Recommended Books

When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.

—Erasmus of Rotterdam

I read dozens of books each year. Which ones stick out most in my memory?

Here are some of my top recommendations, particularly for college students and other young people.

Now, I take it for granted that you should read the classics, such as those on Columbia's Core Curriculum reading list. (Classics are dense and layered, and they reveal new insights with each rereading—not to mention across cultures and epochs.) So here I'll share newer books that are worth your time.

Recommended Books

These are Amazon Affiliate links, meaning if you purchase from this link I'll get a small commission and it won't cost you any extra.

  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain – I'm an introvert and I've always been shy. Even though our society seems to value extroverts more, this book highlights the special role that introverts play. We're listeners; we thrive in solitude. An informative confidence boost.
  • Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang – A paradigm-shifting book for me. We think that by working harder, we'll come up with better ideas and get more done. But consider that the top scientists always have a meaningful hobby, and that many successful startup ideas were born on a sabbatical. We work better and more creatively when we get rest. This book is a manifesto for breaks, naps, walks, vacations and rest of all kinds.
  • Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker – Sleep isn't just a waste of time. It's necessary for learning and memory, for our immune systems, for muscle recovery, for creativity... The more we learn about sleep, the more we learn there's little about life it doesn't touch. This book will inspire you to get your sleep on track.
  • The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy – Family secrets, forbidden love, and a look at rural India several decades back. A beautiful novel in which the setting itself feels like a character.
  • Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor – You're probably breathing wrong. Like sleep, breath is vital—literally. Definitely read this one if you ever use your mouth to breathe.
  • The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman – Almost everything we use has been designed, often poorly. Ever pushed on a "pull" door? Ever struggled with a faucet? Don Norman, godfather of human-centered design, gives language to what makes design work well or poorly.
  • Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Chris McDougall – This is the book that inspired me to not only run ultramarathons but do it in sandals. A great story with science and anthropology along the way.
  • Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World, by Jacqueline Novogratz – Do you think morality and business are in opposite corners? Novogratz shows there's a way to bridge these two. It's possible to create businesses that are good for the world and also make money.
  • Humankind: A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman – Stories of violence and terror come easily to mind, but in reality we humans are overall pretty kind. This book gives a look at our evolutionary past and tells how we got here. It'll help us learn a story to counteract the negativity bias that comes so easily to us.
  • Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, by Bruce Feiler – The only constant is change. Every five years or so you will undergo a transition in life, and they often come in bundles. This book offers advice and stories for how to ride the waves of change rather than drown.

My Favorite Writers and Biggest Influences

  • Christopher Alexander, theorist of good design
  • Mary Oliver, poet and observer of nature
  • Martin Shaw, storyteller and mythic communicator
  • Alain de Botton, observer of human life and love
  • Hayao Miyazaki, animator of kindness and gentle magic
  • Haruki Murakami, writer of the melancholic, meditative and weird
  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, thinker of risk, probability and tradeoffs
  • Luciano Floridi, philosopher of information