My Favorite Non-Fiction of 2014

The first year I read over 52 books (I’m at 55 right now) and many very good ones. Choosing only three was harder than I thought (though more are below). Here is my list from 2013 if you’re looking for more.

My three favorite books.

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. The idea in this book is that video games have given us a nice template on learning, behavior, and working together and we would be wise to apply them. McGonigal isn’t the only smart person touting games, Tyler Cowen and Steven Johnson both do as well, but she makes the most concrete case for them. In the book she highlights successes like Wikipedia and Four Square.

The Fish That Ate The Whale by Rich Cohen. This didn’t feel as much like a book, but a story you heard on a warf. Authenticity and richness ooze out of this book to the point that it almost seems to rich, fictionalized. It’s not, it’s just that kind of a story, one about Samuel Zemurray, the banana king. Cohen weaves Zemurray’s rich personal story with the tapestry of world events to create a story about how we began eating bananas. That story has pages of government manipulation, the CIA, business negotiations, great quotes, guards, guns, ripes.

The Five Elements of Effective Thinking by Richard Burger. No book has changes the way I think as much as this one. Burger lays out a clear path about learning and understanding that I turn to almost everyday, asking, do I understand this deeply, have I failed at this, where did this idea come from and where is it headed? Reading a book like this after all formal schooling makes a lot of formal schooling seem like a wasted opportunity. This is the ultimate book on learning how to learn.

A few others I enjoyed:

My Stroke of Insight. “Oh my god, I’m having a stroke. I’m having a stroke!” Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor – a brain scientist – has a stroke and describes the process.

The Why Axis. Among other economic fulcrums, the best way to pay students to do better is to have them think about what they want to spend their reward money on.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. The man who writes Dilbert has some wise things to say about success and failure and urges you to eat well and keep experimenting.

The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday. A fresh angle on stoic thinking and one that makes the case for the blessings of obstacles.

Give and Take by Adam Grant. Grant makes the case that givers do better in life than takers with a host of interesting stories.

Crimes Against Logic. A good book about logical fallacies in an easy to read, in both size and complexity.

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink A book I almost included in my top three. A very good summary of the psychology of food, and many other things.

This year I made my goal of averaging a book a week and have read 55 books through the middle of December. I started many others and didn’t finish them for many different reasons, most often my mood.
The best advice I got on reading was from Ryan Holiday who wrote that you find time to read like you find time to eat, sleep, or exercise. It’s just something that is important in your life and you choose to do it. If you read something good this year let me know below or on Twitter, @MikeDariano.

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