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.
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.
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.