Books That Changed Me

These are books that found me at the right time, at the right place, with the right message. They changed me. They shaped me.  And for that gift, I am forever indebted to the authors.

I love to read and I make time for it (nearly) every day.
Learning is a system I trust, I suggest everyone embrace it.

 


 

Books That Shaped The Way I Think About the World

These are the books that helped me shape my understanding of the modern world and my existence in it. Almost all of them represent a major paradigm shift in my life and the way I interacted with society, the economy and our collective future.


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Essentialism by Greg McKowen

While I had been dancing around this philosophy for years, Greg's work distilled it into one of the motto's I return to again & again:

Less, and better.


Generations by William Strauss & Neil Howe

This book completely changed the way that I look at the world, and especially the way that I interpret current events and the chaos of modern life. It inspired me to study history and to think in long-term ways that set me apart from mainstream. It also helped me frame many of the childrearing challenges I witness my friends and family struggle with and the clash between now grandparents and their children. Overall, this book heavily influenced the way that I look at the world on a daily basis.

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Life 3.0: Being Human in the age of AI By Max Tegmark

The debate around Artificial Intelligence is probably the most important conversation of our time. Max does an amazing job of laying out a wide ranging series of possibilities of artificial intelligence in the context of the best science and the brightest minds in the field. Its impeciably written and thought through. This is a book I devoured for the content and admired for the clarity, organization and thoughtful attention to the reader, for example, including excellent end of chapter notes.


Average is Over (and the rest of the trilogy) by Tyler Cowen

I love Marginal Revolution for its prolific and consistently thought provoking content. His three books in the 'Great Stagnation' series offered some truly unique insights, especially around the increasing prevalence of winner-take-all markets,  the changing landscape for mediocrity (what do we do with the mediocre majority?), cultural intermixing (do I even know anyone who is a creationist like 40% of America?!?) and how the progression of technological change has slowed. Highly reccomend all three in the series.

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Mastery by Robert Greene

It too me forever to get through this book, partially because its long and dense... but mostly because it was a lesson that I really needed to learn, but was not yet reading to embrace. Walking on a single path, with focus, was so out of my comfort zone in my mid-20's that this book unsettled me. Thankfully, it taught me the lessons I needed to apply (and largely did) as I became ready to embrace more focus in my life.


Debt By David Graeber

David was one of my professors at Yale and despite his generally disjointed speaking, his writing is very clear. This book clarified my highest level thoughts on capitalism. I had always viewed its greatest challenge as being that it is a paperclip maximizer in a closed system (inherently unsustainable, but still the best option on the table)... but I had not understood how debt was the gasoline on the fire and the biggest impetus for fast perpetual growth. I enjoy trying radical ideas on for size and this one, despite not being very practical or implementable, strikes me as deeply true.

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Play by Stuart Brown

Two wonderful things came from this book for me. First, the realization that play is the easiest way to form friendship as an adult -- a hard task. This realization has brought me many of my best friends to date. And secondly, it identified my dream job: an innovation / idea midwife. In Stuart's words, a "company maverick, someone who has a reputation for tolerating and nurturing wild ideas and methods, but who also has a track record of sound business decisions." True when I read it at 24, even truer (and more real) today.



 
 

Increased my Understanding of 'The Other'

My most fundamental question in life is what makes us the same and what makes us different. Between that and my background in and love for anthropology, my understanding of all others is something I strive to deepen.


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In Search of Respect by Philippe Bourgois

Philippe made me want to be an anthropologist. The respect and empathy he is able to couple with clear eyed assessment was captivating . This ability to be able to hold non-judgement and curiosity while concurrently making sober analysis is something I continually aspire to.


EVERYTHING & Everything By Richard Preston

Richard Preston is my life hero. He does deep dives into totally nerdy, random and deeply interesting ideas and people and then writes gripping, ethnography style books about them. What is not to love? Absolutely nothing. 


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Islam & the Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris & Maajid Nawaz

This is a must read for everyone struggling to understand how they feel about the Islamic faith. As I believe in cultural relativity, within some parameters of inherent human dignity, I wanted to like Islam more than I do after reading this book. As a society, we should aspire to having more open, challenging, nuanced and intense conversations, as was beautifully modeled in this book. I aspire to conversations like this in my Salon.


Hillbilly Elegy By J.D. Vance

When I was young, we had no money and lived on top of a mountain, 30 minutes from a town of 700. It would be no stretch to say that I was a hillbilly. But I've struggled to relate to what has been going on in the middle of the country. This book opened my eyes to the cultural poverty of the white underclass and highlighted the huge dose of privilege comes from cultural norms best distinguished by socio-economic status. That is to say, my family may have been poor, but we didn't act poor and my parents actively rejected the cultural cycle of multi-generational poverty. Not everyone is so lucky.

