Home — Collections — Best Non-Fiction Books of 2019 – 80 books recommended by The CEO Library community
Best Non-Fiction Books of 2019 – 80 books recommended by The CEO Library community
Table of Contents
About a month ago (November) I asked all the subscribers of The CEO Library Newsletter and the 18,000+ Instagram followers to fill in a form that was asking what are the best books they’ve read in 2019. I didn’t limit the answers in any way – which might not be the best solution going forward, to be sure.
We’ve got a list of about 100 books in total. Out of those books, several weren’t in English and I didn’t find any English translation, so they didn’t make the list. About 10% of them are Fiction books and you can see that list here.
Aside from the Fiction and Non-Fiction lists, I’ve also compiled a list of books published in 2019 that people recommended:
A lot of people email me asking about habits - how to form good ones, how to break bad ones, how to stop doing the dumb shit we always do. I've got a friend named James Clear. He's an accomplished author and business owner and is kind of a "habit guru." He's probably forgotten more habits research than I've ever brought myself to look at. He just launched his first book. It's called Atomic Habits and it's probably the most practical and complete guide I've ever seen about habit formation and habit change. Do check it out. And then email him and tell him that I have luscious and beautiful hair and he doesn't. Then stick out your tongue and go, "Nyah, nyanya, nyah, nyah."
Both Melinda and I read this one, and it has sparked lots of great conversations at our dinner table. Harari takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of the human race in just 400 pages. He also writes about our species today and how artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and other technologies will change us in the future. Although I found things to disagree with—especially Harari’s claim that humans were better off before we started farming—I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species.
Several friends, who know I both love to sleep and am intrigued with how sleep works, recommended that I read Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. It was excellent. While my self-assessment of my sleep habits are very positive, I learned a few things. More importantly, I now have a much better understanding of the “Why” surrounding sleep, especially around sleep’s importance to a healthy and long life.
As a general rule, most new memoirs are mediocre and most business memoirs are even worse. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is an exception to that rule in every way and as a result, was one of my favorite books of the year and favorite business books ever. I started reading it while on the runway of a flight and figured I’d read a few pages before opening my laptop and working. Instead, my laptop stayed in my bag during the flight and I read almost the entire book in one extended sitting. Ostensibly the memoir of the founder of Nike, it’s really the story of a lost kid trying to find meaning in his life and it ends with him creating a multi-billion dollar company that changes sports forever. I’m not sure if Knight used a ghostwriter (the acknowledgements are unclear) but his personal touches are all over the book—and the book itself is deeply personal and authentic. The afterward is an incredibly moving reflection of a man looking back on his life. I loved this book. It ends just as Nike is starting to turn into the behemoth it would become, so I hold out hope that there may be more books to follow.
This was a breakthrough to me. The framework Hans enunciates is one that took me decades of working in global development to create for myself, and I could have never expressed it in such a clear way. I’m going to try to use this model moving forward.
Frankl is one of the most profound modern thinkers on meaning and purpose. His contribution was to change the question from the vague philosophy of “What is the meaning of life?” to man being asked and forced to answer with his actions. He looks at how we find purpose by dedicating ourselves to a cause, learning to love and finding a meaning to our suffering. His other two books on the topic, Will To Meaning and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning have gems in them as well.
Tara never went to school or visited a doctor until she left home at 17. I never thought I’d relate to a story about growing up in a Mormon survivalist household, but she’s such a good writer that she got me to reflect on my own life while reading about her extreme childhood. Melinda and I loved this memoir of a young woman whose thirst for learning was so strong that she ended up getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.
Harari’s new book is as challenging and readable as Sapiens. Rather than looking back, as Sapiens does, it looks to the future. I don’t agree with everything the author has to say, but he has written a thoughtful look at what may be in store for humanity.
