Note to reader: I am big into self-development, wellness and growth. That means I pretty much exclusively read non-fiction, mostly around wellness, science, human beings, career growth, the brain, and spirituality. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll probably enjoy this list…..
Every year I share a list of my top reads, which seems to provide a lot of value to people — not so much in the sense that these posts get tons of reach, but more that people do read what is suggested. The quality of the information that enters your brain is a huge factor for how you live and improve your life — so that is the impact I’m delighted to share.
The last 3 years I have managed to improve the volume of books read — this year it has reduced dramatically. The pressures of growing a new startup, hiring a team in a pandemic — etc, have meant that my greatest priority — reading, has still featured heavily in my life but been something I’ve sadly sacrificed. Last year I read 47 books, this year 26.
If you’re wondering how — all on audible, and all on walks — it’s just that my walks have been a bit… samey (round the same parks, etc) and I’ve done more walking zoom meetings which would have otherwise been sacrosanct reading time. Anyway, enough about me — on to the list, I hope it inspires a great year ahead for you!
Last year’s list is here (with a link to the year before, and so on — “Inception” style).
10. Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty
YES this is ultimate self-help. YES Jay Shetty is the epitome of self-help type jargon. YES, I have already read tons of these types of books. And YES, I still really enjoyed it. My view on self-help is pretty simple — like everything in life, it takes hearing the same messages on repeat hundreds of times before they make an impact. Jay’s experience from London to Accenture to Ashram to global social media superstar is authentic, inspiring, and has tons of great new twists on familiar tales that I think are worth knowing. Learning more about the “Monk Mindset vs Monkey Mindset” is worth it alone. Beyond all that, I like him, think he’s just the right level of cheesy, sensible, inspiring, silly, self-deprecating, insightful and wise — which is what you want from someone looking to “Make wisdom go viral”.
9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*Ck — Mark Manson
This was a year where I finally started to read some of the books that had long been on my backlog that I’d always promised myself I’d get round to. This remarkably popular book has stood the test of time, Mark Manson is indeed very lols and finds his own distinctive negative and dreary voice negging on most of life’s situations with the angle of, essentially, reinforcing ‘stoic’ philosophy.
There are good lessons in the book I won’t ruin, and overall it’s plenty of fun however I would probably point out that it’s mostly an easy read, it won’t change your life but it might make you laugh and find a little perspective in some of life’s more common issues.
8. The Descent of Man, Grayson Perry
Quite a short read and therefore even more worthwhile. The premise is something I care about deeply and truly believe is bang on the money — that the ‘masculine man’ is an old concept that desperately needs reframing if we are to make progress in society. Having someone of Grayson’s immense vocabulary, sharp wit, and wide intellect (as well as unique lived experience) tell it is considerably more powerful though, and it’s full of great examples, ideas and reasons why it needs to be a priority for all of us to challenge the concept of masculinity in the world if we are to progress with kindness, love & care.
7. Beyond Entrepreneurship — Jim Collins and Bill Lazier
7. One of the great benefits of Podcasting is being sent books by publishers and interviewing the authors if you want. I got inbounds from James Clear (Atomic Habits, on last year’s list), John Cleese, and Jim Collins this year — arguably the greatest business and leadership author of his generation. Beyond Entrepreneurship was great, my interview with Jim Collins, maybe even better (shameless plug, listen here!) This truly is one of those books (if you are a leader) where you write notes over and over again, but to illustrate the point I’ll leave you with just one.
“Leadership is a responsibility, not an entitlement. A decision, not an accident. A matter of willful action, not genetics. Whether you learn to lead greatly is a choice.” Told you.
6. White Fragility, Robin Diangelo
Yes, I know I’m so woke that I had to be a white guy with a book about racism on the list, but don’t worry I’m not so cliche that I think I had to include one, I actually read 3 this year and I thought this was the most thought-provoking, to be honest. The main issue with the book though is that if you’ve chosen to read it, you are probably already in the right open-minded state of being to receive the messages, so the force at which Diangelo shoves them down your throat can feel a bit much at times. What it does superbly though is make the right point, the right way, and call out very real-world examples that I, as a white man, have said and used as my answers before without realising the implications for how it might be heard by a black person. You only need to read it once, to learn how to be better and do better — which is the sign of a book well written; a message that sticks!
5. Bad Science, Ben Goldacre
As the founder of a ‘braincare’ company researching science, yet selling vitamins — this book was a priority, and I lapped it up. It is definitely intelligent, witty, and full of all sorts of anecdotes worth knowing about. Where it suffers a bit is Goldacre himself coming across so desperately as a man on a mission that it occasionally loses it’s flair and starts to feel like a personal vendetta, quite petty and like he really needs to see a therapist. All that being said, he’s got a great sense of humour — and the vaccines chapters are mind-blowingly well written.
5. Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed
A book all about the science of mistakes — this was truly a masterclass of insightful research, an artful weaving of complex and tangential stories that tie up brilliantly to land an essential message — people are successful BECAUSE of their mistakes, not in spite of them. The Black Box reference is about airlines, which have the most astonishingly brilliant industry practices and attitudes towards mistakes, but the story ventures wider to healthcare, Dyson, Tony Blair and the Iraq war, Google, and much more. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started it but it was phenomenal from start to finish.
3. Never Split The Difference, Chris Voss
A book on the art of negotiating — a crucial life skill we are rarely taught, yet so valuable for anyone, whether a leader or employee, a child, or an adult. Written by the top hostage negotiator in the world (so he knows a thing or two) it’s filled with not just stories from his life working around the world negotiating impossible situations, but peppered with anecdotes about how you can negotiate in similar relatable circumstances, and most excitingly — precisely what is happening inside the brain from a psychological perspective so you know where you stand, at all times. Loved every page.
2. Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard
If you believe, as I do, that companies have the greatest opportunity to make an impact on the world (more so than individuals or governments) then this book is essentially the blueprint of how to take a stance and stand up for what you believe in.
In every kind of way, the book is a love letter to mother nature, based on principles, wisdom, and evidence that you can build the biggest company in the world in your space worth billions of dollars by compromising absolutely nothing you stand for, and barely bothering to turn up to work. It (he) is epic.
Rest, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
By far the worst book cover EVER — I almost didn’t bother cos I thought it was too childish, but am so glad I did (plus the person who recommended it to me is someone I look up to). So, if you trust me at all, know this: this is MUCH better than the massively over-hyped (in my opinion) “Why We Sleep”. Half the book is full of anecdotes from the history of some of the world’s most successful people and how they rested/napped/chilled/barely worked and made some of the greatest advancements in history. The other half is full of the science behind how and why this works.
Personally, I love books like this. Too much science, a bit boring. Too many anecdotes — a bit mediocre. This book is literally perfect. Not just well told, well researched and well written but most important of all — it’s telling you to take it easy on yourself, chill the f*ck out and make sure you prioritise your downtime in order to maximise your uptime. Personally, I’m so done with hustle culture, I needed to read something this good, & now you do too.
So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed this list — if you did, I’d appreciate you sharing it on Twitter and following me (@danmurrayserter) — that would be nice — as would any likes, comments and shares of this list so it reaches more people and hopefully has a bit of an impact there.
If you’re curious about what was on last year’s list, you can see them here.