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Helped Me Manage Myself

It's not easy managing myself. It doesn't come naturally. I rebel. I struggle to force myself to do things. I have intense emotions, am more volatile than stable and my energy is unpredictable. Thankfully me, myself and I are on much better terms these days... and these books are partially to thank.


Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwartz

This was my introduction to the idea of managing energy rather than time. It blew my mind and was 1,000x more effective for me, a person who can get massive amounts done in small amounts of time... and is a sprinter by nature. I've enjoyed several of Tony's other books, but this was my introduction and the one that opened my eyes. 

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GETTING EVERYTHING YOU CAN OUT OF ALL YOU'VE GOT
BY JAY ABRAHAM

Jay is an epic salesman. This book is one part strategy, one part motivation and one part kick in the pants. Quite the combination. My main takeaway is that there is always another strategy, but don't fix what isn't broken and copy what works from one place into another situation. Creative copying is a huge part of innovation. 


THE ART OF LEARNING BY JOSH WAITZKIN

Since my days ski racing, peak performance is a goal that I've chased and danced with and hated and everything in between. Reading this book, I realized that its a love of learning that drives my desire for peak performance, and when paired with Mastery by Robert Greene and So Good They Can't Ignore You, I was able to identity and change the ways that I was undermining myself by focusing exclusively on the steep, early part of the learning curve. Peak performance comes from continued focus, continued effort and continued optimization. This book helped me see that and, in turn, helps me strive for it.

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Made Me Better at Work

From the tactical to the strategic, these shaped the way I think about sales, marketing, relationships, management and business success. 


So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport

I love Cal's work. His keys to "success": go deep, earn your stripes and create real value. That's where you find happiness, freedom and the ability to call your own terms. Creating more value than I take is a goal I constatnly strive to achieve. 


Influence By Robert Cialdini

This one is a classic for a reason. It may have been the very first book I read on persuasion and the psychology of selling. It laid the foundation for LOTS of other books, ideas and people to build upon in my mind. Two very different, but also great books in this category include Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got & The Robert Collier Letter Book.

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Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz

Yes, I spent $200 on this book. Worth every penny time and again. The insight that I found most cutting is that every business goes through cycles -- needing to educate the market, needing to differentiate in the market and needing to innovate the market. Knowing where your business -- and where your prospects -- are in the cycle is worth its weight in marketing gold.


The Hard thing About Hard Things By Ben Horowitz

The best, most honest and cutting book I've read on the lonliness that comes at the top. This gave me much more empathy for the leaders I work with and helped me tremendously as I struggled and succeeded in navigating myself through the tumult of starting multiple businesses.

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So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport

I love Pete Carol. And, I loved his book. It was fascinating and uplifting to read a book by a successful executive whose personality and values align with mine: positivity and competition can very much go hand in hand. Aside from feel good, the best takeaway is that every leader needs to define their leadership style and system for themselves.


Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury

I read this book very early on, probably within a year or two of graduating college and boy am I grateful that I did. This book has shaped the way I interact with colleagues, clients, bosses and even my family. Being able to step out of your own shoes and feel what its like to be the other person - and understand what they actually want -- is without a doubt one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal.

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Improve my Aesthetics

My appreciation for simplicity, beauty and style has increased dramitically over the years. While I'm rarely pleased with the books in this space, these three are worth reading.


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Habitat: The FielD Guide to Decorating by Lauren Liess

By far and away my favorite book on interior design and decorating. Lauren peels back the curtain and lets you see the process and decision making that goes on behind the scenes, often in the mind, of a talented designer. Its like getting cheat codes. This book provided the SYSTEM that I could use to decorate anything. I am such a fan. And, her aesthetic is gorgeous too!


Plain Simple Useful by Terence Conran

Again, less, better. 


The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees

Although I didn't love the style in the photos of this book, I LOVED the content. If you're struggling with your wardrobe, what to wear or what you clothes say to to other people, this is your answer. 


 
 

Some Mind Bending Fiction

If contrasting with my non-fiction reading, I read minimal fiction. Mostly anthropological or near-term science fiction. These are some of my favorite books & authors. Highly reccomend!


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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel

This is in my top few books. It us an anthropological Sci Fi about the brave explorers of a planet that we intercepted musical radio waves from. The characters are flawed and relatable. In fact, much of my inspiration for late middle age comes from one of the couples in the book. A classic.