Impactful books I've read in recent years

I read a lot of these books over the past few years, but I really started moving fast when I subscribed to Audible.com and started listening to books on my walk to work. I found this especially compelling for getting through books that had been long on my list, but were hard to get through. I doubt I would have finished several on this list if not for Audible.

These are presented in no particular order:

The authors explain a relatively simple theory for why some countries prosper and others stay poor. A centralized state, combined with inclusive institutions allows for creative destruction, which leads to economic growth and technological innovation. On the other hand, extractive institutions centralize wealth, and prevent creative destruction, leaving the overall society poorer.

While reading this book, my jaw dropped several times as it expanded my understanding of politics. Haid developed and then explains a model for the moral framework used by the left and the right in American politics. It was incredibly illuminating in understanding the values of the Right.

The book on cognitive psychology and behavioral economics.It will put to rest any idea that humans are rational beings. Though there is a systematic way that we operate, it is often irrational and loaded with cognitive bias. These explained in detail, and once you’ve read this book, you’ll see how widely it’s author, and his late collaborator Amos Tversky, are referenced in the field.

A discussion on finding meaning in life, even in the worst of situations. It helps to put things in perspective.

  • Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Introduces the concept of Libertarian paternalism a way of thinking about systems design to allow for choice, but provide a slight “nudge” towards the most beneficial choice. Such as making retirement savings like a 401k opt-out, and automatically increasing contributions as income increases. I think these can be applied to many areas. The core lesson is to be thoughtful about what behavior you want to encourage and make that the default and simplest option.

About as interesting and engaging as a management book can get. You’re walked through the history of Pixar, and how they evolved their processes over time to consistently create excellent films, and encourage a creative culture with high standards for quality. There were also some excellent anecdotes about working with Steve Jobs.

The author and his team identified and then interviewed the executives at some companies that went from good businesses to great businesses, and attempted to tease out what made them different.

The author is an executive coach and walks through clear examples of behaviors that successful people often have that are holding them back from career progression. Your past success can create a lot of positive feedback about your behavior up to that point, and you can start to believe that is why you were successful. But you may, in fact, have been successful in spite of that behavior. This book makes you look hard at your behavior, and it will also open your eyes to actions of others that are not serving them well.

This is simply a work of genius. The discussions of philosophy and quality are wonderful.

An introduction to Stoic philosophy, bringing it to a modern audience. This book prompted me to go on and read Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. The main lesson is that the way you think about and judge your life and experiences shapes your experience of them. You have some degree of choice in what and how you think about things that happen. One can reduce the pain of adverse events by spending conscious time considering the worst case scenario. Then when something less bad plays out, you’ve already visualized a worse situation, so this negative one is less bad.

I had my reservations about this book, and it took me some time to actually sit down and read it. I was worried that it was too touchy-feely, and the community around it is one that I have trouble identifying with. However, the content of the book is fantastic. It teaches you a framework for understanding what is truly bothering others, while also communicating your needs in away that people are more likely to be receptive to. I can’t pretend that I’ve learned all the lessons, but these methods are something to aspire to.

An antidote to our always distracted world. A discussion of how to have greater impact by turning off distractions and doing real focused work.

The author makes the case that social and technological progress is actually making life much better for most of humanity. The objective numbers to show this to be true and the author makes the case that it’s mostly due to free trade, capitalism, and creative destruction. I tend to agree with most of his book, though he is a bit of a climate change skeptic, which I have a harder time getting behind. The author isn’t exactly skeptical of human-caused climate change, but doubtful that it will have enough of a negative impact to be worth the economic drain of reducing fossil fuel use. All that aside, I’ve become more of a free trade capitalist, in part due to this book.

This book will teach you how habits are formed, how they work, and how you can create new positive habits, or break old harmful habits. It also introduces the concept of keystone habit, one that will then lead to many other habits. Such as starting a running habit, later leads to improving your diet and becoming more health conscious.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. These are the three things necessary to be satisfied with your job or career. It also explains why financial bonuses aren’t effective motivators. They take an intrinsic motivation, such as doing excellent work for your customers, and turn it into an extrinsic motivation, making more money for yourself.

  • When by Daniel Pink

The importance of when you do something. For example, our ability to perform cognitively demanding tasks changes through the day. For many people, the morning is the best time to do such things. Later in the day, performance actually drops significantly. School children who take a standardized test in the morning, significantly outperform children who take them in the afternoon. Additionally, timing changes throughout life. People in their teens and early 20s perform better in the afternoon, where older adults do better in the morning. This is why you’ll often see younger employees trying to come into work later in the day. You should probably let them if you want their best performance. I would roll into work around noon for most of my early 20s. Now I normally get in by 9 or 9:30.

The classic that still holds up. It’s written in a folksy way and some of the examples are fairly dated, but in general, lots of good stuff about being more likable. I gave a copy of this to a few teammates were where rough around the edges when it came to interacting with other people, but who had a lot of potential.

A fascinating discussion of the evolution of Homo Sapiens up through the scientific revolution.

I had the fortune of attending a small employer-sponsored class run by the author. He walks through his system for negotiating with others, including how to negotiate when the other party is negotiating in bad faith. He also teaches simple tools for getting more out of day to day interactions. In general, the lesson is to figure out what the other person wants and values and trade based on that. Sometimes, or even often, it’s not money. And be nice to people, it goes a long way.