Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Best Books of 2016

This is my list of the best books of 2016. Most were released in 2016 but a few were not, but this happened to be the year I read them.

I have broken the list into non-fiction, fiction and biography. Hopefully it will give you some ideas if you are looking for something to read.

Some books I read.


My non fiction reading this year was dominated by the 'smart thinking' genre, how to improve your ability to learn new skills and be more productive,  as well as a smattering of neuroscience.

So without further ado.

Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

Eric Anderson is the guy who did the research that led to the popular idea (myth) of 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert in something.

In the book he goes into much more detail than the authors who have quoted him. He gives you all the research and practical advice on how to engage in purposeful practice and deliberate practice.

This is a must for coaches. Reading through the quotes I highlighted I realised I need to read this again.

There are so many gems in this book, but here are two.


"...whenever possible, the best approach is almost always to work with a good coach or teacher. An effective instructor will understand what must go into a successful training regimen and will be able to modify it as necessary to suit individual students."

"The hallmark of purposeful or deliberate practice is that you try to do something you cannot do - that takes you out of your comfort zone - and that you practice it over and over again, focusing on exactly how you are doing it, where you are falling short, and how you can get better."

Deep Work by Cal Newport.

I have written about this book before here.

In the age of distraction to focus and do quality work you need to remove yourself from environments that don't work for you.

Newport suggests quitting social media, which I have done a few times (easier said than done) limiting emails, and avoiding the open plan office working space ( I can attest to the fact it is the least productive environment in the world).

Hats off to Newport for coining the term 'pseudo-work' which is what most people are doing most of the day; reacting to email, looking busy but not actually doing anything.

I need to employ Newport's strategies in 2017.

Grit: The power of passion and perserverance by Angela Duckworth.

In short, successful people stick with things and don't give up easily.

I found Duckworth's book more anecdotal than Ericsson's, and at one point she interviews Ericsson and asks him how to improve her running, he recommends she gets a coach!


"The bottom line on culture and grit is: If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you're a leader, and you want the people in your organisation to be grittier, create a gritty culture."

"As any coach or athlete will tell you, consistency of effort over the long run is everything."

The Art of Learning: An inner journey to optimal performance by Josh Waitzkin.

This got mentioned in the Learning How to Learn MOOC weekly email.

Written by a guy who became a chess champion at a very young age and then became a Tai Chi champion.

He tells you what strategies he employed to get there. I actually enjoyed the chess sections the most.


"The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we've got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing."

The Idiot Brain: A neuroscientist explains what your head is really up to by Dean Burnett.

Covering such things as why you get motion sickness, why clever people lose arguments, why you get addicted to things and why your memory is unreliable.

Written for the lay person, the author explains neuroscience concepts really well, and I also like the British sense of humour that the author has.

Pivot: The only move that matters is your next one by Jenny Blake.

I like the central premise of the book. You don't have to completely give up what you are doing now, you can pivot out of your current situation (if you so wish) with a more low risk strategy of side projects and a plan.

We don't all work at Google or in offices but the strategy is overall a good one.

Do Fly: Find your way. Make a living. Be your best self by Gavin Strange.

I really like to 'Do' series of books, they are easy to read, you can read them in less than a day. They are deceptively simple but full of good advice.

The are also really well designed in terms of layout and graphics.

Excerpt from Do Fly.


I don't read much fiction, one of my goals for 2017 is to read more fiction. But here are the stand out fiction books for me.

The Circle by David Eggers.

Imagine a world in the not too distance future (as in now) where a corporation that is a combination of Facebook and Google controls everything.

If you like Charlie Brookers Black Mirror you will like this book.

It has been made into a film due for release next year. So read it now before the film comes out and you can be one of the cool kids.

Led me to also read his first book A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, an autobiographical novel where both of Egger's parents die and he has to bring up his younger brother.


"Your comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them."

Stoner: A novel by John Williams.

Published 50 years ago. Tag line: the greatest book novel you've never read.

The prose in this book is stunning, one mans entire life. Not a heros life, but an ordinary, average, heart breaking life which most of us lead.


Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.

Because its Springsteen autobiography, enough said.

But it turns out his early life is a mixture of On The Road and Bukowski characters with prose to match.

If you want to see an example of Ericssons purposeful practice in real life then read Springsteens book. That's how you become good at something.

If I had read this when I was 18 I would have probably headed west and slept on the beach with my guitar.


"Back east we usually experience the freedom that comes with a good snowstorm. No work, no school, the world shutting its big mouth for a while, the dirty streets covered over in virgin white, like all the missteps you've taken have been erased by nature. You can't run; you can only sit. You open your door on a trackless world, your old path, your history, momentarily covered over by a landscape of forgiveness, a place where something new might happen."

Which is kind of how I've always felt about snow but never managed to articulate like Bruce does.

That's the list for 2016.

And in 2017.

I still have a few books I need to finish reading. Neurophilosophy and the Health Mind by Georg Northoff and Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: The Science of Neuroeconomics by Paul Glimcher. These are part of my project to see if you can teach yourself the equivalent of a masters degree in Neuroscience. (Which I will write about another time).

I also have a plan to read more fiction. I have a list of classics to read, you know the ones that always appear on the greatest books of all time lists.

So far I'm thinking:

Tolstoy - Anna Karenina or War and Peace
Dickens -  David Copperfield or Great Expectations
Proust -  In Search of Lost Time (started but never finished)
Steinbeck -  Grapes of Wrath
Hemingway - For Whom the Bell Tolls
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Anathem by Neal Stephenson, which I saw mentioned somewhere.

And today I bought Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, so that will be the one I start with.

Non fiction:
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M Sapolsky.

I better start employing Cal Newports ideas if I'm going to fit all these in!

What do you plan on reading, what are your top book recommendations for next year? What fiction books should I add to my list? What inspired you in 2016?

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