Each month I send out a newsletter featuring the best books I’ve worked my way through (I filter out the stuff that sucks). But that list grows quickly and I know it can be tough to decide what to read next. The degree to which a book resonates with you depends largely on the timing of when you read it–what obstacles you’re facing, what skills you’re trying to develop, what your current priorities are.
To provide a more useful starting place, I’ve reflected on the past year and narrowed down my top recommendations to just five books. These are the books that resonated strongest with me at different points in the year and whose lessons remain just as relevant today.
I hope you find something awesome. You can’t go wrong with any of these books. Each is profound and insightful in its own way. If you want to check out my notes before you dive in, click on the book title to see more. Keep up the good reading.
1. The Messy Middle – Scott Belsky
More than a business book, and that’s what I loved about it. It’s about embracing the long game and leading through ambiguity. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or artist, you’ll find relevance. Belsky details the endurance that it takes to bring an idea to life. It might not be as pretty as the beginning or end, but the middle is worthy of equal attention since it’s where most of the journey takes place. Overall, it's a great resource for those who are guiding others (or themselves) through uncertainty. Check out my notes or Amazon for details and reviews.
2. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World – Andrea Wulf
The story of one of the most profound polymaths you've never heard of. Humboldt was a Prussian explorer, writer, geographer, and naturalist born in 1769. He revolutionized the way we view the natural world by making connections and framing nature as a unified whole. He viewed everything as reciprocal and interwoven, challenging the human-centered perspective that ruled up until that point in time (i.e. 'nature is made for the sake of man').
His work also influenced generations of scientists and writers including the likes of Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. It's easy to see why Humboldt was so influential–the stories Wulf tells of his expeditions and adventures well into old age are fascinating. Check out my notes or Amazon for details and reviews.
3. How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan
A look into the renaissance of psychedelics and how a new generation of scientists are testing their potential to improve mental health, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction. Pollan is a brilliant writer, offering a healthy dose of skepticism throughout the book, which helps add a voice of reason to an often fanciful topic. He acknowledges the provocative, often uncomfortable frontier of psychedelic therapy, which sits somewhere between science and spirituality.
True to form, his deep interest in the natural world comes through, specifically as it relates to psilocybin. He also digs into the broader cultural and historical significance, detailing the stories of each influential character involved. But the best parts of the book are when Pollan examines ambiguous, difficult concepts such as consciousness, spirituality, and ego dissolution. Whether you're interested in better understanding the science, potential benefits to mental health, or a new lens through which to view the world and your own experience, this book makes significant contributions to furthering each. Check out my notes or Amazon for details and reviews.
4. The Inner Game of Tennis – W. Timothy Gallwey
I'm usually skeptical of anything that resembles sports as a metaphor for life, but this a tremendous read. It's less a book about tennis (although there are a few sections) and more about the art of relaxed concentration. It's a simple but profound concept that suggests the secret to performing your best is in developing a quiet confidence, and most importantly, not trying too hard.
Gallwey draws a line between Self 1–the conscious teller, and Self 2–the doer. He advocates developing greater trust in Self 2, which helps to cultivate effortless concentration (flow), instead of a more tense, overly controlled approach which creates an unnecessary obstacle. Gallwey also offers an insightful perspective as he digs deeper into concepts including judgment, ego, and mindfulness, which adds another dimension to the book. Check out my notes or Amazon for details and reviews.
5. Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson
The amount of information in this book is incredible (biographies by Walter Isaacson are not quick reads). Throughout the book, I marveled at not only Leonardo, but also Isaacson’s ability to aggregate so much information and tell a compelling story. He’s brilliant at drawing out subtle themes that help tie everything together. Leonardo feels relatable and human in that his genius was self-made, built from personal experience/experiments and dedication to his craft(s). But he feels simultaneously distant in that the breadth of his abilities across disciplines, obsession with detail, and ability to bridge observation and imagination seem otherworldly.
This book is an investment, but you’ll walk away with a reenergized curiosity and a newfound appreciation for the finer details in life. That’s what makes books like this worth it–the message resonates far stronger than what you might get out of a 200-page popular nonfiction title. Check out my notes or Amazon for details and reviews.