Robert has been writing this book since Mastery came out in 2013 and it shows - it's a spectacular masterwork that builds atop all his other books. Robert's book have always been an unvarnished look at how the world really works, for better and for worse. What I like about this book is that it pushes us to question our own biases, our own assumptions, irrationalities and tendencies. It's almost as if we believe other people have a 'human nature' but we don't - we're logical, fair, motivated by higher purposes always. Of course this is silly. Lots of good stuff here for anyone in a position of leadership, who works with an audience or studies human behavior.
Put aside your insecurities over any lack of talent and ability you might feel, and pick up Angela Duckworth's book Grit. Instead of focusing on the idea that there’s a big secret behind outstanding achievement, Duckworth touts the importance of blending passion and relentless persistence, otherwise known as grit. Duckworth herself is the daughter of scientists who frequently told her she lacked genius. Her book shows how everyday people, from cadets at West Point to finalists in National Spelling Bees, have actually succeeded through sheer passion and persistence. The trick is finding your own grit.
THE NOW HABIT is the definitive bible for releasing anyone's procrastinating past and becoming a 'producer.' This book is my go-to recommendation to my clients (and myself!) for beating procrastinatiomn and the guilt that comes with it.
Boyd was probably the greatest post-WWII military strategist; he developed the F-15 and F-16, revolutionized ground tactics in war and covertly designed the US battle plans for the Gulf War. He shunned wealth, fame, and power all to accomplish what he felt needed to be accomplished. Coram captures his essence in a way that no other author has touched.
I've been a fan of Cal for a long time. His book So Good They Can't Ignore You is one of my favorites, but it's his new book that's probably had the biggest and most immediate impact on me. For those of you who enjoyed Tyler Cowen's Average is Over, you already know how important the ability to focus, be creative, and think at a high level is going to be in the future. This is a book that explains how to cultivate and protect that skill--the ability to do deep work. One thing I've already started doing since reading this book is recording the number of hours of deep work I do each day in my morning journal. It's a way of keeping a running tally and monitoring if I begin to get distracted or slow my pace. Anyway, great book!
Over the years he’s [Tony Hsieh] recommended well over 20 business books — including his own, the 2010 bestseller Delivering Happiness and you can always find what he’s currently reading atop his cluttered desk. Start with Why is amogst those titles.
Self-help classics like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People teach principles I still apply today at work. Books didn't change my career path, people whom I knew and interacted with did.
A richly rewarding spring of practical wisdom to help you focus on what's in your control, eliminate false and limiting beliefs, and take more effective action. Make The Daily Stoic your guide and you will grow in clarity, efectiveness, and serenity each day!
After working at many startups and now running my own company, the one difference I have observed between good and great companies (and products) is how oriented the org is toward learning, The more people in an organization learn, the more value they create for the whole company.
I read The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly and it gave me a lot more perspective on the future and how I can participate in the next big changes the world is going to go through. It is both a practical and conceptual book.
Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith was eye-opening for me. I was going through a period of greater introspection, and trying to improve my ability to identify when I was being productive, and then to develop an understanding of what led me to have famines and gluts of productivity. Triggers helped me spot more connections and as a result I'm better at spotting when I'm struggling and when I'm in a good place to push myself.
Will assume career path is running a startup, getting clients and managing a team of employees or collaborating with founders. These are some of the best books to cover these areas. It’s hard running a startup, let alone being the person who has to make the highest decisions in the organization. These books help provide the framework in how to run a successful organization but also share some of the stories and pitfalls from other founders so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
A unique synthesis of Eastern and Western thought, a readable and highly accessible program of simple training exercises for health and transformation, a program which is ripe for scientific validation.
Professorial Research Fellow, Goldsmiths, University of London
Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed, I wanted to keep reading and thinking. All three of his books wrestle with some version of the same question: What will give our lives meaning in the decades and centuries ahead? So far, human history has been driven by a desire to live longer, healthier, happier lives. If science is eventually able to give that dream to most people, and large numbers of people no longer need to work in order to feed and clothe everyone, what reason will we have to get up in the morning?
