10 books that will make you smarter, richer and more fun to be around

Updated to Habits, Productivity on January 3, 2023.

I love to read books. There’s something about following the plot of a good who-done-it or learning from a master that is both relaxing and inspiring. In this post I’m sharing 10 books I enjoyed this year—some are for profit, some for pure fun.

1. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
You can’t go wrong here—Essentialism promotes elimination of the unnecessary in pursuit of the important. McKeown wraps together disciplines for better personal leadership, insights on employee engagement, strategies for corporate success, with tips on better decision making and smart living. It’s one of the few books I wanted to reread – even before I finished the last chapter. Read my full review here.


2. Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life by Michael Port.

Believe it, or not, there aren’t many go-to books on public speaking. And I doubt there are any authored by someone with the street cred of Port. I’ve interviewed Michael twice and he’s one smart guy with a knack for creating memorable lessons. This is more than a book for speakers, it’s a resource. By the way, Michael is on the faculty of The Business Of Speaking School.


3. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

I’m fascinated by the connection between practicing good habits and building more willpower. In The Willpower Instinct, McGonigal (Kelly is the twin sister of Jane, who has three popular TED talks on gaming theory) directs willpower and provides life-changing prescriptive advice and complementary exercises to help us tackle stickier challenges like weight loss, procrastination, happiness and parenting.

Much of the research into willpower and self-control were conducted by research psychologist Roy Baumeister.His book Willpower is a great companion to McGonigal’s, especially if you are a fan of nefarious experiments on unsuspecting university students.


4. Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge.
I had to include at least one title about health (you can thank me later). Crowley and Lodge aren’t breaking any new ground with their series of Younger Next Year books, but they do deliver a damn good kick in your Lululemon stretch pants. Read my full review here. My favourite tip is to elevate your daily walks (I walk my dog, Riley twice a day) into a workout by getting your heart rate up to 60-65% of your max. (Read how to calculate your workout maximum heart rate here).


5.The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries.

The premise of this runaway best-seller can be wrapped up in this quote from The Lean Startup: “Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable.” Ries presents both the dangers of launching untested products and the more pedantic process of releasing a “minimum viable product” and then making incremental changes based on customer feedback.  Ries combined his start-up experience with case studies from other (mostly technology-based) start-ups to deliver a very readable prescription for methodically building your start up success, one “pivot” at a time.


6. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley.

Handley makes the argument that we’re all writers (think: blog, advertising, sales message, social media) and, as such, we need to pull up our adjectives and get better at it. This is a fast-paced compendium of tips (like “Approach content with ‘mind like water’” and “Ditch weakling verbs”) that will take your writing from boring ad nauseam dribble to brilliant prose (or as Handley says, “from meh to marvelous”).

As someone who writes every day (should that have been ‘everyday’ or ‘every day’?) I was humbled to realize how little I know about grammatical nuances like: prepositions, infinitives and the dreaded dangling modifiers. Fear not, Everybody Writes spoons out easy to digest (see what I did there?) advice that will make anyone’s writing better (even a low-brow blogger, like me). My advice—if you write, get it.


7. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

This quick read hit #1 on both New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller lists and has been translated into 24 languages. It probably could have been 12 pages, but the authors (Keller made his fortune in real estate, Papasan writes about real estate investing) do a great job with multiple attacks at the conundrum of having both less and more in work and in life.

Packed with quotable lines, like “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” and eye-candy illustrations, The One Thing might be destined to join the ranks of classic business reads like: Think and Grow Rich, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The One Minute Manager.


8. Anything by Bill Bryson
Sometimes you just need to read for the fun of it. Years ago, I took Bryson’s
Notes From a Small Island
on a family trip to the island of Kauai and I’ve been a fan since. If you’ve woken up in a foreign city, travel weary but keenly aware you really should see the sights, Bryson is the perfect guide. Irreverent in his assessments of local history, people, countries (“Bulgaria, I reflected as I walked back to the hotel, isn’t a country; it’s a near-death experience.”) and cuisine, Bryson reminds me that there’s no point taking myself too seriously (nobody else does).

Here’s a taste of Bryson’s mind: “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” and “There are three stages in scientific discovery. First, people deny that it is true, then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.” and “Of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is perhaps the most outstanding.”


9. Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.You might mistakenly relegate this remarkable collection of start-up wisdom to bathroom reading simply due to its brevity. That would be a mistake. When it comes to building business success and protecting both lifestyle and sanity Fried and Hansson know what they’re talking about.As co-founders of on-line tools Ruby on Rails, Basecamp and 37 signals the authors have out lasted most other start-ups. None of their insights fill up more than two pages and all will, in the words of blogger extraordinaire and best-selling author Seth Godin, “make you uncomfortable.”


10. ___________________ This is where you insert the name of your favourite fiction author. I’ve become a big fan of reading fiction before falling asleep. It’s a treat for a day well spent and a mind half awake. I’m a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels (although they drag interminably in the middle), John Grisham and Michael Robotham. What’s your pleasure?

What’s a book you want to recommend (tell me in the comments)?