is right or wrong. Instead it “explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.” In other words, why different people believe different things is important. If you want to avoid the politics in this book just read the first few chapters.

Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – Amazon and Audible 

It is hard to summarize a book that is 464 pages (or 15 hours of listening) that tries to sum up the whole history of mankind. I knew that I was going I was going to enjoy this book after listening to the first 5 minutes – I will not explain, but will leave that pleasure to those that read or listen to this book.

Having said the opening is great, the book dragged a bit through the first 70,000 years of history. Where the book comes alive for me is when dealing with economics, money and commerce. While nothing is shocking, everything is presented in such a way that it makes you think twice about some of the things we take as ‘read’ and never question. This is not a book about answers, but it offers you a chance to ask some interesting questions and will get you to discuss what you consume with those around you. I have his followed-on book Homo Deus on my reading list for next year.

The Undoing Project - A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis – Amazon and Audible

I would buy a book by Michael Lewis without knowing what it was about. From Liar’s Poker to The Big Short, Lewis has the ability to write entertaining, often complex, non-fiction that reads almost like fiction. In this book, he covered the lives of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who wrote a series of breakthrough papers that created the field of behavioral economics. 

Wikipedia says that behavioral economics “studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and resource allocation.” In other words, the market is not pure because it has people in it and people change the way everything works. In this book, Lewis explores some of the learning from this paper and wraps it in the biography of two very unusual and different men and their relationship.

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes – Amazon and Audible

In my review of this book on LinkedIn I added a ‘health warning.’ In that warning I suggested that “none of this posting is meant to imply Trump was perfect, better or even not as bad. I am trying to use this book to make some leadership points.” Despite that, the first comment I got on Facebook missed this point and I suggested the writer should read The Righteous Mind.

If you are able to put the politics aside and accept the book for what it is (I have no way of knowing how much of it is true for instance), it’s full of interesting learning for any leader. These lessons cover having a clearly articulated mission, building plans, quantitative vs qualitative data, clear lanes of responsibility and personal accountability. After reading the book, it’s maybe less surprising that Hillary lost, but it’s also clear to me that I have made many of the same mistakes in my working life too.

By the way, if you really think you may have a problem putting the politics aside then read The Righteous Mind first – it might help get the best from Shattered.

Two Others

There were two other books that I got a lot of value out of this year, but both have major problems with them that make them hard to recommend.

The first is Undoctored: Why Health Care Has Failed You and How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor by MD William Davis. The book covers three things: why your doctor sucks, the future of being well, and the diet that you should follow (i.e. Wheat Belly). The value in the book is really the second part – the idea of managing your own health to be well – but you have to go through why healthcare is in a terrible mess before you get to the ‘what you should do about it.’ Many may stop there and never get to the diet which is interesting but like all diets – a lifestyle choice.

The second book in the group is WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us by Tim O'Reilly. This book makes lots of great points made in the most annoying and self-aggrandizing way. Basically, O’Reilly is very impressed with his contribution to the world. If you can get past this and his desire to make every example as politically correct as he can, there’s good insights and content here. In case you think I may be a bit too dramatic, in his example of ‘fake news’ he sites two examples: one his brother sent him and one his sister sent him. That must have been a fun family Thanksgiving!

Bottom Line

According to a study done by the Harvard Health Watch, an average American spends 101 minutes per day driving. At an average of 10 hours a book, that means you can get through one of these books every couple of weeks. My commute is not that long and it takes me about a month, which is the lowest level membership at audible.

Whatever you read next year, I hope these suggestions help and that you have a Happy New Year.