As Chartbeat has grown to 95 people, I’ve found it harder and harder to devote significant time to reading. I found more escape than usual in fiction and some months felt very meagre indeed. Still, the 54 books I did make it through in 2014 gave me much to think about. If I had to pick the three that affected me most it would be The Bully Pulpit, The Ascent of Science and The Orphan Master’s Son, but generally if I got through a book I thought it was worthwhile. There were several that were either abandoned or thrown aside with great force. They have not been included in this list. Which I’m sure hurts their authors dreadfully.
Adventures of a Bystander by Peter Drucker
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins
Adventures of a Bystander was a wonderfully written book on the life of the man every other management thinker plagiarizes. One of many vignettes that stuck with me: “Like all successful activists, she lived the old Irish definition of a peacelover: a person who is willing to listen after having knocked the opponent unconscious”. My Struggle is the first book in an obsessively detailed and candid look at the life of the author. If one were to describe this book it would sound insufferably mundane, but something about the writing meant that I couldn’t put it down. Be wary, this is simply the first of a series and it has obsessed an entire country.
A Country of Vast Designs by Robert Merry
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meachem
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammed by Lesley Hazleton
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
I’ve never heard a single American bring up President James Polk among the great presidents and yet his four year administration must count as one of the most productive and important on record. The man created the central bank and brought Texas, California and Oregon into the Union. Merry brings this to light in a coherent and accessible way. Meachem’s Jefferson is sympathetic and made me see past the eccentricities that had previously given me a lower opinion of the founding father. Hillenbrand and Hazleton both crafted wonderful narratives of fascinating figures, but it was Doris Kearns Goodwin who taught me the most. Her biography of Roosevelt and Taft spends almost as much time on the investigative journalists of McClure’s and is all the better for it.
Scaling up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao
The Outsiders by William Thorndike
The Hard thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Turn the Ship Around! By David Marquet
The Master Switch by Tim Wu
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
Creativity Inc. By Ed Catmull
Hope is not a Strategy by Rick Page
Scaling up Excellence and The Advantage were the two books with the most practical tactical advice for business and where I took the most notes. The Master Switch is essential for anyone who wants to understand a historical perspective on the importance of net neutrality and the Outsiders was an excellent catalyst for thinking about my company’s challenges at a far higher level than I had.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connolly
Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
In the Course of Human Events by Mike Harvkey
All you need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
BBB: What a girl wants by Maya Rodale
Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore by Robin Sloan
Black Lake by Johanna Lane
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Orphan Masters Son by Adam Johnson
The Laughing Monsters: A Novel by Denis Johnson
The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
The best fiction I read all year was the Orphan Master’s Son, a novel set in North Korea that is both riveting and appalling. Mike Harvey’s In the Course of Human Events is this decade’s Fight Club and the poetry of Blood Meridian and Black Lake was a beautiful thing to behold. Honourable mention to the beautiful Maya Rodale who published her first USA Today best seller and stayed married to me despite the severest of provocations.
Philosophy and Psychology
Stoic Spiritual Exercises by Elen Buzare
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and the Spirit by Daniel Quinn
The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the fate of God in the modern world by Mathew Stewart
Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic by Mathew Stewart
The Antidote: Happiness for People who can’t stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
Wherever you go, There you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy by Donald Robertson
Punished by Rewards: The trouble with Gold Stars… by Alfie Kohn
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This was the year I dug into the work of Bento Spinoza with Mathew Stewart as a guide. The Courtier and the Heretic is a great introduction, while Nature’s God connects Spinoza and other Epicurean inspiration to the thoughts and actions of the Founding Fathers. Nature’s God gets a little turgid in its middle section but is worth powering through for a different perspective on the philosophy behind the birth of America. The Philosophy of CBT shows just how much modern cognitive-behavioural therapy owes to stoic philosophy and is a worthwhile read for those who think that philosophy has nothing practical to offer.
The Ascent of Science by Brian Silver
Complexity: The emerging science at the edge of order and chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop
The Machinery of Life by David Goodsell
Zoom: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees: How Everything Moves by Bob Berman
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How two men revolutionised physics by Nancy Forbes and Bruce Mahon
Honorable mention goes to David Goodsell for an extremely accessible introduction to molecular biology, but the tour de force on this list is Brian Silver’s the Ascent of Science. A beast of a book (2.7lbs of science!), it takes you in incredible detail from Pythagoras and the early discoveries, through false hypotheses and debates to the Quantum physics revolution. If you only read one science book next year, read this one. If you only read two, read this one again.
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
The Story-telling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite by William Deresiewicz
The Ape and the Sushi Master by Frans De Wall
The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Barbarians at the Gate is an essential piece of business history that should act as a caveat for all those whose commitment to winning continues even when the prize is no longer worth the effort. Excellent Sheep reads as very much the polemic, but don’t let that put you off. It is a caustic look at how our elite education system is failing our society.