This is is little bit of a change of pace from the normal material I write about. The end of the year is a good time to reflect on experiences of the past year and look forward to what new opportunities will be presented in the new year. Today I’m going to share some of my recommendations for the best non-fiction books that I read in 2016. I will outline each book and then share some of the top highlights and bookmarks I have from the books to hopefully entice you to dig deeper into each one.
I love to read. In every instance of describing my perfect day, the chance to sit down with a good book is always present. Over the course of a year I end up coming across some pretty amazing and sometimes life-changing books. Not everyone appreciates book recommendations, but from experience if there’s anyone that would actually appreciate recommendations, they will be found online more often than in person. So, dear reader, I hope you enjoy.
A Note on Ratings:
I don’t have any ratings assigned to these books for one reason; they are all 5 star ratings in my opinion. I catalog all the books I read on Good Reads and one of the top criteria that places a book in the 5-star category for me is if it was good enough that I could infinitely read it again. The following books all made the cut.
Ego is the Enemy - Ryan Holiday
Not to aspire or seek out of ego. To have success without ego. To push through failure with strength, not ego.
I've been trying to read some of the "must reads" of stoic philosophy for almost a year now, based on the recommendations of podcasts I listen to and other reading lists that I frequent. I did finally finish reading the Letters from Seneca this year, but I think it took me about 9 or 10 months to get through it all. Talk about being stoic. In the end I did enjoy it quite a bit, but can't really put that on this list because of the sheer effort it took to finish. However, Ryan Holiday writes about stoic philosophy in a way that I can much better relate to and really enjoy reading. His style echoes his mentor Robert Greene's style with short chapters containing distinct lessons that support the overarching thesis of the book. If you liked reading Mastery or the 48 Laws of Power, (both are must reads in my opinion), then you'll really enjoy Ego is the Enemy and the next book on my list The Obstacle is The Way. If you couldn't guess from the title, Ego is the Enemy is built around the thesis that success in business and more broadly in life tends to come from those who are able to step outside of their own "ego" or selfishness.
- "Virtue begins with understanding and is fulfilled by courage." - Demosthenes
- Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have.
- So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and strong.
- Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.
- The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better. Studious self-assessment is the antidote.
- Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.
- What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective … Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself.
- Greatness comes from humble beginnings … Be lesser, do more.
- Is it ten thousand hours or twenty thousand hours to mastery? The answer is that is doesn’t matter. There is no end zone. To think of a number is to live in a conditional future.
- Every time you sit down to work, remind yourself: I am delaying gratification by doing this. I am passing the marshmallow test. I am earning what my ambition burns for. I am making an investment in myself instead of my ego.
- When we are aspiring we must resist the impule to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories. When we achieve our own, we must resist the desire to pretend that everything unfolded exactly as we’d planned.
- That’s how it seems to go: we’re never happy with what we have, we want what others have too. We want to have more than everyone else. We start out knowing what is important to us, but once we’ve achieved it, we lose sight of our priorities. Ego sways us, and can ruin us.
- Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace. Let them covet what you have, not the other way around. Because that’s independence.
- “He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man” - Seneca
- The only real failure is abandoning your principles.
- Training [to combat ego] is like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep… Every day for the rest of your life you will find yourself at one of three phases: aspiration, success, failure. You will battle the ego in each of them. You will make mistakes in each of them. You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.
The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday
“See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.
What blocked the path now is a path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The Obstacle is the Way.”
Even though The Obstacle is the Way precedes Ego is the Enemy, I put it second, just because I read it after I read EITE. Amazon had EITE on sale and I picked it up and had a quick look at it right away and wasn't able to put it down. Clearly I am very much drawn to this writing style of a strong central thesis to the book with each chapter supporting it with a sub-topic or anecdote. I don't think I could pick a favourite from the two books from Ryan Holiday on my list. They are both 5 stars in my opinion and extremely quotable and re-readable.Anyone interested in self-improvement type books that compile lessons from important historical figures will like these two books immensely.
- The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.
- To prevent becoming overwhelmed by the world around us, we must, as the ancients practiced, learn how to limit our passions and their control over our lives.
- Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proper course of action in every situation—without the pestilence of panic or fear.
- In other words, through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation—as well as the destruction—of every one of our obstacles.
- There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.
- Defiance and acceptance come together well in the following principle: There is always a countermove, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up. No one said it would be easy and, of course, the stakes are high, but the path is there for those ready to take it.
- Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly large degree, what we are and are not capable of. In many ways, they determine reality itself.
- For some reason, these days we tend to downplay the importance of aggression, of taking risks, of barreling forward. It’s probably because it’s been negatively associated with certain notions of violence or masculinity.
- Just because the conditions aren’t exactly to your liking, or you don’t feel ready yet, doesn’t mean you get a pass. If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started.
- Once you start attacking an obstacle, quitting is not an option. It cannot enter your head. Abandoning one path for another that might be more promising. Once you can envision yourself quitting altogether, you might as well ring the bell. It’s done.
- Everything is a chance to do and be your best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.
- Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances are.
- To be physically and mentally loose takes no talent. That’s just recklessness. (We want right action, not action period.) To be physically and mentally tight? That’s called anxiety. It doesn’t work, either. Eventually we snap. But physical looseness combined with mental restraint? That is powerful.
- Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge that ourselves.
- We craft our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice (mens sana in corpore sano—sound mind in a strong body).
