Lateral Thinking

By Edward de Bono

I mentioned this book in the previous posts on creativity, but it didn't get its own spotlight yet. It's a classic in the realm of creativity, and a lot of what has been developed since builds on its solid foundation. It takes an extremely practical approach by recommending various exercises a teacher might assign students to encourage and develop lateral thinking, but these are just as easily self-imposed by those of us lacking adult supervision. My very favorite takeaway from this book is the idea that sometimes to get to a good idea, you have to go through a bad idea first.

If you like this sort of thing, check out my posts on creativity.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellCreativity
A Technique for Producing Ideas

By James Webb Young

This book might be the best "bang for the buck" I've ever seen - at 42 pages, you can easily read it in an evening and almost every single page is chock full of useful, actionable tips. It lays out the steps to follow in order to generate new, creative ideas. While it lacks some of the concepts we go through in our creativity series, it easily integrates with them. Do yourself a favor and check this out.

If you like this sort of thing, check out my posts on creativity.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellCreativity
Zero to One

By Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

If you spend as much time as I do listening to podcasts by Silicon Valley types, you've been hearing about this book for ages. I've been putting off reading it because I figured "well, I'm not starting a tech company, so it doesn't apply to me." Turns out that was a silly and limited way to think about the book. I ended up valuing it more for its discussion of the secrets that are the root of real economic value and its concepts of definite versus indefinite optimism. It was also the inspiration for the current series, as it talked about the importance of creativity and implementation in building the future world. It's a pretty quick read and well worth it.

Buy it here.

Zhuangzi: Basic Writings

By Zhuang Zi, trans. Burton Watson

This is an excerpt of the complete Zhuangzi, and I'm normally a rabid completionist, but there are three facts that lead me to recommend this edition: 1) This is the version I had in my physical library and therefore read, 2) The translator makes a pretty good case that what is excluded is mostly later (less awesome) additions to the work of the original author, and 3) you can get this excerpt for about one third of the price of the complete works. So, with that in mind, let me tell you what's great about this book. It's a lot more lively than most philosophy, featuring poetry, metaphor, and humor. I found it almost as valuable as a demonstration of an alternative way to convey deep, important ideas as I did for the actual ideas it was discussing. It's also interestingly different from the Daoism you may know from the Daodejing. I'm not going to get a Yin-Yang symbol tattooed on me anytime soon, but I have found this a worthwhile addition to my mental tool kit.

For lots more on this book, check out the full post I wrote about here.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellPhilosophy
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

By Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Neal Stephenson is probably my favorite living author, and so I buy anything with his name on it no questions asked. I tore through this on my recent flight to Beijing and rather enjoyed it. A shadowy government organization discovers that magic used to be real but doesn't work anymore, and then figures out a way to make it work again to send people back in time. A fun read that touches on all of the exciting possibilities of magic, time travel, and quantum physics. Not as many detailed asides as a pure Stephenson book, but that means that it keeps moving at a brisk pace the whole time. Give it a shot if the idea of mashing up fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction gets you all hot and bothered.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellFiction, Science, Magic
Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It

By Kamal Ravikant

This one didn't quite make it on to my list of operating manuals, in part because I just finished it a week or two ago and I'm not sure how much of an impact it's had on me yet. It might sound hopelessly like positive thinking hippy dippy crap, but I've been getting more and more convinced about the power of auto-suggestion, in part because of the Scott Adams persuasion reading list I've mentioned before. So I'm giving the approaches recommended in this book a good, honest try before I either dismiss it or sing its praises. If you do the same, let me know how it works out for you.

Buy it here.

The Power of Full Engagement

By Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

I started reading this book because I've encountered the idea of managing "energy" in several places, and I wanted an adequate description to work with. This book did not disappoint. As I read, I kept thinking "this reminds me of Josh Waitzkin's advice in The Art of Learning, so I went back and checked, and sure enough, he trained with the authors. While the physical and emotional energy stuff is useful, I found this work's definition of "spiritual" as "caring about something larger than yourself beyond your own self-interest" to be the most straightforward and practical definition I've encountered. A lot of ideas from this book have been incorporated elsewhere, but it's full of specific case studies and examples of how the concepts have been applied in a variety of situations. Great stuff.

Buy it here.

Where Good Ideas Come From

By Steven Johnson

I've been wanting to read this book ever since listening to James Altucher's interview with the author and it did not disappoint. Wide ranging and diverse in the best possible way, this book draws on examples as diverse as the building of coral reefs and the founding of YouTube to elucidate the components of systems that most reliably produce useful innovation - whether in nature, science, or business. I would have liked just a hair more advice on how to operationalize the concepts, but as a foundation for thinking about hard problems that matter, this book was invaluable. 

