Ah, the books.
My goal each year is to read 100 books. I’ve only reached that number once, but still I keep trying. And somehow it seems like every year the books get better. I’ll read a book by an author I read the previous year, and the next year read one he recommended. And so on.
This year I’ve read 70 books, though with a few days in 2017 I might be able to knock out another one or two. Most of them were good, and many were great. We live in a time where there is a lot of great writing and fascinating subject matter out there.
So in no particular order, here are my top books for the year:
1) Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (2nd Edition, 2017)
“Discipline is the pathway to freedom.”
There are lots of books about leadership there, and some of them are good. This one is great.
As a mid-level manager in wildland fire, I want to be improving as a leader. I want to serve my crewmembers and my bosses in the most professional, safest, and effective manner. This book has changed the way I think about how to do that.
The idea is to take extreme ownership of my problems and those of my crewmembers in order to increase our accountability and make us into a crew that represents the qualities mentioned above. It’s not about micro-managing; it’s about giving people the tools to do their job and setting expectations on how to get it done. It’s about taking on problems effectively, rather than avoiding them.
This book is more than a tool to help you at work: it’s a guidebook on how to live your life. Check it out.
2) The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible by A.J. Jacobs (2008)
“I’m officially Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the same way that the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.”
Actually, the author claims to be an atheist. But being an endless experimenter, he takes on the challenge of following the Bible as literally as possible for a year. For a married magazine reporter with a kid, this was a gutsy move. And one that became increasingly complex as the year went on.
I knew this book would be funny, as I’d heard interviews with the author. And I was moved at just how much the skeptic in him stayed so devoted. This was not easy, given the many conflicting interpretations of the Bible, not to mention the rules themselves.
My favorite part is his discussion of gratitude, and how he began thanking God for every little thing, down to the elevator working. My own experience is that the more gratitude I have, the fuller is my life. And it to see another person live it made the book that much more meaningful.
This was the funniest book I read this year, and the novelty of someone living this way coupled with the Bible History made it a great book.
3) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
So I’m late to Pottermania. Only by 20 years or so. I read the first book in 2002, but only because a girl I was dating at the time bought it for me. Thinking it was just a children’s book, I tried not to show how much I liked it, and the rest of the series slipped off my radar.
Then last year I saw my oldest niece started reading the series, and that got me interested reading more of the books (thanks Sydney!). And the more I read, the more I liked them.
When I first got this 700+ page monstrosity, I groaned a bit on the inside, thinking it would be a laborious read. Was I ever wrong! It took me two days. It was a true page-turner: it was too magical not to stop. I think it is the best-written book in the series so far, both in style and plot, and I look forward to the last two books in the series.
And an aside: I saw a statistic years ago that emergency room visits by children in England dropped by 50% on the day that one of the Potter books was released. That is incredible.
4) Estrogeneration by Dr. Anthony G. Jay
“How Estrogenics are Making Us Fat, Sick, and Infertile”
Do you drink out of plastic bottles and cups? Do you know what all those chemicals are in your personal care products? Did you know that in some major cities there is a measurable amount of birth control in the drinking water?
Estrogenic chemicals (as opposed to the body’s natural estrogen) are everywhere around us, and our exposure to them is causing and/or worsening the problems listed above. And by sick, the author doesn’t mean colds; he means obesity, cancer, and many other diseases and conditions.
The science behind all this is laid out in the book, and being a lowly firefighter, I feel it is best left to the author to explain. But I was stunned by what I read, and I feel that I’m well-informed when it comes to health.
The upside to the book, after all the depressing stuff, is that the author gives guidelines on how to reduce estrogen exposure, organized into three levels. And I found most of them quite simple and practical. Spoiler: eliminating animal products is one way.
Note: this book is written by a doctor, not a writer, meaning that it could use more editing. While the information is fascinating, many of the anecdotes are not. So be patient and keep reading—you’ll thank yourself later.
Dr. Jay’s Website
Ben Greenfield’s Podcast with Dr. Jay
Mike Mahler’s Website: A good resource for hormone optimization
The Anti-Estrogenic Diet by Ori Hofmekler. Partners well with the tips in the book.
5) Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher (2017)
“You’re going to make mistakes, but 80% is always good enough. Keep learning the next thing.”
The overarching theme of nearly all of James Altucher’s writing and podcasting is about how to become a master of your own life. This book zeroes in on how to do this, with a focus on using your skills, talents, and hustle to make an income that doesn’t rely on a boss.
Much of the material is taken from his podcast, in which he interviews everyone from comedians to business moguls to hostage negotiators to athletes. From these people we learn their struggles and successes, and what works best in world that is rapidly changing.
One of Altucher’s talents is to distill from the stories common themes and strategies that have helped people across all fields of employment and life. And he’s not shy about telling about the failures in his own life, and sharing the lessons he’s learned.
This is a book you’ll pick up again and again—I read it straight through the first time, and keep going back to it a chapter at a time.
6) Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza. (2nd Edition, 2015)
“With enough practice, you can develop yourself to the point where your full physical capabilities are available to you instantaneously…you could ultimately become the human equivalent of a supple leopard—always poised and ready for action.”
Do you exercise? Do you have muscle soreness and tightness? I do! My hamstrings haven’t been relaxed since 2003. But with the help of this book, and yoga, they’re getting better.
The book is divided into three parts: Principles and Theory, Categories of Movement, and Mobilization Techniques. If this sounds a bit heady, you’ll be surprised how accessible and sensible it is when you pick it up. In fact, you could probably go straight to mobilization techniques and begin to apply them. That’s what I did, and by the time I finished the first section the tendonitis in my right elbow had all but disappeared.
The price may seem a bit hefty at first, but it’s been worth every penny to me. Not only has it helped my elbow, but has helped me regain range of motion in my left shoulder, as well as in my legs. I’ve also been referring to the second section to improve my form on certain lifting movements.
For me, this book has been a game changer. Despite my knee surgery earlier this year, my body has held up well over the years, and with this book I hope to make it even stronger and fitter.
If you haven’t read any of these, put them on your list for 2018. And keep reading! It’ll make you live longer.