- Life is not about one obstacle, but many. What’s required of us is not some shortsighted focus on a single facet of a problem, but simply a determination that we will get to where we need to go, somehow, someway, and nothing will stop us.
- On the contrary, the more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.
- “Vires acquirit eundo (We gather strength as we go)”
Extreme Ownership - Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Discipline Equals Freedom
This book is one of the most well written "business" books I have ever read. It is simply awesome. Each chapter highlights a principle of how the authors took "extreme ownership" in commanding the Navy SEALs in the Iraq war and then parallels it with business advice. Anyone looking to run a business or already in a management position needs to read this book. It's not only very well written and engaging, but also offers a unique perspective on leadership that isn't always emphasized enough.
- The best leaders are not driven by ego or personal agendas. They are simply focused on the mission and how best to accomplish it.
- Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.
- Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage.
- There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
- Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team.
- In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.
- If you don’t understand or believe in the decisions coming down from your leadership, it is up to you to ask questions until you understand how and why those decisions are being made.
- Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise.
- Proper Decentralized Command requires simple, clear, concise orders that can be understood easily by everyone in the chain of command.
- Those who will not risk cannot win.
- the leadership must always present a united front to the troops.
- The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win—you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life..
- Nothing is easy. The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team..
- When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time.
- Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being outshined by someone else. If the team is successful, then recognition will come for those in charge, but a leader should not seek that recognition.
Iron Mind - Randall J. Strossen
This is the only book in my recommendations list for this year that directly related to strength and training. This is an amazing book to read and re-read whenever your head gets out of the game or you don't feel you fired up to train. Almost every other book on training only digs in to just that - training and occasionally a bit on nutrition. Ironmind provides you with little anecdotes and tools you can use to forge an “Ironmind." This is more of an intellectual pursuit to a book on training and will compliment your collection nicely if you enjoyed The Scientific Principles of Strength Training eBook by Chad Wesley Smith and Mike Israetel. I'm sure that at least a couple of the lessons/chapters in the book will really hit a note with you and be something you continue to come back to for motivation and inspiration.
- Powerlifting, with it’s extremely elementary nature, benefits from good old arousal—the more the merrier, it seems. So the next time you are staring a heavy squat in the eyes, crank it up and you’ll probably lift more: Pace rapidly and breath quickly, have someone scream at you or listen to carefully-selected, very loud music.
- Determination, which comes from a belief in your own ability to succeed, is what usually sorts the winners from the losers.
- The bottom line for all who would be uncommonly built or uncommonly strong is that you are absolutely going to have to make peace with the idea of having at least one foot out of the social mainstream.
- Where the mind ventures, the body can surely follow. So when your mind heads for the couch, your future lands in the garbage can.
- When you get in a deep rut, sometimes it’s useless to try to crawl out—you need to think about exploding out. What you need to do is demolish the very obstacle that has been blocking your progress. Let’s say you have been stuck at a certain level of muscle mass for a long time and it’s less than what you want. Then it’s time to throw the conventional wisdom to the wind and forget about putting on a few pounds of muscle a year—start thinking about putting on that much a week for a short period of time. Radical, Charlie; you’ve got to get radical.
- The idea here is to completely remake your concept of what to expect of yourself—you are going to make such major progress toward your long-term goals that we call this type of training ‘giant steps.’ This is the type of training that will retool your body so rapidly and so dramatically that your mind will be forced to construct a new image of what you are and what you can be. And this new self-image will help you continue to make even more progress after you have completed your giant-step training.
- If you frequently find yourself either at a loss for what to do next (“I’m bored”), or torn between very different choices (“Is it pizza and beer, or water-packed tuna and nonfat cottage cheese for supper?”), that’s a hot tip that you might not have your sense of direction running at full tilt.
Nourishing Traditions - Sally Fallon
This is a book/cookbook that is often referred to by some of the more holistic and esoteric people in fitness and nutrition. It had been on my list of books to read for a number of years and I finally sat down to read it this year. The nutritional recommendations in Nourishing Traditions are about as far detached from the general nutrition guidelines of today as you can be. Many of the healthiest and longest-living populations in history have subsisted off of diets heavy in animal products, plants, and fermented foods. The book begins with a long introduction about the work of Dr. Weston A. Price who studied these dispersed populations throughout the world who were living long lives with incredibly low incidence of disease.
This is a long book, but that's because most of it is a cookbook filled with interesting recipes for fermented foods, offal, raw meat, and bone broths. While I am a big fan of fermented foods and was even before reading this, I have yet to fully adapt to the organ meat and raw enzyme diet as prescribed. Some of it can be an interesting dish to try, but I've never been a huge fan of organ meat and am still not fully converted to its supposed wonders.
Unfortunately I lost my book highlights from Nourishing Traditions for some reason, but here’s what I suggest you check out to get the most out of this book:
- For great nutrition education that tackles the misconceptions from mainstream media read the introduction in full. Learn about how fats and animal products are not as evil as most media outlets present them to be and how you can adopt some of the dietary styles of the healthiest groups of people on Earth to live longer and more vigorously.
- The rest of the book is a more traditional cookbook, so pick and choose where you want to go next based on your preferences, or what you want to try out.
- I’m partial to fermented vegetables, so the sections including sauerkraut and other fermented vegetable recipes is a highlight.
- There are also a lot of recipes for incorporating raw meats and offal, which you should check out, if you’re daring enough.