10 books that will rock your perspective

October 16, 2018

During a recent speech to the fine folks at Markel, I mentioned 10 books that have influenced my life and thinking in recent months and years. Afterward, a number of people asked for that list, so here they are in no particular order:

Enlightenment Now
By Steven Pinker

Excerpt: “More than ever,the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense.We take its gifts for granted: newborns who will live more than eight decades,markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears with a flick of a finger and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection, sons who are not sent off to war, daughters who can walk the streets in safety, critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket. … When properly appreciated, I will suggest, the ideals of the Enlightenment are in fact stirring, inspiring, noble—a reason to live.”

Factfulness:  Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — And Why Things Are Better Than You Think
By Hans Rosling

Excerpt: “Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview. It is the overdramatic worldview that draws people to the most dramatic and negative answers to my fact questions. … But this overdramatic worldview is not caused simply by out-of-date knowledge, as I once thought. My experience, over decades of lecturing and testing and listening to the ways people misinterpret the facts even when they are right in front of them, finally brought me to see that the overdramatic worldview is so difficult to shift because it comes from the very way our brains work.”

By George Leonard

Excerpt: “It resists definition yet can be instantly recognized. It comes in many varieties, yet follows certain unchanging laws. It brings rich rewards, yet is not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey. We call this journey mastery, and tend to assume that it requires a special ticket available only to those born with exceptional abilities. But mastery isn’t reserved for the supertalented or even for those who are fortunate enough to have gotten an early start. It’s available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it – regardless of age, sex, or previous experience.”

Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude
By Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin

Excerpt: “Leadership, as Dwight Eisenhower defined it, is “the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.” That does not mean that leadership amounts to using people; like anyone else, a leader must recognize that each person is an end in himself. It means instead, to make others embrace your goals as their own. But to do that you must first determine your goals. And you must do that with enough clarity and conviction to hold fast to your goals – even when, inevitably, there are great pressures to yield from them. To develop that clarity and conviction of purpose, and the moral courage to sustain it through adversity, requires something that one might not associate with leadership. That something is solitude.”

The Rational Optimist
By Matt Ridley

Excerpt:  “To argue that human nature has not changed, but human culture has, does not mean rejecting evolution – quite the reverse. Humanity is experiencing an extraordinary burst of evolutionary change, driven by good old-fashioned Darwinian natural selection. But it is selection among ideas, not among genes. The habitat in which these ideas reside consists of human brains. This notion has been trying to surface in the social sciences for a long time.”

Growth Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”
By Carol Dweck

Excerpt: “My mother didn’t love me. Most of my life I’d coped with this by blaming her and feeling bitter. But I was no longer satisfied just protecting myself. I longed for a loving relationship with my mother. Yet the last thing I wanted to be was one of those kids who begged for approval from a withholding parent. Then I realized something. I controlled half of the relationship, my half. I could have my half of the relationship. At least I could be the loving daughter I wanted to be. In a sense, it didn’t matter what she did. I would still be ahead of where I was. How did it turn out? I experienced a tremendous sense of growth letting go of my bitterness and stepping forward to have the relationship. The rest is not really relevant since I wasn’t seeking validation, but I’ll tell you anyway. Something unexpected happened. Three year later, my mother said to me: ‘If anyone had told me I didn’t love my children, I would have been insulted. But now I realize it was true. Whether it was because my parents didn’t love us or because I was too involved in myself or because I didn’t know what love was, I don’t know. But now I know what it is.’'”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
By Yuval Noah Harari

Excerpt: “What was the Sapiens’ secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? Why couldn’t even the strong, brainy, cold-proof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? The debate continues to rage. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.”

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
By Kevin Kelly

Excerpt: “I mean inevitable in a different way. There is bias in the nature of technology that tilts it in certain directions and not others. All things being equal, the physics and mathematics that rule the dynamics of technology tend to favor certain behaviors. These tendencies exist primarily in the aggregate forces that shape the general contours of technological forms and do not govern specifics or particular instances. For example, the form of an internet was inevitable, but the specific kind of internet we chose to have was not.”

The Five Invitations  Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living
By Frank Ostaseski

Excerpt: “Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most.”

The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection
By Michael A. Singer

Excerpt: “Sitting alone in a six-seater jet at forty thousand feet is a very peaceful place. I fell into meditation and my mind became very still. When I opened my eyes, I absorbed the tremendous difference in my environment from when I had first decided to let go and see where life would take me. I still lived in the same woods and kept my same practices morning and evening, but somehow the rest had changed rather dramatically. I reflected back at how many times life had presented me with changes I was uncomfortable with. In the beginning, it had been difficult to ignore the resistant mind. Over time, as I saw what had transpired by taking the risk of letting go of me, the process had become much more natural. I was surrounded by the results of letting go. There was nothing in my life I could point to that hadn’t come from surrendering to life’s flow.”