Books are Powerful
My Top 10 Books.
King Ecbert: “I want to talk to you about books, Alfred.”
Alfred: “Books, Grandfather?”
King Ecbert: “Yes. If you are going to be King one day, you need to understand that books are just as important as swords or plowshares. These are some works by great writers that I read and translated from Latin as a young man. And this, this is a work by Gregory the Great. Now, he asks questions such as, “What kind of man he is or ought to be, who is to rule?” And um… “Can the occupation of power distract the mind of the ruler?””
Alfred: [stares quietly]
King Ecbert: “Yes, well, I can see that you’re bored already.”
Alfred: “No, Grandfather.”
King Ecbert: “No? Oh, well, that’s good. A king should know how to be bored and not show it. Good boy.”
-Dialogue is from Vikings TV Series Season 4, Episode 17, 20m:30s
Books are extremely underrated. For hundreds of years, books were available only for privileged people and people in power. In the past, for centuries, most people couldn’t read or write.
Now teachers struggle to have their students read. Why is that? Books, like money, are stored power. While you can’t teach all practical things with books like riding a bike, you can still learn to cook with cookbooks, or even build a windmill. Books may not be the answer to everything, but they’re really close to it when it comes to learning. Books represent the accumulated practical knowledge from those that have come before us. Knowledge is potential energy. Books are powerful.
Here’s my top 10 books (in no particular order):
1. Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Antifragile is a one-stop book for anyone that wants to understand how to make better decisions and take better action under uncertainty. This book is just fascinating! Every single sentence is carefully crafted by Nassim Taleb. The book covers the intersection between Science, Math, and Practice, and particularly between Practice and Math. When you read this book, you’ll find out why avoiding or eliminating randomness makes you fragile, and how you can go about randomness to actually gain from it (antifragile). The book is flooded with real world examples.
2. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath
The Power of Moments is a beautiful read with many stories that are often moving. Brothers Chip and Dan Heath are extraordinary writers! This book explains why life is made by certain moments, and why these moments have triggered our greatest accomplishments. What if you could create moments instead of leaving them to chance? It teaches you how thinking in moments matters. You’ll learn things such as how to build peak moments, how to stretch for insight, how to practice courage, and how to deepen ties.
Creativity explores the challenges that arise when you venture to create anything innovative. The author Ed Catmull is co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and he does not hide any of his secrets. The book is filled with stories of his biggest challenges and how he overcame them. He explains how being on the lookout for problems is not the same as seeing problems. He brings insight in how people should interact with each other: “Which is more valuable, good ideas or good people?” Creativity explores each facet in any creative project and sheds light on how to make progress when it gets hard.
4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens is mind blowing, and I’m not exaggerating. Yuval asks the toughest questions in our history and walks us through the answers. For instance, why did Sapiens, an animal of no significance, come to dominate the world? And why are we the only species of human? Why was the agricultural revolution the biggest fraud? He begins 13.5 billion years ago when matter and energy appear, and ends with an explanation about the future and intelligent design. And in between? He walks you through tribes, civilization, and empires!
5. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
Zero to One is my favorite business book. Peter Thiel poses one of the most intriguing questions: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” He touches on everything from ideas, employees, competition, and founders, to how to think about secrets and how to find them. Read this book and find out how to build the future.
6. Mastery by Robert Greene
Mastery is almost a history book. Perhaps it is a history book. How did Robert Greene find so much about Mastery is hard for me to grasp. It’s by no means a quick read. It’s dense and packed with examples of how history’s most powerful people achieved mastery. As soon as you start reading it’s hard to put the book down. You’ll learn how Charles Darwin almost missed the chance to go in the voyage where he began his journey to discover and develop his Theory of Evolution, and how he achieved mastery!
7. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers is a must read for every young adult. This book is invaluable in shedding light on the real factors of success. And it’s not what you might think. It’s been a modern belief that success stems out of innate talent and intelligence. This presents a dichotomy between talent and practice. If you have to be born talented, then why should you try? Malcolm Gladwell goes further to explain about other contributing factors to success. Stories in this book will help you understand the unusual side of things, like the ethnic theory of plane crashes.
8. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
This book is a classic. It’s a long read because Jared Diamond is very specific in his writing. He tackled one of history’s biggest questions: Why did Europeans conquer the Americas and not the other way around? Or why are food sources actually extremely scarce in the world? Why did Africa become black and how did China become Chinese? And many more fascinating questions. He vividly explains bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and many of the social systems throughout history.
9. To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink
Daniel Pink has many excellent books, but To Sell is Human touches on the human side of business and makes it memorable. Is it one of the best books about sales? I think so. It is so clear that the author makes sales seem simple. It does not fall short of real world examples. It has three parts: Rebirth of a Salesman, How to Be, and What to Do. If you read this book, you’ll end up internalizing some excellent selling techniques and you may not even realize it.
10. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz
Being Wrong makes you feel good about being wrong. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy being wrong! In all seriousness, this book really accomplishes it’s mission to explain how errors originate, our beliefs as a society about them, and how we experience being wrong. At the end of this incredible read, you’ll be a little more willing to embrace errors and be wrong. Most importantly, how you can learn from it, and how to make the best out of situations where being wrong is difficult.
There is no doubt many find reading boring. Or even worse, useless. Many hardly read anything at all, but to me this is the biggest missed opportunity with adults. Can you guess what most billionaires attribute their success to? Books and reading. To me, reading (especially non-fiction) is the most underrated tool for success. I know many will argue that learning by doing is better. To that I say, reading and doing are not mutually exclusive. Why miss out on people who have passed on their lessons?
These are my favorite books and I’m sure you’ll find any of them a valuable read. I do own every one of these books, and I’m proud to see them on my shelf. They spark ideas for me. If you can’t buy them, then head to your local library! Happy reading!
Juan F. Diaz
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