The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017

“Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.” – John Locke

As part of my yearly review, I’ve looked back at the 46 books I read this year to find out which ones I’d recommend others read too. Capping this to just ten books was difficult, because so many of them were great – so I’ve added a shortlist of “honorable mentions” at the bottom as well.

Happy reading!

(PS: As part of the annual review process, I’ve also listed the top 10 new habits and life hacks I adopted in 2017, my 10 best purchases from 2017, and the 10 best photographs I took last year. Enjoy!)

The Top 10 Books I Read in 2017

1) “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder”, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I was late to the Taleb party and didn’t discover this masterpiece until this year. But holy smokes, what a book this is. It literally changed how I see the world on a daily basis – I now try my best to avoid being fragile to rare, negative events, while also exposing myself to rare, positive events (“Black Swans”.) If you haven’t read this yet, you now know exactly what to do in January 2018.
(PS: Taleb’s next book, “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” comes out on 27th of February. Guess where I’ll be in March…)

2) “The Fourth Economy: Inventing Western Civilization”, by Ron Davison

This book is so good that I wrote an entire blog post on its core ideas (read it here). On the surface, it’s a history book about the Western world. Beneath the surface, it’s a guide on how to thrive professionally in the fourth economy, that is in the future of work over the next 50 years. (I’ve also been lucky enough to get to know the author of this epic book this year – Ron is an absolute star!)

3) ”Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life”, by William Deresiewicz

The educational system is fundamentally broken, and no book illustrates how bad it’s become, and what might be done about it, better than this one. Written by a former Yale professor, Excellent Sheep lets us peek inside elite education in the US to see what’s really going on. Suffice to say, the concoction of epic student debt, grade inflation, a credentialism treadmill and extreme conformity pressure is not pretty.
(See also: Nat Eliason’s podcast interview with the book’s author.)

4) “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, by Greg McKeown

I love minimalism, and this book applies the philosophy to our lives beyond our physical things. Our calendars, priorities at work and home, our relationships and so on and so forth – they could all use some pruning to get rid of the excess. How might your life be better with less?

5) “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work”

Wow, this book came out of nowhere with a bang. Extra-conscious states of mind might sound whacky (and they are), but oh so fascinating. Kotler explores everything from meditation to extreme sports, psychedelic drugs, shared consciousness among SEAL teams and electrical brainwave stimulation to explore states of mind that go beyond our everyday consciousness. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

6) “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

Everyone from Bill Gates to Obama and Musk have recommended this gem, and for good reason. An excellent overview of the history of the human species, from strolling around on the savannah hunting and gathering, all the way up to me typing this on an electronic device. It’s been a wild ride over the last 200.000 or so years, and this book delivers the story masterfully.

7) “Principles”, by Ray Dalio

The world’s top hedge fund manager explains his “operating systems” for work and life. Brilliant stuff with key takeaways for just about anyone I can think of. (Another great read along the same lines is “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic.)

8) “Disrupt You”, by Jay Samit

Serial innovator Jay Samit shows how to think unconventionally to find opportunities (business and otherwise) hiding in plain sight. It’s effectively just a set of stories from Jay’s life about various entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial ventures, but the quality of the stories is astonishing. So many clever, unconventional twists and turns show up in this book, and it’s got great lessons for anyone with entrepreneurial tendencies. We’ll probably make this book required reading for out incoming Early Stage students next year. (For an intro to Jay, watch this interview on Impact Theory.)

9) “Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behaviour”, by Geoffrey Miller

According to Geoffrey Miller, conspicuous consumption is just a modern way of showing off our genetic fitness for mating purposes. However, there are many other, often more effective ways of achieving the ultimate outcomes to ensure survival and replication than conspicuous consumption. This book illustrates the absurdity of excessive consumerism and provides suggestions for how to skip the consumption step altogether to get straight to what really matters from an evolutionary standpoint: surviving, and showing the opposite sex what splendid genes you have.

10) ”Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, by J.D. Vance

Looking back at 2017 from a distance, say 10 years from now, I believe what will stand out is the global political circus led by Donald Trump. A lot has been written about the rise of political populism and its underlying reasons. Most such commentary is written by folks who view the subjects of their writing from the outside – but this book gives an insider’s perspective into the lives and culture of people in “Hillbilly America”. The author’s own life story is used to shine a light on the structural problems facing folks in Appalachia and coal country on a daily basis – whose frustrations arguably tipped the weight in Trump’s favour a year ago.

Honorable mentions

Thanks to my completely arbitrary limit of 10 books, these didn’t quite make the cut – but they were pretty damn close.

That’s all for now, folks – have a great reading year!

Also published on Medium.