• Video Essays by Adam Westbrook

This year, instead of simply broadcasting my own book recommendations, I asked the subscribers of my mailing list to share the most thought-provoking book they read in 2015. More than 50 people replied with a stunning variety of titles, most of which I haven’t read.

To be as useful as possible, I’ve divided the books up into rough categorisations. They’re based entirely on the descriptions that people provided plus my own guesswork. Apologies for any misappropriations. Also, sorry there are no links to the books on Amazon - it would have taken me too long to find and add them!

Some readers have left twitter handles or web addresses with their recommendation. Feel free to use this to start a conversation with someone about a book!

History & Biography

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the court of Nero by James Romm

Recommended by Adam Westbrook

I was keen to pick this up as I find stoicism a useful life philosophy and I knew very little about the infamous Nero. I wasn't disappointed. As well as telling a gripping story about the rise and fall of one of the most outrageous and terrifying leaders of the ancient world, Romm also paints a colourful picture of one of the fathers of stoicism, who struggled to live up to his ideals.

In The Heart of the Sea: the tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick

Recommended by Adam Westbrook

You may have seen the trailer for Ron Howard’s cinematic adaptation for this book and once you’ve read it, it’s easy to see why it’s been turned into a movie. Wow, what a story. The second half of the book, following the survivors of a shipwreck as they float across the Pacific on the verge of starvation, is a harrowing read.

Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique [Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason] by Michel Foucault

Recommended by Andrii Kurdaiev

At times shocking and amusing story of the development of European society from the Middle Ages to the end of the eighteenth century through its attitude towards everything that is considered to be peculiar or abnormal. It is rich in fascinating facts, but for me the greatest value is the method of scientific research applied by Foucault and the depth of his analysis.

The Prize by Daniel Yergin

Recommended by Cameron Khorsandi

I never knew much about the history of oil. Growing up in California surrounded by the “Green Movement” it was a taboo subject to even talk about. But reading it made so many things clear to me and I found it very fascinating.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

Recommended by Kate Lord

Not only does this book outline the need for quality education for every child, but it’s a digestible history of the political history of the Swat valley in Pakistan, and how the Taliban gained control there.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Recommended by Martin Dumbrell

The honesty Bukowski brings to what is thinly a veiled autobiography of a truly awful youth is heart rending.

A Stuntman’s Guide To Surviving Ground Zero by Sebastian Paul Siebert

Recommended by Serelda

I found it truly inspirational whilst also informative & applicable to my own life.

1491 by Charles Mann

Recommended by Jason

I found this book while researching a shoot in the Mayan heartland in the Yucatan. What a great read! Mann is a great storyteller and presents the research and ongoing debate about the “New World” in a compelling and lively way.

Creativity & Storytelling

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Recommended by Adam Westbrook and also by Nathalie from Mentorless

Amanda’s book is why my mailing list and my Patreon campaign exist. She reminded me of the importance of art as a gift, as a way to connect with real people and of the power of asking for help in doing it. I came away from the book with a determination not just to broadcast my videos but to serve this small, wonderful community of strangers.

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Recommended by Adam Westbrook

For narrative nerds only! The Story Grid is a story analysis tool that helps storytellers breakdown and build up their stories. It’s had a big impact on my video essays this year and there’s also a great online community where we get unashamedly nerdy about story design.

All You Have to Do is Listen by Robert Kapilow

Recommended by Jess

Kapilow has such amazing enthusiasm for music, and the belief that anyone can enjoy it once they understand what to listen for. The book speaks most specifically about the experience of music, but there’s gems like this that speak to the soul of all art:“Beginnings like these [pieces of music], in which the meaning of an opening becomes clear only over time, often over the entire piece, take extraordinary compositional courage and a deep belief in an audience’s intelligence. They ask the listener to do something that is almost inconceivable in today’s fast-paced, hyperkinetic world: they ask the listener to wait.”

Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald

Recommended by Olof

When I read it, it really opened my eyes (and continues to do so with every reread) to what storytelling really is and can be. It’s written in easily-digestible language and is pretty short, so without hesitation I would recommend it to anyone with even the slightest bit of interest in storytelling!

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

Recommended by Andrea Brajnovic

A book I would definitely recommend to any artist.The author talks about the role of artists in society and how to find your own voice as an artist. It talks about a lot more but I’m really glad I read it.

Design Is A Job by Mike Monteiro

Recommended by John Pavlus

Direct, succinct, no-bullshit how-to manual for running a sustainable & satisfying “creative” business like a damn grown-up. As opposed to running it like a treehouse fort where the pretend leader gets to wear a paper pirate hat. If Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation was a designer, this is the advice book he’d write.

Kabuki: The Alchemy by David Mack

Recommended by Emma

This graphic novel has to be one of the most stunning and evocative collection of musings on what the act of creation/art is that I have ever read. David Mack’s handling of both the philosophical content he explores as well as the beautiful blending of art styles he uses to tell it is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s deeply inspiring for a creative or artistic person to read to find some solace in the universal struggle of art, as well as just some really good eye candy.

