“Books are a uniquely portable magic” – Stephen King (from: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)
Reading good books is one of the great delights of my life. And while reading preference is probably highly personal, I always find it useful to learn what like-minded people are reading. For that reason, I’ve decided to share my favorite 5 books that I read in 2016. Without further ado, here’s my top 5 in no particular order:
Deep Work – Cal Newport
I’ve read several of Cal’s books over the years and they’ve definitely transformed my professional life. Cal is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University who’s been writing and researching productivity ever since he himself was a High School Superstar.
In Deep Work, Cal defines deep- and shallow work and describes a recent trend towards shallow work—which is work that is easily replicated and doesn’t require intens focus—while deep work, the opposite of shallow work, is becoming increasingly rare and valuable. He then suggests several ways of implementing deep work into your life and getting more out of your typical workday.
I’ve been experimenting with deep work ever since reading this book and found that blocking my e-mail, Facebook, and several distracting websites completely during the day was both effective and necessary to sustain it. I also swap my iPhone for an old Samsung phone that doesn’t have internet when I feel like getting serious. This may sound a bit extreme but Deep work made me recognize the value of not having my work interrupted.
Anyone who wants to feel more confident about finding a job in a future full of automation, would do well do read this book. You can find an animated summary of Deep Work here.
Ego Is The Enemy – Ryan Holiday
While the title of this book would be terribly misplaced in a spiritual or psychological context, ego, as defined more superficially by Ryan Holiday, is actually the enemy. And fighting it should be an important goal in any ambitious person’s life.
In this book, Ryan defines the ego as “an unhealthy belief in one’s own importance” and offers down-to-earth, practical advice on how to keep this ego in check. The relevance of fighting the ego is illustrated perfectly by my favorite quote in the book: “it’s impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows” – Epictetus.
Ryan makes use of case studies of both success-stories an failures. He uses these to come to conclusions about how to tune the ego for success and, more generally, living a good life. I found these case studies very educational and they make for a fun read!
This book was almost dethroned from this list by Adam Grant’s Originals. The books have a lot in common and both are full of wisdom and practical tips. However, I chose Ego Is The Enemy for the simple reason that I enjoyed reading it better. The interesting case studies definitely contributed to that.
Find an animated summary of Ego Is The Enemy here.
John Lennon: The Life – Philip Norman
I’m a huge fan of biographies. Reading well-written biographies of interesting people is, in my opinion, one of the most worthwhile investments of one’s time.
I’ve read several biographies this year. Most of these were biographies of scientists, such as The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman, Faraday, Maxwell and the Electromagnetic Field by Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon, and Genius, a Richard Feynman biography by James Gleick. So it was nice reading about a musician’s life for a change!
While Genius would have been my favorite biography had I read it for the first time this year , John Lennon: The Life, is also a masterpiece. And it has one of the most fascinating of subjects ever. What a character John was!
It’s been a delight to read about John’s developments as both a musician and a person. Also, let it be no secret that I am a huge Beatles fan, and this book covers the history of the Beatles quite well. I’m particularly impressed by the writer’s objectivity in covering the Beatles’ conflicts leading up to their breakup.
This is a must-read for any Beatles fan, or, in other words: everyone!
On The Move – Oliver Sacks
For some reason Sacks never really got under my skin. I read his Muscicophilia a few years ago and remember disliking it. In fact, I didn’t even finish it. As a Neuroscience student I found his conclusions somewhat shortsighted and I didn’t like his tone. I guess I just wasn’t ready for his work.
The experience of reading Sacks’ autobiography, On the Move, couldn’t have been more different. It got me to deeply appreciate this man, who struggled with many of life’s greatest questions as well as his homosexuality in a time when it wasn’t socially accepted at all. Sacks was also quite the traveler (hence the title) and the book portrays many of his adventures on the road as well.
Whether you’re a fan of Sacks’ work or not, I highly recommend On The Move: A Life, especially if you’re interested in writing or the medical sciences.
Nexus (trilogy) – Ramez Naam
This list wouldn’t have been complete without some fiction in it. Besides the Nexus trilogy, I loved reading Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Homeland, its sequel. In the end, Nexus won the battle for this list because of the exciting neural lace-like technology it describes.
While one could argue that the Nexus books aren’t written that well, I think the story more than makes up for the writer’s lack of experience in fiction-writing. In fact, the story has touched me deeply. I found it extremely interesting to read about the direction in which our future may very well be headed.
The Nexus books introduce us to a world where technology, rather than just turning us into Pokémon Go zombies, makes us more humane. A drug-like technology called Nexus, allows brains to interconnect and encourages a deep understanding between people. At the same time, this technology also causes huge political issues, leading to a war between the conservatives, who are driven by fear of it, and the liberals, who are fighting for their freedom. I love how the writer depicts the dangers of fear and ignorance in policy making, and I believe this will become increasingly relevant in the coming years.
Overall, I found the Nexus books extremely interesting. They directly touch many of my interests, such as Neuroscience, technology, programming, and transcendental experiences. I often couldn’t stop reading.
Trans-humanism is coming, and it’s coming fast! If you wish to join the bandwagon, you could do worse than to start with these books.
 I would strongly urge anyone who’s even remotely interested in science to read Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, authored by Feynman himself, and compliment it with James Gleick’s Genius, they’re definitely among my favorite books of all time