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellCreativity
The Design of Everyday Things

By Don Norman

This book came highly recommended to me by a friend of mine at work and it certainly did not disappoint. It focuses on questions of how objects in our environment can enhance (or detract) from our experience and our lives. Most useful to me was the distinction between affordances and signifiers and the notion of "knowledge in the head" and "knowledge in the world." If you're even a little bit interested in how the objects, structures, and organizations around you shape your life in subtle ways, you'll thoroughly enjoy this.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellDesign, Psychology
The People Code: It's All About Your Innate Motive

By Dr. Taylor Hartman, Ph.D.

I'm not gonna lie to you, friends: I was pretty skeptical of this system when I first heard about it at work. One of my business school professors engrained a deep distrust of "personality types" in general by pointing out that almost all of them except The Big Five lack any rigorous empirical testing. That being said, as I read this book, time and again I saw descriptions that rang extremely true for either myself or my loved ones. It's probably easy to take this too far and use it as some kind of universal theory, but it makes an awfully useful heuristic for understanding why you act the way you do, and more importantly, why other people act in such seemingly incomprehensible ways.

Buy it here.


By Nassim Taleb

The core concept explored in this book is what is "risk" and how should we think about it in our lives, but it reaches out and touches so many more areas of interest. Taleb is shockingly smart, enjoyably contrarian, and writes in a very engaging way. This book is one of my top five life and brain changing books - you will be a little bit smarter every time you read it.

Check out the posts I wrote about this book here and here.

Buy it here.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

By Scott Adams

The core thesis of this book is that goals are for losers, systems are for winners, and passion is bullshit. When I finally got around to actually reading it, I was pleasantly surprised to find it absolutely jam packed with useful little nuggets. Seriously, this is one of the highest "actionable stuff to fluff" self-improvement books I've ever read. While it is full of specific tactics, the real value of this book is how it points out the complex system that leads to your energy, output, and ultimately success.

Buy it here.

The Checklist Manifesto

By Atul Gawande

I've been meaning to read this book for a long time, but to be perfectly honest, I was worried it was one of those books where if you know the premise you don't need to read it. What I had overlooked is the degree to which making the case for checklists would motivate me to actually change my behavior. The examples given of lives saved and fortunes made through the seemingly simple expedient of using checklists are quite impressive. Plus, there's a neat checklist for creating your own checklist in the back.

If you want to up your game to true professionalism in just about any field, check out this book. 

Buy it here.

On Combat

By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

This book might seem out of left field for those of you outside of the military or law enforcement, but I think it has several valuable lessons for everybody. First off, it will help you to understand many of the dynamics going on - on both sides - of the deadly force encounters you hear about in the news. Secondly, it's breakdown of the physical, psychological, and environmental factors of the most extreme kind of stress can be reverse-engineered to the more mild kinds of stress most of us are lucky enough to deal with. Finally, it just might help you prepare for unlikely but terrible life-threatening situations.

Buy it here.

Tools of Titans

By Tim Ferriss

I've been a fan of Ferriss for years, but I think this book is far and away his best yet. It's chock full of great stuff that you can use right now to make your life better - whether to get healthy, make money, or feel more calm in your life. If you only ever read one book of his, make it this one. Hell, if you only read one self-improvement book period, make it this one.

Buy it here.


By Robert B. Cialdini

This book is a classic for a reason - I've taken my sweet ass time getting to it, but I am absolutely hooked. Drawing on a combination of scholarly experiments and "in the trenches" experience with sales training, this book points out thenearly automatic triggers we have evolved to be good, cooperative members ofsociety and how "compliance professionals" (salesmen, recruiters, and cons) use these techniques to get their way without you even knowing what they're about. This book is doubly valuable - you learn how to spot unscrupulous applications of the techniques as well as how to use them in your own (hopefully legitimate) endeavors. For lots of interesting extra context, check out Scott Adams's Persuasion Reading List.

Buy it here.


By Kelly Starrett and Juliet Starrett

By now, you've probably heard about how bad sitting is for you, and maybe you've even seen or used a standing desk somewhere. Well, this book lays down the case for why sitting is literally killing us in stark, terrifying detail, and proceeds to provide specific, step by step instructions on how to do something about it. It's not as simple as buying a standing desk and burning your chair - you have to re-teach your body appropriate ways of moving after years oflearning the wrong thing. Fortunately, the prescriptions in this book are easy to follow and will give you immediate relief as well as long-lasting solutions to problems like stiff backs, joint pain, and chronic stress. 

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellWellness
Waking Up

By Sam Harris

In this book, Harris makes a case for spiritual practice without the scaffolding and foundation of religious beliefs. While he approaches it as an avowed and enthusiastic atheist, I think that the core insight that there are certain practices you can adopt to bring peace, contentment, and compassion into your life without adopting beliefs you are uncomfortable with is useful regardless of your religious convictions. The descriptions of what it feels like to meditate and what it feels like to think you're meditating when you aren't really are worth the price of admission by themselves.

Buy it here.