How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton

Recommended by Zac Scy

It’s an honest look at how creativity works by telling beautiful stories about Mozart, Kandinsky, vanilla, Archimedes, the Muppets, Apple, and Coca Cola.

Philosophy & Religion

The Pakistan Paradox by Christophe Jaffrelot

Recommended by Rohit Kumar

It explains the basis of idea of Pakistan and how different schools of Islamic thought propagated secession. The arguments on Islamic leadership reflects the contemporaneity of Muslim intellectuals in India.

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

Recommended by Alejandro Echeverría

The book proposes a simple but powerful life philosophy that resound deeply with me.

Ebauches de vertige by E.M. Cioran

Recommended by Rafael

Internet is good or bad? meat provokes cancer? Does she love me?… There is a world underneath our most immediate worries but we usually don’t care about it and so, it doesn’t exist for us but it is still there anyway and it adds a particular flavor to whatever we do, whether we want it or not. Reading about that reality in order to know that it is right here, in the sound of the keyboard, the wiring of your brain and the air you breath will bring it to the surface and that wind will force your health, internet, love… to occupy in your life a different place that didn’t have before.

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

Recommended by Harry

The book touches on intellectualism, spiritualism, and teaching in a way that I found inspiring. It is a beautiful consideration of the beauty, and inherent challenges, of living a life of the mind.

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

Recommended by Swan

This book showed me the meaning and the importance of many major ideas in western philosophy and the under appreciated role philosophy has had in giving rise to science. Durant’s compelling and accessible writing makes the history of western philosophy enlightening, enjoyable to read about, and touching because the lives of many of the philosopher’s written about is sad and in some ways relatable if you feel like you don’t quite fit in with how the world works or thinks.

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

Recommended by Daniel Svitek

It had a profound impact on the way I see the world and think critically. It formed my skepticism and critical thinking skills.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

Recommended by Boris

A Classic that I read this year, important an obligatory for everyone.

Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm

Recommended by Rohini

This book is a crucial exploration of the relation of the individual and society. Fromm, a noted theorist of the Frankfurt School, explores the psychology of the individual and the aspects that make us fully human, against the backdrop of the societal conditions of a given time, and the interplay of these forces. The crux of the exploration is to understand that in various forms of societies, insofar as the nature of the society does not enable the capacities that make the individual most human, there will be a danger of leaving a void where the most forceful evils against humanity will be able to rise.

L’Arabe du Future by Riad Sattouf

Recommended by Christopher Schaefer

It’s a lot of fun and a brutally accurate portrait of a country that basically doesn’t exist anymore.

Science & Technology

Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

Recommended by Adam Westbrook

Lanier’s first book - “You Are Not Gadget” was my top read of 2014 and his follow up is just as thought provoking. Core to his argument is that the data we provide - knowingly or unknowingly - to companies has a value and that we must begin demanding financial reparations for that. If Facebook makes some money selling an ad from your engagement announcement, then you deserve a cut of that money. In a year when companies like Spotify have been getting more outrageous in their abuse of our data, it’s vital we all wise up and value what is ours.

Hooked by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover

Recommended by Jonathan

If you wondered how internet sites keep you addicted, wonder no more! Every page has a new trick that websites use to capture your attention and hijack your dopamine system. The book itself uses these tricks and is addictive to read.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Recommended by David

Just a great explanation of how our minds work to determine our beliefs, how we aren’t nearly as in control as we think we are, best undercutting of pure rationalism and the only thing I’ve read about Seligman type positive thinking that I could take seriously.

Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn by Amanda Gefter

Recommended by Maureen Voestermans

It is the best wrap up of all modern physics research that takes place today, properly embedded in a historical framework. Also it is told with humour and clarity and offers more (philosophical) depth than regular popular science books.

Beyond Words by Carl Safina

Recommended by Femi

It highlights and exposes a shared humanity in animals by arguing the idea of emotions, intelligence and social nature makes them more than we consider.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Recommended by Norig B Karakashian

The story provides perspective on the nexus among technology, government/authority, social order, personal liberty, and unwavering determination.

The Mobile Story by Jason Farman

Recommended by Guida Casella

This book explores mobile narratives through a series of case studies, covering a lot of important concepts about emergent ways of creating cultural artefacts using the Digital Medium.

Self help

How To Get Lucky by Max Gunther

Recommended by Pari

I’m a very risk averse person and this book provides a great framework for how to think and act from a risk taking and mitigating perspective that really hit home. I don’t think much of what the book said was new to me, it was about how it was all put together in one place to help me think and act better.

The MAX Muscle Plan by Brad Schoenfeld

Recommended by Juan

Taking care of my health and body is important to me. This book outlines a really sound plan. I’ve read tens of books on the topic and this one is one of the best out there.

Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy

Recommended by Jason Caryl

This book helped me think about my goals and how to achieve them in the most efficient way possible. It talks about coming up with strategies to make you more productive, so that you can accomplish your goals without them consuming your life.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Recommended by Leo

Interesting view on what makes a person intelligent and on how to fit in the world

Give and Take by Adam Grant

Recommended by Melissa Andrada

An easy but inspiring read on why generosity trumps greed, why givers are more successful than takers, by the brilliant professor Adam Grant who doesn’t just preach but also practices what he thinks.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow

Recommended by Nirmal Thacker

Smartcuts blew my mind. It carefully analysis and lays out, the strategies and hacks that the select few have been using over and over again, to achieve incredible results in a relative short period of time. There’s a difference between smartcuts and shortcuts. A shortcut could be construed in many ways that don’t offer acceptable or long term results. A smartcut instead ties together hard work (which alone is not enough) with social hacking, pattern recognition and timing the trends for to carry you forward to your goal.

The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer

Recommended by Luis

Its made an impact on my thinking about life’s situations and emotions.They are not me, they are what is happening to me. I am not fear, jealousy, anger. These are just occurring in me.

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Recommended by Ren

It is just a really good book that tries to answer some big questions about love, family and self. It got me thinking and I changed a few things about myself because this book let me see the world in a new light.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Recommended by Matteo Rovatti

What interested me about this book is how the same principle could be apply in every aspect of human interaction, whether it is just relationships with colleagues, business, sport, commercials etc…It changed the way I look at things in more of an active way on how do I can reach my goal, instead of leaving it to chance or luck.

The five love languages by Gary Chapman

Recommended by Nico

You understand how people communicate their individual wishes and requests for love.

General Nonfiction

The man without qualities by Robert Musil

Recommended by Floris van der Pol

This book is full of ideas, although published as fiction (in 1930) it is actually more a collection of essays. Every single chapter has given me new insights into life, society and our purpose here. Be warned: it is a long and tough, yet rewarding, read.

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Recommended by Advait and Diana Suerica

Black Swan is a deeply insightful book that talks about these wildly unexpected events (‘Black Swans’) that have wide ranging, structural effects on society. The book focuses on applying these theories not only in quantitative/behavioural finance but also in life in general, borrowing heavily from a broad range of disciplines such as sociology, philosophy and theology.

In this book Taleb explains how the most significant events in human history are actually impossible to predict, but that we humans invest a humongous amount of resources in predicting the future and trusting the so called experts with our money. It was also very interesting for me because it describes how some cognitive fallacies work.

The Big Mo by Mark Roeder

Recommended by Nic

I’ve only started reading it but this book is fascinating on how society seems to follow a herd mentality and why momentum now rules our world.

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

Recommended by Arden

Part memoir/part political manifesto, this book provided me with a eye-opening introduction to feminist thought and matters of gender, as well as detailing the fascinating life of the author, crime writer Tara Moss. I highly recommend this to every man and woman in my life.

The Hidden Connections by Fritjof Capra

Recommended by Deva

The book highlighted the importance of systemic thinking to understand, explain and affect our thinking, our organisations and our society. The insights we can gain about ourselves and the world through systemic thinking instead of reductionist, narrow-minded thinking can help us live sustainably.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Recommended by Jaume

It changed my perspective on the economic system and its morality.

Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work) in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr

Recommended by John Grant

Interesting, educational, fun and thought provoking. Helped me begin to understand how the economic world functions. And I really like the format!

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S Clason

Recommended by Steven

It teaches how ordinary people can save and become wealthy over a lifetime. I think it is very relevant for the current generation where people are not saving enough. It’s in the form of stories which is easy to remember. One of the best ways to teach the power of compounding to ordinary people who do not understand the benefits of delayed gratification.


The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Recommended by Adam Westbrook

Many of you may be familiar with McCloud’s comic books on the history and technique of the comic book itself. ‘Understanding Comics’ is a key read for visual storytellers of all kinds. His first fiction book in a long time was widely anticipated this year and it doesn’t disappoint. It is almost cinematic in its scope, story and beauty, and proof McCloud doesn’t just teach great storytelling, he practices it too.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Recommended by Sofia Wikström

It’s actually a trilogy so you don’t just read it overnight, but it’s totally worth it. I loved everything about the book: the writing style & the story. The story is easy to follow but there are so many details that if you skip even one page you might miss something important and I also liked how everyhting slowly became connected. Haruki Murakami is most known for his book Norwegian wood, but i would recommend any of his works.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Recommended by Christine

The book cleverly describes with the help of colours the state and feelings of being rejected, what it means to lose someone as well as to find love and balance in one’s life.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Recommended by GayLynn

In one page turner you get three countries on different continents at the time of 1850 for the price of one book– Chile, China, and USA. And thoughts of real fortune.

The Fall by Albert Camus

Recommended by Alexei Dvorac

I was impressed by the discussion, the flow, seamless connection between topics and ideas.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Recommended by Nyang Ruot

Is he a great author and I personally enjoyed his book. I was going to read more of his books after this.