It’s no criticism to say that Harari hasn’t produced a satisfying answer yet. Neither has anyone else. So I hope he turns more fully to this question in the future. In the meantime, he has teed up a crucial global conversation about how to take on the problems of the 21st century.
An insightful and well-written book, describing the hard transition of foraging communities in Namibia from relative affluence during the Stone Age to contemporary poverty and misery. Avoiding both modern conceits and romantic fantasies, Suzman chronicles how economics and politics have finally conquered some of the last outposts of hunter-gatherers, and how much humankind can still learn from the disappearing way of life of the most marginalized communities on earth.
David Goggins is a being of pure will and inspiration. Just listening to this guy talk makes you want to run up a mountain. I firmly believe people like him can change the course of the world just by inspiring us to push harder and dig deeper in everything we do. His goal to be 'uncommon amongst uncommon people' is something we can all use to propel ourselves to fulfill our true potential. I'm a better man having met him.
Dr. Mark Hyman has helped thousands of people lose weight and lead happier, more energetic lives. His powerful insights on the dynamics of dietary fat will change the way you think about everyday eating, and show you how easy it is to enjoy a healthier, more satisfying diet.
Michael Pollan masterfully guides us through the highs, lows, and highs again of psychedelic drugs. How to Change Your mind chronicles how it’s been a longer and stranger trip than most any of us knew.
It taught me so much about marketing and human psychology. I keep referring back to that book all the time. It has been instrumental in inspiring the marketing strategies I used to propel Rails and Basecamp.
There is no living writer (or person) who has been more influential to me than Robert Greene. I met him when I was 19 years old and he’s shaped me as a person, as a writer, as a thinker. You MUST read his books. His work on power and strategy are critical for anyone trying to accomplish anything. In life, power is force we are constantly bumping up against. People have power of over us, we seek power ourselves that we might be free enough and influential enough to accomplish our goals—so we must understand where power comes from, how it works and how to get it. But pure power is meaningless. It must be joined to mastery and purpose. So read his book Mastery so that you can figure your life’s task and how to dedicate yourself to it.
I don’t read “business books”. I may read books which were classified as “Business”, “Leadership”, etc; but, if I do, I do so in spite of the category they’ve been deemed to belong to, not because of it.
I generally split books into three main categories. Here are the titles –sorry, but I simply can’t pick just one– that currently hold the top spots in each:
Biography/Memoir: Andre Agassi’s and J. R. Moehringer’s “Open“; Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love“; and Salman Rushdie’s “Joseph Anton“.
Super Thinking is meant to be a comprehensive collection of mental models needed for good personal and professional decision making, most of which are not effectively taught in schools. I believe if you can master these 300 concepts — yes, it is a lot, but they are very interrelated — you will completely level up your thinking. It’s the book I wish someone had given me earlier in my career, but it is good for anyone. As the anonymous saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
It comes out 6/18 and you can pre-order it now and find out more info (including the full list of models). They are grouped into nine narrative chapters, each with its own theme (e.g. time management, people management, unintended consequences, etc.) so it is easy to digest and refer back to.
I really enjoyed Brad Stone's The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. Anyone who wants to better understand the dynamics of disruption or just gain a better understanding of the website we've come to love, must read this book.
Collier’s latest book is a thought-provoking look at a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of people right now. Although I don’t agree with him about everything—I think his analysis of the problem is better than his proposed solutions—his background as a development economist gives him a smart perspective on where capitalism is headed.
I read this book at a time when Udemy was rapidly growing—over the 18 months where we went from 30 to 200 people. It was helpful to read about Horowitz's challenges, worries, and triumphs when addressing the same types of issues at a similar stage of growth. There are so many big decisions you need to make where there's just no clear-cut, right or wrong answer. There are a lot of gray areas. You gather information from your team, but the hard decisions rest with you. This book helped me realize that while I needed to carefully and objectively consider feedback, I was responsible for making a decision in the end—even when it was an unpopular one.
