Since I’m in Asia, the (Chinese) new year hasn’t technically started, so this retroactive post on my top 10 favourite reads from last year is still relevant. I’m a pretty eclectic reader, so it’s hard to rank my reads in order of preference or nominate “favourites”. So, in no particular order….
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph – Ryan Holiday
A primer on rational thinking, pragmatic decision making and a guide for overcoming adversity. Holiday distills ancient stoic wisdom through a range of historical stories applied to a modern context. A quick read that’s easy to pick up when those tough times inevitably strike.
Gallipoli – Peter Fitzsimons
I shake my head in wonderment at the prolific pen of Australian author/historian Peter FitzSimons. Presenting this pivotal work on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli, the events of that fateful episode of the Great War, Australia’s first baptism of fire, are brought to light in this accessible history. FitzSimons writes for the everyman and is often criticised for his unapologetic artistic license and uber-emotive, nationalistic style; still, this work remains informative laying down the key players, dates, pivotal battles and heroic acts of those thrown into the maelstrom by military bungling and political circumstance. For all its technical shortcomings, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and learned a lot. It gave me a good foundation to tackle more extensive accounts of the campaign and further appreciation of the men cut down in their prime in a war they could not hope to comprehend.
On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads – Tim Cope
Interweaving a history of the places he visits, nomadic culture and his own introspective day-to day observations, intrepid explorer Cope creates a travelogue every bit as epic as the formidable 6000 mile journey from Mongolia to Hungary. Cope is an equally fascinating person that I wanted to learn more about – at 26 he possesses some serious skills and balls to navigate a place I consider one of those exotically impossible destinations and is one hell of an inspiration. I didn’t want his journey to end and it’s by far the best thing I’ve read in the travel genre.
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology – Robert Wright
Using science to answer the perennial questions of why we do the things we do, this accessible work shows evolution’s role in shaping the modern day human condition. Wright dissects and exposes the logic behind such behaviours as friendship, altruism, love, cheating , rivalry and xenophobia. The bio-narrative of Darwin’s life that runs parallel to the scientific discussion is an equally captivating exposition of the man whose life episodes serve to illustrate the book’s key ideas. This is a highly enjoyable and fascinating read that serves as an excellent introduction to evolutionary psychology; a definite pick if you enjoy books like The Red Queen, The Selfish Gene and Sperm Wars.
How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big – Scott Adams
Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, asserts that “successful people treat success as a learnable skill. They figure out what they need and they go and get it.” These strategies are what Adams refers to as “systems” provide the focal point to achieving that success. “A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of success in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.” And goals, Adams states plainly, are for losers.
This is an oversimplification of a book otherwise packed with a range of good ideas to living a happier and more productive life. Adam’s writing style is clear, to the point and above all, highly entertaining. Most self-improvement books fall short on originality with an even shorter motivational half-life, but this one stands apart from it’s easy to implement ideas that will make immediate and noticeable differences. Highly recommended.
Hitler A Biography – Ian Kershaw
An enthralling portrait of evil that captures the soulless entity of perhaps the most reviled figures in modern history. Kershaw lays bare the enigma of a man who in most respects was totally unremarkable in every way save for a demonic hubris and captivating charisma. While this book serves as an abridgement to his two volume epic, it doesn’t skimp on detail. As one of the best WW2 books and biographies I’ve ever read, this has motivated me to return to the main course in order to fully savour the complete, unedited brilliance of Kershaw’s work.
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism – Olivia Fox Cabane
When it comes to charisma it seems some people have it and some people don’t. But author Olivia Cabane argues that charisma isn’t an attribute inherent as widely believed. Whoever the person, it’s a skill-set that can be learned.
Charisma can be broken down to 3 key components – presence, warmth and power. Or in more simplistic terms – “Stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla, speak like a preacher”. Charisma therefore isn’t something you are; it’s something you do. It’s both effective speaking and listening combined with a congruency between one’s psychology and physiology.
In this book, Cabane has backward engineered some of the most effective charisma boosting activities from a range of behavioural and self improvement theories into immediately actionable exercises. Practised often, I can definitely see how one’s personal magnetism could be amplified by applying these techniques. I also liked how she summarised each chapter’s main points for quick and easy reference. Whether you’re trying to improve your success in business, being more influential in the boardroom or naturally increasing the magnetism towards other people, this is a valuable book in your self improvement library.
The Truth – An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships – Neil Strauss
Strauss is one of my favourite writers. I can unabashedly say that he changed my life with The Game when I didn’t realise that a large part of it was pure invention on Strauss’ behalf. As someone on a similar chronological trajectory, many of Neil’s introspective reflections on the nature of life and relationships definitely resonated with me. A lot of this book is about unlearning; unlearning unconscious societal programming, self-defeating mental models, and reinforced negative habits. For Strauss, it was a deep and painful rabbit hole and he shares both his experiences and the (extensive) resources he used to find his way out. Yes, I realise Strauss is a master manipulator and a brilliant self-promoter who epitomises many of the dark triad components of psychopathy, but I love his stuff all the same. “Attraction is not a choice”.
Rejection Proof: 100 Days of Rejection, or How to Ask Anything of Anyone at Anytime – Jia Jiang
The transformative journey of a man who undertook (and blogged) 100 days of challenges designed to inoculate himself from the sting of fear and rejection. His introspective quest is more than a process of skin thickening – he discovers an enormous amount about psychology, negotiation, and persuasion, along with a few counterintuitive responses to some of his wacky requests. Each chapter ends with a summary of the critical takeaways together with advice for readers on their own confidence building journey. Informative, entertaining and inspirational. – so much better than I thought it would be.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void – Mary Roach
Think being an astronaut a glamorous career choice? Be prepared to have those beliefs shattered by Mary Roach’s superb, “Packing for Mars”. She examines the physical and psychological aspects of space travel that rarely make the textbooks: everything from how astronauts eat, bathe, excrete, sex (?) and cope with a life in isolated confined spaces at zero gravity with none of home’s creature comforts.
Mary puts the fun back in science and has rekindled my interest in space exploration. It would be cool if she wrote a kid-friendly spin-off – students love the “gross side” of science and Mary’s often present toilet humour would definitely hit home with a younger audience.
That’s my favourites from 2015. If you read anything great, I’m always looking for recommendations and I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.