Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work is a very powerful concept and skill. It is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newport talks about how important Deep Work is in our economy, and outlines multiple deep work strategies, one for example that takes into account individuals that have to have some communication channels open. Focus is a skill that can be improved, and this book helps you learn about habits and systems to get into a flow state so you can do your best work.

“Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.” — Cal Newport

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

It should come of no surprise that one of the founders of Pixar would be able to craft an amazing story with the book Creativity Inc. Pixar movies have shaped my childhood and continue to shape my adult life. Their stories create new worlds, experiences and a wide spectrum of emotions with simple but impactful life lessons.

The book talks about the creation of Pixar and how the company is able to cultivate an open, creative and innovative culture. The key themes were learning from failure, I mean really learning, by documenting the lessons, sharing them and implementing solutions that are tracked in feedback loops. The other major theme is open collaboration. This can take form in many ways, the more common being working across a team or departments, the other is sharing your work early and often and having the feedback from those that consume your work, fed back into making it better.

Pixar has been on the brink of collapse numerous times. The company has found a way to cultivate the skill of storytelling and manufacturing luck. Change is also always around the corner and the stories about George Lucas of Lucasfilms, Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple who became a majority owner at Pixar, Bob Igner, CEO of Disney who purchased Pixar in 2006, and all the other waves of economic change posed great challenges to try to maintain the Pixar culture while allowed for positive change.
The Pixar founders Ed Catmul, John Lassetter and Jim Morris believed in Pixar; they wanted it to outlast them like the way stories last generations.

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.” — Ed Catmull

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A plot similar to The Jungle Book and Tarzan, with the essence of a Tim Burton Movie. Beautifully written, by Neil Gaiman. Not only did this book bring me into the world of Bod, short for Nobody, who was raised by the inhabitants of the graveyard, it made me feel like an adventurous kid again. Which makes sense, since the book was made for children, but can be enjoyed by all ages.
I listened to the Narration by Neil Gaiman himself and thought it added so much personality and emotion to the story. Highly recommend the Audible version.

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.” — Neil Gaiman

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

A recommended read for the super curious and or Mad Scientists. What if  is packed with smart wit and humor, from the creator of the XKCD webcomics that you’ve probably seen somewhere on the online. The book creates an immense feeling of wonder, blending together science, creativity, and curiosity. I felt like a little kid whose imagination had taken book form. You’ll find questions like, “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” or
“What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?” A book of clever questions that you may be too afraid to ask or have always wondered about.

“They say there are no stupid questions. That’s obviously wrong; I think my question about hard and soft things, for example, is pretty stupid. But it turns out that trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.”
― Randall Munroe

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

The kind of book that will have you asking yourself deep questions about your own existence and relationship with life, and the meaning you create in it. I would file this book under the world view expanding. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1974, The Denial of Death’s core premise is that human civilization has created a defense mechanism against the reality that we will die one day. The physical world and particularly nature shows reminders and we try to conquer it. The symbolic aspects of life and the nature of our stories, with a heroic narrative, are our form of an immortality project; through art, music, religion, literature, political structures and institutions. We gravitate towards the eternal as we believe it gives our lives meaning and we create comforting illusions to defend this meaning. Often times these illusions come into conflict and the misguided meaning can have good people doing bad things.

“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
― Ernest Becker

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Stories. It’s our social-evolutionary trump card. In Sapiens, Harari takes us on a historical tour of our own story, that of Homo Sapiens, and why we survived compared to other Homo species. Written in a simple, focused and vibrant style, the story takes us through early homo branches and then the age of the solo homo species and it’s milestones through different eras and revolutions, geographical, biological, and scientific progress and the spread of different philosophies and beliefs. We humans are on an endless conquest for things we know and things we don’t know. We have conquered many lands, other species, and the elements; tried to conquer one another and aim to become gods ourselves. And yet we still may not know what we really want.

Harari frames the book in a way for you to understand the events in their historical context. I found myself hooked and it has widened my understanding of people and the world. I enjoyed reading along and watching myself make big history connections and felt waves of empathy, wonder, sorrow, and hope.

“We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
― Yuval Noah Harari

Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger by Charles T. Munger, Peter E. Kaufman

Charles Munger is the quiet (speaks when necessary) and sharp business partner of Warren Buffet and Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Reading Poor Charlie’s Almanac is like going on an adventure. The book is part Biography, Business, Finance, Economics, Psychology and a jungle of connected wisdom. Drafting inspiration from Ben Franklin, Charlie is a champion and great pro-proponent for Multidisciplinary Learning and acquisition of Mental Models to better understand the world. A lot of his core traits, around preparation, discipline, patience and decisiveness are reflected in the stories and speeches in the book. This is the kind of book you revisit multiple times over a lifetime. There is also a large section dedicated to the psychology of human misjudgment and other cognitive biases, to help reveal flaws in thinking to help you make better decisions.

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads–and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” ― Charles T. Munger

Year in books statistics from 2016

What were some of your favorite books in 2016? Comment down below.


Also published on Medium.