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma is a great read especially when I feel burnt out or when the business is going through hard times. This book made me realize that sometimes I need to prioritize myself before the business as my overall health will affect how I manage my team.
I've always believed that students should learn their trade from the masters--but there are times when you can't just follow what's come before. Marc Ecko designed his future while putting his own spin on history. He's fearless, and he built his brand out of his love of art and pop culture, without being seduced by nostalgia. Marc may have been inspired by Star Wars, but he made it his own – and no one has made Star Wars cooler than Ecko. His unique vision became a global force in fashion. For art and execution, this is the text book I wish I could have bought in college.
Amy Jen Su's helpful frameworks apply to the complicated issues we all grapple with as leaders. The Leader You Want to Be enables readers to show up as their best selves at work, at home, and as they go out into the world.
I'd recommend a sprinkling of business books followed by a heap of productivity and behavioural psychology books. The business books will help you with principals and the psychological books help with everything else in your life. Building your own business can really f!@# you up psychologically.
After Marcus Aurelius, this is one of my favorite books. While Marcus wrote mainly for himself, Seneca had no trouble advising and aiding others. In fact, that was his job—he was Nero’s tutor, tasked with reducing the terrible impulses of a terrible man. His advice on grief, on wealth, on power, on religion, and on life are always there when you need them.
A book about cognitive dissonance that looks at common weaknesses and biases in human thinking. Peter wants to ensure he goes through life without being too sure of himeself, and this book helps him to recalibrate.
A former FBI hostage negotiator distills the heuristics of how to defuse tense negotiations with unstable humans, and proposes that they’re the same for every other form of negotiations. Not a bad premise, and I found several of the techniques compelling and resonant of what I’ve read about human biases and flaws from other sources. But the FBI bravado is grating. It’s basically “hey, I just learned this stuff, and I whattadoknow, I become so bad ass that I could beat every Harvard trained negotiator with my sick mind hacks”. Okay dude. Nassim Taleb would be proud though ?.
The funny thing is that the books that had the biggest impact (like my Verne’s favourite) are not necessarily the best books, objectively speaking. They were good enough to present a new worldview that I was not aware of. Timing probably was more important than their intrinsic literary qualities. They “managed” to fall into my lap at the right time. Such a book was Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, a mediocre book by my standards of today, but deeply inspirational by the ones from yesterday.
Entrepreneurial professionals must develop a competitive advantage by building valuable skills. This book offers advice based on research and reality--not meaningless platitudes-- on how to invest in yourself in order to stand out from the crowd. An important guide to starting up a remarkable career.
Here's a list of the top books that taught and inspired me this year. I go back to Sam Walton's book frequently and was struck, this year, by some common principles between Sam and General McChrystal. It seems they learned some similar things about what works when it comes to leading teams. For example, fostering a shared consciousness and empowering execution delivers results. Greg Foran shared The Good Jobs Strategy with me and I see a connection to Tim Brown's Change by Design. We are making progress in designing a "system" for our associates that results in opportunities for them and an even better work environment.
There are quite a few good business books on technology, and I'll list below some I find to be a good starting point. Personally, I like biographies a lot and I mostly read biographies of dead people, because those are the most honest ones. So because the computer age is still very young, there won't be a lot of biographies in my list.
I read The New Jim Crow, a study of how the U.S. justice system disproportionately criminalizes and jails blacks and Latinos. Making our criminal justice system fairer and more effective is a huge challenge for our country. I’m going to keep learning about this topic, but some things are already clear: We can’t jail our way to a just society, and our current system isn’t working (adapted with permission from Facebook’s A Year of Books project).
I read everything with an open mind, often challenging myself by choosing books with an odd perspective or religious/spiritual views. These books do not reflect my personal feelings but are books that helped shape my perspective on life, love, and happiness.